Feminism Gone Wrong: Wounded Deers or Wonder Women?

The Wounded Deer by Frida Kahlo
The Wounded Deer by Frida Kahlo

Earlier this week, my friend Lindsey from A Design So Vast shared an article written by Debora L. Spar, president of Barnard College, titled, “Shedding the Superwoman Myth: Where Feminism Went Wrong”. I often find many of the  topics Lindsey writes about lingering in my brain, but this one in particular struck me between the eyes and hasn’t left my mind for days. That tells me something. I need to listen.

I’ve written before about the idea that women today have more choices to make than ever before, and with those choices comes a whole assortment of wonderful opportunities and enormous challenges. Debora Spar writes on this idea, stating that “the challenges that confront women now are more subtle than those of the past, harder to recognize and thus to remove.” Or challenges are subtle – until we get to the point when the dessert tray of post-feminism becomes less tempting, and we run screaming into a dark, quiet corner wondering how we ever got here when all we have is all we ever really wanted.

I absolutely owe a huge debt of gratitude to those women who fought so hard for my generation’s ability to have it all, to be simultaneously a full-time worker, mother, and wife all in one lifetime. Never in my 1970s formative years did I ever imagine I would be juggling these demands and actually enjoying myself most of the time. It never entered my imagination that I could do all this – nor did I imagine the struggles myself and the women in my life encounter when we can’t.

I think what we didn’t bank on was the fact that with our struggle to be equal, to open doors of opportunity, that the rest of the demands placed on us women wouldn’t diminish. As Spar states, “none of society’s earlier expectations of women disappeared. The result is a force field of highly unrealistic expectations. A woman cannot work a 60-hour week in a high-stress job and be the same kind of parent she would have been without that job and all the stress. And she cannot save the world and look forever like a 17-year-old model.” Amen.

I often find myself in that place – wondering if I’m making the right choices, if my children are getting the same kind of parent as I had, one who didn’t work outside the home. I wonder if I’m using my time well here in this lifetime, if I’m walking the talk, and if I am, are my kids watching. I am not, however, worrying about looking like a 17-year-old model – at least I can take that one off my plate.

When I was talking to a friend today – a woman I met professionally several years ago, and have come to admire, I started thinking about this again.  She’s nearly a decade younger than I am, and has already been a teacher, directed educational programs, and is starting her first principalship. She’s married, has two young children, and is going back to school. At night. After a full, full day of a full time job. I asked her why, and she matter-of-factly responded that it was her time. I immediately flashed back in my life ten years in comparison, and then stopped. She likened her life to being on a treadmill, and we both agreed that when we were in the middle of it we were ok-almost giddy, actually. We consented that, for us, the familiarity of work, the acknowledgement of focusing on a task that we are confident with, offers what Spar describes as “because these women are grappling with so many expectations—because they are struggling more than they care to admit with the sea of choices that now confronts them—most of them are devoting whatever energies they have to controlling whatever is closest to them.”

I started to do what is so familiar to me, to many self-proclaimed feminist and wonder women – I retreated and reflected. I second guessed, I what-if-ed, I imagined the different choices I could have made, should have made, and then saw myself ten years ago. Two small kids, a full time job, a husband with health challenges. The enormous weight I was carrying crushed down on my shoulders like a giant hand, forcing me into the ground. For a moment, I felt like I hadn’t done enough. I had somehow let myself down.

Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman (Photo credit: Looking Glass)

And then I stopped. First world problems, Jen, my inner muse whispered to me. Be grateful for what you have. The choices you have are more than many women today can ever dream of. Don’t let anyone make you feel you’ve done anything other than the right thing. Everything happens for a reason.

Suddenly that put it all in perspective for me. Debora Spar, Lindsey and I agree – it comes down to choice. “Women need to realize that having it all means giving something up—choosing which piece of the perfect picture to relinquish, or rework, or delay.” I made my choices long ago, and most of them, I think, have been pretty good ones. I learned that maybe I can’t have it ‘all’, but I can have what I need – and for that, I am grateful. Blessed. Proud.

For all those moments when I felt like a wounded deer – and those arrows still pierce now and then – and for all those days when the Wonder Woman cape chokes my neck – and it does on a regular basis – I am grateful. I thank the women who came before me, who paid for my ability to be more, do more, than they ever dreamed. I thank them because I get to choose. That’s what I get to carry on to the women who come after me.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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7 thoughts on “Feminism Gone Wrong: Wounded Deers or Wonder Women?

  1. Lindsey says:

    I love this, which I read as a call to arms and a reminder of how many choices we have, which is, essentially, a wonderful thing. And that we have to choose what we choose and go forth (we can always make a different choice in the future) confidently, right? At least for me the second-guessing and what-iffing is absolutely the central problem. If I could just stop that …

  2. bit.ly says:

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  3. ***“Women need to realize that having it all means giving something up ***

    In other words: There is NO such thing as having it all! Right? I NEVER believed that lie. xx
    My Inner Chick recently posted…The Poem I Read At Your FuneralMy Profile

    1. Kim, I wonder if when we think we can’t have it ‘all’, if we really know what it ‘all’ is? And do we really need everything we think we do? I think often time that when we make choices, when we say no, it’s really nearly always something we really don’t need in our life anyway. The universe has a funny way of helping us out with things like that. Thanks for your thoughtful comment – hugs.

  4. Nina says:

    This is all beautifully said. And I also agree with your comment right above here that we ought to question what “all” even means. The things we need/want at one point in life are not always the same later. Sometimes giving certain things up makes sense depending on other factors.

    I did agree with Spar’s point that the strive for perfection is a big problem. Great career, great mother, great body, etc. It’s too much.
    Nina recently posted…Helpful vs. Helpless KidsMy Profile

    1. Thank you, Nina. You’re right on about perfectionism – if we buy into that lie, then what examples are we setting for our children? I don’t want my daughter to think that some ideal woman is what she needs to strive to be. That can only eliminate the possibility that there is something different, better out there for her. Our kids are watching us – if we stress about anything, it should be that. Thanks so much for commenting!

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