Gender, Women & Economy

I Don’t Want to Be a Superwoman

Mar 15 2021 - My newsfeed on International Women’s Day: “Happy Women’s Day to my superwoman! You got promoted to Vice President at the bank, you are an amazing mom to our kids, you make sure a simple guy like me has his life in order and take care of your parents and in-laws with the utmost care. Salute!”

I wonder what the guy is doing since his wife seems to be doing the work of four people combined.

I scroll on.

“We are launching a campaign to celebrate the superwoman in your lives! Your mom, your wife, your sister they do much for us! Send us a recorded video and you can win a special discount for your next order.”

This has become standard fare of International Women’s Day in social and traditional media. While this type of superwoman hype feels good, it perpetuates certain harmful norms.

First, congratulating women for being superwomen is congratulating them for doing it all—working a full time job and shouldering caregiving for children and the elderly. Why are women doing it all? Do they have 36 hours in a day? What are their partners doing? By celebrating this definition of a superwoman, we reinforce the idea that women doing it all is the gold standard when in reality, it is a perpetuation of entrenched patriarchal norms that absolves men of taking up household responsibilities.

Second, the superwoman label takes permission away from women to seek help. Women who cannot do it all or refuse to are shamed and shunned. It puts immense pressure on all women to keep up the appearance of having it all together when in reality, many are struggling to balance work and family, and carve out a sliver of time for self-care. If anything, we need to do the opposite and communicate that juggling so many roles is unsustainable. Something has to give and something will give. Many women often end up quitting careers they love or suffer in silence from poor mental and physical health.

Third, it hides the fact that being a superwoman is a class issue. Women who can afford daycare or nannies can keep working with school-going kids. Having a family car makes pickups and drop-offs much easier. Having grandparents who live in the city and look after the young ones is a big relief. These advantages are not available to the millions of women who work in low-paid jobs. Such women are rarely picked up by media to be superwomen. The prerogative only belongs to the white collar, upper middle class who can afford the extra help.

So what can we do instead?

Enough with the superwoman label. It’s not helping women. It’s hurting women. Yes, there are women who do a million things for us. Thank them in person but have a conversation to figure out how the work can be shared more equitably in the home and workplace. These conversations need to take place with mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and even the women who work for us—the nannies, the cleaning ladies, the cooks. If you are a leader in an organisation, instead of celebrating the lone superwoman in the C-suite, ask yourself why your C-suite is not half female. Better yet, ask your women.

International Women’s Day was established more than a century ago to fight for equality. Let’s honour that vision by making sure personal and professional success is attainable not just by superwomen, but by all women.

Shammi Quddus is a Product Manager at Google. She is a wife and mother of two, and not a superwoman.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

 
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