“Your ambition is going to break my heart.”
I am sitting on my bed next to a boy, my boyfriend at the time, who is sobbing into my lap because I just told him about a job I hadn’t even gotten yet, but was auditioning for, that would take me away for a couple of months.
Suddenly, I found myself comforting a man who had just told me that my ambition, my dreams, my chosen path — EVERYTHING THAT I HAD BEEN WORKING TOWARDS SINCE I WAS A CHILD — was hurtful to him, that I was wrong for having these dreams, these hopes, these goals...and for working hard at them because that made me a bad girlfriend. Right?
As I stroked his hair I wondered for a split second if he was right, if my ambition was somehow bad, if I was a selfish human for pursuing a career so wholeheartedly. He was a Director of Photography and was ALWAYS working, long hours, hopping from one job to the next, never taking a break in between. When I would express any desire to see him, he would scold me for me being needy, saying "Zosia. I'M WORKING," as if I was a slow child who somehow didn’t understand the importance of being professional. And god forbid I would tell him I missed him while he was working because that was just "added stress."
So, let’s break this down into its simplest form. When he put everything he had into his career and left nothing for me or our relationship, he was just doing his job and I should understand. But when I so much as mentioned a career opportunity, I was a heartless heartbreaking bitch.
This was not the first and definitely not the last relationship I would have with a man who would tell me that my desire for success hurt him in some way, shape, or form. Wanting to please my partners, I tried to pretzel into what these men wanted me to be. I tried to somehow become less driven, to put my career in the backseat of their dreams. I tried to make myself smaller.
At every turn, we as women are being told we are too "something." Once, on the same day, I was given feedback for two separate projects. In the span of one hour I was told, "they said you’re too pretty to play the best friend," and "they said you’re just not SEXY enough." We are too much or too little. We are being held to and scrutinised under truly unachievable standards. This rarely, if ever, happens to men.
I tried to somehow become less driven, to put my career in the backseat of their dreams. I tried to make myself smaller.
While annoying and hurtful, underneath this behaviour is an incredibly dangerous assumption — that we as women are somehow lesser than our male counterparts. And more than that, we shouldn’t dare attempt to disrupt this uneven scale.
That this is still the case in America in 2017 is shocking. That we have a President who revels in it is a disgrace. But while there is a long way to go, in many ways we have come a long way. In some parts of the world, simply being a woman is life-threatening.
In countries at war, rape is routinely used as a weapon of war. The statistics are jaw dropping — in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 48 women were raped every hour at the height of the conflict. In Afghanistan, 87% percent of women experience some form of physical, sexual or psychological violence in their lifetime. In Iraq, 24% of girls are child brides, married off before their 18th birthdays. These are women who not only endure unimaginable abuse, but have no access to legal protection, no way to earn an income, no way to escape this cycle of oppression.
To many of us these are the horrors of lands far away. Women we will never meet whose stories become bundled statistics in articles that we Re-Tweet or post on Facebook. We feel for them…and then we go on with our lives. But as women, we owe it to those living with horrific abuse to listen to their stories, to bear witness to them and help in any way we can.
If EVER our voices as women were needed, it is NOW.
Founded 20 years ago by Dr. Samantha Nutt, a petite woman with a powerhouse personality, War Child empowers women and children to rebuild their lives in the wake of violent conflict. When I was introduced to their remarkable work a few years ago, I was an instant advocate. Today I am proud to be an Ambassador. War Child provides psycho-social counselling to women in Iraq, business and skills training for women in Afghanistan, and legal protection for survivors of sexual and gender based violence in Uganda, among many other services in war zones the world over. They empower women with the tools to rise up and lead. They help women to help themselves by teaching and showing them just how powerful they already are.
Nearly a decade has passed since I parted ways with my weepy boyfriend. I have since grown from a girl into a confident woman who knows my own worth, with a husband who wholly supports and encourages my dreams. Reflecting on my personal journey, I’ve come to realise the changes that can and need to happen both here at home and globally for women’s rights. I have a voice and I’m gonna use it as a megaphone. Ladies — we have serious work to do.
The recent marches in Washington, DC and around the world have shown us the power of sisterhood. Women’s voices are loud and resonant. We are strong; we have moved mountains before. Let us use our guts and our privilege and our solidarity to speak out against the violation of women’s rights and women’s bodies everywhere. So in honour of International Women’s Day, this is my call to arms to all of you women out there — it is our duty to fight together, to empower each other. That means making sure that women everywhere have equal access to opportunity and justice. Our gender does not make us any lesser. Our bodies, minds and souls, our hopes and dreams and desires are not only valuable but capable of changing the world.
If you are a woman who is lucky enough to live in accordance with her ambitions, I hope you will join me and lend your voice to those women around the world who are silenced, oppressed and devalued. Let's support the work of War Child and follow the example of the extraordinary women they work with — whose ballsy dreams I am now proud to share.
Zosia Mamet can currently be seen starring in the final season of HBO's Girls. This Spring, she will appear Off-Broadway opposite Norbert Leo Butz in the world premiere of Hamish Linklater's new play The Whirlgig, set to open at The Pershing Square Signature Centre on May 21.