The Stalemate of Advancement: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

In Skyscraper, Faith Baldwin makes it glaringly obvious through the portrayal of her characters that women cannot, and should not, succeed in both the home and the workplace. Instead, women are forced to choose between having a career or having a family; they may not, so to speak, have the best of both worlds. One earlier post suggests that this is no longer the case. It is now far more acceptable, as well as “feasible,” for a woman to work forty-plus hours a week, while maintaining a happy marriage and raising well-mannered children. Another post suggests that, contrarily, it is still impossible, or at the very least looked down upon, to exist in both spheres. Although it may be marginally more acceptable, there is still a certain stigma applied to each choice. Workingwomen are arguably neglecting their families, while non-working women embody all of the negative female stereotypes that feminism continues to fight. I feel it is safe, then, to say that although things have progressed substantially, there is certainly still room for improvement. Regardless of the fact that it is more common and more socially acceptable, there are still distinct negative views attributed to whichever path a woman chooses. There is literally no “right” choice; women simply cannot win.

Perhaps, though, whether or not this has changed, or to what degree it has changed, is irrelevant. To me, the better question seems to be why. Why can society not seem to agree upon a “better” choice? Why does a choice have to be made in the first place? If men may be successful businesspeople, husbands, and parents, why can women not do the same?

One solution may lie in Tom Gunning’s essay From the Kaleidoscope to the X-Ray. In the essay, Gunning discusses women in the public sphere, claiming that, “…the dangers of the street were also narrativized as cautionary tales, projecting masculine anxieties about women emerging in public spaces into scenarios of women who suffer for their public temerity” (44). As we discussed in class, this quotation alludes to the concept of castration anxiety, a term popularized by both Sigmund Freud and Laura Mulvey. Mulvey, specifically, believes that any manner in which men dehumanize females, usually through some form of sexual exploitation, is a reaction to this anxiety.

Thus, keeping women out of the public sphere, in this instance the work place, prevents men from having to deal with this fear. However, when women venture into that male domain, men react by punishing them. Although that often takes on a sexual meaning, it may also be a more general punishment. Women are humiliated for attempting to “do a man’s job” and are condemned for neglecting their families. As long as castration anxiety exists, then, the line between the public, male sphere and private, female sphere will be clear and “uncrossable” for women who do not wish to be punished.

On the other hand, it seems that fellow women are the ones who publicly condemn those who choose family over a career. Thus, the choice seems to be gendered. Men want to keep women out of their domain, the workplace, perhaps as a reaction to castration anxiety; the stigma placed against professional women is their everlasting punishment. Why, though, do women want to hurt other women? Why do they choose to fight against the idea that women are at liberty to make their own life choices and instead claim that they are reversing advancements in the advocation of female rights? It seems counter-productive for women to be arguing amongst each other whilst trying to simultaneously advance, yet that, inevitably, appears to be the case. This makes me wonder if women will ever have a truly “accepted” place in society, as they are up against not one gender, but two.



Baldwin, Faith. Skyscraper. New York, NY: Feminist Press, 2003. Print.

Gunning, Tom. From the Kaleidoscope to the X-Ray: Urban Spectatorship, Poe, Benjamin, and Traffic in Souls (1913) – Wide Angle 19:4 (1997): 25-61.



Filed under City Cultures

2 responses to “The Stalemate of Advancement: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

  1. I think this post raises some interesting issues. Do you think women in the workplace are only critiqued by men? I guess I haven’t seen it in such a split way. I guess if you’re going to follow through with the psychoanalytic reading, I wonder if it’s a kind of unconscious rivalry where women who follow the social norms are threatening because they are more likely to get a man. Or maybe it’s true for the same reason that women are more likely to critique a woman as “asking for it” — they are the ones who are told about these norms. Why do you think women critique other women for working?

  2. bkl0002

    I don’t think women in the workplace are only critiqued by men; women definitely seem to find a reason to criticize each other no matter what. It appears to me from both “Skyscraper” and personal experiences, though, that men rarely criticize women for staying at home; usually, they prefer or even “demand” it. I think this fits with other aspects of life, as well. Society teaches us that many men are chauvinistic pigs who criticize women in every demeaning way possible, but I feel like women are far more critical of each other than men are. To me, this just seems awfully hypocritical, pathetic, and entirely counter-productive for trying to improve the conditions and acceptance of women and women’s rights. As for why they do it, I more or less agree with you; I think it boils down to competition. Women are constantly battling each other to be the “best,” no matter what field they’re involved in. They want to be the hottest, the smartest, whatever else – but that does frequently seem to be more for men rather than for themselves. Perhaps it ultimately does fall back upon male ideals, then. I kind of think it’s more or less cyclical, though.

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