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.
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.