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The glass ceiling isn’t just a lid placed upon an airtight compartment to imprison women; it also refers to the incapability of men and women alike to think beyond the limits set by that ceiling.
As the present century approaches the completion of its first quarter, there is an increased tendency to misuse the phrase “shattered the glass ceiling,” which is loosely used with each feat accomplished by one so-called “overachieving” female.
The term “overachiever,” through its connotation, limits the achievement of an average woman.
Just like other patriarchal constructs forced upon the schemas of several generations, the concept of achievement attained by a woman is not easily digested. This is because the glass ceiling isn’t just a lid placed upon an airtight compartment to imprison women; it also refers to the incapability of men and women alike to think beyond the limits set by that ceiling.
That is why it is a matter of great awe when a woman achieves something.
This glass ceiling is not a reachable space, but a framed structure tightened to be held in place with its hinges strongly intact on all sides. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels have described in detail the real reason for the construction of this ceiling. It was neither myth nor religion nor culture, but to ensure the passage of property to a man’s true heir.
This construction was to put control over women’s bodies and sexuality. But in the name of creating order in society, women were enchained to live within the limited space granted to them.
For the same reason, pay disparity has been maintained across genders to deny any kind of control to women. This tight compartment had developed an ecosystem of its own where most women had learned to surrender and survive to let their life processes continue. They were not able to look beyond the atmosphere developed within this ecosystem, even when the ceiling made of glass promised more light from beyond, from above, and from around the corners.
Whenever a woman achieves something, thereby giving the said glass ceiling a severe blow, the hinges of this framed structure weaken a little to let some fresh air in, and this gust of fresh air is celebrated with such glorified enthusiasm that it is assumed that the glass ceiling has been shattered. But it remained very much intact, and the fresh gust of air soon became stale due to overconsumption of the tale in the tight compartment.
Soon every woman felt inspired to rise and “break the ceiling” by following similar footsteps, and in the process, she competed against every other woman who was feeling inspired the same way because the internal ecosystem of this compartment was conditioned to support the pyramidal structure.
Instead of celebrating every achievement right from birth and surviving to heal, pulling each other up and rising, from climbing mountains and taking combative training to become a solo backpacking traveller and adventurer, from becoming an entrepreneur from within the thresholds of the house to crossing the threshold and the bars and pars of excellence set, women were forced to look in a single direction.
This too had been a shrewd patriarchal plan where women were encouraged to shatter the glass ceiling at that very point, which was already weak due to the blow so that even if they got a space to escape, it should allow one person out at a time while other parts of the glass ceiling remained intact.
Women were pitted against each other and made to believe in the survival of the fittest, while men continued to expand their horizons in a multidirectional way.
It was also falsely popularized that a woman is a woman’s greatest enemy, as one competes with the other for her space—a single area that has already been brought to light where women can show their potential without posing much of a threat to the patriarchy.
In all the places where the blows in the glass ceiling are being made, cracks appear, blurring the view for those living under it.
These blurred views of vision represent the various distorted perceptions of reality according to which society comprehends the success of a woman as being an easy one achieved by sheer dumb luck, at the cost of family and honour, or through unfair means.
Often, these cracked perceptions multiplied by the inhibition created by the stale atmosphere of the above-mentioned ecosystem create a kaleidoscopic view of reality that being more colourful adds to the entertainment value of a tale, renders the reality a farce, and poses a direct challenge to the inspiration that the other women could have taken from their sister’s success story.
However, Marie Curie became the first and only person to have received a Nobel Prize in two different scientific disciplines, when Margaret Hamilton, the lead software designer for NASA’s Apollo program saved the mission through her flight software which prevented a last-minute calling off of the landing on the Moon; when Mary Wollstonecraft, Simone de Beauvoir, Helen Cixous, Sandra Gilbert, Virginia Woolf and many others enlightened women regarding their “second sex” status, about the atrocities and mechanisms of patriarchy with which women have been manipulated to not try their horizons and venture beyond them.
When Malala Yousafzai took a bullet for her right to education; when actress Neena Gupta boldly decided to raise her love child and didn’t let the stigma of honour and single motherhood attach to her family when in the regressive Bollywood industry actresses like Anushka Sharma and Kareena Kapoor embraced motherhood at the peak of their career and continued to take on the lead roles in movies post their maternity leave and actresses like Priyanka Chopra made her name internationally advocating the all-triumphing importance of financial independence and love in marriage rather than age.
When acid attack fighters like Laxmi Agrawal refused to suffer and become depressed and built fruitful lives and entrepreneurial ventures for themselves; when even after being amputated Arunima Singh didn’t let the tragedy overpower her spirits and scaled Mount Everest, each gave such permanent and damaging blows to the glass ceiling in so many, multi-faceted directions that a large part of the ceiling came down in the past century and a half.
This gap made the fresh flow of breeze permanent, and the stagnation of millennia escaped.
All this shattering of the glass ceiling, thus, is not an individual’s localized case, but the collective effect of many women’s effort to break free in all possible directions, simultaneously and continuously, striking with whatever force they were, and are, able to apply.
Image source: CanvaPro
Dr. Nishtha Mishra is an internationally published author. She is a Doctorate in English Literature from one of the reputed Central Universities. She has been an all round topper and has 5 gold medals to read more...
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I recommend reading Manjiri Indurkar's Origami Aai alongside her memoir to have a fulfilling and enriching experience of telling one's story with grace.
It’s All In Your Head, M famed author Manjiri Indurkar’s debut poetry collection, Origami Aai, is independent and yet an extension of her memoir in which she speaks with utmost grace about all forms of abuses that she has survived. In this book of intriguing and evocative poems, the poet weaves words to form images of the everyday life of her middle-class family, love found and lost, trauma, and healing.
The collection is divided into four segments, beginning with the family, slowly moving towards the world, and finally colliding them together.
We aren’t in mourning, but we are creatures of habit.
So we talk of each one who died of drowning,
and I listen to her stories with the patience
of a chronicler.
– Funereal Stories
When someone accuses you of "too much feminism", what they are really saying is, "I am uncomfortable with you challenging the status quo and disrupting my privilege".
Time and again, there is one phrase that keeps coming up in the social media discourse on feminism. Any guesses?
Ah, no prizes for guessing the infamous “itni bhi feminist” or “too much feminism” phrase, a classic eye-roller for me, and I am sure for many more of my tribe, in the realm of gender equality discussions.
Pray tell me, how can an ideology, a movement be too ‘much’? It’s not salt or the seasoning of your soup where you can go, “Oops, too much salt, only one spoon was required”. Either you stand for what feminism stands for, or you don’t.
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