This week we celebrate Women’s Day in South Africa. What should our message be to women on this day?
A successful working woman is often hailed as a superwoman. She has a fulfilling job where she gives it her all. She’s also a supportive wife and an empathetic, but focused, mother. She’s a doting daughter to her parents and maintains a well-run household, all whilst staying fit and slim, and still making time for friends and self-care. She is a woman who ‘has it all’. Truly a wonder.
I know many women like this. Women who are a wonder. But I also know that they are not superwomen. Because the truth is that you can’t have it all. You can’t do it all. It’s an ideal – a fictional, fantastical vision of an imaginary woman. She isn’t real. She’s the product of make-believe.
Striving to meet this ideal, has left women feeling inadequate in every aspect of their lives. It has left women perpetually tired, and even ill. But, it is more than that. It has put most of the responsibility for keeping the world working, as it has always done in the past, on women. The contract between women and society has hardly changed. Women are still held responsible for nearly all the unpaid work –caring and homemaking. Yes, men help, but they rarely carry the responsibility.
What is curious, is that women bought into this contract with the world. It is unbelievable, looking back, that we accepted the terms as reasonable. It is astounding that we thought we could do it all. We believed that in order to be a part of the working world, this was our price to pay.
Fortunately, it is changing but the glacial pace is frustrating and disappointing. My daughters are still likely to earn less than their male counterparts by the time they turn 30. Their pay is still likely to be determined by factors such as their weight (yes, there’s lots of research supporting this bias), the fine line between being assertive and ‘bitchy’ women must walk, and they are still likely to face stiff competition for the top jobs subconsciously reserved for women. Overt discrimination still happens, although less common, but the covert undermining of women, however, happens all the time, even by women towards women.
It is not a woman’s job to ‘lean in’ as Sheryl Sandberg famously asserted it was. As so many of us know, and as Michelle Obama rightly pointed out, ‘because that s--- doesn’t work all the time…not at the same time; that’s a lie.’
Women have proven that we can fit into the world created by men. Society now needs to change to support families and by implication women. It needs a new model or perception of the role of women in society. One where women and men are equally valued and included, one where responsibility is shared fairly. This is the best thing we can do now for women.