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Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women's Changing Lives

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Despite the huge advances women have made in recent decades, their ambitions are still undermined in subtle ways. Parents, teachers, bosses, and institutions all give less encouragement to women than men, and women still grow up believing that they must defer to men in order be seen as feminine. If their ambition does survive into adulthood, too often those ambitions must Despite the huge advances women have made in recent decades, their ambitions are still undermined in subtle ways. Parents, teachers, bosses, and institutions all give less encouragement to women than men, and women still grow up believing that they must defer to men in order be seen as feminine. If their ambition does survive into adulthood, too often those ambitions must be downsized or abandoned to accommodate "wifely" duties of household chores and child care. As a result, women--unlike men-continually have to re-shape their goals and expectations. Yet expressing ambition, pursuing it, and getting recognition for one's accomplishments is critical to identity and happiness. In this groundbreaking work, Anna Fels draws on extensive research and years of her psychiatriac practice to offer an original and deeply useful examination of ambition in women's lives. In the process, she illuminates just what is necessary for women to articulate--and fulfill--their dreams.


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Despite the huge advances women have made in recent decades, their ambitions are still undermined in subtle ways. Parents, teachers, bosses, and institutions all give less encouragement to women than men, and women still grow up believing that they must defer to men in order be seen as feminine. If their ambition does survive into adulthood, too often those ambitions must Despite the huge advances women have made in recent decades, their ambitions are still undermined in subtle ways. Parents, teachers, bosses, and institutions all give less encouragement to women than men, and women still grow up believing that they must defer to men in order be seen as feminine. If their ambition does survive into adulthood, too often those ambitions must be downsized or abandoned to accommodate "wifely" duties of household chores and child care. As a result, women--unlike men-continually have to re-shape their goals and expectations. Yet expressing ambition, pursuing it, and getting recognition for one's accomplishments is critical to identity and happiness. In this groundbreaking work, Anna Fels draws on extensive research and years of her psychiatriac practice to offer an original and deeply useful examination of ambition in women's lives. In the process, she illuminates just what is necessary for women to articulate--and fulfill--their dreams.

30 review for Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women's Changing Lives

  1. 5 out of 5

    Noryang

    It was a good supplement reading on gender issues. However it could have been more impactful. It dragged on quite a bit without clear message in some chapters. But overall, presented insightful thinking and important message on gender inequality.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Visible

    Lucy 'splainin' Lucy 'splainin'

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tameron Keyes

    Excellent Book! In the all women should read category. Incredible insight from an ambitious successful doctor.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    A very important read for both women AND men. Fels thoroughly examines the motivations, obstacles, and choices related to ambitions and achievement in women's lives. She digs deep into the psychological aspects of ambition, the setting of ambitions aside to raise children, and the impediments to fulfilment in a society designed around the structure of men's lives rather than women's. At the heart of the book is the examination of a person's emotional and psychological need for affirmation and re A very important read for both women AND men. Fels thoroughly examines the motivations, obstacles, and choices related to ambitions and achievement in women's lives. She digs deep into the psychological aspects of ambition, the setting of ambitions aside to raise children, and the impediments to fulfilment in a society designed around the structure of men's lives rather than women's. At the heart of the book is the examination of a person's emotional and psychological need for affirmation and recognition, and how the choices women make (or are forced to make because of circumstance, societal pressure, or male privilege) regarding her ambitions deny her these elements of a fulfilling life. The social imperatives of this issue in the U.S. are also thoughtfully discussed by Fels, and she concludes with a discussion of the need for a society-wide shift in values regarding the balance of work and family for both men and women (as in Sweden and other European countries) if American women are to be free to participate in our society as equals.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Great look at something very personal to me-- looking at what makes women follow through with their professional aspirations, and what usually keeps women from making it into the primetime (making partner, getting tenure, whatever). I found it very interesting and relatable. She writes in an accessible way-- referencing research without actually really getting into technical jargon or experimental parameters. In fact, I wish there were a touch more of the technical side than there is.... but I i Great look at something very personal to me-- looking at what makes women follow through with their professional aspirations, and what usually keeps women from making it into the primetime (making partner, getting tenure, whatever). I found it very interesting and relatable. She writes in an accessible way-- referencing research without actually really getting into technical jargon or experimental parameters. In fact, I wish there were a touch more of the technical side than there is.... but I imagine the technical literature is out there for people who really want to get into it more specifically. And of course, the problem with such a big question is that Fels doesn't have the answer-- which in some pathetic way really made me sad, as if reading a book could solve everything! -- but she does frame the question in interesting ways.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    I purchased "Necessary Dreams" at the same time as Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers (A NICE GIRLS Book). These two books provide a nice complement to one another. I would say that "Necessary Dreams" is the more insightful and intellectual of the two, with a great depth of explanation for why women are the way we are - often unwilling or unable to celebrate success. "Nice Girls," on the other hand, gives advice on how such wom I purchased "Necessary Dreams" at the same time as Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers (A NICE GIRLS Book). These two books provide a nice complement to one another. I would say that "Necessary Dreams" is the more insightful and intellectual of the two, with a great depth of explanation for why women are the way we are - often unwilling or unable to celebrate success. "Nice Girls," on the other hand, gives advice on how such women can overcome these liabilities in the workplace. This book combines both scientific and historical evidence of challenges particular to women, as well as anecdotal stories. Very often, I felt as though Anna Fels was speaking directly to me.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mof

    Although written through the eyes of a woman, this book also speaks to all upper middle class whose ambitions and dreams are not yet met. It confronts the reality of ambition. Humans want to master a skill and then get recognized for it. We are not autonomous and independent, even the most randian. Mastering and recognition can come from doing one thing well or from many even conflicting roles. But if sources of recognition are not available, frustration results. Why are women still not breaking Although written through the eyes of a woman, this book also speaks to all upper middle class whose ambitions and dreams are not yet met. It confronts the reality of ambition. Humans want to master a skill and then get recognized for it. We are not autonomous and independent, even the most randian. Mastering and recognition can come from doing one thing well or from many even conflicting roles. But if sources of recognition are not available, frustration results. Why are women still not breaking into the top levels of leadership. Mentoring is still weak. Second, careers are still designed to fit men's life cycles.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Unless you are completely new to women's studies and feminist issues, you shouldn't read the entire book. Not that you need to, anyway. Fels is extremely repetitive, to the point where I finally just skipped the majority of the second part of the book without feeling guilty or wondering if I'd missed anything. For me, the first part of the book was the only thing really worth reading. It got me to thinking about ambition and my own path. Beyond that, I skimmed more than I read, simply because I f Unless you are completely new to women's studies and feminist issues, you shouldn't read the entire book. Not that you need to, anyway. Fels is extremely repetitive, to the point where I finally just skipped the majority of the second part of the book without feeling guilty or wondering if I'd missed anything. For me, the first part of the book was the only thing really worth reading. It got me to thinking about ambition and my own path. Beyond that, I skimmed more than I read, simply because I felt like I'd read it all before.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Katharine Kimbriel

    I need to go back to this one -- there is so much going on there, on so many levels, for me and for characters I am creating -- I had to take it back to the libs. I'll either buy it when I have money, or check it out again. Right now I am reading too much other non-fiction to fully absorb this book. But definitely worth looking at -- for both sexes. Men would benefit from learning about the trap women have been in since the beginning, and how women under sixty are still marked by these conflicti I need to go back to this one -- there is so much going on there, on so many levels, for me and for characters I am creating -- I had to take it back to the libs. I'll either buy it when I have money, or check it out again. Right now I am reading too much other non-fiction to fully absorb this book. But definitely worth looking at -- for both sexes. Men would benefit from learning about the trap women have been in since the beginning, and how women under sixty are still marked by these conflicting signals.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I stumbled upon this book in the middle of a "what am I doing with my life" weekend. Post-breakdown, Steve took me out for a coffee and to the bookstore. I found this book and thought, "Ah-ha! This book it will give good strategies for dealing." It didn't. While interesting and a good review of the literature, I've taken women's studies, politcal theory, blah blah blah, and not much was new. But, there were some interesting insights into the health (physical/mental) of working moms. A good read I stumbled upon this book in the middle of a "what am I doing with my life" weekend. Post-breakdown, Steve took me out for a coffee and to the bookstore. I found this book and thought, "Ah-ha! This book it will give good strategies for dealing." It didn't. While interesting and a good review of the literature, I've taken women's studies, politcal theory, blah blah blah, and not much was new. But, there were some interesting insights into the health (physical/mental) of working moms. A good read for 20- or 30-something women pondering whether it's possible to "do it all."

  11. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Having graduated from college last year, this book came just at the right time for me. Its not the type of book I'd normally read (I was an English major and tend to stick to novels), but it was given as a gift by a professor I highly admire. Anna Fels does a great job examining the difficult place of women in our society, who are often faced with a choice between career and family and no perfect way to balance the two. She writes from experience, as both a professional psychologist and a mother Having graduated from college last year, this book came just at the right time for me. Its not the type of book I'd normally read (I was an English major and tend to stick to novels), but it was given as a gift by a professor I highly admire. Anna Fels does a great job examining the difficult place of women in our society, who are often faced with a choice between career and family and no perfect way to balance the two. She writes from experience, as both a professional psychologist and a mother and wife, and puts words to feelings that most women experience but may not fully understand.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kristin Maschka

    Necessary Dreams is like lying on the couch with a good therapist, which Fels is. The book is so readable yet touched at the core of the issues women have with ambition and why. Her definition of ambition as a proven human psychological need - desire for mastery + desire for recognition - is so helpful and so validating for women and mothers who are often made to feel bad for wanting to pursue ambitions. I keep copies on hand to hand out to all my friends.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

    A must-read! Fels does a wonderful job of identifying the challenges that still face women in their attempt to realize their ambitions. She is right on the mark and raises some interesting questions.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Holmes

    An interesting discussion of ambition in women's lives and careers. For a nonfiction book, it was a very easy read. The author makes some great points, one of which is that recognition for a job well done is a basic human need. An interesting discussion of ambition in women's lives and careers. For a nonfiction book, it was a very easy read. The author makes some great points, one of which is that recognition for a job well done is a basic human need.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Psychiatrist Anna Fels takes a compelling look at ambition--what it is, what informs women’s complicated relationship with it, and why it’s so important. Truly thought-provoking and surprisingly engaging.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Brooke

    Look. As women, we are still confronting the patriarchy. It's the truth. This book just outlines it even more for everyone. I say read it. Read it if you want to know what is really going on with women and their careers. Look. As women, we are still confronting the patriarchy. It's the truth. This book just outlines it even more for everyone. I say read it. Read it if you want to know what is really going on with women and their careers.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Moak

    Great read!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Karyn

    I always think of my friend Trish when I think of this book -- we read it around the same time and discussed it a lot! Ambition is important to think about, and definitely fraught for women....

  19. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    Her references tended to be on the older side, but still relevant. Also appreciated that she specified class/ethic differences. Really resonated with me.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kristy

    This was a long book, and dragged on a bit at the end, but found it insightful to human need to achieve something and be recognized for it. It also is making me a proponent of all girls schooling.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Naomi

    Really fascinating read. Found myself highlighting a lot of passages. Lots to think about.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    Great read for any woman trying to balance career and family.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Erin

  24. 5 out of 5

    Cherylee Ann Parker

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kay Lentz

  26. 4 out of 5

    Subdee

  27. 4 out of 5

    Susanna Space

  28. 4 out of 5

    Joshua English

  29. 4 out of 5

    Carole Ann

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jasmine

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