I am not your Superwoman I am just the kind of woman that has always been for generations. My great grandmother emigrated to NYC from Panama in the 1950s and opened and ran her own dry cleaning business. In that same city just 20 years earlier my father’s’ grandmother took in the laundry of the ladies of the night and kept herself and family well taken care of during the Depression.
I witnessed my own mother move her family cross country to California, rent an apartment close to a city college, complete her course work, transfer to and graduate from Cal Poly Pomona then within 3 years become a manager at a major corporation. She then went on to open two businesses of her own. Those are the stories of the women I come from, real women.
My present story is more clearly defined by the women that I know. Whenever we can we gather in school and grocery store parking lots, in college hallways. Wherever we can find the space or time to fill each other in. Recently inside the classroom of the school I teach in, one of my co-teachers came in looking perplexed. There were two of us in the room who in unison asked her “What’s wrong?” She had just started her Masters Program at CSULA. After she leaves work she was going to her classes where she would be all evening, and not reach home until 9 p.m when her 1½ year old baby would be soundly sleeping. “I just feel so bad.” We identified with her, the other teacher had 2 small children. And I have a teenager taller than me, hungrier than me, with a mustache coming in. I still have trouble leaving him to come to work, leaving work go to school and I reach home just as late. When I get home my baby is awake watching The Daily Show, looking for food. “We are Superwomen!” I offered as means of upliftment but again, in unison they disagreed “No we are not.”
Debora Spar, the President of Barnard College, takes a fresh look of what is possible and and not for the woman of the 21st century in her new book, Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection.
Spar finds that women feel guilty regardless of where they work and how much they earn and how many children they have. That is to say that women of baby boomer age have been expected to do it all (have careers, plus families). And yet, expectations have been raised even higher for Millennial women. They are expected to be wives, mothers, housekeepers, excellent athletes, be entrepreneurial and save the world.
In the myth of the Superwoman even our desires to live our dreams are misrepresented as this inhuman ability that is just out of reach. When in reality for women like my grandmothers and the teachers it is the way of life. Honestly I was surprised by the reaction of my co workers. I expected them to signify “That’s right I am!” or return the kudos “We all are!”, but mostly they expressed disappointment. They didn’t feel like they were being their best while striving for their best.
There has come a point after I have fed my family, ran my errands, paid my rent, gone to dance class, written and revised 5 poems, looked into Masters Programs, taught a burgeoning writer how to put their ideas on paper, that I feel like I need help. I feel like I am on the last leg of a relay race and it is time to pass the baton , but the person running the next lap is also me. It isn’t a dream I have actually had the desire to split myself into 2 perhaps 4 women to cover everything I want to do.
In Yoruba folktales the Orisha Oya, goddess of wind and change, grows a beard to go to war. In Egyptian myth Hathor the goddess of love, joy, motherhood, and music played the role of goddess of the Sun and goddess of the Moon, goddess of the East and West, goddess of birth and the underworld, the sky goddess and the goddess of agriculture. The transformative nature of women can technically be categorized as goddess like. Multifaceted characteristics that can be associated with a wide range of phenomena like creation, healing, beauty. And we can add teaching, organizing and leading to the list. What is being categorized in this society as our need to have it all is our nature as women. We create foundations and new pathways.
The myth is that it is not attainable, the reality is it’s happening. I find what makes it easier are not theories convincing me I am not possible, I am a myth. What makes it all come together are the women just like me. The community of women that find each other and make time to share resources and stories. The real women we see ourselves as, the woman that keep us striving to be who we are.