The Glass Ceiling and the Male Role of Economic Inequality

This was my first paper for my Feminist/Womanist Ethics class. Enjoy

This paper will provide a brief analysis of the business place phenomena known as the “glass ceiling.” Using the writing of Mary Daly, Beverly Harrison, and Carol Gilligan I will consider what the voices of these women can speak to the issue. I will also examine a possible ethical approach to the male role of dissolving the glass ceiling.
The glass ceiling has been defined a number of ways. Perhaps the most succinct definition I can provide is: Work place discrimination against women. The image of the glass ceiling alludes to the idea that women in corporations, governments, churches, and other hierarchical institutions which have always somehow been dominated by men, by the sheer fact that men are in control of the power structures. So, while women remain active participants in the institution, they are consistently denied the privilege of leading said institution. They are quite literally able to see the top, and yet are never allowed to reach it – they run into the “glass ceiling.”
Twenty years ago, the US Department of Labor began an attempt at meaningfully addressing the issue with the Glass Ceiling Commission. They defined the glass ceiling as “those artificial barriers based on attitudinal or organizational bias that prevent qualified individuals from advancing upward in their organization into management-level positions.”# This definition reaches beyond gender and can include racial biases, and disability biases. But for the sake of focus, we will be dealing only with gender in this paper.
Mary Daly’s transcendent work Gyn/Ecology predates the notion of a glass ceiling. However, it is arguable that the glass ceiling would have continued on imperceptible to women workers if Ms. Daly’s book would have been shelved and unread. Ms. Daly is a radical pioneer for women’s equality. Gyn/Ecology is a force of nature that cannot and should not be ignored by men. And I can only imagine the empowerment that accompanies a woman’s reading of Daly.
Ms. Daly’s powerful language and refusal to be subservient to patriarchal and hierarchical ideologies is a profound testament to the necessity of equality in the workplace and in our world. Her systematic deconstruction of misogynistic practices and traditions goes a long way in debunking the myth of male superiority. She is able to look through the veneer of a male dominated culture and speak truth about the systems of control in place facilitating that culture.
Since Gyn/Ecology has nothing explicit to say about the glass ceiling, I would like to examine statements made about the 20th century theologian, Paul Tillich. Ms. Daly’s perspective about Tillich can go a long way in making the study of theology utterly irrelevant. According to Tillich’s wife; Tillich had a fondness for pornography. Particularly that of the religious kind.
“There was the familiar cross shooting up the wall … a naked girl hung on it, hands tied in front of her private parts … More and more crosses appeared, all with women tied and exposed in various positions. Some were exposed from the front, some from the side, some from behind, some crouched in fetal positions, some head down, or legs apart, or legs crossed – and always whips, crosses, whips.”#
It should be no surprise to most men that Tillich was interested in pornography. This is because most men are, themselves, interested in pornography – why should Tillich be different? The question for men then becomes: Does Tillich’s association with pornography make his theological writing hypocritical and pointless? This question precludes a value judgment about TIllich as a theologian. Ms. Daly would have us dispense with Tillich’s writing completely – the sooner forgotten – the better. I’m apt to be so rash myself, but my reasonable side still wants to arrive at a precise reason for ignoring Tillich. Maybe some day I will.
Ms. Daly’s expose and critique of Tillich contributes to the dissolution of the glass ceiling. Since Tillich is a 20th century theological and academic icon, to have his reputation as a pornographer illuminated makes painfully clear the levels of depravity that men will go to. If Tillich is supposedly a scholar and a man of high moral insight, and yet explores pornography – then how far will men with no morals go? The particular type of religious pornography that Tillich was into has some serious implications to the kind of religion that most western Christians ally with. For example, situating the naked women of Tillich’s porno on the cross and the inclusion of whips or any instrument of violence points towards the self-destructive tendency that men lean towards.
If Ms. Daly is judging Tillich, then it is for good reason. The destructive nature of both the cross and the whip are simultaneously symbols of violence and of religion. This deserves judgment. If the glass ceiling is ever to be dissolved, then we must break the cycle of phallo-centric self destructive behavior – this includes the refusal to associate with violent pornography, however allegorical or stylized the violence might be.
* * *
Carol Gilligan’s book In A Different Voice provides a cogent argument for men to begin openly listening to the “different voices” of women. She also provides some salient critiques of the patristic psychological perspectives of Lawrence Kohlberg. Ms. Gilligan provides no explicit discussion about the glass ceiling, but she does have a whole chapter on women’s rights. This discussion is initiated with the Seneca Falls Declaration which espouses the necessity for equality in our workplace. The connection between women’s rights and women’s responsibilities is here:
“As in claiming rights women claimed responsibility for themselves, so in exercising their reason they began to address issues of responsibility in social relationships. This exercise of reason and the attempt of women to exert control over conditions affecting their lives led, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, to various movements for social reform, ranging from the social purity movements for temperance and public heath to the more radical movements for free love and birth control. All of these movements joined in support of suffrage, as women, claiming their intelligence and, to varying degrees, their sexuality as part of their human nature, sought through the vote to include their voices in the shaping of history and to change prevailing practices that that were damaging to present and future generations. While the disappointment of suffrage is recorded in the failure of many women to vote and tendency of others in voting only to second their husbands’ opinions, the twentieth century has in fact witnessed the legitimation of many of the rights the early feminists sought.”#
This hopeful passage notes the progress that we have collectively made in making our social structures more equal. However there is still much work to be done and the struggle is far from over.
Ms. Gilligan’s perspective reminds us of the certain inalienable rights that the writers of our constitution guaranteed for (allegedly) all people. The Seneca Falls Declaration was a very reasonable attempt to make the concerns about the inequities concerning the woman/man dichotomy heard in a voice that was not male. Unfortunately, the male ears often employ selective hearing. Many men are too proud to admit that their daily actions have been a clear, if not implicit, injustice to the women in their lives. This male pride is the very thing that cements the glass ceiling in place. For a moral evolution to occur – and equality to become a reality – men must put their ego aside. In fact, the glass ceiling itself is the very product of the male ego and its own frailty.
Recently in a coffee shop, I was talking with a woman about this paper topic. She gave me the following perspective, “The glass ceiling is a very real phenomenon that usually just means that most women aren’t paid the same as men to do the same job. Men are consistently paid more, and it also means that women are less likely to hold one of the coveted “C” jobs [C is for chief].” She also went on to talk about the atmosphere that is created in the workplace. It is as though women are enticed into business jobs with a crystal staircase like big paychecks and bigger bonuses only to climb that staircase to a certain impassable height.
Unfortunately, the glass ceiling is not only continued by men in their extant power structures, but those same structures are culturally enabled by women as well. This cultural enabling is manifested in any business woman who is willing to put the almighty dollar ahead of relationships or our environment. One possible example of this glass ceiling enabler is Meg Whitman. Ms. Whitman climbed the crystal staircase and was able to play the money game so successfully that she was eventually able to hold one of the “chief” jobs as she became CEO of ebay. During her time at ebay she became a believer in the economic pragmatism of outsourcing. She was able to look past the lives of the American citizens she was employing at ebay and see the profit that was to be made if she had forty percent of her workforce live in east Asian where they will work for half the price.# This is clearly not rational human behavior that values the dignity of a worker. It is the behavior of a person who lacks compassion and places profits before people. What is more, Ms. Whitman campaigned for governor of California on the promise of suspending the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. Her rationale was that the economic implications had not been fully considered.# Clearly, Ms. Whitman operates under the belief that the economy is just a bunch of numbers, and the goal is to get a really high number associated to one’s name. It is this kind of behavior that perpetuates the mentality that the glass ceiling is a simple, unalterable reality.
In a capitalist system, Ms. Whitman’s actions are certainly justifiable and even encourage-able. Within our current corporate capitalist power structure there is a certain ethic to “getting ahead.” One is encouraged to have a cutthroat mentality if it means more money. It is the product of a belief in Ayn Rand’s philosophy of the “virtue of selfishness.” But this system is self-destructive and there must be a better way.
The church that I am a musician at recently took on an intern. She came from the business world and was able to give me some of her perspective as well: “My experience in corporate America at two Fortune 50 companies is that advancement is only due partly to merit and is highly influenced by who knows you in upper management and advocates for you to get the high visibility stepping-stone jobs. While women are equally hired in entry level analyst and development jobs out of business school, they generally don’t have the same mentoring relationships as their male peers. It is often looked at as morally suspect if single young women have male mentors who advocate for them, but males fill most upper management ranks. The few women who hold higher management level positions often don’t have the time or the inclination for mentoring beyond coaching their direct reports. Sometimes this is due to societal and family demands that often weigh more heavily on mothers in the market place than on fathers and that just drives women to focus on the bare essentials of their role. However, sometimes there is a sense that the older women have struggled and made hard sacrifices for advancement and they expect other women to show their mettle and do the same to compete with men so they don’t want to advocate for younger women.”
Her observation that the glass ceiling is often about access to mentors is quite salient. Since the people that are typically in the place of being a mentors are men, then it would follow that the professional relationship between a man and woman could be questionable if the notion of mentor-ship was added beyond the professional relationship. To a certain extant this can simply be fodder for office gossip. It should be taken for granted that all relationships have the potential to be sexual in nature, but the standards in the workplace throw a negative stigma on the woman if she is perceived as having sex with her superior. Meanwhile, men compete for the attention of women in the workplace, and the sophomoric perils of machismo are consistently exhibited. The hazards of sexual harassment charges are for two or more grown adults to negotiate together – regardless of the workplace environment.
* * *
Beverly Harrison’s book Making The Connections: Essays in Feminist and Social Ethics, is a valuable resource for those trying to find commonalities between socialism and feminism. The most obvious connection is equality. The connections illuminated through a brilliant lens of social system and religious structure analyses are made clear in Ms. Harrison’s advocacy for a renewed pursuit of liberation theology and the implications that such a pursuit would have on the Christian church as a whole.
She begins her book with an examination of anger and the role of emotion in ushering in an era of equality. Anger, for Ms. Harrison, is a feeling that is more reminiscent of love than it is of hate. For a relationship to be healthy, all emotions should be expressed openly and honestly. To suppress the “negative” feelings is tantamount to death and so all emotions should be shared and explored by those that are in relationship.
Speaking in a true voice about one’s emotional state is important to a discussion of economic equality. Consider this quote: “The group or person who confronts us in anger is demanding acknowledgement from us asking for the recognition of their presence, their value. We have two basic options in such a situation. We can ignore, avoid, condemn, or blame. Or we can act to alter relationship toward reciprocity, beginning a real process of hearing and speaking to each other. A feminist moral theology, then, celebrates anger’s rightful place within the work of love and recognizes its central place in divine and human life.”#
Men have clearly played the rolls of ignorer, avoider, condemner and blamer when it comes to women’s equality in the work place. A common complaint that men have about women is the amount of complaints that women voice. The word for this is “nag.” Such a dismissal is hardly open-minded, particularly when the “complaints” of many women are perfectly valid. However, it is a fine line to walk, because if women bring their grievances to men in a voice of anger, then the typical male reaction is to characterize the woman as crazy and not embrace her complaint as valid. Men must stop this status-quo behavior if true equality is to be reached.
Ms. Harrison also provides a look at how the subservience of women in the work place has the effect of sexual subjugation. She suggests two steps that should be taken on a societal level to elevate women and thus break the glass ceiling. “The single most powerful source of women’s sexual subjugation remains women’s lack of deep and genuine economic equality because economic inequality goes well beyond the need for “equal pay for equal work.” Among other things, there must be a transformation of the castelike character of the work women are allowed to perform in the economy for wages. Current employment patterns segregate groups of women into low-paying job categories. For example, racial and ethnic women work in the lowest-paying jobs as domestics, piece workers in industry, as maids or attendants. The vast majority of all women, white and racial ethnic, are dead-ended in the work forces in pink collar, sex-segregated jobs that parallel women’s domestic role in the home. Women work chiefly as waitresses, laundresses, nurses, cooks, and retail salespersons for smaller goods – cosmetics, small housewares, clothing, and the like. Women function as secretaries, typists, file clerks, or performers of other routing labor, completing the pink collar pattern. A twofold social policy change is required. Gender segregation by job category must end, but in addition the wage rates of pink collar job categories must be raised to equal the rates in comparable male job categories Second, we must cease to treat domestic labor in the home as socially nonproductive labor.”
Imagine the consequences if these policies were to be adopted on a large scale! Ms. Harrison’s book is almost thirty years old now, and some of her suggestions have been put in place in specific intentional communities, and we have certainly made progress towards equality in certain churches, businesses, and political structures. But for every one of those progressive communities there are more that are content to remain backwards and oppressive. Imagine if the women in the world went on strike when it came to their domestic work. If they demanded that the labor in their home was compensated, then men would either be forced to take up the domestic work or begin fairly paying their wife and children for cooking, cleaning, and caring. And while the prospect of an “all woman domestic work strike” would be incredibly empowering for women, we should definitely consider the possible consequences. Perhaps the most obvious is the danger of paying women to have babies. We already have a significant population on an exponential growth curve, so to pay women for babies would be both ecologically and economically unsustainable.
If an all woman strike were to occur; thankfully a systematic values re-examination would likely happen on a global scale. This is the key to an ecologically sustainable future: Righteous values that privilege the dignity of a human being before money, property, or any material thing.
* * *
As far as this writer is concerned, the phenomenon of the glass ceiling is simply another symptom of a sick society. It is because our cultural and personal values are so distorted and misplaced that the glass ceiling is perpetuated. If a select group of men in elite power structures were able to find a degree of humility, and begin the emotional and ethical work necessary to re-examine their values – then we would quickly see the dissolution of the glass ceiling.

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