What is Superwoman’s power? (By the way, it’s the same for men.)
Like Clark, to discover her power, she has to discover who she really is. She has to go beyond the cultural story of the empowered superwoman who can have and do it all, and the personal story she’s living that might actually be her kryptonite. With pressure and cultural empowerment stories surrounding her, trying to leap it all in a single bound (or even multiple bounds) could easily lead to her feeling tired all the time.
Her kryptonite is the story she’s living into that’s burning her out. Aspiring to fulfill the superwoman persona is leading her into a mysterious downward spiral that is impacting her heart, her motivation, and her resolve.
Tomorrow, I am a panelist at the Go Red For Women event in NYC. It’s an event I am particularly interested in because it’s about today’s superwoman finding her balance in a world where she is under pressure constantly. If it’s not from the intense pressures of running the family, then it is certainly from combining those pressures with those of excelling in her career, staying healthy, etc.
Backed by an entire movement that tells women they can have and do it all (debatably, and with lots of lifestyle support), today’s opportunities for women are both the most awesome they’ve ever been and the most daunting.
Is this movement achieving its goal?
Debora Spar, Barnard College President, didn’t necessarily think so when she realized she was living the superwoman dream.
“I’m pretty sure I remember the moment I knew I was having it all. On a December day several years ago, I was in the women’s bathroom at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. I had an hour between flights, so I rushed for the stalls. Cramming my bags against the door and pulling off my blouse, I perched on the seat, took out my little Medela pump, and began feverishly expressing my breast milk. After several minutes of whirring and fumbling, I pulled myself together and stuffed my five- weeks-postpartum belly back into my business suit.
And that’s when I realized—wryly, ironically, totally deprived of sleep—that I was experiencing the superwoman dream.”
“Feminism was meant to remove a fixed set of expectations; instead, we now interpret it as a route to personal perfection. Because we can do anything, we feel as if we have to do everything.”
You can read more by Debora here, where she talks about the “superwoman” you’re influenced to be: the woman who “has it all”—perfect job, relationship, body—but doesn’t exist in reality. In her explosive new book, Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, Debora Spar is telling women to stop trying to be so good at everything.
Just imagine what it’s like for entrepreneurial women who also want to have families. Get ready for some compromises.
There are countless references to the superwoman message. Even Alicia Keys has written about it in her song Superwoman. You can read the lyrics here. It’s a challenge.
Is this just about women? Of course not. Men are suffering a similar fate in our modern performance culture. No stranger to Superman, we’ve been trying to pull off the I-can-do-it-all scenario for years, and we aren’t even the primary caregiver of the family—societally speaking. Though today’s men are sharing the role of home manager and caregiver more often; I think it’s safe to say we’ve learned a lot throughout history about overextending and the need for support. We continue to struggle with it, while culturally, women are still in the early stages of discovery. The impact this has and will continue to have on their lives, their drives, and their ability to maintain balance is being felt.
Everyday heroes need help.
Many women inspired by or caught up in today’s empowered women’s movement, who are not aware of the real power beyond their stories or how to manage their personal energy, are feeling the weight of all this exceptionalism.
Today’s women are tired, and they will stay that way until they discover their power. Not their capabilities as a result of an even better empowerment story, but their real power—where there energy comes from.
We already know that women, like men, are pretty much capable of achieving anything. But just because you can achieve it, does that mean you should or that it’s what’s best for you? Like for men, does it all need to depend on you?
It doesn’t have to be this way.
If you prepare yourself with the lifestyle support you need to succeed, sustain, and get to know both your power and the lifestyle that will enable you to thrive and sustain, then you will thrive and sustain.
Both women and men need to begin living performance lifestyles, not only to achieve their goals, but to streamline and simplify their lives so they work, not just for the culture, but for them individually and collectively.
As a culture, we are just starting to know our power—that we are energy, and despite the fact that access to personal energy is unlimited, our access to that power is not quick and not always in sync with the relentless demands of society. So we have to learn our power source really well or we end up living in personal energy debt, exhausted for years to come.
So where do you begin to know your power and whether you have enough power to sustain even the idea of being the superwoman or man you may aspire to be?
You start by getting to know who you really are and learn how to manage your personal energy. The last thing you want is to suffer the curse of the capable.
You want a lifestyle that works for you (or what we call a “performance lifestyle”).