Glass Ceiling?

June 15, 2008 | NeW Staff

     After Hillary Clinton’s speech of support for Barack Obama, Karin posed the question whether or not the “glass ceiling” really exists for women. As a young woman attending a public university and about to enter the work force, believe me, the concept of the “glass ceiling” is one I have been made aware of abundantly. Perhaps because I am a more conservative woman (or just more practical), my take on the whole topic is a bit different than many of my peers, professors and potential employers. I could talk for years about the inherent differences in men and women which lead to dissimilar job situations and reveal some limitations of many second-wave feminists’ thinking. However, what I have recently been concerned about is the role of this phrase “glass ceiling” in shifting individual accountability.

       I don’t think anyone was surprised by Clinton’s  mention of the “glass ceiling” in her concession speech. I have been shocked though to learn how big of impact this concept has had on society as a whole, especially legally. What brought this to my attention was the “Respect Training” I recently completed for my summer internship. We discussed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: who counts as an employee, who counts as an employer, whom you can and can’t discriminate against and how. The number of lawsuits, specifications, footnotes and meticulous sensitivity was eye opening to me.

       On the one hand, this sort of law was clearly necessary: in the past 40 years we have seen opportunities open up for people of all races and religions, for women and men alike. Arguably, this has deepened the pool of potential employees and thus increased not only productivity in the firm, but, hopefully, satisfaction in the home. On the other hand, when we must spend the entire morning learning how to not discriminate against or harass our co-workers, I am saddened by the situation. I know that men are not angels (Federalist 51), but I fear that we have come to count on this worse nature of others as a replacement for our own accountability. Clinton’s reference to the “glass ceiling” in her concession to Obama seems to do just that. Additionally, the fact that this was expected reveals how the constant use of the phrase seems to have exhausted it and reduced it to almost meaningless rhetoric. I wonder: at what point will blame not be the norm? When do we quit crediting our own disappointments and failures on past wrong doings of others? 

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