Be successful – but not too successful: every women’s challenge 

On my way to the train station, I was chatting to my taxi driver – as you do. He was lovely, telling me about his family and such – as they do. The conversation was going great until he said “Women are not made to be earning too much money. They can’t handle it. When they become too successful they change.”

Now my company have been drilling professionalism into me over the last two weeks. So surprisingly my first reaction was not to go off on one. Instead I forced a chuckle and said “let’s agree to disagree” and gently got him to understand that it most probably the man who is seeing things that are not there, feeling insecure and how this is all part of patriarchal society which forces men to believe that a women’s success is a sign of their own weakness.
This whole topic came up because we were talking about how the more and more successful a women gets, the harder it is to find a viable partner. Men feel very threatened by successful women. At 23, with a Masters from a globally leading university, and on a very cosy salary (thanks to my employment in a corporate company – leading in it’s field, alhamdulliah), I know I’m very much more successful than many men my age – or even a few years older than me.

And that’s terrifying.

Just because I am smart and determined, I’ve already knocked out a whole section of men who won’t even consider me. The already small pool of men already shrinking. And to be honest, I know that’s a blessing because who wants to be with someone who’s manhood is that fickle.

But it’s still terrifying. I am very comfortable being independent and even though I’d like a partner, marriage is something I aspire to because I know if I don’t then my mum and siblings will face a load of crap. And so I worry about growing old and being single.

I wonder how I would grow my daughter up. At what age would you remind your daughter that setting her up not to fail may be the very thing that makes her fail? Fail in finding a partner that is – which apparently is the only sign of success. Because you could have stopped studying after GCSEs and got married and never worked a day of your life (and good for you if that’s what makes you happy) – and in many people’s eyes you’ll be more successful than I am. You’re a mother, a wife – a proper women. And then you get the super women, those who have studied – even become a doctor perhaps – but have now given that up to look after their husband and children (and again, good for you if that makes you happy). She maintains the house and her husband, and that makes her a success. Look at what she sacrificed to be a proper women! 

We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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16 thoughts on “Be successful – but not too successful: every women’s challenge 

  1. I’m a receptionist at a general practice, I earn £8 and hour… I ain’t tripping no how if my wife earns more money than me, cause wealth isn’t what raises one person above another, it’s piety and closeness to Allah that impresses me, I would feel more insecure if my wife was more pious than I was and stood in the nights to pray whilst I was unable because I hadn’t been raised by Allah to fulfil that great act of worship… But her money? Nah.

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  2. Yes! I hate that narrow minded mentality! When people think like that, I mean girls and boys are growing up in the same world, going to the same schools, and if girls are climbing up higher than the guy it’s like ‘oh no, pull her down’. You’re absolutely right, men who are ready to accept that women might be allowed some form of power are so few. I’m not talking from a feminist pout of view, it’s just how it is. Men like their power. They like their authority. I pray they are guided to a more secure state, where their ego isn’t a huge part of everything.

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    • I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to want someone who’s at your level, who understands your lifestyle and can keep up with you.
      It’s not my personal choice but I think it’s a valid choice.

      My point in this post (and I believe your comment – correct me if I’m wrong) is society as a whole expects the men to be more successful than the women. That is both women looking for better men and men looking for less successful women. It’s sad really.

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      • Hi. First off, awesome blog. I’ve been exploring it little by little over the past couple of days and enjoy learning about your standpoint and reading your critiques. I think that you touch upon a lot of important issues in this post. I agree that it is sexist when men won’t date women who are financially and professionally successful because they want them to stay in gender roles as mothers and wives who don’t have goals outside of that. Yet, I want to point out that from an intersectional feminist perspective it is sexist, ableist, and classist when men won’t date women who are mentally/physically disabled or poor and can’t fit the standards of financial and professional success in our corporate capitalist society. It is also racist, when you consider that poverty and disability/illness disproportionately affect women of color.

        So, while I sympathize with what you are going through as a “successful” woman and I hope that you continue to be successful, you are in a privileged position relative to a lot of women. I find it hard to date, if not impossible, because I have an autoimmune disease that gives me fatigue and chronic pain and makes my hair fall out. I have a mood and a personality disorder. I can’t work or go to school right now due to those issues, so I have no money and am going on government assistance. Because of the stigma of those things, a lot of men would never want to date me, because I am seen by many to be a loser and a social parasite according to capitalist ideology. I also cannot be independent, because I depend on other people for support, so I am critical of the whole strong, independent woman archetype in feminism. It leaves women who can’t do that feeling like we’re not valid women in feminism. I am not successful, but that doesn’t mean that other women/feminists who are successful are better than me. I think that you kind of suggest that unintentionally when you say that it’s sad that “women are looking for ‘better’ men and men looking for less successful women.” I think we need to be careful about calling successful people of either gender “better” than others.

        I’m not trying to attack you or bring you down. It is awesome that you are successful and that you feel good about yourself. That is important for women. But, I am critical of the focus on female success in feminism, when I think that we really need to be dismantling the very economic and social structure that puts women in competition with one another for resources and disadvantages some women while others profit. It is rooted in ableism, because not all women are capable of “success” as it has been historically defined by white supremacist capitalist hetero-patriarchy. And feminism is for everybody. But, we live in a system in which not everyone can access health, educational, and economic resources, let alone the sexual capital to date.

        Instead of focusing on success, I think that it is more beneficial for feminists to focus on self-actualization and meaning in their lives, while working to create equal access to resources for all women regardless of their ability or income. And dating shouldn’t be so based on consumerism. Anyway, I just wanted to offer another perspective, although I do understand where you are coming from with your post. I hope that you understand where I am coming from. Like you, I care about intersectional feminism, especially the intersection of feminism and disability. I’ve actually written some posts which touch upon some of the issues I’ve brought up here, which you might find interesting.

        https://theliteralfeminist.wordpress.com/2015/09/23/what-ive-learned-about-feminism-from-failing-to-measure-up/

        https://theliteralfeminist.wordpress.com/2015/10/10/the-sexual-politics-of-physical-and-mental-illness/

        Perhaps, we can dialogue more about this : ). Thank you for your post.

      • Thank you so much for reminding me of my privileges. You’re completely right and please don’t feel like you have to apologise for being critical – this is how we learn from each other.
        I am ashamed for not writing “better” and “successful” in inverted commas because you’re right – the measures of success are Eurocentric and ableist in their nature anyhow.
        Thanks for sharing your posts – will read and engage and hope to learn

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