Tuesday, August 11, 2009

To Crack the Glass Ceiling, First Believe It Can Be Done

An eye-opening study attempting to shed some light as to why women are reluctant to take managerial roles and are paid less than men comes to the conclusion that women create their own self-imposed glass ceiling. The good news is, as the article states, that such attitudes of automatic devaluation have subsided drastically over the generations. Women over the age of fifty, according to the study, have the hardest time admitting their truth worth to employers and the answer is due in part to long-standing beliefs that they are not as worthy or capable as men.

However, it does shift some of the blame away from men and the willful evil of a Patriarchal society, acknowledging that women have a role in their subordination. Certainly women, particularly of a certain generation did not create the problem and while it is unfair that they themselves need to eradicate attitudes they themselves did not create, nevertheless they will still need to redouble their efforts towards breaking the chains and fixing the problems they partially created for themselves. Believing that positive change can actually happen is the beginning.

Speaking from a purely feminist perspective, the major differences highlighted here between generational attitudes of women further underline the second-wave versus third-wave divide in the movement. It pleases me greatly when I read about how younger women feel more empowered to honestly state their views with confidence, believing firmly and with good cause that they will be taken seriously. It also pleases me greatly that they are more compelled to take higher level management positions and aspire to positions of authority. Second-wavers, however, still have an unfortunate tendency to want to exist in a time warp, responding to life as though reform never occurs, change cannot happen, and nothing will ever be different. Or maybe these attitudes are simply a dusty part and parcel of an era that is gratefully not our own anymore. Many are still held hostage by past sins and I agree with this article that the best solution is to open their eyes and embrace the new reality that some still believe is not here yet. The irony is that, in my respects they won the war and yet they act like no one told them that major hostilities were over.

This study's alternate title might be: Beware the dual power of self-fulfilling prophecy and low expectations. What is not in debate is the notion that sexism exists and plays a major role in the proceedings. What is in debate is whether the very idea of the glass ceiling deserves a much more nuanced definition and understanding. Fully applicable to this discussion is the Eleanor Roosevelt quote--"no one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Any social injustice will, by its very nature, create this pervasive response of inferiority and low esteem. The example that comes to my mind first is the study where African-American children were shown dolls with white features and dolls with black features. When asked which of them they liked better, they chose the white dolls.

What I am glad to see questioned is the idea that prejudice and discrimination are a passive exchange from oppressor to oppressed. That has never seemed like a satisfactory explanation to resolve anything. Neither am I advancing victim blaming. Living products of a society that long preached and to a lesser extent still preaches submissiveness and deference to men, women need not be shouldered with any of the blame. But there comes a time where taking the steps necessary to reach upwards towards the light of empowerment and equal citizenship comes with some degree of obligation to refuse to reinforce stereotypical notions. What would be foolishness personified would be to blame the Patriarchy while doing absolutely nothing in one's own life to push back against it.


E said...

One thing I find interesting is the need to further explore this society-wide tendency for women to be extremely self-critical. Be it our actions in certain situations, our ability to answer questions or contribute suggestions (such as the woman who keeps quiet during a meeting), or particularly our self-criticism of our bodies. The same tendency to never be happy with what we see in the mirror and to never think that our appearance or our contributions are good enough frequently holds us back. I certainly don't want to negate the self-critical experience of men, but I think that this article hits on one of the major impacts that this has on women. How can we, and the men around us, un-learn these self-limiting behaviors? While our society praises men who are fearless (and here more willing to suggest an idea that might flop), we need to ensure that everyone is encouraged the same way. I think the general idea of self-criticism needs to be further explored in the ways it is learned, the ways it holds women (and men) back, and the ways we might un-learn this behavior.

Gail said...

Hi Kevin-

I love your perspective, views and reporting on this issue of men and women in management. I agree with ej5049a thoughts and challenges completely.

Also there is another twist on this that I see as on the horizon if not already risen. With all the freedom "thank God) for folks to be able to true to who they are in regards to gay-straight, which still has it's own huge prejudices - lesbians and gays still have to break thru that barrier which mixes in with the already existing barriers women face societally. (sp) SO there is much more exploring to be done.

Great post Kevin, loved it.


Comrade Kevin said...

Hey honey,

Thanks for your contribution and indeed you are quite right. I may write an addendum to this post based on your comments.


Thanks as always.

I wanted to work in LBGTs but didn't quite know how to do it. It doesn't exactly parallel with the struggle of women and Civil Rights because one can never dive into a metaphorical closet and conceal one's gender or race.

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