For example, In my days as a burgeoning baby feminist, I started coming across some terms that other folks bandied about without really explaining. “Glass ceiling,” or “heteronormative,” or “structural inequality.”
I didn’t really understand a lot of it, and it took a lot of time and exposure to them to start getting a sense of the nuance behind them. To sum it up for anyone who may be wondering, here’s my experience: the patriarchal “glass structure” is code for when you see men succeeding and women failing, but you can’t quite put your finger on why.
Nobody’s come out and said “I think women are inferior,” but there are a collection of coincidences hard to dismiss. Instances where men consistently do well and women consistently don’t. Moments where everything seems to be going right, and then the outcome is somehow skewed.
The biological differences between men and women are smaller than you might believe. There’s no genetically coded switch that makes boys better at working or being in command than girls. example, So naturally, that leads us to conclude that there are societal systems in place which allow and assist men to flourish, while simultaneously setting women up to fail.
Nothing concrete can be seen, but the presence of these glass structures, as societal expectations and fall-backs you can’t see but are nonetheless very present, account for most of these vast differences.
Here are the glass structures of the patriarchy: you can’t see them, but they’re holding us* back.
*NB: these structures apply to all marginalized groups. I’ll be writing specifically about my own experiences as a white woman
The Glass Ceiling
This one is most commonly known and was the first one I was made familiar with. Defined by The United States Federal Glass Ceiling Commission as “the unseen, yet unbreachable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements,” this basically boils down to when you look at a company and you see that after a certain level of promotions, you just run out of women.
At my company, the sex ratio is about 50:50. As a tech company, we’re remarkably good for having lots of female developers.
example, But if you take a look at our board of directors, it’s a sea of white men. Somehow, in all the key leadership positions, there’s no woman. Every opportunity was offered first to the white men, and then not at all to anyone else.
“Americans see women as emotional and affectionate, men as more aggressive.” — Frank Newport, Gallup Poll
The problem is self-perpetuating. Men at the top see women as weaker, more inferior, and even less courageous than men. So when the time comes to choose their successor, they’re inclined to choose more men. Women receive less mentorship as men choose other men to coach.
The result is a Glass Ceiling. You can’t see why, for example, you can’t perceive the reason, but there’s an undeniable pattern of women topping out at a certain level of management, while men continue to rise.
The Glass Escalator
This one’s a little less well-known. Introduced by Christine L. Williams in 1992, it explains the trend of men doing exceptionally well in female-led industries.
Think about it: as industries, is makeup more for men or women? Clothing? Cooking? Caretaking? Teaching? Yet in all of these female-driven industries, you see all the men — clustered at the top of the totem pole. Even though most of the employees in these fields are women, the leadership is all male.
Anecdotally, for example, most of the big makeup companies you can think of are run by men. L’Oreal, Revlon, Estée Lauder, OPI Nail Polish, and MAC Cosmetics are all run by boys.
But beyond example, there’s systematic evidence. According to a study done in 2015, only 29% of leadership in makeup companies is female. Fashion is 27%. Only 21% of top chefs are women.