As news reports talk at length about the glass ceiling, there are women living in communities in America like northeastern North Carolina, who face a different type of ceiling; the poverty ceiling. It is an economic barrier that seems unbreachable and impenetrable.The glass ceiling is a real construct. It has been a tool of constraint for women who work to earn the right to lead within a context that is historically male. A woman qualified to cause the employment of such a concept brings about mixed emotions. On one hand, her ambition and wherewithal to be positioned to lead at the top of her profession is every woman’s dream. Yet, the denial of the opportunity evokes an even greater response that flows along a continuum of emotion and action. So you have two women at two different edges of the fulcrum. One without the seal of poverty to break through and the other with the seal affixed securely believing inevitably; it will remain.
Imagine being born in a region that has been identified as a persistent poverty county. Your world consists of a radius of less than 10 miles. You go to work, come home, manage household chores, go to bed, get up and the routine starts again. Seasons go and they come, and you find yourself, in the same predicament that you were in many years before; lifestyle changes are hardly recognizable. Your quality of life has improved ever so slightly. You still live within the margins while others see it as wealth; a byproduct of long debates over public supports and the lazy people that won’t get a job.
You live in a vacuum. The arts. Debates. Book clubs. Saturday bridge. Ballet recitals. Movie theatres. Bowling. Dinner. Boutiques. Malls. Shops. Book stores. Card shops. Lattes. Suitcases. Tie. A shirt. Laptops. iPads. Are voided in your world. You see; a life in poverty takes real courage. How is she to know to do better when in her world, there are so few that do? And those that do better, are not in her world. She believes they have been granted special privileges. God loves them more. He has favored them and not her, and so she accepts her status believing God failed when He said He was not a respecter of persons. Now, her hope for a better life has changed. If she has no advocate, how can she depend on court rulings that are here for a while and then gone, as well? What she has not understood is this, God has gifted her uniquely to provide for her family and serve her community. He has given this gift to all women- all people. She has more choices than she realizes. From processing to conceptualizing, she has to be led through a process that believes in the best in her.
Taking a side journey, the acclaimed broad way show now made brilliantly into a film, Les Miserable- Jean Valjean, a mere peasant was a gent in deepest of poverty. He was jailed for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his ailing starving sister. For nineteen years, he endured the hardness of a confined life because of a need to provide for someone he loved. Like Jean Valjean, women in poverty take public supports to make ends meet for their families.
Her bread, as good as stolen, to hear some talk of her reliance on subsidies, and like Jean Valjean, greater than nineteen years of a family history through the generations, she has paid for life on supports, while lay abandoned are her dreams; some stolen, some taken, and some lay waste in her own mind having never been fully formed.
Yes. Policy makers and procurers of the public troth are not the only ones with eyes to see. She sees other families around her that are over indulgent, using the system for wrong gain, causing her pain. But she asks the question, what is she to do about their indiscretions?
As she considers working harder, finding a job, or hustling for more money, leaving supports behind, there are glaring reminders everywhere she turns. She was once a “drag” on a system and shame on her. She sees no win. She feels the shame. So, she masks her own emotions and returns to the system, and the cycle continues. Like Jean Valjean, the cycle continues until ceilings of poverty are broken by acts of personal will enjoined by policies, and legislation that intentionally, recast women in poverty as equally human, and equally deserving of federal, state and community stakeholders that are not only willing to give her things- with no accountability, don’t just feed her, but are willing to help her own the pond from which she can fish.