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.