Super Women or Women in Hiding?

This post was inspired by a wrenchingly intimate post by Aarti Sequaria (of Aarti Party on the Food Network) about her struggles with Postpartum Depression (PPD).  The post is entitled “Coming Out of the Fog” and it is definitely worth reading.  The post isn’t graphic or shocking, but in many ways it is a soul baring statement exposing what she initially thought was a weakness or personal deficiency.  I knew I wanted to share this post with my female friends in case any of them or their friends/family were struggling with PPD.  That’s when I got mad.

I cannot speak to what it is like for men in our society, though I have witnessed some of the intense stresses that my amazing husband and wonderful brother have dealt with trying to be the best men they can be.  I can, however, speak to the pressures of being a woman.  I got mad about sharing Aarti’s post because based on the statistics it is likely that one of my friends has suffered (or is suffering) from PPD and I don’t know it.  I got mad because there are so many things that as women we feel we must keep quiet about because otherwise it makes us look week or less than perfect.  So we swallow it down, put on the Superwoman face, and try to present a perfect Pleasantville face to the world.

My reading of this article coincided with a meeting I had with a friend whose job is to help academics get jobs at her university.  I met with her to talk about how to best position myself for getting back into the university professor job market after my time off with Little Man.  During our meeting she spoke about the “lie of feminism,” and as a feminist I was shocked by the statement.  She continued, talking about the lie that she and other women of our generation were told in college; that we could have it all, career and family.  “Don’t get me wrong,” she said, “we can have it all, just not at the same time.”  Ah…  So there’s the difference.  We can have it all, career and family, but we don’t have to do it all perfectly at the same time.  Relax.  Breathe.  Here we go…

My career-building friend advised that rather than trying to be a Superwoman of perfect proportions (physical and otherwise), it was better to find a way to “balance the guilt” of trying to balance career and family.  Something has to give.  You cannot be the perfect career woman, perfect mom and perfect homemaker all at once.  Not without breaking or lying.  You have to make choices that allow yourself to be less-than-perfect in some of these areas and then learn to balance the guilt of these imperfections.  This is especially true when the kiddos are young.

A great example that my friend used was a film called How Does She Do It? starring Sara Jessica Parker.  I haven’t seen the film, but she described a scene in which the mom/career woman is invited to a dinner at a friends house and is asked to bring a dessert.  With all of her family and business responsibilities the woman doesn’t have time to make an apple pie, so she buys one from the store and then distresses it to make it look homemade.  I haven’t seen the film, but for that scene alone I want to see if my library has it.  By the end of the film she learns that she doesn’t have to be a Superwoman, and the next time she is invited to a friend’s for dinner she brings the pie in the bakery box.

So that is my rant, bouncing around from women hiding their imperfections, trying to live the lie of feminism, and often hiding these issues from those who love us best.  I’ve written before on this blog about how two weeks after Little Man was born I was back in the classroom teaching full time (My 50th-ish Post).  I put on the Superwoman face and didn’t share with any of my friends the stresses that I was going through.  Only my amazing husband knew the stresses I was facing, for everyone else I presented the best Superwoman face that I could, though it was often slightly smeared with baby spit up.  I have a couple of course lectures that deal with eating disorders and I speak to those classes about how statistically it is probable that one or more students in that room are struggling with eating disorders.  Now it’s my turn.  Forget about the social network “friends”, in our smaller group of friends that we see face to face on a regular basis, it is probable that one of them has suffered from Postpartum Depression, from a miscarriage, from failure to get pregnant, from a cheating spouse/partner, from some other “failure” that she is ashamed to admit even to close friends and family.  I’m frustrated that it takes posts from well-known strangers to allow us to share intimate and important things that we struggle with.

There’s the soapbox for today.  I’m done.


2 thoughts on “Super Women or Women in Hiding?

  1. Angie Rust

    I am so sorry that you were not around years ago. I was one of those that had to suffer for a couple of years before I too finally was able to step back and learn the true.
    With your permission I am going to forward this to several of my friends granddaughters needed assistance with the “need to be perfect mom/business woman”.

    1. TheSheepAreOut Post author

      I would be honored if you shared this post with your friends’ granddaughters. This can be such a precarious/wonderful/frustrating time with little ones at home and the pressure to “do it all.” As a university professor I am currently struggling with how to talk to my own students about future careers, etc. I have had numerous young women come and talk to me in my office, asking if it is possible to have the academic career and family. In the past, before I was truly trying to “balance” it all, I would gamely say “Yes! You can do it!” Now I can actually have a deeper conversation about not setting yourself up to fail, allowing yourself to be less-than-perfect, finding a way to balance the guilt, and most importantly finding at least one person (along with your spouse/partner) who you can be REAL with. I wish you and your friends’ granddaughters all the best!


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