The Su­per­woman Com­plex

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE -

HAV­ING IT all. It has be­come such a cliché, hasn’t it? Grow­ing up, that was the phrase that was thrown at us all the time by our fe­male teach­ers and men­tors. They may not have had it all, held back as they were by the con­straints of a highly pa­tri­ar­chal, tra­di­tional so­ci­ety. But my gen­er­a­tion could change all that. We could grow up to fully rounded lives, with flour­ish­ing ca­reers, well brought up kids, happy fam­i­lies, and per­fect homes.

Oh yes, we could achieve all this – and more. We just needed to fix our sights on our life goals, keep a ra­zor-sharp fo­cus, be pre­pared to work harder that we had ever thought pos­si­ble and we would be re­warded by the Golden Grail called ‘Hav­ing it all’.

Since we didn’t know any bet­ter, we fell for that spiel. So, we played by all the rules. We worked hard. We aimed high. We did our best at the work­place. We tried to run model homes. We du­ti­fully he­li­coptered around our kids. We stayed in shape. We went on ‘date nights’ with our spouses. We looked after el­derly par­ents and grand­par­ents.

And we tried – oh God, how we tried! – to tell our­selves that we did ‘have it all’.

It was only after our bodies be­gan wilt­ing un­der the com­bined pres­sures of sleep­less nights, early morn­ings, long days at work, pun­ish­ing fit­ness regimes, end­less hours at the stove, and the re­lent­less de­mands of child­care that we re­alised that we had, in fact, been conned.

We didn’t re­ally ‘have it all’. What we had was the du­bi­ous priv­i­lege of ‘do­ing it all’.

It’s time to make sure that a new gen­er­a­tion of women doesn’t fall prey to it

I was re­minded of this yet again last week when I met an old friend for cof­fee. No, she couldn’t take time off for lunch, even though we had so much to talk about. She could only man­age a hur­ried cof­fee be­fore she dis­ap­peared right back into the swirling vor­tex that was her life.

Sam­ple this: a typ­i­cal day in her life. She wakes up at 5.30 to fix break­fast for the fam­ily and send the kids off to school with their tif­fin. There’s barely enough time for a quick shower be­fore she sets off for work. She works in a large cor­po­ra­tion where eye­brows are raised if you come even 5 min­utes late – but you are treated as a lag­gard if you clock out at 6. She gets back home around 8 pm, dead tired, with barely enough en­ergy to eat din­ner, let alone make it. And she does this day after day.

In this, she is far from atyp­i­cal. Most women of her gen­er­a­tion are do­ing the same in­sane jug­gling act, with more balls in the air than they can pos­si­bly keep in play. And the sad­dest part of this sce­nario is that they be­lieve – de­spite all ev­i­dence to the con­trary – that this is the only way to get the most out of life.

Well, if you ask me, we have al­lowed our­selves to run ragged (in high heels, natch) for far too long. And we have paid the price for it in flag­ging en­ergy lev­els, con­stant guilt, and the feel­ing that some­how we are still fail­ing.

But while it is too late to save us, it may be time to cut the next gen­er­a­tion of women a lit­tle slack. Yes, yes, I know that they’re sup­posed to Lean In and all that (thanks Sh­eryl Sand­berg!). But some­times it makes sense to lie back as well, and take stock of your life.

Per­haps it is only when we grant our­selves a lit­tle down time that we get to un­der­stand that there is only one way in which you can re­ally ‘have it all’ – by not hav­ing it all at the same time.

So, let’s not bur­den our daugh­ters with the weight of ex­pec­ta­tions that we car­ried on our shoul­ders. Al­low them to make their own rules. Let them choose be­tween fam­ily and ca­reer if they want to. Give them time off after ba­bies to en­joy moth­er­hood; but pro­vide them enough op­por­tu­ni­ties to get back on the ca­reer track after a break. En­cour­age them to choose hus­bands who sup­port them at home and work. And don’t let them feel guilty for putting them­selves first on oc­ca­sion.

Let’s change the mean­ing of ‘hav­ing it all’ for their gen­er­a­tion. And let’s qui­etly kill off Su­per­woman while we’re at it.

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