By Sumana Cooppan • January 11, 2008•Other Career Issues
Debra Condren's amBITCHous is a self-help book that seeks to convince female readers that "ambition is a virtue, not a vice." Condren argues that the word "ambitious" has acquired a negative connotation in recent years, and her book is an attempt to redefine and recast ambition in a positive light. Condren posits that ambition should not be reviled but rather celebrated, for "[a}mbition is the best of who we are." Condren provides eight "amBITCHous Rules" that will help the reader learn to become "amBITCHous" - a word that Condren defines as "a woman who: 1) makes more money, 2) has more power, 3) gets the recognition she deserves, 4) has the determination to go after her dreams and can do it with integrity."
While I found the central tenet of the book - that ambition is a virtue, not a vice- to be true, I found many aspects of the book rather unsettling. Firstly, I did not see why Condren had to use the word "amBITCHous" instead of simply using the word "ambitious." Yes, it is often true that a successful and powerful and ambitious women will (unfairly) be described as a "bitch" in our society, but that does not mean that Condren has to utilize that description. I understand that Condren is making a gender play and attempting to reclaim the notion of "bitchiness" by inserting the word "bitch" into the middle of the word, but I do not think that Condren needs to pander to such ridiculous gendering. In using the word "amBITCHous" instead of "ambitious," I found that Condren was not recasting "ambitious" in a positive light at all - rather, she was making "ambitious" synonymous with "bitch" which has an extremely negative connotation. By using "amBITCHous" as the book title and by employing it throughout the text, it seems that Condren is trying to redefine and recast the word "bitch," rather than the word "ambitious." Furthermore, the word "amBITCHous" suggests that any woman who makes more money, has more power, gets the recognition she deserves, and has the determination to go after her dreams and can do it with integrity is automatically a bitch, which is seems to go against the entire theme of the book. I found that the use of the newly-minted word "amBITCHous" detracted from the overall message of the book and distracted me as a reader.
Secondly, I thought that the book seemed geared solely towards women in the business or corporate arena. Condren specifically states that her book can be used by ALL women in almost ANY career, but her advice does not seem to take into account professions in the non-profit or educational world (where success and ambition are not measured by money and power). For example, rules such as "Get More Power from Powerful Advice," "Make 'Em Pay," and "Be a Power Broker" did not have any particular relevance to someone who is a non-profit lawyer or a teacher. Condren ignores women in the non-profit and educational worlds and instead focuses solely on the business/corporate world, which led me to wonder whether Condren even thinks that women who aren't climbing the corporate ladder can be "amBITCHous" or "ambitious." Does Condren's definition of "amBITCHous" change depending on the woman's profession? Should it? Overall, I found the advice in the book too limited in professional scope, and Condren's definition of "amBITCHous" to be lacking in general applicability and depth.
Thirdly, I was more than slightly disturbed by Condren's focus on money and power in the book. The entire text centers around the notion that moeny and power are the ultimate measures of a woman's ambition. While society most definitely measures ambition and success by money and power, I do not see why Condren has to do so when attempting to redefine and recast the word "ambitious." How can a reader who does not crave massive amounts of money and power take Condren's lessons and advice, if at all? Personally, I consider myself to be an ambitious woman and I crave satisfaction, mental stimulation and high achievement in my career - is seeking those things less "amBITCHous" than seeking money and power?
This train of thought led me to wonder why "ambitious" is synonymous with money and power in our society, and why we as women are told to measure our level of ambition with money and power as yardsticks. Is it because money and power are considered the measures of ambition in a traditionally male-dominated marketplace? Do we as "amBITCHous" women HAVE to crave money and power in order to be successful because those are the only measures we are told are legitimate? Or do all women (and all people for that matter) actually crave lots of money and power? If Condren is so eager to redefine and recast the word "ambitious," why doesn't she define ambition in new and different terms that don't rely largely on money and power? Why the stubborn reliance on these particular markers of ambition? Ultimately, can I be "amBITCHous" or "ambitious" without craving or having money and/or power? Unfortunately, Condren's book seems to answer this question with a resounding NO, and I strongly disagree with her answer.
While some of the "amBITCHous Rules" that Condren offers are admittedly helpful to anyone who is working out in the world (rules such as "Be a Contender," and "Don't Be Afraid of Confrontation" can apply in all work arenas), my overall impression of the book was that the author was trying to convince money-seeking, power-hungry, conscience-less and overly-aggressive workers to embrace themselves and not be ashamed of their desires for money, power and success , for those are the markers of ambition and anyone who tells women otherwise is not supportive of women's ambition. I do not believe that money and power are the measures of ambition, nor do I believe that being ambitious necessarily means that a woman will have to be an unapologetic "bitch" in her interactions. Ambition is going to be different things for different people, and ultimately ambition should be about personal fulfillment and satisfaction. If money and power fulfill and satisfy a woman, then she can define being "ambitious" in those terms. If mental stimulation and a desire to change the world fulfill and satisfy a woman, then she should be able to define being "ambitious" in those terms. If, as Condren writes, "[a]mbition is the best of who we are," then our ambition should represent who we are, not who society tells us to be.