Category Archives: Gender

Glass ceiling or labyrinth? Reexamining the gender gap at the top

By Kevin R. Betts

I was recently asked to give a talk in an organizational psychology course about the gender gap in leadership positions. In determining the approach I would take for this talk, I asked several colleagues for their thoughts on the issue. The near immediate response from many of them was stated directly, “The glass ceiling!” Ostensibly, an invisible barrier referred to as a glass ceiling prevents women from securing positions of power. I imagine that this metaphor resonates with many readers as well. Ever since the Wall Street Journal’s Carol Hymowitz and Timothy Schellhardt coined this term in 1986, perceptions of a glass ceiling have been central to the public’s understanding of gender inequality in the workplace. But how accurate is this metaphor today?

Emerging evidence now suggests that the glass ceiling metaphor inadequately depicts the experiences of women in the workforce (Eagly & Carli, 2007). For example, the glass ceiling metaphor implies the presence of an impenetrable barrier to top leadership positions. Today, it is clear that this barrier is no longer impenetrable. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi serve as examples of women at the top (Hoyt, 2010). Additionally, the glass ceiling metaphor leaves challenges faced by women at lower- and midlevel positions unaccounted for. Women do not progress through the ranks unimpeded before reaching these top positions. Rather, they face a series of challenges and problems along the way. Considering these limitations, Eagly and Carli (2007) have proposed that the challenges faced by women in the workforce can be better understood through the metaphor of a labyrinth. Consistent with traditional uses of the term, women aspiring to attain top leadership positions must navigate routes that are full of twists and turns. Some problems encountered within the labyrinth include prejudice, resistance to women’s leadership, issues of leadership style, demands of family life, and underinvestment in social capital. Although certainly more complex, the metaphor of a labyrinth seems to better depict challenges faced by working women today.

One can also better understand how to address the leadership gender gap using the metaphor of a labyrinth. If resistance toward women’s leadership is a primary obstacle, then interventions should target attitudes of those who are resistant to women’s leadership. If demands of family life are deemed problematic, then interventions might target the nature of relationships at home. As obstacles are identified and overcome, the leadership gender gap can be expected to shrink at a faster and faster rate.

Read more:

Where is the female Steve Jobs? (New York Times)

Glass ceiling not the obstacle it was (Yuma Sun)

Eagly, A.H., & Carli, L.L. (2007). Through the Labyrinth: The Truth about How Women become Leaders. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Hoyt, C.L. (2010). Women, men, and leadership: Exploring the gender gap at the top. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4/7, 484-498.

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts

Gendering responsibility for child obesity

The Daily Mail’s recent article ‘Has feminism killed the art of home cooking?’ serves as an example of the mediated discourses which hold feminist values and therefore women, as responsible for the so-called child obesity epidemic (WHO, 2010). The argument centers on three discourses – morality, science and gender.

In contemporary societies the responsibility for health is increasingly that of the individual (Petersen 1997). That is, we are held morally responsible for the quality and quantity of food that passes our lips, the amount of exercise we take and so on. So weight gain is presumed to be a result of health-defeating practices. However unlike adults, children are clearly not able to self-regulate and manage their own health because children cannot be responsible for food production and consumption themselves. That responsibility, it is argued, resides with parents and specifically with mothers. Drawing on natural science discourses, advocates of this position argue that due to biology ‘women possess a greater nurturing instinct than men’. Therefore mothers are presumed to have primary responsibility for their children’s health. If children are overweight it is mothers and not fathers who are held accountable.

Maher, Fraser and Wright’s (2010) research on media representations of mothers has identified two ways in which they are held accountable. The first, like the Daily Mail, points to the increasing absence of the family meal. It suggests that if women didn’t follow feminist values and work so long or so hard, then they would have more time to spend at home creating nutritious meals. It is their absence from the home that is blamed as the reason children eat at junk food outlets far too often, survive on processed meals and eat too many snack foods. The second way mothers are held accountable is through pregnancy. Scientists argue that ‘diet, exercise and women’s attentiveness before and during pregnancy are linked to specific disabilities, to childhood health generally and, more recently, to childhood obesity’ (Maher, Fraser and Wright, 2010).

It is these mediated discourses that hold mothers specifically responsible for the battle of the bulge, but more generally they argue ‘it’s feminism we have to thank for the spread of fast-food chains and an epidemic of childhood obesity.’

Has feminism killed the art of home cooking?

Is it really women’s fault our kids are fat?

WHO – Obesity and overweight

Obesity

Are we what we eat?

Having read the previous post ‘Dining with death’ I thought I’d offer a short gendered perspective on vegetarianism.

It is no accident that in Western cultures the vast majority of vegetarians are women – only about 30% are men. One of the key reasons for this is that there is a strong link between the eating of animal flesh and maleness (Potts and Parry, 2010). So entrenched is this connection that men’s consumption of meat is seen as an exemplar of normative masculinity (Sobal, 2005). Indeed it is widely considered to be an essential sustenance for the healthy male body. Red meat in particular is seen as important for men because it consists of muscle (much like the prototypical image of the male body), which provides for strength, energy and virility. Red meat is frequently eaten in a semi-cooked or near raw state with signs of blood thereby symbolising vitality and strength (Potts and Parry, 2010).

Eating red meat in a more or less raw state also enables a power relationship to be formed between the slaughtered animal and the consumer that links to masculine power and domination over nature (Fiddes, 1991). A refusal to consume meat thereby signals the opposite of red-blooded masculinity – femininity. Such gendered notions are often expressed in the media by ‘hunter-gatherer’ metaphors (Gough, 2007). Not surprisingly then, fewer men than women are vegetarian. Vegetarian men typically come under more scrutiny than women and often bear the brunt of ridicule for their choice of food.

Vegetarianism

Masculinity

Despite claims, children of same-sex parents doing no worse than other children

By Erica Zaiser

In Mexico the Supreme Court just decided to uphold gay adoption despite some arguments that children of gay parents are at risk of increased discrimination. Meanwhile, Australian senate hopeful, Wendy Francis, stated on her Twitter account that children of gay parents suffer from emotional abuse. She argues that gay parents deprive their children from having either a mother or a father and that this is tantamount to abuse. She isn’t the first politician to try to argue that homosexual couples should not be allowed to have children because non-straight parents can’t be as good as straight parents. However, there is little evidence to back up claims that children of gay parents are deprived or less well-adjusted than children from straight couples. In fact there is ample research showing just the opposite.

Beyond the research that has shown that gay and lesbian relationships are no less stable than heterosexual relationships, there is also research showing that the benefits children receive by being raised by two parents of opposite genders are the same for children of two same-sex parents. In fact if there are any differences, many researchers are now finding that gay parents might have even more well-adjusted children than some straight couples (especially when two women are raising a child). Very recent work looking at adopted children of gay couples versus adopted children of heterosexual couples finds that when examining their development and behaviour, children of gay couples do just as well. All this research supports what seems entirely obvious to me: children from two loving parents of any gender will probably turn out better than children of parents who don’t want them or can’t handle them. It does seem reasonable that on average children of gay couples would be even more well-adjusted than many other children because usually the choice to have children for a same-sex couple is very conscious and particularly, when adoption is involved, can require a great deal of time and resources. So, two parents who work so hard to have a child can’t possibly be worse than two parents who don’t really want a child in the first place but happen to fill the 1:1 male female quota that makes up a traditional “family.”

Emotional or Sexual Infidelity? If you have to pick one….

By Erica Zaiser

Which is worse, your partner being sexually or emotionally unfaithful? For most people either an emotional or sexual affair can inspire feelings of anger or jealousy. However, “Sugarbabe” author Holly Hill argues that, for men, cheating is normal and thus women should accept that their partner will probably cheat on them. She says, however, that women can regain control by allowing their partners to cheat but controlling the circumstances. According to her, by creating rules about your partner cheating you can structure their infidelity and dissuade them from keeping their affairs secret. In particular, Hill seems to suggest that it is emotional affairs which hurt, and by allowing sexual infidelity she keeps her partner from having an emotional relationship with someone else. For example she says that in her relationship, her boyfriend is allowed to have sex with other women but not sleep over or go on “romantic weekends”.

Although her ideas may seem inconceivable for many couples, there is empirical evidence showing that women are more likely than men to say that emotional jealousy is more distressing than sexual jealousy. So, for some women (particularly if they accept the idea that men are “destined to cheat”, which is really an entirely separate topic for debate and not particularly well supported in the psychology literature), it might seem like the lesser of two evils for a partner to cheat sexually if that discourages a possible emotional affair. Hill also says that in her relationship she too is allowed to be unfaithful, but both sexually and emotionally because her boyfriend is “okay with it”. However, it isn’t very clear how this arrangement reduces potential sexual jealousy for either her or her partner. Sexual jealousy, according to research, is equally distressing for men and women. This is despite the assumptions by many evolutionary theorists that men should be more jealous of sexual infidelity than women. What do you think of Hill’s arrangement? Do evolutionary psychology theories about jealousy support her ideas or not?

Read More: ‘Sugarbabe’ favors negotiated infidelity

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RIP Cpt. Phil. You’ve earned it!

(image from deadliestcatchwiki.wetpaint.com)

Last night, Discovery Channel aired its tribute to Phil Harris, captain of the crabbing vessel Cornelia Marie. Cpt. Phil died of a massive stroke at the untimely age of 53 on February 9th, 2010, while tapping the latest season of the hit series Deadliest Catch.  While I enjoyed the series, I wouldn’t consider myself a die-hard fan; I just learned of Cpt. Phil’s death earlier this week. However, I am an admirer of the man. When I did watch the show, I noticed something familiar about the grizzly captain. There was something about his spirit, his attitude, that seemed to shout “I’m going to do whatever the hell I want.” I liked that. But during last night’s show, learning about the man through the stories told by his closest friends, it was like reliving my own father’s death and listening to his friends tell similar stories.

Both men—my father, Joe, and Phil—where thickheaded men who lived the way they wanted. They both had two sons, but saw them far less than they would have wanted to. They both worked their ass off all of their lives. They lived hard and they played hard. They smoked, drank, and ate some of the best tasting, cholesterol-filled, artery-clogging foods that a person could consume. While their personal habits may be seen to some as crude or even selfish—in the sense that their habits lead to their untimely deaths—those who were closest to them seemed to admire their rebel spirits. That spirit that lead my Dad and Phil to continue working like dogs, drinking like fish and smoking like chimneys until their early 50s, when it finally caught up to them.

While I admire these men, I also remember that they were fathers who left their loved ones behind far to early. So I must ask myself, should we (me, my brother, Joe Jr., and Phil’s sons, josh and Jake) live like our fathers who we loved and admire dearly, or change? Should we realize the unbalanced natures of the rebel lifestyle, filled with packs of smokes, gallons of coffee and cases of beer every day, or embrace the rebel and say ”to hell with the consequences, I’ll live my life the way I God-damn please!” The same way I have for the past fifteen years? Can we? Though I can’t speak for the other sons in this story, I can speak for myself. I am changing.

I have recently learned of my own paternity. In the next six months my first son or daughter will be born. And for him/her I have quit smoking, cut-down on the coffee and alcohol, but my diet still needs some work; I love butter…. Every day I must ask myself if I want to be like my Dad and leave this earth never seeing my child venture off to college or pursue their talents, whatever they may be. I don’t. I don’t want them ask themselves the same questions about their father that I have. I don’t want them to make the same mistakes and to endure the pains of changing their entire lifestyle. It is very difficult, but I must. I want to see them grow up. I want to be a different type of role model.

Usually, I would include some applicable research to this story. Some article addressing how a son’s understanding of his father relates to his own identity and behavior would do well. Frankly, I couldn’t find any. It seems that fatherhood has been neglected in the literature (Samuels, 2007). I did find that even at an early age, our Father’s seem to be a source of a good time and congruent positive arousal (Feldman, 2003). And perhaps that is the difficulty in separating ourselves from our fathers: they know how to have fun. We must remember them for who they were, the great times they brought us, but try desperately not to make the same mistakes. I think they would want that. Perhaps there is a way to embrace the rebel while not ingesting the copious amounts of poison that seems to come with it. In the words of another fallen rebel father, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, I will ponder this rotten assignment and learn how to cope with it. Until then, I will close with an appeal to The Great Magnet: May these men rest and be remembered fondly. They’ve earned it.

A Relation Called Father Part 1: The Father in Depth PsychologyA Relation Called Father Part 1: The Father in Depth Psychology

Infant-mother and infant-father synchrony: The coregulation of positive arousalInfant-mother and infant-father synchrony