Women, Success and Ambition. Why Is It So Complicated?

Honestly? It stems back centuries, but I’m going to give it to you straight up.

Women generally don’t champion themselves and their accomplishments as much as men. Full stop. 

STELLARGIRL’s mission is to change that narrative, so I went looking for the research behind why so many women don’t talk about how exceptional they are – and I went looking for the women who are celebrating themselves, helping change the status quo and inspiring others to do the same.

Here’s what I found.

Women are on their way to overcoming the double bind (a term coined in the 1950s). The double bind tells us that women are supposed to be sweet, conciliatory, quiet and helpful – in a word, likable. Those qualities are also connected with being passive or weak and if we break out of that mold with ambition and boldness and talk about our wins and successes – like men do naturally – we can be seen as aggressive, difficult and dramatic.

Taylor Swift puts it this way, “There’s a different vocabulary for men and women in the music industry, right? A man does something, it’s strategic. A woman does the same thing, it’s calculated. A man is allowed to react. A woman can only overreact.”

On Instagram, @cayleecresta speaks about the double bind, where she says that women are, “expected to think like a man if you want to be successful, but don’t act like one if you want to be liked; care about our appearance but stop looking for attention; be aware of your surroundings but stop being so dramatic; practice self-love but don’t love yourself too much and dream big but stay small.”

Why is this still a conversation? Why is this still so relevant? We should have come so far by now.

The double bind is still clearly present for women today, but we’re all looking forward and STELLARGIRL’s vision is to put it firmly in our rearview mirror.

Let’s dive in.

Reese Witherspoon tells us in her 2015 Glamour Woman of the Year speech, “I believe ambition is not a dirty word, it’s just believing in yourself and your abilities. Imagine this, what would happen if we were all brave enough to believe in our own ability to be a little bit more ambitious? I think the world would change.” That was seven years ago, has the needle moved? Not really and why not. I think she’s right and I would add to that. To be ambitious, you need to like yourself, in fact, you need to love yourself, first and most importantly.

Serena Williams says, “I’ve learned to love me. I’ve been like this [speaking of her body type] my whole life and I embrace me. I love how I look. I am a full woman and I’m strong, and I’m powerful, and I’m beautiful at the same time.” 

Rhianna tells us, “The minute you learn to love yourself you won’t want to be anyone else.”

Amy Shumer has learned this truth as well, “I know my worth. I embrace my power. I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story — I will. I will speak and share…and I will never apologize.”

And I like this quote by Glennon Doyle (podcast host), “You are a human being…you get to be everything: loud quiet bold smart careful impulsive creative joyful big angry curious ravenous ambitious.”

Ravenous-ambitious. I love the power of combining these words into one quality.

I’m sure Witherspoon would agree. In the summer of 2021, she sold her production company, Hello Sunshine, for $900,000,000, give or take a few million. Here’s an excerpt from Gayle King’s interview with Witherspoon in InStyle magazine about her championing her success:

Gayle King: What’s it like to be a badass? Own it, Reese!

Reese Witherspoon: I’ve said this to Oprah before, but LeBron James doesn’t go, “I’m kinda sorta good at basketball.” He’s like, “I’m the best there ever was.” So, yes, I do think I’m very good at what I do. I’ve been doing it for 30 years. I know what I’m doing. Give me the ball.

GK: You raise such a good point. Men never shy away from saying “Yep, I’m good,” and women are always like, “Oh, thanks.”

It plays out everywhere, but women in power are making the choice to be bold, to be ambitious, to own their successes, to be the best and to tell people about it.

An academic research paper by Brittany Karford Rogers found that when, “researchers asked group members individually who in their group was most influential, talking time predicted everything: those who held the floor most won.” Traditionally, this was men. They speak up, they don’t worry about what other people in the room think and they don’t worry about being liked. It’s more difficult for women to do the same, we’ve been taught to play by different rules, but STELLARGIRL wants us to level that playing field and if that takes speaking up a dozen times to get heard, then that’s what it takes. Ravenous-ambition.

I’ve found the key is in moving past our fears – of failure, unacceptance, being censored, being canceled – and that playing it safe by keeping quiet isn’t ravenous-ambition. As Elizabeth Banks says, “One of the great lessons I’ve learned in my life is that you don’t get what you don’t ask for. I raise my hand a lot.”

It is a pressure all women face, to raise our hands or not. The old model of the 1950’s wife spending the day at home, doing laundry, taking care of the kids and then making dinner, having it on the table and looking like she just stepped out of the salon is over, but the perfume still lingers, and that’s where we find ourselves today.

Research from a recent study in Science shows that up until the age of five, girls think their gender is just as smart, capable and brilliant as boys and that they can excel in anything, any field, any subject. Something happens that year, an accumulation of cultural between-the-lines storytelling, and by age six, those same girls are less likely to think they can achieve the same things, or that they are as capable and intelligent as the boys.

I’ve seen this in my stepdaughter, who is 12 years old and has my and my husband’s unending support – and our voices in her ear all the time to take up her space, to celebrate herself and her wins, to own her strength and to speak out. She knows we think she can do or be anything, but we are not the only influences in her life, and just a couple of months ago, she told me she was unsure whether or not she could win the election for mayor of her class – she was running against a boy. I know it’s not what we teach her at home and I know it’s not how she thinks of herself, but the influence and pressure of social media to be that perfect and to be scared of losing is real. The evolution of social media into a constant form of stimulation and an outward facsimile of our real selves – the pressure to be and look and act a certain way is real. What my stepdaughter and every young woman needs is more young female role models who aren’t afraid to scream about their ambition and go after it.

Swift is one of those young role models and she advises, “There might be times when you put your whole heart and soul into something, and it is met with cynicism or skepticism, but you can’t let that crush you. You have to let that fuel you because we live in a world where anyone has the right to say anything that they want about you at any time, but just please remember that you have the right to prove them wrong.”

Selena Gomez has a similar way of looking at it. She says, “Obviously, people are going to bring you down because of your drive. But, ultimately, it makes you a stronger person to turn your cheek and go the other way.”

And from the woman who has been called the greatest tennis player in the world, Williams says, “There weren’t a lot of role models for me to look up to [in the sport] and say, ‘Wow, I want to look like this!’. I kind of had to be that role and be that person… Venus and I started out being successful, continued to be successful, and we were also unapologetically ourselves. We were not afraid to wear braids. We weren’t afraid to be Black in tennis. And that was different.”

These are the voices we need in the world today: the ambitious, the strong, the bold, the driven, the STELLAR women who see these limitations the world presents to them and decide to run them over. As Swift puts it, “Never forget the essence of your spark!”

This is why I do what I do, to get the STELLARGIRL message out and guide as many women as I can to elevate themselves and be unapologetic about it. Women need to level up, set an example and celebrate who they are – and who they are becoming.

Let’s be limitless together. You’re not on your own, we’ve got you. Elevate your lifestyle with our guide at stellargirl.com and learn how to incorporate self-celebration practices into your daily @stellargirlofficial.

It’s time to be ravenous-ambitious. What are we waiting for?


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