So, this cool thing happened last week. Allowing women into combat and requiring them to register for the draft have been on my list of things that have to happen before we can say society actually treats men and women equally though, admittedly, not particularly high on my list. But in listening to the coverage of this over the last week, I’m going to have to admit that I’ve been wrong to brush this off as a low priority item, because it’s clear that the current status of women in the military very elegantly illustrates what I consider to be the biggest problem for female empowerment: the glass floor.
Most people are going to be familiar with the concept of the glass ceiling, the idea that in our current society women or minorities or other marginalized groups can only rise so far before they hit invisible barriers that stop them from going any further. There’s nothing explicitly stopping them from moving on, no official policy or blatant discrimination, it’s just that he’s more devoted to the job than she is because we notice the time she took off for her kids more than his, or the clients will be more comfortable with somebody they feel like they have something in common with, and you don’t have the right look. It’s the insidious residue left behind when you’ve solved the big problem of getting everybody to agree that X thing is a problem, but the implications of that haven’t finished trickling through and working their way out. And sometimes you’ll have people don’t really agree about X thing being problem adding to it, subtly reinforcing the road blocks and barriers. It’s not something you can easily legislate against, or file a law suit over, or even make people see if they haven’t bumped into it.
The glass floor is the same thing, except in the other direction. If (for women) the glass ceiling is built out of unexamined assumptions that women aren’t as smart, dedicated, focused, aggressive/ruthless, and innovative as men, the glass floor is built out of the idea that they’re less violent, aggressive, undisciplined, dangerous, threatening, prone to crime, etc. etc. That women are more likely to behave, be compliant, be virtuous, follow the rules, and so on. It’s the idea that women are the victims, but not the criminals. We don’t rob houses, murder strangers, or rape our boyfriends. And tied up in that perception is an element of assumption that we don’t do it because we can’t, we don’t have the power to do it.
To which my response is: Snrk. Was I really the only person whose immediate reaction when she heard about viagra was, “Yes! Now women can spike men’s drinks at parties for rapey times!” If so, that disturbs me, because really, that should have been everybody‘s first thought. I’m dead serious about that. We’re not at true gender equality until boys get warned about watching their drinks at parties because predatory women might take advantage of them just as often as girls get warned of the reverse.
I’m used to, when making arguments about the glass floor, having people say, “But shouldn’t we bring men above the glass floor, rather than dragging women below it?” I will concede that in an ideal world, yes, the things below the glass floor would be out of reach for everybody, rather than available to everybody. But I’m a practical, cynical creature. I’m more interested in gender equality than I am in an ideal world free of the icky things women allegedly don’t do, and I’m quite content to ignore the potential ideal world in favor of the achievable goal.
Which is why I was wrong to more or less ignore the women in combat and related draft issue. The reason women in the military want access to combat positions is because therein lies the path to promotion (glass ceiling) and the reason they haven’t had access to them is because women are allegedly too weak or nice to handle them or because dead female soldiers are somehow worse than dead male ones (glass floor). The last week has been full of stories of women who are dying, getting wounded, getting captured in combat anyway, they’re falling right through that glass floor, but they aren’t getting the credit for it. I’ve never served in the military so don’t know whether or not there’s an important but fine distinction getting ignored when telling these stories, but I don’t care. The point is that right there, in the military, is a perfect, concrete example of the relationship between the glass structures, the way not getting credit for doing the bad things feeds into not getting credit for being able to do the good things.
I should have thought of that before now. I should have cared more about the problems for equality at large presented by the military structures – especially given the historical relationship between the military and other social changes. Shame on me, I know better. I’m not aware of having brushed the issue off in front of a woman who is serving or has served, but I almost certainly have. So. Dear people to whom I was an ass: My bad. I hope you said nasty things about me later and it made you feel better.