“The Glass Ceiling”


“The Glass Ceiling”

Years ago, when the feminist revolution was a new discovery for me, I telephoned a family friend who was the only woman engineer in an airplane factory.  I thought she’d be thrilled to hear of the New Day Dawning for women.  Instead she said dryly that her mother had been in the suffragette vanguard, whose liberation was bought at the price of low-wage women doing their cooking, cleaning, and baby tending.  It was deflating, but kept me aware of the reciprocities and dependencies.

What can be done to level the playing field at the top of law firms, corporations, congresses, universities, medical schools and the hard sciences?  Universal child care, flextime, lengthened paid maternity leaves, delayed tenure reviews, unisex toys for kids?  Maybe, but maybe not.

Women did not invent the refrigerators and freezers that allowed them to leave the house without all the food spoiling.  Nor the roads and constabulary that made it relatively safer to leave home.  Nor the laws that gave their marches for fair treatment a trove of principles to which to appeal.

Each sex has its advantages.  My first article on this subject, “Feminism Without Contradictions,” appeared in The Monist, a well-respected philosophic journal.  An earlier version was given at Stony Brook, ending with songs I wrote for “the movement” and belted out — my friend Fred the Drifter beside me on the guitar.  I wore a black mini-dress, black tights and black boots.  Would the auditorium have been as packed, or Fred come out from the Village by train, for a mere man who’d never sung in public?

When I was fired at Brooklyn College, my femininity was used to undermine me.  Of course it was!  It was a vulnerability.  What else would they use?  But those who helped — and they were many — were partly moved to help by the same vulnerability.  In martial arts, men have strength, women have agility, and you can win either way.


About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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