Reader question: In her farewell speech to end her campaign for Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton said: "If we can blast 50 women into space, we will somehow launch a woman into the White House. And although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest, glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it has got about 18 million cracks in it" (In emotional end to her campaign, Clinton endorses Obama, AFP, June 7, 2008). What does she mean with "glass ceiling" and "18 million cracks"?
The glass ceiling here refers to the White House, residence of the President of the United States. The "18 million cracks" refer to her 18 million supporters, those who have cast their votes in her favor.
"Glass ceiling" is an idiom referring to the barrier women face in the office, which prevents them from going to the top. The ceiling of a building is the top cover of the house, hence alluding to the top positions in the office. "Glass" is metaphorical. Glass is transparent and sometimes invisible, but it is there, alluding to the subtle nature of the glass ceiling facing women in government – although some people may not see it, it is there.
When it comes to women in government, the glass ceiling is certainly there in America (and elsewhere of course) – the so-called land of freedom and equality has yet to put a woman into the White House (not as a suffering spouse, I mean).
Neither has it elected a black person President, which means Barack Obama has his version of a glass ceiling to crack, too. Obama is black and that is clearly a handicap, just as Hilary is handicapped being a woman. In fact, being black may be a bigger handicap than being a woman, what with slavery and the particular racial history America has had with its black population. People even talk of Obama being assassinated if he stays in the race for the White House. That, in a nutshell, speaks volumes.
Other underprivileged people face similar handicaps too, Asians, Hispanics, American Indians….
Which brings us back to "glass ceiling" the term. Although the term is most often used to indicate discrimination against women, “glass ceiling” can be used for anyone who is discriminated against and prevented from succeeding.
Here are a few examples:
1. THIS time last year it looked as if Hillary Clinton's path to the Democratic nomination would be a cakewalk. She had the best brand-name in American politics. She controlled the Democratic establishment. She had money to burn and a double-digit lead in the opinion polls. And as the first American woman to have a chance of breaking the presidential glass ceiling, she had a great story to tell.
- The fall of the House of Clinton, The Economist, June 5, 2008.
2. Savio Rodrigues has published an interesting post about the adoption of commercial open source software that brings together his thoughts about open source business models and suggests that commercial open source vendors may be heading for a glass ceiling.
- Does Open Source Have a Glass Ceiling? linuxtoday.com, June 7, 2008.
3. Government statistics show that for every 100 Asian Americans employed by a university in the United States, only six hold faculty or administrative positions.
Among African-Americans, 21 out of 100 are faculty members. For whites, the number is 16 out of 100, and for Hispanics, it's 15 out of 100. "It is a fact that when [scientists] come here, particularly from an Asian country, they almost put themselves back 10 years,"said Thomas Wagner, a professor of molecular medicine at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina.
The lack of representation is obvious not only at universities, but also in industry and federal agencies, Woo said. …
But Cornell officials said they don't believe a glass ceiling exists at the university. - Asian Scientists Hit a Ceiling, wired.com, February, 2005.
4. Ten years after Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) became the first and only openly gay person to win election to a first-term seat in Congress, four gay men and a lesbian are running for Congress this year and political observers say each faces an uphill fight.
Although three other open gays, including Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), have repeatedly won re-election to seats in the House of Representatives, each of them first won their seats before they publicly disclosed their sexual orientation.
Supporters of the gay congressional candidates running this year say they are hopeful that at least one or more of the five will break through what some have called a "glass ceiling" that has prevented another open gay from winning a first-term congressional seat since Baldwin's victory in 1998. - Five gay candidates for Congress battle ‘glass ceiling’, washblade.com, March 7, 2008.