Zamantungwa Khumalo

ambition culture Leadership marriage Women

The Politics of Being a Young Ambitious Woman

I am an intelligent, ambitious and well-read young woman. I’m the type of woman who aspires to be the CEO, instead of aspiring to marry one.

You’d think there’s nothing wrong with women like me – women who know what they want and aren’t afraid to get it. But I’m told there is. We live in a society that tells young girls: “Be smart, but not too smart; be ambitious, but not too ambitious” and my favourite: “Be you but not too you”.

From an early age, young girls are bombarded with messages about what they should or shouldn’t do to get a man, keep a man and make sure their man doesn’t cheat on them, but marries them. You’d think I’m describing a society that existed 50, maybe 100 years ago. But sadly, this is prevalent in 2013.

Steve Harvey’s book-turned-film Act Like a Lady Think Like a Man sold millions of copies across the world. This book told women how to act in order to get a man and make him ‘put a ring on it’. There’s something wrong with our society, when, in 2013 gender roles are still defined the way they were defined over 50 years ago. There’s something wrong with our society, when young ambitious women are told they are “too much”, because they see themselves running multi-million rand organisations.

This issue is not South Africa-specific. In China, single women have gone to the extent of lying to their suitors about what job they do, so as to not intimidate the potential boyfriend. I’ve often wondered whether books, movies or magazines would be popular if they told men what to do or how to act to get a woman, keep her and make sure she doesn’t cheat on him.Imagine having a book for men titled, ‘Act Like a Man, Think Like a Lady’. It’s almost unthinkable that anyone would dare write such a book. Ask yourself why.

We live in a world in which men are not defined by the age they choose to marry, or if they marry at all. We find it ‘acceptable’ for a 35-year-old man to be single and write it off as: “He hasn’t met the right woman”, or “he’s been so busy with his career, he hasn’t got around to marriage”. Contrast that to a 35-year-old unmarried woman. There has to be something wrong with her. When will she start a family if she’s still single? She’s not woman enough or she isn’t complete without a man.

Whenever I’ve brought up gender roles and how unequal things still are, I’m told culture dictates the gender roles and we must simply accept that. This excuse is not good enough. Culture, by its nature evolves. People create culture, not the other way around. We can recreate a culture that defines gender roles along monetary lines.

I want to live in a world in which women like me aren’t told we’re “too much” because of our ambitions; a world in which women aren’t socialised from a young age to believe they are not “good” if they don’t have a man.

So to all the young and ambitious young women, do you! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you!

This article originally appeared in the Wits University campus newspaper Wits Vuvuzela (Friday 10 May).

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