Book Review: Ambition Decisions

Schank and Wallace interviewed a cross-section of women who attended Northwestern/were in the same sorority, all described as highly ambitious women during their college years, to see what has happened 20 years later. I struggled to get through this book, ultimately finding it more irritating than useful or validating with a few points that just seemed entirely out of touch with realities many women face.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the book’s focus is almost entirely on motherhood and parenting and how the derails/disrupts women’s professional ambition or how that gets redirected. There was very little acknowledgement of women who chose not to have children and no one seemed to be single parenting –whether from divorce, widowhood, etc. There is a select nod to women who are in same sex relationships but none of the featured stories seemed to be those. While they acknowledge the limited pool from which they were drawing, these two major gaps made the book feel far less relevant to the general population.

One of the points they keep looping back to is this “reality” that women can’t expect their male partners to step up and actually participate at home equally. While they acknowledge how emotional labor and the majority of domestic duties and responsibilities falls on women, they kept giving examples of “she’d get home and he’d have done nothing and she had to get used that and/or they had to hire that out.” This wasn’t a difference of loading the dishwasher, but abdication of actually meeting responsibilities. It was striking and infuriating how the authors and the interviewees gave men a consistent pass to not meet their partners expectations or needs. If this were a work setting, one would assume these also often ambitious men would be doing everything to succeed — but not at home. One recommendation section even flatly announced that “A super-egalitarian husband is likely to help your career but he probably isn’t going to do domestic chores or child-related tasks the way you think they should be done. Learn to be okay with that.” (p 134).

The book ultimately felt homogeneous and flat and rather than sparking a sense of validation or hope for the future and changing one’s ambition or seeing it evolve, instead ended weakly after a chapter about breaking away from one’s parent’s childhood expectations and then concluding with a general statement on the need for women to have a community. The book as a whole rang like shallow platitudes, heard and nice in a moment but in no way long lasting and meaningful.

I finished the majority of the book a few weeks ago and I’m struck how none of the stories really resonated with me. I don’t remember any of them, nor did I see myself reflected in them — potentially because I am 5-10 years younger than the authors and either Gen Y / Millenial/ X-enial depending on which list you read. Neither did I see my friends who are actively trying to support younger siblings, parents, or other extended family.

Rather than spend time on reading this, I’d suggest following what was interesting–which was the idea of reconnecting with women for your past and asking them how THEY are.

(this book was borrowed from my public library)