Thursday, January 29, 2009

Glass ceilings and scolds' bridles

When I was teaching, there was a past paper that we used for exam practice in Interpretation/Close Reading/What you will in which the passage set for interpretation dealt with the concept of the Glass Ceiling. This, of course, is the idea that women will never go all the way to the top in business because of factors which aren't obvious - or indeed are invisible - but merely because they are women. It was a difficult test, and some pupils struggled to understand the concepts, but the girls were uniformly indignant when the penny finally dropped.

My rant yesterday led me to considering a feature of this glass ceiling, one which the passage in question dealt with in one paragraph. (See how well I recall these things? I must have marked hundreds of papers on this one) The problem, apparently, is that an assertive woman is seen as strident, bossy. So any time a woman in a largely male environment comes up with a firmly-expressed opinion - especially if it's at odds with the opinions of the men - she's a nagging harridan. The men close ranks and freeze her out - and have a snigger later over a drink. And as her promotion will rest with men such as these, she'll stick. They don't want her in a position where she might also tell them what to do.

This was in business, but I can't help thinking it's pretty rife in church circles too. In the last twenty years or so there have been big changes in what is "allowed" in the church (let's stick with the Anglican/Episcopal model) - so we have women ordained to the priesthood and (though not yet in the UK) consecrated as bishops. But it's still seen as ok to object to them, to refuse to have them in your parish, to make sure they are not elected or even selected for consideration for a bishopric.

I was looking recently at a scold's bridle* in some museum or other. It was a vile instrument of torture, and it took little imagination on my part to feel the pain and horror of having to suffer this iron cage with a metal bar depressing the tongue and a padlock securing it at the back of the neck. I felt revolted that it was even there for me to see, representing as it did the unquestioned right of men to shut women up. I suppose these are the men who now look at a forcible woman as they would at a mouse who roared. Maybe that's progress after all...

*I'll leave this as a singular scold, I think, despite the horrid realisation that the thing would be used on many women.


  1. "forcible"? "forceful", surely?

  2. Forcible: Characterized by force; powerful

    But maybe I was being a tad sloppy.

  3. Let lexical battle commence!

    forceful: full of force or might; energetic; driven or acting with power.
    forcible: having force; done by force.

    Just a tad.

  4. might be a man's world, but several years ago at Mark's place of business a (very) curious event took place. A "shakedown" came, in which the office (referring to the people, as opposed to the physical building!) was restructured. Suddenly, a (very buxom) woman who had been the secretary/helper to the trainers (the men taught engineers of large factories to use ABB's processing equipment for "batching") was now MANAGING them. As I said, this was very curious, as Mark had a (preconceived?) notion that a manager should be able to jump in and take over in the event that one of the teachers was unable to be there, or teach. It wasn't too long after this that the company laid off many employees and I believe Miss Buxom was given the boot. I dunno...perhaps things here are different. Seems there are many women in the business world here who rule over men. Mark's boss at said company earned about 1/2-1/3 of his wife's salary. She was in a powerful position in human resources at a food processing (very large)company. If one of the children was sick, HE was the one to stay home and take care of him/her.
    The device of whih you speak sounds hideous! Interesting...some very SICK person must have designed such a bridle, as James (in the Bible) states that we use bridles on horses, but man (or woman) finds no such restaint for his/her tongue! Apparently, those folks had more freedom to speak!

  5. Women, like children, should be seen and not heard :-)

    Running for cover at a high rate of knots

  6. I yield to ABF's point: the perils of late-night blogging mean that yes, I was sloppy. Mea culpa.

    As for William - it's as well you keep your blogger profile private!