Author: Sandra Estrada
Even before a human is born, society establishes specific roles based on gender that will define the person’s actions and decisions throughout his or her life. These impositions determine how a child will be educated and what actions and responsibilities that person will take in every stage of his or her life.
For us women, life is difficult from the very beginning for multiple reasons. Most fathers do not want baby girls because “they are too delicate” or “they will always need someone to look after them” or (in my opinion) the worst reason of all: “because my last name and legacy will eventually disappear”. Also, we are forced to attach to “femininity standards” from the moment we are born, such as getting our ears pierced, being tucked in a pink blanket, and arriving home to a beautiful pink crib. From that moment on, our life will be based on what others decide for ourselves: what colors should we wear, what toys should we play with, what movies or TV shows should we watch, and so on.
Unfortunately, it does not stop once we leave our childhood behind. When we become teenagers, we experience a lot of changes in our bodies, our minds, and our environment. Things that we used to love as little girls become boring, our parents seem to be our worst enemies while friends become our allies. Our body also changes: we grow, breast development takes place, hair appears in places it did not exist before, and menstruation becomes part of our lives. This transition implies new impositions established by society, for example, how to behave as a young woman, how to keep menstruation as a very, very intimate –and sometimes- forbidden subject, how to dress in order to avoid young men from getting distracted and old men from catcalling at us (as if it was our responsibility to worry about this). We are taught not to be loud, not to curse, and not to speak our minds when we feel the need to do so. We are forced to believe that we are subordinated to men, meaning that we should serve them for the simple reason of being a wife, a daughter, a sister, or any other family member, and we are obliged to believe that every action or decision that we make will be judged or celebrated by men.
We carry a burden on our shoulders for all of our lives. Our parents and our environment teach us that we should grow into accomplished women that are able to balance personal and professional life without hesitation, to make sacrifices in order to keep the members of the family happy, even if it means losing ourselves in the process.
So these questions emerge from deep inside my mind: what are the expectations that society determines for each person based on gender? What is a superwoman or the superwoman syndrome? The answer might be easy, but let us remember that we live in a patriarchal society, and we are often blindfolded and tend to minimize things due to the level of internalization that we have.
I have already mentioned some examples of social impositions to little girls and teenagers (the list is longer, of course, and if you are a woman reading this, I am sure you will find more examples based on your experience), but for now, let us talk about the socially established role that adult women play nowadays, which, by the way, has been played for centuries.
In the American society of the 1970s and 1980s, women’s traditional role shifted from being a housewife to a more professional or business-oriented way of life. This became a remarkable phenomenon because women were pursuing a balance between both traditional female roles and traditional masculine roles. Then, women found themselves struggling with housework, raising children, and marriage while chasing a career in business, politics, law, or any type of industry, for example. This gave origin to the terms “superwoman” and “superwoman syndrome” used in sociology and psychology to refer to a condition or pattern of behavior that causes a woman to believe she can do anything and everything at the same time. This means that society pressures a woman into thinking she has the responsibility to accomplish personal and professional tasks by herself flawlessly every day of her life.
In the culture that we live in (mainly influenced by the United States and Europe), female identity means engaging in multiple activities and excelling in all of them. Whether it is domestic or professional work, women are forced to achieve perfection as mothers, wives, employers, employees, students, caregivers, and leaders.
Once we reach adulthood, rules and norms are established by the patriarchal society exclusively for women. We are told that as adults, we “should” know how to cook, clean, manage a family budget, raise a child, pay the bills and be responsible for a household. We are also told we “should” be competitive workers, leaders, students, and athletes. We are so coerced into merging all of these in order to be successful, that we become slaves of our own lifestyle.
Perhaps we could all say that our mothers suffer from the superwoman syndrome and even ourselves as adult women. I think many of us can picture our mothers as individuals trying their best to master the gigantic duty of taking care of a family, cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping while at the same time trying to succeed in the professional field as employees, leaders, CEOs, or freelancers. Many of them are full-time homemakers and mothers, which is not an easy job, and they have to balance housework with their own individuality.
But then I wonder: what are men obliged to do by the patriarchy? They are not forced to do any of the housework or family activities and responsibilities I mentioned before. They are educated into believing that their “only” duty is to provide, whatever that implies. They are not forced to raise and educate a child, or to know how to clean a house, not even to know that a house needs to be cleaned every other day!
As children, teenagers, and young adults, men learn that the house tasks are taken care of by the mother, while the father works outside from home. They learn that the mother keeps the house tidy, feeds the whole family, and helps them with their homework while having a big smile on her face and that the father comes home late at night, tired of a hard day at work, waiting for his wife to tell him dinner is ready. They do not learn that what their mother does is also work, and a very difficult one, with no profit and no weekends.
What the patriarchy teaches men is that they do not have the need or responsibility of doing the same activities as women, because “it is not their job” to clean, or do the laundry, or feeding a baby, because they are educated to think those are exclusively female duties.
Women trying to perform and balance professional and domestic chores often suffer from stress, eating disorders, anger, depression, sleeplessness, and other psychological alterations. This is completely unfair, as we already have many things that represent a disadvantage in comparison with men.
Some women try their best to be excellent workers and still suffer the effects of the wage gap; they also try their best to be great mothers, taking most of the responsibility by themselves, while their male partners say they “help” with the raising process.
For me, one of the saddest things in this particular topic is that we always carry a label given by society, whether it is the label of “mother” or “wife” or “daughter”, each with specific characteristics and responsibilities. But where is our individuality left? Why is the bar so high for women and so low for men?
Let us try to answer these questions every day, with the intention of deconstructing our minds and building a new society in which the only superwomen are the ones found in comic books.
More About This Author
If you would like to know more about Sandra Estrada visit her on LinkedIn.