Some scenes have a tendency of playing in your mind over and over again, right? The scene; my high school cafeteria, my junior year. The cafeteria is crowded and noisy. I and two friends are eating lunch together. We are talking about college as we just finished taking SATs and our future is starting to happen. I casually mention how my ultimate goal is to get my doctorate. My friend responds,
“What about your husband?”
“What about him?” I ask, because a husband was such a far off thought to me.
“What if he doesn’t have a doctorate?” She presses.
“Then he doesn’t” I shrug, the look of shock entering my friends face.
“He won’t like that though” She cries.
Every time I replay that scene, I cringe. My friend earnestly did not believe that a woman could have a higher level of education than her husband. That somehow, being superior to her husband in anyway would make me unlovable to him. That all men have such fragile egos that they would discard any woman who was a threat to them. Honestly, this was one of the most sexist comments I had ever experienced and I know you, other ambitious women reading this, probably have similar stories.
Why is ambition an attribute that is seen so positive in men but negative in women? So many powerful women are constantly belittled in the media for their ambition. They are called shrewd, frigid, and unladylike. Look at Michelle Obama and Hilary Clinton, both powerful first ladies who take so much criticism in the media for their ambition. Yet it’s not only men who do this, as you can see from the story with my naïve school friend. Society is terrified of ambitious women because an ambitious women is a powerful one, and we can’t have that can we? The fear of driven women is institutional sexism at its finest.
Yet, I am here to tell you, all my ambitious sisters, that your need for success in whatever field you are in is one of your most important traits. Do not let sexist bigots take this from you. We need more women in power. We need your voices to speak out and say enough to sexism. We need you to become role models for our future children to show that no matter your gender, you can be successful.
Imagine for a moment if we did that. Imagine if children learned that no matter what gender you identify as, you could do anything you wanted through hard work and that society would celebrate your achievements instead of critique them. The result would be staggering. More female doctors, engineers, politicians, police officers. The pay gap would vanish. Poverty in women and children, which is disproportionality higher, would drop drastically. Gender equality would be that much closer.
So my fellow ambitious women, you are beautiful. You are perfect. You are exactly what this world needs. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Go out there and reach for the stars and when you do, don’t forget to carry the rest of us up there with you. You are going to make the world a much better place.