The Epidemic Of Superwoman Syndrome

striving for this unrealistic goal has serious costs


You know that woman who has a great career, has no cellulite, has two kids in two activities each, can make no-fat/no-gluten/no-calorie muffins that taste delicious, volunteers in her down time, has the perfect doting husband, has regular women's nights out, and is always smiling? You know, Superwoman? Well, guess what? She doesn't actually exist! Everyone has their kryptonite—the woman that you think is Superwoman, is probably just better at hiding hers.

You can do a lot as a woman. So much. But you just can’t do everything. Now, don’t get me wrong, today we are fortunate to exist in a time where we enjoy the fruits of the feminist movement’s labour. Society has made huge strides in letting women have choices (working, parenting, marrying, etc.). And because of the ability to make these choices, women have followed numerous different paths—paths that weren’t available to our mothers and grandmothers. And sometimes, when you have all these choices available to you, you begin to feel that you should do everything, because you have access to it all, when you didn’t before (like eating at a good buffet).

Women of today who balance family, work, a social life, and their health, we often call them "Superwomen." Originally, women would embrace the term Superwoman, as it empowered us to reach for what had not previously been available to us. The term seemed to credit women with the ability to manage several tasks and responsibilities, and show that we can do more than smoothly run a home. It also recognized that although many of us chose to pursue different paths, we did not drop out of social obligations or neglect our families.

However, if you look closer, it becomes clear that being a Superwoman is about the expectation of doing two or more full time jobs well, on our own. It has become about excelling at everything we do at work and at home, not just managing it. It seems it is more about pleasing others, rather than achieving goals to better ourselves. You really have to be superhuman to reach Superwoman status, and many of us are striving for this unrealistic goal that has a serious cost. In fact, for years, Gloria Steinem has said that the myth of the Superwoman is an adversary of the women’s movement that should be banished, as it makes us try to reach an unattainable goal and leaves us feeling less empowered at the end of it.

Here is the thing—we are not meant to be Superwomen! Think about it, if Superwomen, like superheroes, were so common, what would make them super? In fact, Superwomen are probably as likely to exist as superheroes. Unfortunately, we have found ourselves in a society that encourages women to try to reach this unattainable goal, and wear it like a badge of honour (or a cape). This doesn't help us as women. If anything, it perpetuates jealousy, guilt, depression, and conflict.

The way to remove this challenge is to be honest with yourself and with other women, to acknowledge that you are not perfect (by the way, just because you aren't a Superwoman, doesn't mean that you aren't fabulous!). So, instead of secretly envying or judging the woman that you think is Superwoman, why not give her a hug and say, "Hey, did you know my kryptonite is . . . What's yours?" To give you encouragement to start, I'll share a few of mine with you. I am horrible at keeping in touch with friends that I truly and dearly love, often my son’s nails grow longer than mine, and I have colonies of dust bunnies living in my house. But I am still fabulous!

If you liked this, check out "Goodbye Martyr Mom: Because Help is Not a Dirty Word" and this hysterical version of Frozen's "Let it Go" for moms.

Vaishali Patel is a psychotherapist who has personally and professionally waged a battle against Superwoman Syndrome. She has a private practice in Toronto ( focusing on women who are struggling with wanting/having it all.