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Presidential Candidates Ditch the ‘Glass Ceiling’: The Broadsheet

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Rent the Runway suffers from growing pains, a Pakistani women’s rights activist hasn’t been seen in months, and presidential candidates ditch the “glass ceiling” talk. Have a wonderful Wednesday. 


– Turn of phrase. When Hillary Clinton ran for president, the proverbial “glass ceiling” had a starring role in her campaign. Clinton not only invoked what she called “that highest and hardest glass ceiling” repeatedly, also but used it as a visual metaphor (remember that shattered glass animation that played before she addressed the Democratic Convention?)

But as Jessica Bennett observes in the New York Times, the latest crop of Democratic female candidates have largely avoided the phrase. Why? Linguist Robin Lakoff speculates that it just “seems tired.” Wharton’s Adam Grant, meanwhile, wonders whether the candidates are avoiding the phrase because they believe talking about the glass ceiling—and the biases it conjures—will just serve to put those biases front and center in voters’ minds.

Of course, that’s not to say that today’s female politicians aren’t talking about the unique challenges women face in their field—they’re just using their own language to do so. (See: Elizabeth Warren’s “she persisted,” AOC’s “build our own house,” and Kamala Harris’s pledge to “break things.”)

For me, the most fascinating aspect of the story is the deep dive into the origin of the term. Bennett reports that “the glass ceiling” first made its way into the lexicon in the late ’70s thanks to female workers at Hewlett-Packard and the New York Telephone Co. It quickly spread to the media, the political realm, and now the culture at large, becoming a go-to shorthand for any situation where women—no matter how talented—just never quite seem to be able to make it to the top.

Personally, I think “glass ceiling” is still useful, though I don’t often deploy it myself. (Looking back, the Broadsheet has used the phrase a couple dozen times over the past four years.) And I wonder whether the candidates’ attitudes toward it will change as the race thins out. If we end up with another female nominee—and the race boils down to one man against one woman—might we start hearing about that transparent barrier again?

What do you think Broadsheet readers? Does “the glass ceiling” metaphor hold up—and if so, does it still have a place in our conversations about gender? Or is it time for fresher, and perhaps more nuanced language? If you have a take, please let me know—we may use your comments in a future edition.

Kristen Bellstrom


– The new Theresa May. It’s official: Theresa May’s replacement as U.K. prime minister is Boris Johnson. He got a congratulations (with a typo) from Ivanka Trump. (And thus ends the Broadsheet‘s Brexit coverage? Stay tuned…) Fortune

– Renting pains. Rent the Runway’s growth has led to—you guessed it—growing pains. Subscribers to the monthly unlimited subscription service have in recent weeks reported dissatisfaction with clothing availability and customer service, while the company has also faced trouble with its technology systems. At the center is a debate among executives over “how much to spend to improve each customer’s experience at the expense of profits.” Wall Street Journal

– Shelton’s standard. Judy Shelton is one of President Trump’s leading candidates to serve on the governing board of the Federal Reserve. In this story, the rundown on her provocative views (gold standard, anyone?) and what they mean for the Fed. Washington Post 

– Career change. For Fortune‘s series about entry-level jobs, Sarah Entwistle tells us about her career change from Goldman Sachs to testing recipes for Blue Apron. She says being happy in her job was worth the pay cut. Fortune 

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Peloton hired Karina Kogan of TBS & TNT as SVP and general manager of Peloton Digital. 


– Missing in action. For two months, no one has seen Pakistani women’s rights activist Gulalai Ismail. She’s accused by her government of inciting rebellion—not because of her advocacy against forced marriages and gang rape but because of her support of the Pashtun rights movement—and is on the run, avoiding contact with friends and family. New York Times

– Women’s rights in Venezuela. The New Yorker examines the recent report on human rights in Venezuela from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet. The former president of Chile, Bachelet has been criticized for her policies toward and relationship with Venzuela’s government during her time in office. Bachelet is also the former executive director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, and her report breaks ground by documenting the lack of access to contraception and abortion in Venezuela and the effects of food shortages on women. The New Yorker

– Game on. Five years after Gamergate, where does women’s representation in gaming stand? Only 5% of games at the E3 Gaming Expo in 2019 had female protagonists, not to mention the unrealistic and misogynistic portrayal of women that persists in many games. The lack of women in the gaming industry—despite the fact that women now make up half the gaming population—contributes to the cyclical problem. Financial Times

– Secret style. The next big fashion show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute will feature the collection of Sandy Schreier. Schreier isn’t famous, but over her 80-plus years she quietly amassed 15,000 pieces to build “one of the most important private fashion collections in the United States that most people have never heard of.” New York Times

Today’s Broadsheet was produced by Emma Hinchliffe. Share it with a friend. Looking for previous Broadsheets? Click here.


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Norah O’Donnell’s ambitious debut Columbia Journalism Review

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“I don’t always agree, but I love their insistence on being heard.”

-Connie Schultz, journalist and wife of Sen. Sherrod Brown, on the views of younger women