Monday, October 3, 2016

Breaking the glass ceiling; is this enough?

The term "glass ceiling" is used to describe the transparent barrier that prevents women and other minorities from climbing up the corporate ladder in the workplace. When Hillary Clinton was elected as the first female candidate for a major political party, her first words at the National Democratic Convention were:
I can't believe we just put the biggest crack in the glass ceiling yet.
Despite this historical achievement, the media have continued to base their commentary on superficial aspects of this campaign, sometimes writing solely about Hillary Clinton's hair. An article in the New York Daily News suggested that Clinton presents a good presidential look because of her "perfect highlights" on the cover of her new book.

Have any other news broadcasters published a similar article commenting on Donald Trump's hair? My research suggests not (despite the fact that his hair raises far more questions than Hillary Clinton's and in my opinion demands further explanation.) Nor was there an equivalent article written during the publication of Barack Obama's book before he was elected.

These observations beg the question: in the eyes of the media, when will women's achievements ever be enough? It scares me to think that in future generations, those for which this "glass ceiling" is deemed nothing more than a historical metaphor, successful women will still be required, on top of everything else, to meet superficial expectations for their looks.

If I have a daughter in later life, I imagine her coming to me at a young age, innocence and determination in her eyes as she confidently tells me she would like to become the head of government when she grows up. What would my reply be? "That is wonderful honey, but even after you have successfully come through your education, built a credible political reputation and gained the trust and respect of the nation, you must then prove your candidate worthiness by having well groomed hair and exuding an overall 'presidential look'."

This dual-standard for women to not only prove themselves professionally but to also satisfy certain expectations for their demeanor and looks is manifested in pop culture. It is hyper-sexualised in the showbiz and entertainment industries. This conceivably adds an additional tier to the glass ceiling, a further requirement in order to be deemed 'the ultimate woman'.

The roast of Justin Bieber was the third most watched ever for Comedy Central. Undoubtedly, the vast majority of these viewers were adolescents, mainly young girls. The roasting panel featured Martha Stewart who was praised afterwards for her dry and vulgar jokes. In her conclusion, the lifestyle personality advised the rebellious heart-throb to search for an influential, powerful woman to marry. She described this ideal future spouse as:
...a player in the boardroom and a freak in the bedroom. 
Pop-icon Usher released a hit song in which he expresses longing for a woman who is:

...a lady in the streets and a freak in the sheets.
This can be contrasted with self-proclaimed feminist Lilly Allen's lyrics:

If I told you about my sex life, you'd call me a slut but boys are talkin' bout their b****** and no one's making a fuss. 
In the eyes of the media, a woman who excels in the public sphere must also encompass the male's ideal in the private sphere. We are told that on top of other facets such as intelligence, relatability, humour, kindness and determination, women must also look good and have sex appeal. When I graduate from college and pursue a career practicing law, I hope that I will be evaluated on my hard work and quality of service to clients, not on my hairstyle.


Flamingo said...

Louise, thank you for this blog post. Your comments on hairstyle (specifically Trump's) made me laugh.
I find it interesting how society needs women to fit into categories. Your remarks toward the end about women having to appear differently in the streets than at home made me think of the round/pointy blog post and of the separate spheres theory.
It is still surprising to me how it is expected of women to have two sides that should not overlap. As soon as a woman dares to dress or act in a way that some people see inappropriate, she gets slut-shamed and considered easy and provocative. However, on the other side of the spectrum she would be called frigid and boring. I truly hope such a binary way of thinking can come to an end, as well as the double standard. There are so many more types of people and, as you said, appearance should not play such a big role - in the streets or at the workplace.

Kyle Kate Dudley said...


I agree with Flamingo. You tackled this terrible double standard with humor and aplomb. I am always horrified by the push in our society for women to play all roles at once, and particularly in heterosexual relationships, play a certain sex-kitten role for one man, and then keep that side of themselves locked away in all other aspects of their lives for fear of being shamed. I think you related this issue spectacularly to the pressures that Hillary and other high-profile women face.

I can't believe the fuss over Hillary's hair. Although, as I researched a little more about it, I did find this hilarious article entitled "History Shows Americans Don't Want a Bald President." Ha!

Earnest Femingway said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joan Maya said...


Thank you of reminding us of this issue! Reading your article it made me think how I am surprised that the media has not focused more on Hilly Clinton's appearance. This might be because of the nature of this specific election and all of the news stories that have come out. Or maybe my observation is skewed because of the news outlets I follow, and the media as a whole is in fact focusing on how Hillary Clinton looks. Either way I wonder, without the dramatic news stories that have come out this election cycle, would the media be focusing more on Hillary Clinton's appearance?

The dichotomy that was discussed in your blog post concerning the fact that women are expected to act one way with their romantic partners and another way at work reminded me of the idea that is often represented in the media - that women only have their sexuality as a tool to use to get ahead in the workplace. Has any one else been told to use their "feminine wiles" to be successful? I certainly have! I wonder if the trope of a woman using her "feminine wiles" to get ahead is becoming more dated, or is it something that women are still being told in the workforce and in society?

Flamingo said...


Interesting question! Unfortunately I do not think that this concept of being told to use our femininity is outdated. I certainly have heard that as well.
In fact, I have even experienced favors in the workplace due to my gender and my gender only. A former employer of mine openly bragged about hiring only young women and thus discriminating men. I found myself in a weird place of strongly disagreeing but being favored by his sexist views - all at the same time as I really needed the job of course.
So I would say that the trope is still present, we might just not notice it as much because we're used to it by now. Let's just hope the next generation of employers and CEOs will do better.

Josie Zimmermann said...

This reminded me of some new info I heard earlier this year that not only are the standards for "well groomed" much higher and ambiguous for women than men, they actually relate to salaries. This article talks about it a bit, but basically, if you want to actually be a successful woman, you have to spend money on your appearance. How absurd is that? So you'll have to also tell your daughter that she had better hope she's blessed with great skin or she'll have to learn how to apply makeup (but not too much, obviously). I think this is also tied up with the "feminine wiles" thing. In my experience women aren't actually flirting or seducing male managers to get ahead, but they are performing their femininity to a certain degree. I barely remember to put on sunscreen most days for school, but I had a full face of makeup on every day of my internship last summer. Somehow men have a clean standard for grooming, and women have a pretty standard.