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
And 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.