Feminism finds itself at an odd crossroads. In spite of recent setbacks, it's become more acceptable than it has been in years to identify as a feminist. That said, many women shy away from another problematic word — ambition.
To confront the problem of women's ambition head on, author and professor Robin Romm has compiled and edited a remarkable collection of essays by literary writers, stay-at-home moms, professors and lawyers, as well as a butcher and even actress Molly Ringwald.
The book's inherent power lies in these two dozen distinctive perspectives on the concept. Through its collective voice, "Double Bind" galvanizes women to embrace ambition without shame or equivocation.
Beyond finding the confidence to identify a goal or desire, a person must first recognize her right to possess desires and goals. While all women strain under these challenges, the burden is heaviest for women of color.
Ayana Mathis, the author of the Oprah Book Club selection and bestseller "The Twelve Tribes of Hattie," reflects, "I come from strugglers. For us, the measure of a life is survival by means of elegant improvisation and wiliness; grace and dignity in the face of difficulty."
Speaking at length about the fits and starts in her writing career, she recognizes, "In order to write the novel, I'd had to first acknowledge that I wanted to write it, that I could and would write it. Why had it taken nearly forty years for me to understand that I had the right to my ambitions?"
For some, exclusion offers an unlikely advantage. Writer and second-generation immigrant Lan Samantha Chang notes, "Hesitation and ambivalence, it seems, are of concern only to people who hold the hope of meeting some ideal of American womanhood or possess the approval of authority, privilege. … Our ambition was unencumbered by reluctance." Unaffected by societal discouragement, Chang and her two sisters strove for and achieved professional success on their own terms. Yet others must fight again and again to prove their worth.
Musing upon her fierce work ethic, writer Roxane Gay notes, "The burden of my ambition still has me wondering if I am worthy." No matter how many books she publishes, Gay is haunted by the sting of being told that her success is the product of affirmative action, not her independent ability. Women are caught by a pernicious bind that, should they chase their ambition, forces them to subdue the shine of their success.
Elisa Albert rips at this destructive construct, asking, "And what if we confuse striving or incidental recognition with mastery? … Don't imagine that if you play someone else's rules you can win. Anyway, write your own rules! Anyway, WHO HAS TIME FOR GAMES?"
"Double Bind" challenges women to ignore the games and own their passions.
Lauren LeBlanc is an independent book editor and writer, as well as a nonfiction editor at Guernica magazine. A native New Orleanian, she lives in Brooklyn.