Superwoman Can Keep Her Cape: On the Myth of “Having It All”

As a 28-year old doctoral student, I have dreams of completing my degree, landing an academic position, and achieving an aspired level of success in my career – all in addition to getting married, raising children, and living a happy life. This seems reasonable, doesn’t it? While the specific details may differ, isn’t this what many women who dream of lucrative careers want, the ability to succeed both in work and life? In essence, many of us strive to ‘have it all’. In the most recent edition of the Atlantic, Anne-Marie Slaughter bravely outlines her own struggle to ‘have it all’ and explores whether this ethos is realistic. I refer to a want for this success as the ‘superwoman’ complex.

The problem? Superwoman doesn’t exist; she is a figment of imagination, with a life scripted by the man that made her.

 

As women living in an era of opportunity thanks to the heroic struggles of our fore sisters, many of us feel obligated to try to ‘have it all’. Slaughter refers to this as ‘the feminist credo’ – we must strive to reach new heights so the new generation of young women can continue to break proverbial glass ceilings. Don’t get me wrong, this is a noble sacrifice; many of us are fearful that if we don’t keep trying to reach for the top, the efforts of many may be all for naught. But through this desire to achieve what was unattainable by women but a few decades ago, many of us are subscribing to a conceptualization of ‘success’ that is fundamentally flawed.

As a feminist, I feel an obligation to seek the highest level of vocational accomplishment I can, but as an individual hoping for a life that is equally as fulfilling after office hours, I realize to do so requires me to redefine my construct of ‘success’ to include personal aspirations. To have the life I aspire to have, I understand that I can’t ‘have it all’ all at the same time – I’m not superwoman. Quite frankly, if possessing ungodly super powers means being controlled by visions of paternalism (not to mention wearing spandex), I’d rather pass anyway.

This is not a slight aimed at the hard work of women activists that came before me. Rather, it is an understanding that we are subscribing to authoritative (and traditional) interpretations of ‘success’. The modern woman struggles to achieve the ‘success’ that society has defined as admirable – a ‘success’ that is determined primarily through vocational achievement by way of competition and objectification. For example, we can readily celebrate the ‘success’ of a woman CEO of a large corporation yet delegitimize the ‘success’ of a woman choosing to stay at home, or one that leaves a position of power to do so. Put simply, what we understand as ‘success’ is the result of androcentrism – and this understanding clashes with my personal definition of feminism. Instead, it is objective, rigid, and unable to adapt to the needs of women and the many roles we play throughout our lifetime. It is hardly a feminist’s worldview.

To me, feminism means a few things: it is egalitarian in nature and empowerment focused. Moreover, feminism is holistic and entirely subjective. From this standpoint, ‘success’ is defined individually, and not solely based on a desire to compete in a traditionally male-dominated society. Yes, the women who fought for equality granted us opportunities, yet this includes our ability to choose our own path – an opportunity to define our personal measure of ‘success’. Rather than look down upon those who choose a path seen as traditionally female-oriented, we should celebrate their ability to do so.

We are strong for merely existing, and trailblazers in our own right for choosing to find our own way in the world. While I have difficulty believing we can ‘have it all’ at one point in time, by virture of being women, we still have the ability to do something great. So, perhaps instead of seeking to ‘have it all’, we should instead seek to attain what’s most important to us at a particular time – our personal measure of ‘success’. Let superwoman keep her cape; instead ket’s compose our own scripts and encourage the newest generation of women to do the same. We need to all be trailblazers, and in doing so we will empower others. Have it all means having it our own way.

 

Photo Credit: notsogoodphotography via the Creative Commons Licence

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