Grappling with the hour-glass ceiling

Off site comment capture:

Schott’s Vocab , The New York Times, discussed the “hour-glass ceiling” imposed on women unable to meet the time demand required by their employers to move forward in their career. Someone wrote a response I found ignorant and potentially misleading to others, so I had to respond.

  1. Social roles are a mix of nature and nurture, and while they are negotiated to some extent between two people, they are also imposed on people by society around them. It is not easy for a man and a woman to “negotiate” an equal amount of time for their children, as both are judged by society. This further hurts opportunities for career advancement.
  2. Time is a limited resource. Companies who regularly require significantly more time than the regular work week of their employees are stealing not just hours, but opportunities and quality of life. They make it harder for employees to not only live their lives, but find alternative employment with reasonable hours. When such time is required for career advancement, they are basically requiring the employee to agree to be a victim, in order to contribute the most they can to society and the workplace.
  3. While mates may be chosen, they can also die, develop diseases, or simply prove to have lied about their willingness to lend support prior to marriage. Or two healthy, mutually supportive mates may choose to throw their weight behind one person to advance in their career, with the other person restricting their hours to the normal work week to care for the young. In a world where their employers take shameless advantage of them and in which men traditionally are more successful, whom do you think they will choose to support?
  4. You can’t have everything, but you should have a chance to succeed. Yes, if you have children you have fewer resources for other things. But if someone attempts to steal from the minimal resources you have, including time, that’s still wrong.
  5. It’s not necessarily so that family trumps career morally. A doctor, for example, may save lives on a regular basis. Even if it were morally correct to choose family over career, basking in the superiority of that choice is neither virtuous nor useful, and doesn’t increase your ability to contribute to society.
  6. For many, the desire to excel at work is a strong drive not because they want the marks of success, but because people feel good when they are able to use their skills and talents to their fullest capacity. This is neither materialistic nor immoral, and in fact it can be argued it’s immoral *not* to make the best use of your gifts possible.

If smart, talented women must continue to choose between passing on their talents genetically (quite a lottery, there!) or in the workplace, then society is losing out.


Rationalizing inequity and harassment

Comment to Salon’s Military rape a result of “feminist pressures”?:

Yes, it’s fascinating how people rationalize their prejudice. My father served in WWII, Korea, and VietNam; he saw the pre- and post-Executive Order 9981 U.S. Army learn to deal with integrating African Americans into the armed forces. (EO 9981 was Truman’s desegregation of the U.S. military, eliminating all black units and boot camps and requiring equality of opportunity, etc., without regard to “race, color, religion or national origin.”) LtC. O’Neal brought me up to believe what he said he saw time and time again—that bigotry was not only wrong but stupid, that much more was gained through mutual respect and giving everyone the opportunity to contribute.

Nonetheless, people argued back then that it was wrong to expect whites to put up with blacks, and wrong to ask blacks to try to do what supposedly only whites were capable of doing.

Parker’s column is the same kind of self-blind rationalization as that. Women and men both share and differ in our strengths; there are different kinds of adaptation going on than that between white and black. But to say we should deny half the population the chance to contribute, and deny ourselves the benefit of that contribution, is not only wrong, but stupid.

African Americans & Women in the U.S. Army:

Article about female reservists in Desert Storm:

P.S. Funny quote from the third URL. Maj. Gena Bonini talking about supply raids:

“We were able to get every soldier in the battalion brand new hunting-type knives. I personally didn’t understand the popularity of the item, but all the guys thought they were the end-all and be-all of being a tough guy. They just had to have these big — we’re talking 12-inch-long — knives that strapped to their legs.”

Methinks Freud might have had a comment or two on that ;–)


Old school feminism

I love it when I encounter feminist thought from previous generations. Much of my lunchtime reading material comes from Project Gutenberg, where I discovered Arthur Conan Doyle’s Beyond the City. In it I found the following. The first is from a middle-aged feminist:

“I am sorry that I have no tea to offer you. I look upon the subserviency of woman as largely due to her abandoning nutritious drinks and invigorating exercises to the male. I do neither….”

[Another character suggests that “woman has a mission of her own.”]

The lady of the house dropped her dumb-bells with a crash upon the floor. “The old cant!” she cried. “The old shibboleth! What is this mission which is reserved for woman? All that is humble, that is mean, that is soul-killing, that is so contemptible and so ill-paid that none other will touch it. All that is woman’s mission. And who imposed these limitations upon her? Who cooped her up within this narrow sphere? Was it Providence? Was it nature? No, it was the arch enemy. It was man.”

“Oh, I say, auntie!” drawled her nephew.

“It was man, Charles. It was you and your fellows. I say that woman is a colossal monument to the selfishness of man. What is all this boasted chivalry—these fine words and vague phrases? Where is it when we wish to put it to the test? Man in the abstract will do anything to help a woman. Of course. How does it work when his pocket is touched? Where is his chivalry then? Will the doctors help her to qualify? will the lawyers help her to be called to the bar? will the clergy tolerate her in the Church? Oh, it is close your ranks then and refer poor woman to her mission! Her mission! To be thankful for coppers and not to interfere with the men while they grabble for gold, like swine round a trough, that is man’s reading of the mission of women. You may sit there and sneer, Charles, while you look upon your victim, but you know that it is truth, every word of it.”

And this is from a respected male character in the book, a retired doctor, in another scene:

“She is quite right. The professions are not sufficiently open to women. They are still far too much circumscribed in their employments. They are a feeble folk, the women who have to work for their bread—poor, unorganized, timid, taking as a favor what they might demand as a right. That is why their case is not more constantly before the public, for if their cry for redress was as great as their grievance it would fill the world to the exclusion of all others. It is all very well for us to be courteous to the rich, the refined, those to whom life is already made easy. It is a mere form, a trick of manner. If we are truly courteous, we shall stoop to lift up struggling womanhood when she really needs our help—when it is life and death to her whether she has it or not. And then to cant about it being unwomanly to work in the higher professions. It is womanly enough to starve, but unwomanly to use the brains which God has given them. Is it not a monstrous contention?”

And of course, the best and my ever-favorite, from Tolkien. Eowyn is ranting at Aragorn:

“All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more.”

A small aside: I do wish they’d left that exchange in the movie. It’s the heart of the Aragorn/Eowyn relationship; and I notice Aragorn says his heart is where Arwen dwells…