The Glass Ceiling: A Barrier and an Opportunity

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Hello everyone,

What a fascinating time, a historic time, for the United States! 

As I follow current events, filled with the latest stories on our presidential candidates, my reflections turn to the elephant in the room.  It is seldom directly mentioned, because it’s indefensible and irrational.  We know it shouldn’t even be there.  But, despite its nearly invisible presence, it influences current events and our personal lives, like the wind might influence the path of Hurricane Matthew.

I am referring to the phenomenon called, “the glass ceiling.”  Let’s explore what it is—its role on the political stage, as well as in our personal lives.  I hope my thoughts will strengthen and support you, as you work to overcome glass ceilings in your own life. 

As usual, my perspective is filled with hope and comes from my belief that we can transform any obstacle in our path into an opportunity for personal growth.

Also, please take a look at my new posts in Viewpoint—a powerful page from Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”—and in my Creative Writing section—the poem, “Remember Me.” Links to them are at the end of the newsletter.

I hope you’ll enjoy it! :)


The Glass Ceiling: A Barrier and an Opportunity

In this historic presidential election, Hillary Clinton has the opportunity to break “the glass ceiling,” the metaphorical barrier that sets limits on women and minorities.  Hillary Clinton’s glass ceiling is the current prejudice against a woman becoming president of the United States.  In the article, “If Hillary Clinton Groped Men,” Nicholas Kristof asks, “Is there a double standard for women in politics?”  He illustrates the contrast in social standards for the two presidential candidates by cleverly exchanging Donald Trump’s name with Hillary Clinton’s. 

What might be tolerated or ignored due to male stereotyping suddenly appears ludicrous and unacceptable if performed by a woman.  The gender shift effect capitalized in Kristof’s article is strangely enlightening and startling.

As a minority and a woman, I think glass ceilings are a personally relevant and fascinating topic.  As a psychiatrist and artist, it is natural for me to ponder on its subtle influence within our psyches, or to want to write an essay about its nature.  But . . . as a human being cut by its sharp edge, glass ceilings lose their intellectual distance and take on flesh and blood—four dimensional experiences, with human faces that leave one flailing at the emotional cliff edge.

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What is a glass ceiling?  To me, it represents the expectations and assumptions that form stereotypes and social roles, which confine and define individuals within society.  By accepting the glass ceiling, we allow two-dimensional caricatures to replace a full and authentic life.  In essence, the glass ceiling is the groundless, baseless “cannot” that initially comes from without, but later becomes the “cannot” from within.  We yield to its invisible and silent presence, to fit ourselves into categories, labels, and roles, following its dictates, and letting go of our dreams and aspirations.

I have had a few experiences with glass ceilings.  Growing up in Utah, being Chinese put me in a class of my own, far more so than if I were raised in a melting pot such as New York City.  In addition, the LDS (Mormon) culture, to which I belonged, heavily emphasized the godly role given to women to be homemakers, leaving little doubt in young minds that other worldly pursuits would undermine that role.  

I felt the glass ceiling in high school, when I set a precedent at Bountiful High as the first Junior Class Officer, who didn’t have a date to Junior Prom and therefore, could not attend—sending me the message that I may be popular, but not that popular.  In college, my first marriage proposal went something like this, “I would marry you in a heart beat, but you are a shoe-in for medical school, and I’ve always wanted to have a family with twelve children.”  Meaning, I needed to choose between being the housewife to those twelve, delightful children, or look forward to a lonely future as a spinster-doctor. Obviously, another lucky woman has had the pleasure of handling that homemaking experience. 

I hit the glass ceiling again, when I chose integrative approaches for my psychiatric practice and used it to lower patients’ medications.  For that choice, the Maryland Board challenged me through the Board review process, stating that integrative approaches were “outside the standard of care.”  Fortunately, I broke that glass ceiling with the help of a tough attorney, Jacques Simon. 

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Needless to say, I don’t like glass ceilings.  

However, they have taught me a great deal about myself: who I am and who I can be.  Glass ceilings challenge us with the questions, “Do we dare to live courageously and authentically beyond the limits set by someone else?”  And, “Will we be the Columbus of our life journey?  Or, will we stay put, fearing the oblivion of the uncharted?”  Rhetorical questions, you may think, but not so rhetorical in real life. 

Glass ceilings can be viewed as the boundary where the “I am” bumps into the “You are not.”  Encountering it invites us to peer past the limits we had taken for granted.  We discover that the “impossible” was only waiting for our imagination to enlarge a little, our paradigm to shift a bit, and our vision to focus on a further point.  By doing so, we transform glass ceilings into opportunities, just as this election is illustrating on the political stage.

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You and I have glass ceilings waiting for us to break.  I encourage us to break them, whether you are male or female, young or old, rich or poor.  As I write this, a story by Dr. Seuss comes to mind.  In this story, the boy starts off on his journey through life and experiences some difficult times.  At the end of the story, Dr. Seuss writes:

You’ll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know,
You’ll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact,
And remember that Life’s
A Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left

And will you succeed?
Yes!  You will, indeed!
(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)
KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!

So…
Be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
Or Moredcai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!

“Oh, the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss

Pick a glass ceiling to break today!