Glass Ceiling

Jill Greenberg

When American photographer Jill Greenberg was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1989, her senior thesis project made reference to philosopher Sandra Lee Bartky’s statement: "The disciplinary project of femininity is a setup ... it requires such radical and extensive bodily transformation that a woman is destined in some degree to fail." Postmodern feminist theory continued to direct her practice throughout the 1990s. With Glass Ceiling, Greenberg returns to this terrain, creating metaphorical portraits of women simultaneously living up to and being undermined by society’s standards of femininity.

Greenberg’s Glass Ceiling project is about the “setup” of being a woman. Working with a synchronized swim team, Greenberg photographs the women in their their work attire—swimsuits—with the addition of high heels. While posing like models, the athletes are shot from below in a swimming pool, the water destabilizing their elegance. The women’s heels are overtly absurd, hindering their movement and emphasizing their lack of control. The artist presses her point further by visually obscuring the women’s heads. Their identities have become inconsequential; only their sexualized bodies remain in focus. Greenberg depicts the female body as if directly channelled from the male psyche.