There’s much about Priyanka Chopra’s brand of feminism that’s been dubious in the past, but the victories of feminism are for everyone to enjoy – not only those who practice it. Which is why the standout moment of her Vogue interview on her new spouse, Nick Jonas, brings such cheer. In it, Chopra describes how their courtship moved to a deeper level when Jonas said to her: “I love the way you look at the world. I love the drive you have.” She explains: “As a girl, I’ve never had a guy tell me, ‘I like your ambition’. It’s always been the opposite.”
At 36, Chopra has spent half her life so far in the spotlight, with a thriving career in beauty pageants, Bollywood films and Hollywood television. You don’t get to, and stay at, such a pinnacle without ambition. And like many ambitious women, Chopra declined or deferred marriage – or even any publicly acknowledged partnership – for a long time. Ambitious women often make this choice, but it’s a choice largely made based on a lack of viable options. The alternatives include forfeiting one’s career, downplaying one’s achievements so as to seem interesting but not threatening, or sublimating that drive into channels like tyrannical parenting and undermining other people’s dreams.
As Chopra said, men tend to dislike ambition in the women they date or marry. In a traditional context, men on the arranged marriage market quite frankly seek women with lower educational qualifications or salaries. In dating, the cues are subtler. As an ambitious woman only a little younger than Chopra, I don’t have to rely on anyone’s experience but my own for these nuggets. Envy: the poet who password-protected his documents before letting me use his computer (then forgot his password and lost his manuscript). Condescension: the older predator type who visited websites that had published my work to tell me the websites were interesting (silence about my work). Carefree dismissal: “I don’t read”. Or worse, pedestalization: when you’re their favourite so you’re out of their league. And that incredibly slimy – so far thankfully unsuccessful – undercutting method I’ve seen attempted many times: when they tell you your work is lousy, but gosh you’re cute and (here’s that word again) interesting and perhaps you can redeem yourself in some non-literary way?
Women with a strong sense of purpose who wish to partner with men have very slim pickings.
Which brings us to the purely circumstantial, a stark fact beyond personal choice: you don’t get chosen. They prefer someone who won’t distress their fragile egos. This has a funny effect on ambitious women, though. We just work harder. We put all of it – time, effort, love, attention, the need for validation and even libido – into becoming damn good at what we do. Then becoming even better. A woman rejected, openly or underhandedly, for wanting her career as much as or more than she wants you has no choice but to make the most of it.
So congratulations to Priyanka Chopra – not on getting married, but on finding someone who admires that she dreams big and is driven. And isn’t afraid she’ll out-dazzle him (and she surely will).
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on December 6th 2018. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.