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Ambition in Society’s Dictionary

Society can be considered the author of the biggest do’s and don’ts list for women globally. At this point, this list even includes specific taboo words and a “socially accepted” definition of everything that was once not complicated. The surprise item on this taboo list? Ambition. This word might seem straightforward to all of us at first. Even a Google search shows so. It is described as “a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work.” Not in one dictionary will you find gender being mentioned in this word’s simple definition. However, thanks to our society, this word now translates into “bossy” for women and “achiever” for men.

For the longest time, society’s backup claim to maintain this dichotomy was the explanation that, scientifically, women are less ambitious than men. This introduction of the “ambition gap” not only falsely convinces people that men are naturally professionally driven but also adds fuel to the stereotype of women being fragile and not being able to handle a work environment’s stress and challenges. Research on this topic led to the conclusion that, “young women are more ambitious than young men, especially in terms of education. Thirty-eight percent of young women expect to continue in school beyond a bachelor’s degree, compared to only 27% of young men, and young women are more likely to expect an advanced professional occupation and less likely to expect a low-status occupation than young men.” Unfortunately, the emergence of such facts did nothing to eliminate the negative connotation associated with women’s ambition.

Chasing dreams and desiring the peak of personal advancement became “overachievement” for women as soon as they decided to step out of the kitchen aprons and chase more. Even their wish for financial stability is defined as greed, while men are praised as breadwinners for the same drive. An upsetting truth is that most young women do not realize this state of unfairness until they are exhausted from the reality; their contributions are not met with the same appreciation as a man’s in a job setting. In my personal experience, I never realized that the movies I used to watch growing up included such perspectives. Now that I analyze them, the common patterns in a lot of movies include the acceptance of a naive woman willing to sacrifice her ambitions for a family and the outright defamation of an ambitious woman not satisfied with just familial duties. The narration of these movies pretty much presents the naive woman as a good person, while the ambitious woman is portrayed as bossy and unladylike. The same is seen in movies where the young female employer with huge dreams starts out her career by fetching everyone coffee in the morning and settling for little tasks in the office. Settling for less is somehow so ladylike and acceptable in this world. The idea that a woman should learn how to be content with the opportunities she has is outright ironic since society has already told them not to be content with who they are in the first place.

It is very unfortunate that talented women who know their potential are bombarded with backhanded compliments and criticism when they unleash their capabilities and desire self-improvement. The fact that even after so many improvements in society, things that men are praised for, such as assertive speaking, profit motives, and refusal to compromise, are the very things women are penalized for, is a sad truth. This should be enough reason for society to start thinking differently and bring a change to their perspective. Educating our children to consider ambition as a quality with no dichotomy between the genders is very important. In addition to this, as women, we have the incredible power to stand united. Let’s use that unity to prove that we will move forward and continue to be dreamers!

Vismaya Praveen Nair

11th Grade

Bentonville, AR


Hayford, Sarah R, and Jessica Halliday Hardie. “Gender Differences in Adolescents' Work and Family Orientations in the United States.” The Sociological quarterly vol. 62,3 (2021).

Accessed 24 Sep. 2023.

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