Does anyone else know/remember that old joke, poking fun at Women’s Lib? Something like this: Before women’s lib, a woman would get up, make coffee and breakfast for husband and children, make lunches for them to take with them, iron, see them off, clean the house, do laundry, grocery shop, make dinner, supervise homework, feed everyone dinner, kids off to bed, sex with husband. After women’s lib, a woman has to get up, make coffee and breakfast for husband and children, make lunches for them to take with them, iron, see them off, go out to work, come home and clean the house, do laundry, grocery shop, make dinner, supervise homework, feed everyone dinner, kids off to bed, sex with husband, AND have an orgasm.
Mmm hmm, very liberating indeed.
Is life better for the average woman than it used to be? I think so. There are more choices, more acknowledgement of compromises–hey, I can now be a feminist and still shave my underarms.
There are women who choose not to have children, women who choose to have children and stay home, women who choose not to define themselves by their marital or maternal status at all. Still far from true social justice, because these choices aren’t accepted without question, but analyzed, judged, and whispered about. Being a woman who is a mom, I’m going to focus on that choice.
I don’t know who first coined the term Supermom, or exactly how long it’s been around, but I think it’s fair to say easily 20 years. Conservatively, 20 years. Twenty years of cartoons, jokes, analyzing, and disclaimers. We know better. Supermom is bullshit. Every bit the work of fiction that Superman is. So how come we’re still weighing ourselves against this curvy little lie?
No one human being can fill all roles, be all things to all people. Not even the little people we bring into our lives, or the one person we vow to stay with forever (whether or not forever ends after 7 years or 37). We all wear many hats, juggle different roles and obligations–true for men as well as women. But somehow, we women expect and are often expected to do just that. Especially those of us who have limited budgets, so hiring others to take care of some of those roles isn’t an option.
Even little things. Like unexpected company. I am not a fabulous housekeeper. I’d like to be, but ultimately, once we get beyond the basics of a reasonably clean bathroom and kitchen, it just isn’t that high on my list of priorities. We’re in a small space. There just isn’t a place for everything. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to do some extra cleaning and organizing if company is coming. I don’t like surprise guests for this reason. What does this have to do with feminism and supermoms? Well, let’s face it, no one is going to leave my messy apartment and whisper to her girlfriend, “Wow, that Husband is a pig. When was the last time he dusted?” No, the judgement would be more like, “Ugh, did you see that laundry hamper? I wonder when Mrs Fringe last found her way to the laundry room.”
If a mother works outside the home, somehow she’s still magically supposed to take care of all the hearth and home stuff, and be awake, alert, competent, and presentable on the job. And her kids are never supposed to get sick, or have any other needs that would involve taking time off. If a mother is a SAHM, she isn’t supposed to just take care of hearth and home, she had better be Supermom squared, to compensate for her lack of brain cells…err…value…err…income. She’s supposed to do it all perfectly, naturally, organic dinners that are gastronomic delights to children and adults alike, sandwiches on bread baked that morning, tastefully decorated home, never a stray sock left behind on laundry day, homemade and prizewinning Halloween costumes, and of course, oodles of time to volunteer at the children’s schools. Because, yanno, if you’re a SAHM, what do you do all day? You must be bored. *Do not confuse intellectual boredom with free time* Only, if you are bored, don’t ever say it out loud, because well, you could get a job and really do something. Never mind the mind numbing fatigue, and the fact you spend every single day being looked down upon and devalued, and there’s no such thing as a day off or quitting time.
So no, I’m not Supermom, and I don’t know one woman who is. Those who come closest are those whose annual income allows for quality, long term nannies/babysitters, full time housekeepers, and spouses who are also big earners and highly educated–socially progressive. We all know this, all make fun of the term, we judge ourselves and judge each other–but we all still beat ourselves up for not being this fictional character.