Choose Your Glass Ceiling
Gloria Steinem has a terrific piece in Friday’s New York Times. Imagine a woman who had been a state senator, half black, half white, but considered black because she looks black. Would this woman be elected to the United States Senate after eight years as a local politician, and then be taken seriously as a presidential candidate with less than a full senate term under her belt? And let’s not forget that women got the vote in 1920, half a century after blacks did. Steinem makes the case that gender discrimination isn’t given the same regard as race discrimination:
So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one? The reasons are as pervasive as the air we breathe: because sexism is still confused with nature as racism once was; because anything that affects males is seen as more serious than anything that affects “only” the female half of the human race; because children are still raised mostly by women (to put it mildly) so men especially tend to feel they are regressing to childhood when dealing with a powerful woman; because racism stereotyped black men as more “masculine” for so long that some white men find their presence to be masculinity-affirming (as long as there aren’t too many of them); and because there is still no “right” way to be a woman in public power without being considered a you-know-what.
But the best point she makes is that advances in how we view gender and in how we view race are interdependent, and breaking the glass ceiling in one helps shatter the glass ceiling in the other.
I’m not advocating a competition for who has it toughest. The caste systems of sex and race are interdependent and can only be uprooted together. That’s why Senators Clinton and Obama have to be careful not to let a healthy debate turn into the kind of hostility that the news media love. Both will need a coalition of outsiders to win a general election. The abolition and suffrage movements progressed when united and were damaged by division; we should remember that.
Does it matter which glass ceiling is broken first, as long as we can move toward eliminating glass ceilings?Click here for reuse options!
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