The New Glass Ceiling

September 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

In the 60s and 70s feminists started to become conscious of what they called “the glass ceiling”, meaning, women were noticing that regardless of their qualifications or achievements, they just couldn’t seem to break through to the higher echelons in their fields of work — they couldn’t earn on parity with men and couldn’t attain their goals for authority and advanced levels of power in the workforce.  Their shortcomings, it was discovered, were systemic barriers, rather than individual failings, even though, sadly, many women of those eras internalized their failures as personal ones.  It was later discovered that glass ceilings could be found in many milieus that applied not only to women’s advancement, but to the advancement of minorities in general, men and women alike.

In the workforce today there still remain many barriers for women reaching their dreams.  Unfortunately, having a child is one of them, as women are more often than not required (often happily) to take time off work, time that is not adequately compensated for through maternity benefits, and women are therefore losing their earning power when they become mothers.  It is unacceptable that women are still faced with making a choice between motherhood and career, especially as our careers have become not only a way of earning money, autonomy and independence, but also are quite often an expression of our soul’s destiny.   There must be some way to marry the two worlds and vocations, a scenario that I think would be wildly fulfilling to many women who want children.

One thing I have wondered about are whether there are other, even more intangible, glass ceilings that exist for women.  There are a couple that, for me, tend to stick out.  A lack of self-confidence and fear are the two biggies that I think hold many women back.   I’ve explored some of these aspects already in many of my posts.  Sometimes I am shocked by my lack of confidence, how simply announcing my name and where I come from to a group, can send my heart hotly pounding for an hour or more.  I have no idea where this comes from, but it’s something that has plagued me for most of my life, a kind of terror of being seen and heard, or of saying “the wrong thing.”  I can’t help but to think that given the many years and generations of women who lived in silence about their personhood, dreams and longings, it is only natural that today, only 50 years after the feminist revolution, a woman might feel a little apprehensive about declaring her own to the world. And yet, when I look around I see so many confident, articulate and outspoken women who seem generally unaffected by and even unconscious of our shared pre-feminist histories, and this to me is truly miraculous.  For many of us, in only one generation, we have stepped into a whole new identity about what it means to be a woman.  I wish I could say that this is true for myself also, but I know there are many things that still hold me back.  Lack of self-confidence and fear go hand-in-hand.  Sometimes we have a fear of reaching “the top” because it can actually be quite scary up there. We are more vulnerable to criticism and attack from others, sometimes simply because we are more visible. Achieving our goals also means that  we will have a lot more responsibility, not only to ourselves but also to others.  We will have to have the ability to say no and be quite adept at self-protection, which are not qualities that women have historically cultivated.

I believe strongly that our personal life is the foundation for our success.  As I have recently heard, “We can’t become ourselves by ourselves.”  And so, one of the most incredibly strong glass ceilings that we face today is the social system that we have in our lives. What do the people around us think about us and our potentials?  Do the people you are closest to really want you to succeed and have they got your back or are you, so to speak, “sleeping with the enemy?”  I remember a friend telling me about  how she had been out of work for months. One day she shared with her boyfriend an idea she had been mulling over, but she still lacked the confidence and gusto to bring her idea to life. A few weeks later, she noticed that her partner had started to develop her idea into a grant proposal, and was claiming the idea (and the money he would make off it) as his own!  Talk about being used. You simply can’t succeed in your professional life if you don’t have personal support, encouragement, and trust with the people you love.  That’s why it’s very important to chose your friends and life partner wisely.  You don’t want to have your passions undermined by anyone who you are leaning on.  And you don’t want to have to be an amazon woman, doing everything by herself because you can’t depend on the people closest to you.   In the case of my friend, it wasn’t long before she realized that she had been involved with an opportunist who did not have her highest good in mind, but who was rather seeking to fulfill his own dreams with no regard for, in fact, even at the expense of hers.  There have been many cases throughout history where women have given their creative fire to their partners, who have in turn taken full credit for their ideas. This might have been understandable in 1850, but today, there is simply no excuse.  Don’t let the people you love be your glass ceiling, let them rather be your window to seeing the full realisation of your talents and dreams.

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