The Ideal Woman

I grew up in the generation of women where femininity was defined by Charlie’s Angels and the Enjoli commercial:

I can bring home the bacon
Fry it up in a pan
And never, never let you forget you’re a man

Dove in flightAnd while it was great being told (maybe for the first time in history) that women could have it all, no one really offered a road map for how to get there. We didn’t have many role models. Workplaces weren’t designed to accommodate moms with small children. So women muddled through, trying to live up to the masculine ideal of the workplace professional as well as our mothers’ ideal of the role of mom.

Oftentimes feeling like failures at both, because those two things are fundamentally incompatible.

In her blog post Looking for Wonder Woman, literary agent Kathryn Beaumont writes about how her generation continues to struggle with the same issue: “We beat ourselves up because we have been raised to ‘do it all’ — and we can’t.” Instead of blaming the institutions that still have not figured out how to accommodate the biological differences between women and men in the workplace, women blame themselves for their perceived failings.

Feminism was never about having it all. It was about having what you want. (And that goes for men, too.) It’s well past time that women stop trying to prove that we’re as good as men by emulating a work ethic that devalues family. Equal doesn’t mean the same.

As Beaumont points out, we seem to be embarking on a new age of feminism, thanks to books like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and Debora Spar’s Wonder Women. Spar writes in the essay Shedding the Superwoman Myth,

Can women pursue their dreams—all their dreams—without losing their sanity? Yes, I would argue, they can. But not along completely gender-blind lines. We need a revised and somewhat reluctant feminism, one that desperately wishes we no longer needed a women’s movement but acknowledges that we still do. A feminism based at least in part on difference.

It’s taken us a long time—my whole lifetime, in fact—to get to the point where women are ready to say we don’t want to be more like men in order to succeed. We want to succeed on our own terms. We want true liberation: to make choices free of social expectations so we can pursue our bliss, however we define it.

I have no regrets about the choices I’ve made. But ten years from now, when my nieces are in college, I hope they can follow the path of their full potential without the anxiety that’s plagued women for the past fifty years. Free of guilt, free of perfectionism, free to simply be the amazing young women they are.

About AndreaJWenger

Andrea J. Wenger is an award-winning writer and editor in Raleigh, North Carolina. She specializes in the fields of creative, technical, and freelance writing.

Posted on October 1, 2013, in Blog Posts and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Love this introspective look at feminism today, Andrea. You are right, women who try to do it all fail at everything. Finding the right balance that is right for you–not anyone else–is essential.

  2. I have the same wish for my daughter and nieces, Andrea. A straddled this line for so many years, trying to “have it all” until I realized “all” was what I defined it to be. Once I stopped struggling trying to be two people, life grew a little saner. That’s not to say I didn’t have to put part of my life on hold–a career that fulfilled me, if not exhausted me–but, happily, I’ve been able to carve out a new career as a writer. And it’s the one I’ve always dreamed of! Great post!

  3. I was just discussing this with my mom yesterday. So many of us now must reconcile what we thought we were ‘supposed’ to be with what we are—and finding contentment with that.

  4. I really can understand where Kerry Ann is coming from. I quit my “normal” job when I got pregnant with my son and never looked back. However, sometimes I wonder “what if”, you know? What would it have been like to not be a stay-at-home-mom and put my two kids into daycare and continued working outside the home? Of all the jobs I’ve had in my life this is the best one and now I’ve found writing novels is a very close second. Everything happens for a reason and I do not regret leaving the typical working world to be a mommy, that’s for sure.

  5. I got caught in the economic and social wasteland of the Rust Belt as a young woman in the 1980’s. I had to work.

    What the feminism of the 1970’s did for me was a bit sideways – I knew I didn’t need to marry the first guy who came along. I could wait until I found the ‘right guy’ and work in the mean time.

    Looking back, I’m SO glad I didn’t jump into marriage and kids.

    I agree that we need to push for changes to the system that allow women to have kids and still work if they need to.

    I’m not sure that corporate America is the right fit. There appears to be a trend towards smaller businesses, micro businesses even, that works better for families. We shall see.

    The generation coming up is going to have more choices than even the current one, and certainly a hell of a lot more choices than ‘school teacher, nurse or secretary’ which were the three ‘mommy track’ options for women in the 1960’s.

    Keep pushing, ladies. And don’t allow the anti-feminist backlash tell you that only ‘femi-Nazis’ want equal rights and equal pay. Which were the two main goals of feminism back in the 1970’s. The media focus on fringe-elements of feminism is what really killed the movement.

  6. Early in my life, I learned how important it was for a woman to have the support of the men/people around her. It’s something I’ve strived to achieve and for the most part have. But I know women who take on the whole superwoman image, and they’re killing themselves to do it. If I had daughters, this is the first thing I’d teach them. 🙂

    Good post, Andrea!

  7. Thanks for sharing your experiences, everyone. I think the superwoman mystique can be traced to two sources: the fierce desire moms have to never compromise when it comes to their kids; and the social pressure to keep the peace by complying with the needs and wishes of others (or at least appearing to). “No” is a powerful word, and many women don’t use it often enough.

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