The superwoman phenomenon is real

By | April 19, 2019

It is not easy being a professional woman, spouse, parent, and content producer all at the same time. The superwoman phenomenon is real.

We are surrounded by a community of superwomen. While I find this quite awe-inspiring and cool, I can’t but also wonder if it is truly fair.

Do we ask the same out of men?

I was listening to the Hippocratic Hustle Podcast episode with Dara Kass. To paraphrase her rather inelegantly, when professional women introduce themselves they tend to say that they are a this and a that.

“I am a doctor and a mother.”

“I am a lawyer and a wife.”

Men don’t do this. We say that we are doctors or lawyers. Then we stop. But for women, there is almost a need to explain away the professional part. There is an attempt to verbalize further. To define deeper. To negate the importance of the first by asserting the second.

Isn’t being a doctor enough? Do we have to sweep it away by pivoting to something more acceptable?

While this might seem minor, I think it points to a much broader issue. Society is saying that is entirely OK for women to be these professional beings, as long as they don’t let go of their more appropriate responsibilities.

And thus society reasserts the superwomen phenomenon. It’s fine as long as you do both!

And then came baby

This superwoman phenomenon hits hyperdrive when a baby comes along. Professional women are given intense pressure at home to be the perfect parent. To breastfeed for years. Show up to every daycare and schooling event (even in the middle of the workday), and drop everything when the kid develops a fever.

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Bosses grumble when the topic of FMLA arises. Postnatal time off is frowned upon, and pressure is exerted to keep it at a minimum. The workplace is often challenging for the new mother. Pumping stations are outdated, or not present, or too few to service a large institution.

There is no allowance for unforeseen childcare emergencies. Women are expected to be at work when they are at work, regardless of what is going on at home. And if you are unlucky enough to be in a job where travel is frequent, there will be little time to get back up to speed.

Although better than in the past, men are not expected to be responsible for such things. For a professional man, society accepts taking only 1 to 2 weeks off after the birth of a child before returning to work.

And if a man wants to take an afternoon to catch his daughter’s soccer game? He is applauded for being an engaged father. A female employee may be dissuaded from doing the exact same thing.

Financial independence also?

Then of course, if you are a believer in financial independence, there is budgeting and saving. Do it yourself projects. Don’t forget building a business or creating a side hustle!

Believe it or not, the superwoman phenomenon is probably made worse by discovering the financial independence lifestyle.

No wonder there is a push to reach the magic number so quickly.

Final thoughts

We like to talk about gender equality and gender equity. I think we have made progress in the last few decades. But this superwoman phenomenon is a real problem. It is exhausting, and probably superhuman to try to be all these things at once. I watched my mom do it all those years during childhood, and I am consistently in awe of how she managed it.

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The answer, of course, is complicated. We need gender equality in both work and home environments. But we also need gender equity. What that means is fairness for both men and women based on their respective needs.

That means that women should be able to kick ass in the board room in between trips to the breast pumping room.

Or even if they decide not to get married or have kids at all.

“DocG” is a physician who blogs at DiverseFI.

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