Why are women with ambition vilified?

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If the current pandemic has taught us anything it is that when the going gets tough, it is often the women in leadership roles who have got going


Ambica Sachin

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Published: Thu 17 Sep 2020, 9:36 AM

Last updated: Thu 17 Sep 2020, 7:05 PM

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, goes the Shakespearean line on leadership. And if the aforementioned crown happens to be atop a woman's crowning glory, then uneasy are the people around her.
Ambition is a double-edged sword as far as women are concerned. When Suits actress-turned-British royalty Meghan Markle traded in her reel fame for some old-fashioned aristocratic sheen post her marriage to Prince Harry, it set many tongues wagging. There were hushed whispers about her overarching ambition and her domineering nature.
When the couple recently signed a hundred million dollar deal with Netflix to produce documentaries, movies and children's shows for the OTT platform, it only reinforced the belief among detractors that she was the one pushing the agenda with her Hollywood connections. She's graceful, articulate, accomplished and talented, but the overriding trait she's vilified for is her ambition. 
A global survey of 3,000 women commissioned by American Express and The New York Women's Foundation, a non-profit that promotes gender equality and fair treatment of women, quoted by Business Insider, found that while a majority asserted that ambition was necessary to succeed, many in fact felt uncomfortable being labelled as such and instead preferred to be referred to as 'motivated'. 
Among the many attributes US Senator Kamala Harris has been in the spotlight for ever since Joe Biden picked her to be his running mate in the 2020 US Presidential Elections, her assertiveness and 'ambition' have taken as much column space as her credentials to take on the role as the 'first woman of colour' to run for vice-president.
During a live streamed conversation for the Black Girls Lead 2020 conference, she is quoted as saying: "There will be a resistance to your ambition, there will be people who say to you, 'you are out of your lane.' They are burdened by only having the capacity to see what has always been instead of what can be. But don't you let that burden you."
If the current pandemic has taught us anything it is that when the going gets tough, it is often the women in leadership roles, be it in countries or households, who have got going, whether it be by leading their nation through one of the worst medical emergencies our generation has ever seen or juggling a demanding professional life alongside essential household chores.
Not to mention the courageous frontline workers who have bravely fought the virus leaving their families and friends behind in a bubble. It's an unfortunate truth that while men are lauded for being ambitious, women often are viewed as aggressive (read unwomanly) for exhibiting similar traits.  
One just needs to look at the social media traction gained by Bollywood diva Kangana Ranaut in recent times to underline this. She has been vilified for the manner in which she has ruthlessly ripped apart the united front the Hindi film industry has so far portrayed to the public.
Her vitriolic diatribe against the ruling political party in Maharashtra has set her apart as a fearless one-woman army who will not hesitate to cut her detractors to size, however big or powerful they may be. Whether it is all part of a bigger agenda to enter the political arena remains to be seen.
The bigger question here is if a man had made these same statements and gone on a Twitter rant, would we have looked upon it all more favourably? 
Kangana's political avatar in many ways is reminiscent of the late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, the young cinestar who swapped her on-screen popularity for a more potent role as a political leader. Interestingly Kangana plays the young leader in the multilingual biopic Thalaivi that's set to release soon.
The way we react to these women is telling of us as a society, of our unwillingness to embrace a narrative that's so different from what we have been traditionally fed, and our own two-faced approach to gender politics.

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