Li Shen: Run the World, Girls
I want to be successful, and I’m not sorry.
I want to be rich. There, I said it. I am at this school because I love the people here, I love the opportunities afforded to me here and I love the things I am learning here, but I am primarily here because I expect a high rate of return on my Ivy League education.
A few weeks ago, I read a New York Times opinion article written by novelist Jessica Knoll titled “I Want to be Rich and I’m Not Sorry.” Knoll spoke about her lifelong ambition to be successful, which, to her, means being rich. She wanted to “write books, but [she] really want[ed] to sell books.” She wanted “advances that make [her] husband gasp and fat royalty checks twice a year. [She] want[ed] movie studios to pay [her] for option rights and [she] want[ed] the screenwriting comp to boot.” However, she pointed out that such bold claims have traditionally only come from the mouths of men. Ambition — the hungry, take-no-survivors kind — is still coded as a male trait in today’s society, just as “rich” is “still a man’s word.” Knoll’s first novel “Luckiest Girl Alive” proved itself to be a hit in 38 countries. Lions Gate acquired film rights to the novel; Reese Witherspoon’s production company is also attached to the project. In order to get to that point, Knoll had to relentlessly promote herself with the kind of bravado people call “confidence” in men and “conceit” in women.
Knoll’s article lingered on my mind long after I read her last line about wanting to be rich: “If anyone calls that obnoxious, I want to do what men do, and shrug.” I thought about the way I spoke about my own hopes for success: demure, unassuming and always humble. Of course, humility is an admirable and necessary trait, but I think about the phenomenon that occurs in classrooms where girls tend to preface their questions with “I’m sorry if this is a dumb question, but…” with stunningly higher frequency than boys. I think about how it seems surprising — and, at first, abrasive — to hear a woman speak about her talents and abilities with frank honesty, shy self-deprecation be damned. I think about how there are almost just as many CEOs named John on the Fortune 500 list as there are women, and I am tired of it.
So here is the truth: I want to be so successful — so powerful and so wealthy — that it almost hurts. I want to shout my success from every rooftop and hear the crowd cheering back. I want my success to be indisputable and not the least bit surprising. I want to hear people say, “Of course she made it to the Supreme Court, the Fortune 500, the White House, Silicon Valley,” or wherever I want to go. No matter what career I choose to pursue after college, I expect to make it to the top of that field. I may not make it there, but I want my declaration of ambition to be taken as seriously as those of my male peers, and I want my shows of brash self-assuredness to be received as warmly as theirs.
From now on, I will no longer hide or apologize for the heights of my ambition or the numbers I expect to see in my bank account in ten, twenty or thirty years. I will no longer buy into the narrative that I should dream smaller or think of myself as any less worthy because of what lies between my legs. If I’m going to be successful, I want to be successful enough to give back the hundreds of thousands of dollars that my parents put into my education and secure them a retirement where they want for nothing. If I’m going to be successful, I want to be successful enough to support entire charities for years to come, and I want to throw my considerable weight behind important political causes for as long as I am allowed. I want little girls to see my face on magazines and my name in headlines. I want them to realize that they are allowed to hunger for power and wealth in the same way that little boys are socialized to do so.
It’s true: girls can do anything. It is time we start acting like they can and should be the best at whatever they do, too. They can be the richest person in the world, the fastest swimmer, the recipient of the most Grammys and the President of the United States. If that bothers anyone … well, I am not sorry about that, either.