Glass Ceiling or Muscle Ceiling?

The Glass Ceiling Was/Is a “Muscle Ceiling”


The social roles of men and women have been based in and defined largely by the physical differences between men and women. Those roles led to women in ancient tribes doing gathering of food while men hunted. This is of course an over-simplification and ignores the changes over 6 million years that affected those roles. For example, after humans turned to agriculture around 10 thousand years ago, women’s role in the family and village was, by some accounts, equal in stature to that of men: women ran a household as a true matriarch. They managed or supervised a kitchen garden, the preparation of food, the family, and reigned absolutely in that domain. (When social history gained prominence in the middle of the last century, this role became known).


Men tended to the fields and raised crops that could be traded for goods. I personally experienced this division of labor in the 1950s, as a very young boy, at my aunt and uncle’s farm in Michigan.


The division of roles between men and women seemed “natural.” Or, at least, it seemed so to me as that boy and, later, as well.


As industry became prominent in human society, and men went to the factories, the roles boundaries shifted, of course, but muscle power was still a determinate.

For as long as humans have lived in groups, that is, for all of human evolution, physical strength has decided social roles, the muscles of men to do work and the muscles of women to bear children. Societies have extended role distinctions to extremes – only men could vote and own property and so on – and thereby created human siloes that worked to the detriment to many. Physical differences have led to gender role exaggerations that are now being fought over in much of the world.


The history of social roles is important to this Project for a simple reason: even though climate change is potentially the greatest disruption in this century, the digital revolution is, historically a more profound social disruption. Why? One reason (and there are many others) is that roles in society now are more influenced by mental abilities than by physical abilities. A large majority of college students are women, women now can do any job a man can – with rare exceptions – even where muscle power is needed because that “muscle” can come from machines controlled by computers.


Even without climate causing upheaval, we still have the digital upheaval, a re-distribution of power in our society, a re-distribution of how money is made, a re-distribution in how we think of ourselves and each other.



Part of this upheaval is the shattering of the “muscle ceiling,” otherwise known as the “glass ceiling.” Male muscle is no longer controlling, nor is female muscle limiting (women have babies and – with great effort – continue to work). At no time have social roles been so lacking in foundation.

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