Meryl Streep: The 'Old Man of the Mountain' Crumbles

Actress Meryl Streep thinks it might be a sign.

BY: Meryl Streep

 

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These statistics are all the more confusing when we acknowledge the fact that the glass ceiling is still in effect in the business world, the professions and politics. Imagine if the Senate were apportioned in the same way as your graduating class! Or that there were twice as many women as men in the House!? Or the White House! Or on cable news!? At the heads of Fortune 500 companies? It's almost unimaginable. You can scan the mastheads of major news organizations, the lists of the top echelons of business and management, the hierarchies of power in government, and it still reads pretty much like it did in the middle of the last century, or the century before that, or the centuries before that. In other words, it's like the membership list of the Augusta Golf Club today.

Why is there this discrepancy between how many women succeed in college and where they actually end up? What happens to all these people after graduation? Back in 1970 we thought that if we had access to the same educational opportunities as men, then the same opportunities would naturally present themselves out it in the Real World. We've more than crashed through the first, the educational barrier, but the other is proving tougher to go up against. It may seem as if universities are optimistically and successfully preparing an unprecedented number of female students for leadership opportunities that don't exist. Many women will confront the attitude of top PGA golfer Vijay Singh when he declared he would rather quit the tournament than play alongside the top-ranked woman in the country. At the highest levels of achievement some men still find humiliation in competing (and potentially coming up short) against women. Why does it hurt more to lose to a girl, unless, deep down, you think girls are worth less than boys? This is an old and deep-seated and in many cases unconscious prejudice; you can circle the globe and find its gnarly roots wrapped around the foundations of many societies. And just like any other prejudice, cultural or racial, it'll take a long time for it to die out. But shrivel it will, because it's basically a negative, regressive, underground impulse that cannot live in the light of a new day. As we continue to see, societies that look backward and keep their women down fail to keep pace in the modern world. We know for our own 80-year battle to claim our rights that the Founding Fathers weren't thinking of women when they wrote the concept of freedom into our Constitution. But you could argue that part of the reason that the West has sustained its ascendancy is due to the exponentially expanding opportunities offered ALL of its citizens.

You, the gentlemen of the graduating class, have experienced life on campus as members of the minority. I hope they didn't give you too hard a time. At least this may have given you an appreciation for the importance of preserving the rights of the few. Democracy is devoted to the idea that everyone, not just the majority, deserves a voice. My brothers were taught as boys to open the door for the ladies, a practice they were happy to forget about in the advent of the Women's Movement. At the leadership level now, however, chivalry of a new sort is called for. I hope when you encounter the success you deserve, and the discrepancy I have talked about, you will respond with speed and grace. The door should be opened for the ladies, the boardroom door, and our gentlemen will have to do it. We all need to be given opportunities, and then we have to disregard all of the statistics that predict we're not likely to reach our goal. Success is often provided by the exception to the Rules for Success. People who have broken through color and gender lines, class and cultural bias, have done so despite an array of reasons as to why they shouldn't be able to do so. In this way, success may ultimately have more to do with your own personality, focus, and optimism than your gender, race or background. Put blinders on to those things that conspire to hold you back, especially the ones in your own head. Guard your good mood. Listen to music every day, joke, and love and read more for fun especially poetry.

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