A successful woman once said, “Ambition is like a cuss word for a woman. When a man is ambitious, he is called driven. When a woman is ambitious, it’s a bad thing. It is the irony of our world.”
That woman was Priyanka Chopra; just one of the few most powerful women in the world today.
What the likes of Priyanka Chopra, Meghan Markel, Barkha Dutt, Beyonce, Sheryl Sandberg, Mithali Raj, Anne Hathaway, Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton have in common is not just that they are global icons in their own right; but, that they are ambitious ‘to a fault’. The fault is that they all happen to be women.
The world – men and women, included – does not take well to ambitious women. Not in the past; and certainly not now.
In the Netflix show, Indian Matchmaking, this fact is reinstated every single time women are told they will have to compromise. What’s more? The fact that the world collectively chose to hate on Aparna, one of the women who are looking for love and a life partner on the show. Her fault? She knows what she wants and doesn’t want – in life and in love.
Meghan Markle, ex-Hollywood star, current Duchess of Sussex, TIME Person of the Year 2018 and a self-made woman. But, the world prefers her as Prince Harry’s wife. The fact that she’s ‘breaking tradition’ has earned her negative publicity with paparazzi describing her as ‘difficult‘.
Hillary Clinton, former First Lady of the United States of America and Presidential candidate in 2016, through all her flaws remained the only woman candidate for president and still lost against a man whose extreme ideologies and sexist comments were always somehow justified with him being a man.
“When a guy is ambitious and out in the public arena and working hard, well, that’s okay. But when a woman does it, suddenly you’re all like, ‘Well, why is she doing that?’” Barack Obama asked at an Ohio Rally, during the Presidential campaign in 2016.
As a woman, I too would like to understand the reason behind it.
In her book, Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear… and Why, Sady Doyle explains how we don’t just want women to fail, we need it. Speaking further about this desperate need, Doyle wrote in The Guardian:
“Female failure is a live demonstration of all our stereotypes about female weakness, and a confirmation of all our old prejudices against women entering the public sphere.”
Even religious scriptures do their bits to keep the ‘ambition’ in check.
The Bible’s New Testament, Book of Timothy 1 – chapter 2, verses 11 & 12:
“A woman must learn in quietness and full submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man; she is to remain quiet.”
In the Manusmriti, it is written:
“Men must make their women dependent day and night, and keep under their own control those who are attached to sensory objects. Her father guards her in childhood, her husband guards her in youth, and her sons guard her in old age. A woman is not fit for independence.”
In her 1977 Nobel Prize-winning speech, Rosalyn Sussman Yalow said:
“We still live in a world in which a significant fraction of people, including women, believe that a woman belongs and wants to belong exclusively in the home; that a woman should not aspire to achieve more than her male counterparts.”
41 years later from when she made that speech and not much has changed.
We get reprimanded, even today, for choosing our career over marriage and family planning. And sidelined when we do, in fact, choose our careers.
We instantly become an ‘option’, instead of a priority for men who want to date someone who is ‘marriage material’.
In the co-working space, it’s automatically assumed that a woman’s promotion might have something to do with indecent proposals, or sexual favours.
Our ambitions make us susceptible to a higher divorce rate in the off chance that we do, actually find somebody to marry.
A study published by the University of Chicago, in 2016, observed how even in the 21st century, “men prefer female partners who are less professionally ambitious than they are.”
“Men tend to avoid female partners with characteristics usually associated with professional ambition, such as high levels of education. It is relatively unlikely that a woman will earn more than her husband, and when she does, marital satisfaction is lower and divorce is more likely,” the paper stated.
As a result, women end up making a ‘trade-off’ so as to remain viable in the ‘marriage market’ because society has taught women that they can’t have it all. “Daily activities such as speaking up in meetings, taking charge of a project, working late, or even certain outfits, haircuts, and make-up can be desirable in one market and not in the other,” the study highlighted.
68% of women reported that they would prefer a job with a higher salary that required 55-60 hours of work per week over a job with a lower salary requiring only 45-50 hours per week. But, when placed with male peers, women were 26 percentage points less likely to make this choice.
Anthropologist, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy says it is the “systematic and deliberate repression of female sexuality for millennia that really lies behind the myth of the coy, passive female.”
After all, no one wants a woman who breaks stereotypes, earns more than the men and disrupts a carefully sculpted status quo that ensures the balance of power remains in perpetual imbalance. It’s the reason why ambitious women remain an ‘anomaly’ to societal construct.