Only So Much Room at the Top of the Glass Ceiling: Why Young Women Can’t Find a Safe Place in Politics
It’s eight o’ clock in the morning and my dorm room smells like burnt toast and dirty dishes. I grab for a small change jar that my grandmother gave me for my eighteenth birthday for “incidentals” and “rainy days”. Today is not a rainy day though, today is the day I start my internship at my dream job in the big city of Orlando, Florida.
If I am being honest; I need the change for gas money to get into the city from campus. I had to cut down on hours at the food service job I had for this new (unpaid) internship. I take a look in the mirror, I am starry eyed because where I am from there aren’t toll roads or dream jobs. I am from a small fishing town that prides itself on hard work and family. I am far from my family, and hoping that this internship is where I will build a whole new family.
Although this day was now five years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. This was the year I left that small fishing town behind and began to pursue a life in politics and ultimately take a leap of faith with a progressive women’s organization that I hoped would catch me.
I remember meeting the women of these progressive organizations and thinking that they were exactly what I wanted to be; strong, resilient, and merciless. They did their jobs and lived their lives without apologies. They never slept, they never took vacations, they lived every single day with purpose. I wanted to live a life so important that I never had time to take a vacation. I never wanted to apologize, I wanted to be just like them.
My friends and I took pride in all of the hours we worked for these progressive organizations, all for free. We were making a change in the world and although we were struggling, we figured that we were fighting for the people that had it worse than we did. So we worked hard, for free, for four years.
I built relationships with these “progressive” women that I called my mentors and I expected them to protect me, and protect women like me. I was so passionate about our mission, to provide a safer and better world for women. I began working harder and was offered a full time position out of college at one of the most progressive women’s organizations by my mentor and by someone who I thought of as a close friend.
Here is what they didn’t tell me about breaking the glass ceiling in college, that when you get closer to the top there are so many women up there trying to break it that there is almost no room to breathe.
You will know you are getting closer because you will feel people trying to push you down, and that is exactly what I felt. I was harassed, told I would never make a good leader, that I wasn’t good enough, and that I was worthless, by my supervisor. She wouldn’t let me carry out the functions of my job because she was so afraid that as women there is only so much attention that we can get for our accomplishments and that she had to have it all. So eventually I was let go without an explanation or warning after giving four years of free labor.
These were the women I looked up to, these were the women that were “fighting for other women”.
I wanted so desperately to be one of the nameless women that they were “fighting for” again instead of one of the colleagues that they were competing against.
Women in politics, we have a problem. You are fighting for me until you actually know who I am, and then I am a threat to you.
In January, we all marched together, but since then what have you done to help a woman in your life get ahead professionally? Until we are committed to creating a safer professional space for women, we are never going to break the glass ceiling. That safer space begins with us.