I was recently asked to speak on a panel of inspiring local women (imposter syndrome much?) about how to successfully juggle career and family. When an audience member’s question used the word ‘superwomen’ all 3 of us on the panel universally agreed that our struggle to combine career and family involved many things, but not superpowers. Support, yes. Doubt definitely, insecurity, reflection, reassessment were all top of the list – and in my case, at the height of my book career – depression and anxiety. So more super-knackered women than superwomen. But that question made me think about how often I’ve used that term as a compliment to fellow mums or peers and in doing so, unwittingly sold out to the unreachable standards society sets for women.
there is no such thing as Superwoman. You can’t have everything if you do everything – Gloria Steinem
Anya Hayes, author of The Supermum Myth says: “The superhero accolade sets a benchmark that doesn’t take into account your unique strengths and daily Krypton Factor of wins vs losses, but ensures you focus only on where you perceive yourself to fall down relative to this ideal.” Here she explained to me why we should cast off the word – and our capes – and be kinder to ourselves instead.
1. it causes heightened feelings of failure
“The term superwoman suggests that you should be able to be all things to all people: gold star mother, partner, career woman, BFF, plus have a hot body and swishy hair to boot. No one can do that without an army of support. Take time out and celebrate your achievements by writing a list of those every day instead.”
2. it creates a sense of guilt
“That sense there’s always more that you could be doing: more craft with your kids, more dynamism at work, more thoughtfulness for your friends – has a bedmate in anxiety. Stuck in a negative swirling thought loop? Notice your internal dialogue, realise that it’s not FACT but instead is fueled by your core beliefs of under achievement. Press pause and know you have the power to stop listening to it.”
3. it encourages envy to take over
“Destructive envy means you’re constantly comparing yourself to the other ‘superwoman’ with the great job/relationship/children/kitchen/life. Look on a deeper level about what it is that is making you uncomfortable in comparison. Turn it into productive envy by choosing to take tiny steps to work towards what you feel you’re lacking.”