By Alice H. Eagly and Linda L. Carly
Reviewed by Matt Johnson
Traditionally, men have been viewed as the optimal leaders in the American culture. This position has been supported by the rhetoric of many politicians such as Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, President Barack Obama, President George W. Bush, and many other policy makers, if not the vast majority of those serving in public office. This view has also been perpetuated by political pundits as well. Both Chris Matthews and Bill O’Reilly have illustrated this androcentric love affair by way of their publications. Chris Matthews demonstrated his admoration for President John F. Kennedy in his 2011 book Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero. Bill O’Reilly expressed his passionate appreciation for President Abraham Lincoln in his 2011 book Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assissination that Changed America Forever. Mythologically, men have no equals in leadership from this philosophical point of view.
However, women have never experienced this type of love affair from policy makers or political pundits. Instead, women have faced, as Eagly and Carly argue, three prevailing obstacles, historically: the concrete wall, the glass ceiling, and the labyrinth. Before and after the 19th amendment, women faced the concrete wall. As Eagly and Carly explain, “For most of human history, barriers to women’s leadership consisted of explicit rules and clear-cut norms.” Of course, these barriers and norms have existed in some form or another up to modern times.
Eagly and Carly also explain that the concrete wall is an outdated concept because it does not correctly illustrate what women experience today. The concrete wall was a correct definition decades ago, but the relationship between men and women is dynamical and the subsequent dynamics have changed because policy, economy, and social perception have changed over the past few decades. Before the second feminist wave, American society believed that the rightful place of a woman was in the home; that is, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the family, not in industry and certainly not in leadership positions. But today, the glass ceiling is used as the explanatory metaphor for what women experience in this American construct.
After the second feminist wave, women emerged from the home but much work was still yet to be done. Of course, the market place was a new arena and women had their sites set on equality and equity and even high caliber leadership positions. However, the wall was metaphorically made of concrete before the second wave and it was metaphorically made of glass and virtually invisible afterwards. As Eagly and Carly elucidate,
the glass ceiling still implied an absolute barrier – solid roadblock that prevents access to high-level postions. At the same time, the image of a ‘glass’ obstruction suggested that women were being misled about their opportunities because the impediment was not easy for them to see from a distance.
As a consequence, less than 20 percent of those serving the United States Congress today are women. Moreover, women hold less than 15 percent of the “executive officer [positions and]8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.” Sure a person can think of one or two successful women off the top of their head, but as the data clearly illustrates, those few women are the exceptions rather than the norms. But although these metaphors may have had some philosophical relevance in the past, neither one of them accurately illustrate the dynamical world of today. Hence, Eagly and Carly’s “Through the Labyrinth” is a reasonalbe and philosophical response to this complex and dynamical challenge.
To commence the philosophical response, the authors provide “Seven Reasons [Why] The Glass Ceiling Metaphor is Misleading.” But that is just the beginning. For the remainder of the book, the thesis, implicitly stated, will illustrate and support how and why “The labyrinth metaphor symbolizes the ecomplexity of the causes of women’s current situation as leaders.” Make no mistake, the authors are correct in their proposition to argue how and why this type of challenge is complex. It is a complex challenge with great historical context in the form of economic depression, political neglect, and social stratification.
Taking into account the economic, political, and social oppression by men over women since the dawn of civilization, it should be recognized that women in the past 100 years have made great gains in political representation, economic stability, and social acceptance of access and opportunity in the system. Those facts are undeniable. But despite these gains, the battle with oppression still rages today in the 21st century. Just because women have gained the right to vote, the right to govern, and the right to lead large multi-billion dollar corperations does not mean that women are equal or equitable when compared to men across all economic, political, and social categories. One counter example does not negate thousands of years of systemic oppression. But Eagly and Carly present an interesting challenge to the existing paradigm of men as leaders. Will their philosophy help to shape the opinions and praises of future politicians and political pundits? Or will there be no response but those of condemnation? Will their philosophy help those policy makers recognize the accomplishments of women and female authority? Or will their philosophy fall on deaf ears? Only time will tell. But nonetheless, it is a worthy endeavor and from the first few pages, it appears that the authors are prepared to take a step towards challenging the system in Through the Labyrinth: The Truth About How Women Become Leaders.