She is always trying to beat the clock. There is the laundry to be done, a job-related presentation to be finished, the PTA meeting to attend at her daughter’s school, groceries to be ordered… She can’t remember when she had a good night’s sleep. She is trying hard to be a superwoman and it’s taking a toll on her.
But, when she is appreciated at work, a bubble of joy energises her. And, when her daughter gives her a hug for ‘always being there for her’, the world seems a wonderful place to be in.
The woman in the illustration above could be you. If you are trying hard to juggle a career, household chores, childcare responsibilities, a social life, and exercise, you are probably trying to be a superwoman.
The term ‘superwoman’ was coined in 1984 by author of the book ‘The Superwoman Syndrome’, Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz. The book explores how women trying to do it all can instead decide what’s important in their lives, and do it well.
The ‘superwoman syndrome’ refers to a condition when a woman stretches herself to accomplish a whole lot at the cost of her own health and well-being. She may think that fulfilling all her roles will make her happy and content, but that’s not always the case. She may feel overworked and overwhelmed. Constant anxiety and chronic tiredness may result. Irritability, sleep issues, memory problems, inability to focus, body ache, and muscular tension are other problems she may face.
It is a telling comment on a patriarchal society that requires women to be superwomen. When a woman is toasted for being a superwoman by her husband and family, you wonder does she have 36 hours in a day as compared to the 24 hours others have? A woman trying to be a superwoman does not need appreciation, she needs help and support.
Women seem to feel donning the hat of a superwoman brings them on par with men on the professional front. Well-known Ahmedabad-based author and artist Esther David says: “Generally, I do not think women try to be superwomen, they are superwomen. If they are in a post where they have to prove that they are on par with men, so that their voices or opinions are heard and they are able to be decision makers, they have to be superwomen. If they prove that they are capable of showing extraordinary results, like any man in a powerful post, it is a signal that professionally women and men are equal partners. I have noticed that sometimes women take to ‘power-dressing’ to assert their authority. But, these women are also good at taking the responsibility of caring for their home, children and family, which is almost always a woman’s role.”
“I think, being thought of as a superwoman is a positive thing, as women have to protect their innate vulnerability and bring equality between the genders in society, which is just beginning to accept women as decision-makers and professionals. Interestingly, superwomen, often become role models for other women,” adds David.
Striking a balance
Dr Tana Trivedi Joshi, an academician based in Ahmedabad says: “Women have always been superwomen, and I don’t think it is a new phenomenon. The idea of ‘trying’ to be a superwoman is a new-age articulation of the expectations that society has from the modern-day women, of someone who constantly attempts to balance home and work. Women are stepping out of their assigned roles as homemakers and realizing their potential in sustaining themselves and families. At the same time, there is increasing pressure on them to uphold the traditions and age-old familial systems.”
“Given the existing gender inequalities and patriarchal foundations that form societies around the world, women do struggle to negotiate their everyday lived experiences – be it at home or work. I do not think of this in terms of negative or positive trends, rather, I think of this shift in terms of a necessary change required for the times we live in. It can be both – empowering and disempowering at the same time. However, there is need to revisit, revise and re-articulate given roles and work towards creating an equitable society,” stresses Dr Joshi.
“First generation working women feel the pressure of being superwomen more because they are constrained by societal expectations to be good wives, mothers and daughters-in-law. If their child is not doing well at school or their in-laws are not happy, the women get blamed. At the same time, at the workplace, women have to work four times harder to be perceived to be as good as male counterparts. Younger women, in general, have more freedom and more support from their partners,” says Dr Urmi Nanda Biswas, psychologist and academician who has a special interest in gender studies.
“I think trying to be a superwoman has its perils. Nobody should try to be one. Striving to be perfect could lead to depression. There could be marital conflict as the woman feels underappreciated and stressed. The burden of caregiving of elders, which invariably falls on women, could cause immense stress. A woman may also be at conflict with herself. It is important for a woman to realize what is meaningful for her. And, also what she can realistically accomplish,” explains Dr Biswas.
If you want to stop being a superwoman…
- Go easy on yourself
- Learn to delegate
- Expect others to be self-reliant
- Take time out for yourself
- Cultivate hobbies
- Avoid overscheduling
- Learn to prioritize
- Set realistic goals
- Ditch perfectionism
- Stop comparisons