Two glass ceilings

The over-representation of men vs. women in the top echelons of the workplace was raised in the case of the first scenario featuring Kim. This over-representation is frequently advanced as evidence of unfair discrimination against women. It is mediated by a club of senior male executives that limit the opportunities made available to women. Women confront a 'glass ceiling', an invisible barrier that impedes their progress up the career ladder.
However, if over-representation proves unfair discrimination in this domain, then it is clearly reasonable to apply the same reasoning to another domain. Women are clearly over-represented relative to men in the domain of child-care – also mentioned in the case of the first scenario. Does this not prove then that women unfairly discriminate against men participating more fully in parenting?

The second scenario featuring Terry certainly proves that men are considered more likely to abuse their own children – even though the evidence shows that an offence by the mother is far more likely. It would appear that men are considered to be lesser parents.

This is the other glass ceiling – or at least one facet. This is the glass ceiling faced by men.

Interestingly, this other glass ceiling is even more invisible than the original glass ceiling. It is not just an invisible barrier, it has gone largely unnoticed or perhaps deliberately ignored. Most men have felt this kind of discrimination to some degree, but it is rarely unacknowledged by men or women.

How do I know about the other glass ceiling? Well, for one thing I am a man. And I am a father. And I have experienced it.

I have often felt judged to be a lesser parent than a mother. As a single father, I have had others express surprise or even judgment that I am raising my family (in my time) without any maternal guidance. Older women and even teenaged girls have admonished me for not doing things 'the right way'.

I am also Kim and Terry. Both scenarios are based on actual experiences.

I have been accused of abusing my son by an anonymous person. Facing false accusations is a tough challenge under any circumstances. Doing so over an issue about how you treat your own children which threatens and undermines your relationship to your children is one that still makes me shudder.

But I have also turned up late for a major meeting at work with my child's vomit down the front of my suit. A far more trivial experience, but one that allowed me to see gender discrimination at work in the other direction. I suspect the situation even favored me as a man. It showed me as a rounded human. I doubt it would have been the same for a woman.

So, I have bumped into both glass ceilings from opposite directions. I have been the traditional male breadwinner in the predominantly male professional world far from parenting issues and responsibilities. Like so many women who have been done this juggling act for some many decades, I have also been a single-parent who has to manage the task of raising my family.

A person's life can be broken down into two quite separate and distinct worlds. One I will call the public sphere, the professional world; the other the private sphere, the home. This distinction is not mine. Feminist scholars introduced this idea almost 40 years ago.

It would appear that women are largely constrained to roam in the private sphere and men in the public sphere. Each may pursue their dreams in their gender-specific sphere, but is likely to be meet constraints when they roam into the other sphere.

I would like to explore this idea more completely. I will begin by asking three basic questions:

  • Which sex dominates the public sphere?
  • Which sex dominates the private sphere, and
  • Which sphere is better?
However, let me start with "Which sphere is better?" and then return to the other two questions.

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