The Tragedy of the Modern Superwoman

I have succumbed to the tragedy of the modern superwoman.  I’m 100 percent, f%$^ing guilty.  And I’m not proud of it.

Who is the modern superwoman, you ask?

Here’s the definition.  I found it on Webster’s.*

Modern Superwoman: 1. The female, who is crammed into a society-created corner filled with relational, career, sexual and physical demands, pigeon-holes herself into a hardened, isolated, prison of one.  She decides she must be a perfect machine if she is to “cut it” as a female in this world, and subsequently, cuts herself off from others.  Because if she exposes herself to others, and say, goes out at night after putting the baby to bed without showering, she will be imperfect and displeased with herself the whole night.  “They’ll think I’ve slipped, I’m just like all the other mothers,” she thinks.  “I’m not pretty anymore.”  So she’ll go to the gym instead.  She’ll do everything she’s “supposed” to do.

The real tragedy of the modern superwoman is that she will emotionally harden herself.  So much so that she expects everyone to function at her inhuman productivity rate.  And when they don’t, she grows impatient with them.  She expects them to react to things she same way as she does – perfectly, without missing a beat, without forgetting to wash the 6 sippy cups her daughter had dirtied that day.  She expects them to be able to pick up the phone whenever she needs, because she’s always available and ready to be compassionate, so why shouldn’t they be too?  She becomes a martyr, simply because she is a victim to others’ expectations of her.  And then she turns that vitriol outward.  Further creating a hard shell around her that can’t be broken.  And that hard shell keeps people out, and prevents them from seeing that she needs more.  NEEDS.  Or that she is having a hard time because her father has a terminal illness.  Or because her mother is an addict.  Or whatever.  Aren’t those things just excuses anyway?  As women, we pick up and we move on.

I am writing this because I lost a friend recently.  And it sucked.  And when I am able to step back from it, I see two women who are beautiful, wonderful, struggling, vulnerable people who may just need some space right now.  But I think we were both suffering from the tragedy of the modern superwoman.  One of us was afraid to reach out because she struggles with depression and was afraid to be vulnerable, and the other was hesitant to speak up and say she wasn’t getting what she needed.

In short, I think it’s f&%^ing really hard when we’re expected to take care of our elderly parents, raise a 2 year old, manage a career, wash the floors enough, maintain a swimsuit-ready figure, and be compassionate, loving friends all at the same time.  It’s not that I don’t want to do these things; I am grateful for most of them.  I know I’m not perfect at it.  I flat-out suck some days.  And I want to be able to flat-out suck sometimes.  I’m sure this point has been written about ad nauseum, but I’ve been feeling the brunt of it lately.

Long story short:  My depression, eating disorder and alcoholism affects my ability to reach out sometimes.  It’s not an excuse.  It’s a chronic illness I deal with every day.  And unfortunately, even though I work on myself as much as possible and try to make healthy choices, my sometimes-not-so-healthy choices affect other people.  Negatively.  And it’s always at that point where I feel I have it licked that something like this reminds me I will always have to be vigilant at not isolating.

I don’t want to lose anyone else.

So I guess I’ll try being imperfect, taking a crack at that shell, and calling people and having a conversation when my two year old is hanging off my hip screaming, “CHOCOLATE!”  I guess I’ll call my therapist and sob into her voicemail like it’s 2005 and try not to feel guilty for it.  And I’ll try to laugh at myself and screw up in front of my boss and not be my parents’ therapist and just have my own, personal, emotional reaction to losing my father slowly.

I hope you can feel free to screw up too.



*Obviously not true.

5 thoughts on “The Tragedy of the Modern Superwoman

  1. Very well said. I am constantly telling myself how little I am doing in comparison to other women (my mother, my friends with children, co-workers who are planning weddings while working 2 jobs, women who do yoga regularly, Oprah, etc., you get the point ). I wonder how many of them are saying the same thing. But I guess if so many of us are saying it, that means there is a ton of good stuff getting done, and millions of us not giving ourselves credit. I hope I can be a part of you coming out of your prison as I would like you to be there as I break out of mine. This is April “crumbs-in-the-bed’ Lacey, btw.

  2. After knee surgery, I had been diligent with a rigid 3-hour-a-day physical therapy routine for several weeks, which pleased my doctor, my physical therapist, my parents and myself. I was so pleased that I was the “A” student, disciplined and poised in the face of challenges (puke). Then when I started to experience complications from the surgery, I was hospitalized and put on medications whose side effects included nausea, vomiting, lethargy and depressed mood (not to mention intensifying the migraines from which I have been suffering for months). When I couldn’t get through my exercises for a few days, I resented myself. I feared the look on my doctor’s face when I would tell him what a terrible job I had done rehabilitating my knee. I thought about lying to him. I thought if I was a stronger woman I could push through it. I want so badly to be a warrior, but I am just a human. The doctor asked me how the exercises were going and I told him the truth: “I haven’t done anything. I’ve been feeling too awful to do anything.” I used a tone that almost came off like “I dare you to fuckin get on my case about it.” His expression changed, and he seemed very displeased. I told him about my symptoms. He prescribed medications to thwart the side effects and then he lectured me on the importance of not losing sight of rehabilitating the knee. I felt at peace with his disapproval – which is huge for me. It felt good to fuck up. It felt even better to refrain from groveling at an authority figure’s feet. That’s my kind of freedom.

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