Fwd. A variation on the glass ceiling

AnneM (AnneM@edc.org)
Fri, 13 Mar 1998 10:21:10 -0500

Dear Edequity Colleagues,
Forwarded from WISENET. I'm sure some of you can help here. Where there is no
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Subject: A variation on the glass ceiling
From: Women In Science and Engineering NETwork <WISENET@listserv.uic.edu>
at Internet
Date: 3/13/98 8:45

Dear Wisenetters:
I am one of those kinds of women who tend to not notice irrational
attitudes that people have towards women, and just sail on with what I
want to do oblivious of the fact that some people are sending me signals
that nice girls don't do that sort of thing. But recently, a cluster of
events has caused me to sit up and take notice.
I came to my first permanent appointment at a time when women were still
rare in science, although no longer unprecedented (early '80s). Some of
the older men in the department didn't seem to know how to respond to me,
but many were supportive and helpful. However, as I progressed through
the ranks and became more powerful, one who had been especially helpful
and friendly when I was an assistant professor became more withdrawn and
even hostile. Finally, things exploded when my name was put up for chair
of the department, and I actually withdrew my name in part to avoid nasty
confrontations with him and his attempts to polarize the department over
my candidacy. (Although, I promise you, I will not let that happen
Then I learned that two other women I know who had entered academia at
about the same time, and who were now advancing to positions of power,
experienced exactly the same thing, that men who had been very supportive
of them when they first entered became hostile and irrational as the women
advanced to positions of power within the department. In one case, the
woman already had an associate chair position and retained it despite the
antagonism. In the other, the woman also withdrew her name from chair
candidacy. So I wonder if other people have noticed this, that some men
are happy to support a woman when she is in a junior position (and they
can be a mentor to her), but become hostile as the woman gains power,
perhaps because they feel threatened by powerful women. I've never read
about this in any of the literature about women's issues. This could be
one contributor to the glass ceiling, that women avoid the overt hostility
that arises when they begin to rise to powerful positions. I'd appreciate
any other personal stories, or pointers to discussions in the literature.

...Mary (a different Mary, who has not participated in but enjoyed the
asteroid discussions)

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