I was raised by two high performing women, each in male dominated fields. My grandmother was a preacher/writer/cult leader and my mother was one of the first women to work in her STEM specialty. Neither identified as a feminist, but both only succeeded as much as they did because of women’s rights activists who’d come before them.
Giggy was a female (unlicensed, never ordained) preacher who spread a message of regressive patriarchy. She taught that other women needed to stay home with their babies, ideally a dozen or more of them. She advocated for homeschooling homesteading. While she was publishing her third novel, many of her followers lived harsh subsistence existences without electricity or running water.
My mom is a much quieter person. While she can give a lecture or lead a discussion group in a professional setting, in the shadow of her mother, she was mousy (a word that no longer describes her post cult self). I admired my mom and was suitably impressed by her PhD, but she wasn’t magical the way my evil grandma was. Mom is far more practical.
Mom is also better to other women. In the course of her career, she’s made a name for herself. She’s published for twenty some years, including countless journal articles and an undergraduate textbook. And as she gained renown, she used it to elevate others. My mom has mentored a series of young women in her field,helping them create studies, and coauthoring papers but letting her protégés take lead author credit. She has helped make the careers of perhaps half a dozen women.
The “glass ceiling” is a metaphor most are familiar with: the invisible barrier keeping mediocre men elevated above impressive women in professional life. My mom likes to say that my grandma, her mom, broke the glass ceiling, then immediately started patching the hole in her new glass floor. When my mom broke through the glass ceiling, she lowered down a rope ladder for the next woman.
I’m a feminist. I know the advantages I have over historical women were fought for and won by a portion of them. I also know there are women who will take the gains of feminism for themselves even while denying the same to their fellow woman. And I know which type of woman I want to be. I’m building an elevator to get all women through the glass ceiling until it’s gone.