Thursday, March 2, 2017

Not Enough Ambition?

In the Times, under the headline When Did 'Ambition' Become a Dirty Word?, an inane story from the far reaches of power feminism:
There is nothing particularly fiery about Tory Burch. Shortly after the 2004 debut of the fashion company that bears her name, Ms. Burch was profiled in The New York Times, with the reporter noting that if reserve could be bottled, Ms. Burch would probably “have a blockbuster fragrance.”

So it may come as something of a surprise that the campaign she was promoting on Tuesday morning by phone from her office in the Flatiron district does not have a couple of starlet models photographed by the ubiquitous Mario Testino, but is instead a stark, black-and-white video, a public service announcement that takes on a thorny issue that dominated the last presidential campaign and has divided people on the right and left.

Making its debut next Wednesday, on International Women’s Day, the campaign, called “Embrace Ambition,” features Julianne Moore, Melinda Gates, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jamie Lee Curtis, Anna Wintour, Reese Witherspoon and other famous people (both male and female) talking in front of a scrim about reclaiming a word that has often been used to vilify women.

“We embrace ambition,” Ms. Paltrow says.

“I can think of a lot of dirty words,” Ms. Witherspoon says. “Ambition is not one of them.”

All the proceeds from the sale of accompanying bracelets and T-shirts will go toward a foundation Ms. Burch started in 2009 to help female entrepreneurs.
First, to answer the dumb question, ambition is not a dirty word, certainly not in America. I am actually hard put to think of anything else we have in such a surfeit as ambition. Well, maybe opiates, guns, and sullen dissatisfaction with the state of the world.

But the notion that what we lack in America is ambition is so ridiculous to me that I don't even know where to start criticizing it. As for things we actually need more of, I could make a very long list, starting with friendship, neighborly kindness, calm reflection, serious thought, mutual understanding, and the ability to be happy with what we have instead of always needing more.


G. Verloren said...

You're fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of the discussion.

Ambition is a dirty word in this country - for women. Women who are perceived as being too "ambitious" are looked down on and mistreated, particularly in the workplace and in politics.

Why? Because we live in a society that is still markedly patriarchal and intolerant. Ambition is seen as a "masculine" trait, and women who display ambition are therefor "unwomanly", and therefor must face certain consequences.

This results in things like women being paid less for performing the same jobs as men, being passed over for raises and promotions in favor of giving them to men, being made to worker harder and meet higher standards and still receive less respect and recognition than men, et cetera.

Of course, the heart of the issue isn't actually women having "ambition" proper. Having ambition is merely wanting something. We all have ambitions, and they're all different. Some people have ambitions to become rich and famous, while other people have ambitions to live simply and humbly. From a logical standpoint, neither ambition is inherently any more valid than the other.

But society doesn't see things that way. Women are "supposed" to be ambitious about some things, but not about others. Women are "supposed" to be ambitious about domestic roles like having kids and being housewives, but not about more "masculine" roles like becoming CEOs or running for president. In countless situations where a man displaying ambition is seen as a good thing, the exact same amibition displayed by a woman is seen as a bad thing.

So no, the campaign in question isn't saying that "we need more ambition". It's saying that women need to stop being punished for having ambition - or more accurately, for having the "wrong" ambitions.

pootrsox said...

Bravo (Brava?) G. Verloren!

Katya said...

I'm with Verloren on this one.

John, this feels like a blindspot for you. And I'm writing this as someone who appreciates the subtleties of your thought on gender issues.