Enough with “Superwomen!” – Why this term drives me crazy.

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“Superwoman” is a term for emancipated and successful women, specifically those who have mastered the balance between their work and home lives. Here our author explains why she doesn’t want to be a superwoman and why she thinks this word should be eliminated completely from our vocabulary.

The Story of a Superwoman

Martina’s alarm wakes her at 6 in the morning, because there’s a lot in store for her today. After she has woken up her children and given them breakfast, she – already properly dressed and styled – drops them off at the daycare center on her way to work. Of course, the accompanying backpacks all have full lunch boxes too. Rather than anything pre-prepared, it’s only the best organic treats for Mommy’s little angels.

At the office, a meeting room full of people is waiting for Martina. Naturally, she is already well prepared. After working late into the evening, her presentation not only gets a standing ovation from her colleagues but also attracts a new heavy-hitter client. And all this despite a colleague recently telling her that she would be more successful if she wore dresses.

Martina just laughs off comments like these. After a long day at work, Martina heads home. On the way there she makes a quick stop at the supermarket to pick up her husband’s favorite cereal. After dinner, Martina quickly does the dishes, fixes her nail polish and runs 5 miles around the block. After all, she wants to stay in top shape. Martina is a real superwoman.

…and she is on the brink of serious burnout.

Superwomen – glamorizing martyrdom

Even though Martina is a hypothetical case, she can be seen everywhere. She is in the minds of all of those people who think that women should take on everything – and all at the same time. AKA superwomen. But really, what does this label technically mean? It mostly describes women that have a career and still manage to keep their household in order. Women that work overtime and smile through it. What many people don’t consider is that yes, while women can do everything, they don’t actually have a choice in the matter a lot of the time. Most women don’t choose to play traditional gender roles whilst pursuing their careers. It is simply that, despite professional success, they still receive little support at home or with raising children, which then cycles back to even less flexibility and understanding in their everyday work. Mental burnout is never that far away.

In short, being a superwoman really isn’t as great as it sounds. This Utopian ideal of a “strong woman” fails to address the real social inequality surrounding the concept. Instead of looking to improve the situation for women through social and political change, it simply becomes the job of women to rise above and do everything independently. Seriously?

A real compliment, right?

There’s no doubt the term “superwoman” is often meant well. It’s even often used on feminist blogs and empowering slogans. Usually, people using this term want to express admiration for other women and a popular example of this is the US wartime recruitment ad featuring the fictional Rosie the Riveter. This image became a cultural icon and encouraged women to join the industrial effort during World War II. Sleeves rolled up and a determined expression, she proclaims “We Can Do It” – and so became a feminist symbol for working women. But what about women whose work remains unpaid? Or single, childless women that don’t have the same household responsibilities? Are either of these groups not strong? And what is the opposite of powerful? The dictionary will tell you: weak, defective or even frail. So I guess when I listen to myself as a woman and accept my limits, and consequently demand the equality and support I need – all that makes me weak? That I’m not enough? As well-intentioned as the dubious compliment of being called “superwoman” is, it also increases the pressure on women to be self-sacrificing without ever complaining.

Superwomen and the superminorities

What a label: superwomen. It goes without saying that “superman” isn’t applied as commonly, because it is just assumed that strength is genetically male. Instead, girls and women are told they should aspire to be “Super.” Of course, this is best done with a pink “GRL PWR” backpack or a trendy t-shirt claiming “smashing the patriarchy is my cardio.” Instead of green washing, we’re using pink. Let’s try for a second transferring this “super” label to other vulnerable groups or minorities. Just imagine the shit-storm that would erupt by trying to compliment someone with a disability by reducing their identity to that and labeling them “super.” What would earn this title? Taking care of yourself or having a job that is socially-deemed as valuable? It doesn’t take much to see that using the label of “super” is an absolute no-go, whether it’s applied to women or anyone else.

Just stop already!

It’s obvious, just be done with the term. All women are “superwomen.” Whether you’re a housewife with kids, a police officer with no children or a single mother and top businessperson. All of us have to prove ourselves again and again to the patriarchy on a daily basis. And that alone earns us the right to be perceived as the strong women we are.


Author: Lea Thin

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

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