Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Glass Ceiling: 18 Million Cracks and Counting

In Senator Clinton’s speech on Saturday, when she gave up her place in the race for President and gave her support to Senator Obama, she mentioned not having broken the “glass ceiling.”

But she had made “18 million cracks in it.”

I’ve thought a lot about Clinton’s speech- at least what I’ve read, the clips I’ve seen. I could not watch it. It made me too sad. I believe she was the stronger and better of the candidates. I believe she was electable.

Mostly, though? She was a woman. As my friend said to me when I was considering who to vote for, whom to support, you’ve waited your whole life to see a woman in this place.

I have.

As a kid, I never understood why women or girls were treated differently. I could throw just as far and spit just as well. I knew when my mother would say girls don’t do that… if I asked why… I was fortunate in that she thought about it and if she couldn’t come up with an answer that made any sense, she let me do it.

As a young woman, I found myself bound by gender definitions that did not fit me. While it was acceptable to be a ‘tom boy’ as a girl, growing into adulthood, the expectations came crashing down on me. As I reached puberty, I was to be more feminine. I was expected to wear make up. I was expected to wear dresses in certain social situations. In my first job after college, my review included a note to be more feminine in appearance. My work was exceptional- but they requested more skirts, perhaps some heels.

I was a catering manager. I worked 12-hour days on my feet. Heels?

While my fellow co-worker, who wore the same suit day in and day out, with comfortable shoes, received a glowing review.

It didn’t matter how he looked as long as he was neat. Groomed.

I was neat and groomed. I wore tailored women’s suits- just with pants instead of skirts. It wasn’t good enough.

I began to see how the world was made to fit men. Silly things, like the fact that our zippers are on the side or in the back of our clothes. More serious things like our legal rights to decide about our bodies being defined by government.

Can you image laws protecting sperm?

Why not?

Because, as I’ve found over and over again in my life, the gender roles women have been assigned are to keep power firmly in the hands of men.

As a parent, I have become keenly aware of gender roles and identification. Raising three boys, I see how being labeled “feminine” or in any way female is a disgrace to them. Sissy, wimp, Nancy boy… all references to a male as being less than, not good enough.

All references to a male being female.


After all, women can give birth, heal in a short period of time, and feed a human infant for up to a year without anything but her body.

Is that a definition of weakness? Or power?

Why is it okay to call a woman a bitch, to comment on her clothes, laugh and hairstyle instead of taking her seriously as a candidate? Or worse- making it part of the serious discussion or her as a candidate?

Why did my son tell me, Mom, Clinton will never win. She’s a woman.

At 12 years old.

Girls may outperform boys in schools but the lessons being taught are far from anything we want our girls to learn. Just as a system that creates a 70% failure rate in African American boys has been successfully designed to fail those children, a system that sends girls out into the world with straight A’s only to face from boardroom to courtroom, from pregnancy to contraception, from unequal pay to domestic violence, being handed the short end of the stick.

How do we dissect what is being taught to girls? And boys? How do we look at the gender role creation in our society? How do we evaluate all of our lives with a gender lens?

As I said to a friend yesterday, it’s not simply about sexism. It’s not only about the negative images but also about what are we reinforcing as positive behavior. Why are girls getting “good grades” and still unable to break through glass ceilings? How is our educational system failing girls?

And in turn, failing boys?

Personally, I don’t want women’s power to be defined as what a white man has. I don’t want that- it’s only led to haves and have nots, war and caste systems that have served no one but the master on top. Women are more intuitive, creative and linear is only something you hang laundry on outside. We value our children and instinctively move to protect them, protect the future of humanity. We move in public and private roles, often at great cost.

We must do more, be more conscious and question the roles we learn at 3, 4 and 5 years old. Gender is not biological but a social construct. We must find a way to teach our girls and boys the value of women’s roles and the power behind them. We must flip the images on their side and reconsider what they mean.

Because, clearly, 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling is not enough to crash it down.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great Piece.

9:31 PM  
Blogger Christy said...

Fantastic piece.

I am proud that I voted for Hillary. I think that I have a great chance of seeing a woman as the leader of this country sometime in my life. She DID make great progress for all women.

That being said, I am just as proud to place my support with Obama. Though I agreed more with Hillary, I will definitely be voting for Obama. I am proud that we have a viable candidate for the presidency with his racial background. If we can break through one barrier at a time, I'll be happy.

10:22 PM  
Blogger Sue J said...

I watched Clinton's speech with tears in my eyes, which surprised me, because even though I supported her I never felt she was "perfect" and never felt passionate about her as a candidate. But, for a woman to work as hard as she has and to get a close as she did, only to have it all end in such a disgraceful way --manipulated in the end by the DNC rules committee and the media -- almost unbelievable.

And I guess I was teary because I too have experienced all those things you wrote about, and had thought we as a nation had made progress beyond those prejudices against women. But Clinton's speech was the final slap of reality: We've got a long way to go. But I know a 9 yr old little girl in Boston who wanted Clinton to win, and I would put money on this kid running for office some day. I just hope we don't have to wait for her to be the one who finally breaks the glass ....

Rant. Sorry.

8:07 AM  
Blogger Sara said...

we need to rant.

a lot.

and then work on positive change. not sure what that looks like- I only know what hasn't worked.


9:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am constantly reminded of how much discrimination exists in our world. Working in a corporate environment it never ceases to amaze me how many derogatory comments are made towards women, and by management no less. One day, as I sat with a customer, a manager in the cube behind mine began berating a male salees rep because he wasn't being strong enough in his sales pitch. He kept asking him "where's your skirt"? When I confronted this manager later on both he and the salesman being chided were extremely hostile towards me... how dare I be so petty. I mean they were only kidding.

yes, of course, it is absolutely fine for you to tell a man that he is weak if he acts like a woman... my mistake.

Mind you this is a large corporation - with ZERO tolerance for discrimination based on sex, race, sexual preference, age, etc etc. It all looks good on paper.

I too was moved by Hillary's speech - I hope I live to see the day a woman gets into office - at this point I'm not so sure it will ever happen -

2:41 PM  
Blogger Seda said...

Christy, I feel just like you, with the candidates reversed (i.e., I'm proud I voted for Obama, and would be just as proud to vote for Hillary had she won).

Great post, Sara. I agree. We need to rant, and work forward for positive change.

I only disagree on one part: "Gender is not biological but a social construct." Having lived under the influence of both testosterone and estrogen, I can attest to the effects hormones have not only on the body, but on the brain. That is not a bad thing, and it is not a matter of weakness/strength or smart/not smart. My guess is that other hormones, such as progesterone, also affect the brain, and complicate the biological construct of gender.

I am convinced, through my own experience and that of every transgendered person I know (who've had HRT) that gender is both a biological and a social construct. However, gender ROLES are only and completely a social construct. THAT is where I can see us making progress. I would like to claim biological gender as an advantage to women, and I think it is and can be seen that way. Women think much more holistically (in general), and connect at a deeper level.

I truly hope to see a woman in the White House, and believe it can and will happen, hopefully in my lifetime. I'm guessing that the most likely candidate will be a governor, and there is a growing number of woman governors in the country. Next most likely, a VP - will Hillary make it?

Whatever else can be said about this election, it made history. It showed that a woman CAN be competitive in a major national race, and a black person can win it. The race was so close, it was almost a tie. That is profound. Our culture is changing. I work for a city government in a white community with a woman mayor, a black woman assistant city manager, and a number of senior women managers, including two in the fire department. My supervisor is a man, his is a woman, hers is a woman, hers is a woman, hers is a woman, and then the city manager. It is significant to note that every woman in that chain of command is held in very deep respect by everyone I've spoken to in our organization, and all walk, speak, and LEAD with confidence.

A rant, yes. But I'm celebrating our progress.

11:57 PM  
Anonymous donald said...

rant on!

great post.

6:01 AM  
Blogger Suzy said...

We are going to have a fight on our hands this fall. Meg wants to play football. But since she is a girl she has to take a test to get on the modifid team. The boys don't they just get to play. There are no cuts from modified but if your a girl you can be cut. I don't want her to play but I am sure not gonna tell her she can't try if she really wants too.
So rant on as everybody has said and feel free to come rant at he football coach lol.

10:39 PM  

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