There's a thing that happens when you're a woman, particularly a young woman, who is vocal about her ambitions in life. Announce that you want to become a doctor, or a lawyer, or a writer, or an artist, and watch a whole lot of closed-mouth smiles sprout up. Because there's nothing that really gets under peoples' skin like watching humans who they deem "undeserving" experiencing success. Here are a few backhanded compliments ambitious women are tired of hearing, because honestly, we have so many better things to spend our energy on.
Backhanded compliments are particularly frustrating to face, because, like, we see you; we hear you; we know you did not mean that in a sincere or kind manner; and yet, it’s almost impossible to call someone on it. “Oh, come on!” they’ll say. “Lighten up! Stop taking everything so seriously! I meant that in a good way!”
And then it’s your turn to give a little closed-mouth smile and shrug it off. And to be clear, you should shrug it off. If you set big goals for yourself and take your career seriously, then yeah, there will be detractors. There will be people who are jealous of you, or who try to cut the competition down a size or two to feed their own fragile sense of self. But you know what? None of that matters. You just keep doing you, boo. You got this. And you don't have to put up with any of these steathily mean comments (and neither does Oprah).
1. "Aw, you're writing a novel/play/movie/memoir? That's so cute!"
Ugh, I can feel myself grimacing as I write this. "Cute" is condescending. "Cute" is infantilizing. "Cute" is used to diminish a woman's success, because there's nothing intimidating or substantive or strong about "cute." "Cute" keeps us in our place. Cute is a "Yeah, but..." Creating something like a novel or a play and putting it out into the world is an incredibly personal, often painful endeavor, and summing up that experience with "cute" is really effing demeaning.
2. "Wow, men must be really intimidated by you!"
Yeah, it's a real badge of honor to intimidate a dude. I mean, to do that as a woman. Because we're just really not intimidating usually. We're just cute!
But seriously, though, why is my success seen as aggressive? Why is it so often seen as an attack on masculinity? In reality, my success is totally unrelated to masculinity; it's related to me and my own goals. It shouldn't have such an inherently negative cause-and-effect to someone to whom it doesn't apply in the first place.
3. "You're so brave to be single/putting off marriage/waiting to start a family."
Not every single woman wants to be married! Not every single woman wants kids! Those are not always the endgame! Investing time and energy into your job doesn't make you a selfish daughter or a sub-par woman!
4. "You're just like one of the guys!"
My new single "That's Not A Compliment" is dropping today, and includes such gems as "I don't want to be successful like a guy/because I'm not a guy/and I don't want to be like one/Thanks, though" and "Why am I either totally desexualized or hyper-sexualized in the workplace/Why is there no middle ground/please can you take me to the middle ground" and "If you call me a ball buster or a nutcracker/I will crack your face/So glad we cleared that up."
5. "I thought you'd be a bitch, but you're actually really nice!"
So many female friends of mine feel like they have to be overly gracious and nice to compensate for their ambitions, because there's this sense of having to swap one form of femininity for another. And honestly? Not every woman is warm. Not every woman is friendly. And they don't have to be. Some women are reserved, some are biting, and some are mean. Humans are weird creatures. There are a whole lot of different personalities. Why do you think we tend to demonize ambitious women? Who do you think that hurts?
6. "I guess some women can have it all, ha ha."
Can we live, please? I've said this before and I'll it again: Women having a career and a family are seen as some huge feat. Men with a career and a family are the default. If you want to be a stay-at-home mom, be a stay-at-home mom! If you want to be a doctor, be a doctor! If you want to do both, do both! If you want to do neither, do neither! The only person who determines whether or not someone "has it all" is that person themself — and no one else. Let's stop measuring success by someone else's yardstick.