I have asked quite a few people what the phrase "glass ceiling" means to them. Some say that it refers explicitly to a conspiracy by men to hold women down. Others say that it may have some broader, vaguer meaning about unknown obstacles that hold women back. They acknowledge that a patriarchal conspiracy is one interpretation, but there might be others.
They were unfortunately rather vague about the other meanings. One person said it might be blocks in women themselves, such as lack of ambition or lack of confidence or simply just complacent laziness. I doubt that this is a common interpretation. When Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin spoke of "shattering the glass ceiling," do you think they meant overcoming their own laziness and complacency? Indeed, if the glass ceiling is understood as referring to factors within women themselves - unlikely, because the glass ceiling metaphor refers to an external obstacle that holds the woman down, not a flaw in herself that prevents her from rising - then alluding to it could be considered sexist bias against women.
Thus, one clear meaning of the glass ceiling is that men are conspiring together against women. This has been one of the themes of feminist rhetoric: Evil men oppress women. In order for women to rise to the top, they not only need to achieve like men do, but they also need to overcome the unfair efforts by men to hold them back.
In that interpretation, to say there is a glass ceiling is to accuse men of doing wicked things: of conspiring against women to keep them down. If men are actually engaged in such a conspiracy, then talking about it is a valid way of protesting injustice and promoting liberty. But if men are not conspiring and oppressing, then talk of glass ceilings is irresponsible accusation. It can even be regarded hate-mongering, in that it inspires negative feelings toward men, and unfairly so. At least, such speech is an attack on men, unless one has clear proof. Candidates (and others) who use the term "glass ceiling" should be required to furnish persuasive proof that men are indeed engaged in such a conspiracy.
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