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Ambition Is All About Language

Ambition Is All About Language

"Ambition is not a fixed attribute, it is nurtured - or damaged - by the daily interactions, conversations, and opportunities that women face over time" - BCG

The psychological impact of gender-biased language is everywhere if we take the time to look right under our noses. The English language is built from the foundations of masculine pronouns – workmanmankind, chair­manman-made – you get the idea. Without even realising, we are all operating in a world where the male is subconsciously understood and accepted as dominant. This is then translated into how we think of everything. When we think of leaders, we think of men. When we think of power, we think of men. This innate thought process has given men the greenlight to control society and in turn, solidified female submission and what we deem possible for our gender.

Using gender-biased language has sought to re-enforce our male counterparts’ perception of what women are capable of doing and thus, citing our limitations. For women themselves, gender-biased language has become an indoctrination of worth and value. It has encouraged us to use feeble words like ‘feel’ instead of ‘know’ and not push ourselves for the top roles we know are within reach. The majority of articles I come across state that women are innately less ambitious and that women actively don’t seek promotion. They are also quick to add that childbirth and the responsibilities of motherhood are one of the main causes of this. That is not true. A lot of women want to push for promotion, regardless of children, but the culture of the workplace makes doing so, understandably, off-putting.

Women’s desire to be ambitious is inextricably linked to company culture. In male dominated businesses, where gender-biased language permeates the air, the battle for promotion is much harder for women. In fact, BCG pens that “most women leave the company if they are ambitious, and management uses [their departure] as an excuse, instead of [recognising it as] a symptom of the problem”.

"Every time you pretend to be less than you are, you steal permission from other women to fully exist"
- Glennon Doyle

In her book Untamed, Glennon Doyle hits a nerve and opens up the debate on how we see ourselves. She talks about how confident women scare us, how we have been taught to fear aspiration and when we see other women own their strengths, we cower and judge. Doyle illustrates how we need to start turning up for these women and applauding their unashamed femininity, only then can we see change. If we discourage our fellow women from being ambitious, we become no better than the patriarchy surrounding us.

We are all imperfect feminists. At times, we all find ourselves falling into the roles we are expected to play, but this does not mean we have failed. We all want to be respected and well-liked and it can sometimes feel like striving for the best crushes that underfoot. We play on modesty, trying to devalue our achievements and downplay our strength because it is not ‘ladylike’ to own our success. Doyle hits this with the nail on the head: “every time you pretend to be less than you are, you steal permission from other women to exist fully”. She is not saying we ought to be boastful, but not to confuse “modesty with humility”. Be humble, but do not intelligibly belittle yourself, they are very different things.

Of course, Doyle is right, we must alter how we view ourselves and in doing so, we must change the subconscious options and language that we use to denote ambitious women. We need to collectively stop thinking that ambitious women are different, cocky or arrogant, just because society has conditioned us to.  We need to own our personal ambition and not be blighted a public opinion that is fundamentally wrong. Strong women are the foundations of a future of change and progression and hiding under the shrouds of regressive rhetoric leaves us no better than those who repress us.

“It is not honourable for a tree to wilt and shrink and disappear. It’s not honourable for a woman to, either” – Glennon Doyle

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