The ‘other’ choice

The ‘glass ceiling’ is a cliché so powerful, yet an image so evocative, that it is the friend of every harried content producer and the nightmare of every one of their editors. But in today’s world, that ceiling is still a reality for millions of women who are trying to build a career.

From politics to industry to academia, the ceiling stretches flat and forbidding; sometimes it is discernible, yet on many occasions much more subtle. The one phenomenon that remains a reality, however, is that most women tend to hit it at some point or the other in their careers.

Examples from the world of politics are numerous, the most famous being the inability of the two major parties to pick a female presidential candidate. Even in the lower rungs of powerful campaigns, this unseen barrier manifests itself.

A recent column in the New York Times about New York’s gubernatorial race made the point that there are remarkably few female advisors in strategic positions within both the Andrew Cuomo and Carl Paladino campaigns.

When juxtaposed with cold numbers — the state’s voting population is split almost equally between male and female — one can begin to make out a very disquieting picture that suggests that not enough campaigns care to look at women as anything more than a vote bank.

Of course, this is not to say that the ceiling is restricted to the dirty game that is politics. Academia, most noble of pursuits, is rife with instances of blatant discrimination aided by subtle barriers that impede the progress of women through the tenure system.

Often, the years that an aspiring faculty member has to put into the process of securing tenure coincide with the time that most people start families.

Exceedingly and disturbingly often, women in academia are presented with a “choice” that they cannot opt out of — the decision between family and career. Raising a child requires time, but somehow this is never a choice that many men have to make and live with.

Another case in point is the distorted outlook that society has with respect to appearance and grooming for women as opposed to men, even in a setting as professional as the workplace. No man ever had snide remarks accompany his wake because of a lack of dress-sense or personal grooming, yet women are automatically held to some magical higher standard by most of society in such matters.

Studies have found a startling gap in pay for men and women with the same jobs. More disturbingly, blind studies and experiments have demonstrated that a majority of paying customers (regardless of gender or ethnicity) in service-based industries picks male employees over female one (think doctors). This contributes to a cascade that manifests itself as the wage gap and, subsequently, the glass ceiling.

Fundamentally, this whole issue is a substantiation of our stereotypes with respect to gender roles in society. Until we change these perceptions, it is futile to expect that crafted legislation or a faux sense of fairness will address the issue at hand. There is no reason half the population must suffer the “choices” imposed on it by the clueless herd that is society.

Kartik thinks society-endorsed bias must end. Mail your support to kartikt@asu.edu


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