The Glass Ceiling and other things that need to be broken

“It’s difficult to see the glass ceiling because it’s made of glass.  Virtually invisible.  What we need is for more birds to fly above it, and shit all over it, so we can see it properly.”

– Caitlin Moran


At the moment, I am reading one of the best books I have ever read.  How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran is described by The Independent as: ‘Engaging, brave and consistently, cleverly, naughtily funny.’ Some reviewers have said that this is a book that EVERY woman should read; I’ll go one step further, I believe every woman AND man should read this book.

The book isn’t just about Moran’s opinion on what it means to be a woman, it is a searing social commentary. It addresses women’s weight and body image; modern feminism; love, marriage, children and family; abortion; fashion; role models and so much more.  Moran’s syle of writing is funny and achingly honest.  It’s painful to read, but you can’t help yourself from laughing.

The entire book deserves attention and praise, but for this post, I want to focus on her chapter on Sexism and The Glass Ceiling. Moran describes sexism and The Glass Ceiling in a way that is not very PC; funny but uncomfortable:

Most sexism is down to men being accustomed to us being the losers.  That’s what the problem is.  We just have bad status. For men born pre-feminism, this is what they were raised on: second-class citizen mothers; sisters who need to be married off; female schoolmates going to secretarial school, then becoming housewives. Women who disengaged. Disappeared.

These men are the CEOs of our big companies, the big guys on the stock markets, the advisors to governments.  They dictate working hours and maternity leave, economic priorities and societal mores. And, of course, they don’t feel equality in their bones – sexism runs deep in their generation. Their automatic reaction is to regard women as ‘other.’

Even those men born post-feminism, raised on textbooks and marches and their own mothers leaving each morning for the office, however much they might believe in the theoretical equality of women, and respect those around them . . . have a quiet voice inside them that says ‘If women are the true equals of men, where’s the proof?’ And it is not just a voice inside men.  It’s inside women too . . . Creativity, we silently fretted should really have begun the moment legislation changed.  All manner of female incredibleness – pent up for centuries – should have been unleashed; flattening trees for thousands of miles around, like a pyroclastic blast.  But it wasn’t.  Because simply being able to vote isn’t the same as true equality.

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook gives her opinion of why we have too few women leaders. She explains that as a general rule the data shows that women systematically underestimate their own abilities, while men generally overestimate their own. Men tend to attribute their success to themselves and women attribute it to external factors. Men tend to think they did a good job because they themselves are good at their job, whereas women will often say they had to work extra hard or that someone helped them. Sanderberg stresses that women need to start believing they deserve their own success.

An important factor that Sandberg describes as vitally important is that success and likability are positively correlated for men, but negatively correlated for women. In the following TED Talk, Sandberg talks about a study that strikingly illustrates this.

Both Caitlin Moran’s book and Sheryl Sandberg’s talk caused discomfort in a way, yet were incredibly eye-opening for me. It’s easy to blame men for “keeping us down” – but the reality is that we, as women, have a responsibility to make the changes ourselves.  We have to not only believe that we are equal and deserve to be treated as such, but to get out there and do what needs to be done.  That doesn’t mean that we have to act like men, and if our brains are wired differently, maybe that’s not even possible.  And considering the state of politics and the environment, I for one am not convinced that the present mode of leadership is the best way anyway.  But if women want a chance to make a difference and to take the lead, then we have to do it for ourselves.  We have to step up. And a good way to start is to read How To Be a Woman and watch Why we have too few women leaders.

Please take the time to comment, I’d love to hear your opinion on this topic. And as always thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it.

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10 thoughts on “The Glass Ceiling and other things that need to be broken

  1. Hi there, I actually read Sheryl’s book and I have to say that being a woman in a leadership position surrounded by men is not easy even if you push very hard. There is much work to be done and a lot to learn from our North American (especially Canadian) neighbours in terms of how women are treated compared to men in the working wolrd. Cheers! Jenny

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  2. Hi Patti, nice to see your blog in cyberspace 🙂 I’ve listened to this TED-talk, I love TED-talks. I have to say that I’m relieved to learn that ‘the figures aren’t moving’, because succeeding in the corporate hierarchy is no measure of success in my world. I think the world would benefit from women WAKING UP to the implications of a lifestyle that’s unsustainable. A week ago I loaned a woman friend $100 so she could buy a $600 black diamond ring that had been marked down to $100. She wanted to give it to a friend. When I said: I wonder who and what has suffered for this black diamond to be part of the retail turnover. She hated it!! She didn’t want to think about that, she wanted to think about how she was giving an awesome gift to a friend she cared about, and that she’d struck a fantastic bargain. I’d like to see women taking the lead to VALUE THE RAISING OF CHILDREN as a great gift – to themselves, to their children and to the world. I’d like to see women raising children to have strong connections with themselves and others, and not to find ways to cope with the ordeal of repeated emotional separations for engagement in the ‘work force’. The work of love is priceless. I’m glad women are led by their own hearts to refuse the seduction of the big pay packet and give their big hearts to their children.

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    • Hi Rosalie,
      What a story. I totally agree. We must change the paradigm! Success does need to be redefined. So important. But we as women must lead the way to change that pradigm and redefine success.

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  3. Patti, thank-you for such an interesting post. I agree that women’s perceptions of themselves are hugely problematic and, sadly, we can even find examples of sexism perpetrated by women against their own sex.
    I agree that women shouldn’t try to ‘become men’ in order to gain equality but what always worries me is what exactly we are talking about when we say ‘feminine’ or ‘womanly’. I think our definition of ‘woman’ should be explored and hopefully we will find a more expansive answer than we would appear to have at present.
    On a related note, I think similarities should always be celebrated and encouraged (in race, sex or creed) and if we focus on the differences between men and women there is always the opportunity for hatred to creep in no matter which gender we’re talking about.

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