Monday, July 26, 2010

My Glass Ceiling is also a Glass Box

Today and on Friday I was incredibly frustrated with my job. I know we all have these moments and they will eventually pass because well work is work and I have to do it everyday. However, a very profound event happened which I realized not only am I hitting a glass ceiling currently, but I am also in a glass box. I happen to work in a very male dominated industry so I understood full and well what I was probably going to face with regards to "climbing" this corporation's ladder. I have been given some incredible opportunities, I have taken on some amazing projects, and been given a lot of responsibility, but I have also been tossed in the fire with the hopes I don't get burned too badly, I have been put up for failure by colleagues, and I have been asked to sink or swim with all of these I have tried to push through and be as successful as I can. Let me say I have made plenty of mistakes and had to ask for redos, had to confess what happened, and faced the boss. But I always thought if I played my cards right and continued to perform above and beyond that I would be able to move up. That theory for me has worked fairly well. I traveled when asked, I worked late when expected and when not expected, and volunteered to take on just about any project.

And yes there were several times I hit the glass ceiling really hard that it hurt mostly internally, but the pain was real. However, today as I was working and competing in the professional "rat race" I realized that as a young woman I am also in a glass box. Everything about my outward appearance is also being judged by my bosses and colleagues. My male counterparts I don't believe feel this same, will call it, gawking. As women in the office we gossip about each others outfits, weight, hair styles, etc. Men on the other hand look at our bodies, the shape, the "assets", our age, well everything with our outward appearance. I was disgusted maybe even a bit humiliated as I was stared at from my neck down. It was a lingering look that unfortunately happens all to often. But it got me thinking...does this play some role in deciding if I should be promoted as well? Unfortunately, I do believe that women are not only fighting the glass ceiling (which yes thank you to all the women before me who have fought tirelessly has moved up) but also a glass box.

I am curious what do you think?

Media, TV Shows, Movies, Music, etc. is saying that women are to be sexual beings that femininity is wrapped up in our promiscuity, our secret flirty glances, in our feminine sway as we walk past, in the flip of our hair, and in the tight little outfits we wear (well tight little outfits is not in my wardrobe for other reasons...). How many times do you watch a powerful woman in a movie or TV show come in wearing her tailored suit with a slit up the leg and a low cut top or jacket? As she sashays in with her stiletto heals. She may sit on the desk and cross her legs bearing a bit of high thigh which of course catches every male subject in the room or she slowly walks past as the cameras do a shot front and back from head to toe lingering on what are deemed her best features. The reactions show she is powerful, but why is she powerful? Do we see any degrees, certificates, and/or awards hanging on the walls to speak of her educational accomplishments? Not normally. Do we hear of her rise to the top through internships, crappy positions, middle management, sometimes, but then there is the office rumor of she probably slept with so and so...The message is clear this successful, powerful, "media woman" made it to the top by showing herself worthy in the glass box for all to judge, gawk and lust after. This is the role model for today's young women. No wonder they are confused about what is beautiful, what is sexy, and what is feminine.

What do you think?


Turtle Woman said...

It's hard to respond to this post, Brenda because I just don't subscribe to a world where women have to have "an appearance at all" as determined by corporate male dominant values.

My attitude has been to create meaningful work that will be intellectually challenging, and creative and helpful to the clients I serve. Climbing a ladder controlled by men, or even caring about their attitudes is just not a part of what I viewed as the women's liberation movement. It was about freedom, not becoming like these institutions.

In my mind, the ultimate glass ceiling is about a structure, not the individuals in that structure.
So you have to understand the system of domination in place, and what women have to deal with within it. Every woman has a challenge, and women raised within evangelical heterosexual contexts have a lot of heavy lifting to do. I don't envy your world at all, and probably have no real helpful advice, since my way of life has nothing to do with that world. It's just an extreme difference.

This structure has not changed in my lifetime, but power has shifted slightly, but not without a lot of opposition and law suits.

I don't understand why women are so coerced by fashion or by what men think. You have to assume that we are in a war, and that guerilla tactics are a better bet for women than 18th century European style male warfare -- blue and red coated men lining up and shooting at each other, all in the name of white male property owners. The so-called revolutionary war-- for whom really?

The revolution of women is about something else entirely, and for all Gen X or next generation women who live in a supposedly less male aggressive female hating lower rung of corporate life, remember, progress for women comes, when women come to consciousness about what this is really all about.

Since I have no interest in the heteronormative, no stake in that world, I step out of that system and dream and work on what is women's highest good, both in my life, my partner's life and the life of all women on the journey of freedom with me.

It simply doesn't dwell in personal appearance or getting on some boss man's ladder anywhere. I simply built a new building and walked through the door with my own key.

Monicalyn said...

>>But I always thought if I played my cards right and continued to perform above and beyond that I would be able to move up.<<

Oh yes, dear Brenda, I used to feel that same way, but after years of working for a Fortune 500 company I realized what a fool I'd been. The large corp I worked for couldn't care less how conscientious I was, how much overtime I worked, or how excellent my repoire was with clients (in fact, they didn't give a damn about their client's needs either). My wonderful work ethic got me this: MORE work. That's it... not a better 'title' or more money. That went to men & women who made good corporate figureheads in meetings, not to those who worked the hardest or cared the most. And yes, quite often the titles & money went to those who slept their way to the top while galavanting around on business trips on the company's dime. It was a sick sick world that relied on using employees' fears -- fears of losing their jobs, health insurance and ability to support their children -- to hold them hostage and treat them like kindergarteners with a million stupid rules that changed weekly depending on the newest manager!

Sooo, of course one's physical appearance has to do with promotibility. There's nothing to wonder about there; it's fact. Also, the slightest question or complaint gets one labeled as not being a team player -- they only want yes-men and yes-women in the corporate world. Now, maybe you aren't yet (or won't ever be) as thoroughly miserable as I became in that world. Maybe there are things about your position that are fulfilling enough to put up with the negative. But for me, I left as soon it was possible for me to do so (and it was still a crazy decision in the minds of my cubicle-enslaved co-workers). Since I had an M.A. I began teaching part-time; there is always a great need for experienced business instructors. No, it won't pay the same or have the same benefits, but my life and destiny are my own now!

Best of luck to you! Perhaps it was just a temporary bad moment or maybe it is part of a larger realization that you just don't like the corporate world... time will tell. Stay strong and believe in yourself.

Anonymous said...

What do I think? I think you coined a new term that should soon become common!
You have an intersting blog that would make a great article in some magazine.
I like what Turtle Woman said in that she built her own building. Not all of us can do it, but she has the right idea. After so many years of the women's movement, one shouldn't be judged on appearance!

Thank you for sharing this.
Some of it also applies to hard-working men who don't go along with office politics & social climbing. they do more & get paid less. Believe me, I know.
Mrs T

Nathalie A. said...

hey brenda,

thanks so much for your blog and thoughts. i too share the same sentiment of being disgusted by being looked at as if eye candy and their eyes are the tongue. completely disrespectful and yet totally acceptable and commonplace in our world. you like many other women are balancing how to be successful in the corporate world while also challenging/critiquing the corporate world and all the inequality and issues it has.

i've had too many of those lingering views and i've always wanted (in my head i dream or envision doing this)to SAY something so that I AM NOT COMPLICIT IN THIS because the best that i've done is to ignore.

but sometimes i question if my silence is making it seem ok. on the other hand i don't want to RESPOND to EVERYONE who lingers a bit too long.

but i've wanted to say back, "what are you looking at" or "i'm not a dog" or "stop starring. it hurts." once i went back to a guy who called me sweetie and told him i found it disrespectful. he was surprised and apologized. i was polite and all but i just needed one person to know that it was not cool to have pet names for women and the how it made me feel. it was one of the few good moments of GOD helping me to speak up.

i;m sure there maybe some retaliation and possible risk to not say something in the workplace, but i think spearheading a conversation about it with collegaues one on one is a start. the guy mentioned before that i told him it was disrespectful, i ended introducing myself and got to learn his name, trying to build relationship because it did not want to attack him and make him feel bad but to start a conversation and help him learn and i learned as well. how clueless and unknowing guys can be about this.

gotta run

also please check out my comment on the strong women=intimidation post i left, i would love to read your response and thoughts on my comment

God Bless you!!!!

i pray that the love of God is stronger than any of this glass ceiling and box and that God continues to guide you on how to address it. serenity prayer i think is also applicable here!

look forward to hearing from you on both comments


Nathalie G. Ais

Brenda S. Marin said...

All: Thank you for your responses. I am going to use some of the questions posted as a new blog post and Nathalie I will go back and look at the comment you left on Strong Women=Intimidation and respond to that as well. I love that we are able to have a conversation. I did a quick search on Christian and Feminism and found little out there so hopefully we can all use our voices to start something new for this next generation and celebrate what the previous generations accomplished!

Turtle Woman said...

Brenda, thanks for writing about this. It kind of clues me in to what young women are facing and doing. As for Christian feminism, there is a real treasure trove out there of incredible scholars who have been creating a true woman centered theology. Yes, it does matter who the scholars are, and how they view the Bible.

I find my most inspired self in the visionary, the kind of faith or theology that comes out of the exile experience--in my case, the exile out of heterosexual norms and oppression.
So the first stage is you really do leave Egypt and Pharoh... but later in life, you begin to discover the visionary or what it is you have come to. In a lesbian life, this takes decades to figure out, and since I have lived my entire life in harmony with the feminist movement and gay and lesbian movement, it is hard at times to know where oneself begins and the movements end.
It's too complex for a blog alas. At any rate, let me refer you to one of my favorite visionary sites -- you'll see how this works better there, among other wonderful places.

Looking forward to further conversation on the subject of how women will truly be free on our own terms.