I’m not sure when or where it started. Sure, I could do some extensive research on the psychology behind it, or the origins of its “necessity.” I’m sure I could further cite sources that attribute such things to cultural backgrounds linked to the oppression or liberation of our different predecessors and ancestors. I’m sure I could even find a dissertation dedicated to why it should continue…but today, I’m just going to call it out.
I know mine started because I watched my mom do it. Everyday I watched my mother give more of herself until literally about 48-hours before she died. I watched my dad, the incredible husband that he was, try to convince her that it was ok to “be still,” or “be sick,” or “be unavailable.” At times he would even wake up earlier or stay up later trying to complete things just so she wouldn’t attempt to. But most times, despite his best efforts, she’d find a way to continue. What was baffling to me was that she knew she shouldn’t have. She’d often say to me while patting me on my knee, even in my adult life, “Don’t be like your mother. Figure out a way to take time for you. Be ok with being unavailable.” And I swore to her that I’d never put the needs of others above myself. I’d never spend my time trying to act as if I could do any and everything. In fact I scoffed at her repeating it to me over and over again. Of course putting my own needs to rejuvenate, or get better, or relax, or rest behind the needs of others, strangers or otherwise, was absolutely ludicrous!
After she died, I ran her funeral, I went into production less than a week later, I produced a show every three months for three straight years, I ignored some of my own health issues, I rarely said “no” to projects that were asked of me…and was always available no matter what the cost. And when I caught wind of criticism about how surely I wasn’t being a great wife and mother because I was so involved in other things (allegations that were outright preposterous) I doubled up on everything I was already doing at home. At times my husband would implore me to let him help…just like my dad did to my mom….and I’d brush him off. I’m supposed to have a full plate. I’m supposed to be able to do all these things. I’m supposed to burn the candle at both ends and every angle. I’m a wife, I’m a mom, I’m a career woman; I asked for all of this, so I need to step up to the plate and do it! This is who I am! This is what I was known for!
She had patted me on my knee…and warned me about this behavior. And yet, I was doing everything she told me not to do.
Because I’m superwoman….right?
And then, right around October of last year, my brain broke. Nobody knew but my family…because they love me and they saw it coming. It wasn’t dramatic, or cause for any alarm or medical intervention (something I realize is unnecessary for me to clarify)…it just..broke.
And when your brain breaks, you’re forced to take inventory of everything around you.
And then I began to look at other women; women in the media, women in business, women in my circle, women outside of my circle, and I realized that we all wear that badge of honor. We all strive to be “Superwoman.” We all strive to hear others call us by that name, and we accept the accolade with a smile and a shrug because, dang it, that’s who we think we are. We collectively laugh when men tap out of certain scenarios because they are “too sick” or “too uncomfortable” or “they already have too much on their plates.” Hmph, amateurs! We cheer ourselves because we are stronger than any of them because we can handle all the things they can’t. Even when every signal in our body is warning us of pending doom…we refuse to stop! We are Superwoman!
So we’ll take a final exam during excruciating labor pains, because nothing is going to stop us. We’ll defy doctor’s orders and go to work shortly after surgery, because we are amazing. We’ll help out with school or work projects while we have the flu, because we can’t let something that trivial get in our way. We’ll host parties the day after miscarriages, because we are invincible. We’ll forge ahead through debilitating migraines, because our pain is no match for our tenacity. We’ll dance and smile for everyone after chemo, because we can take anything thrown at us. We’ll perform eight different tasks simultaneously because, honey, it’s what we do. We’ll ignore our own mental health needs because it’s no excuse when things have to be done. We will lose our mothers and fathers, children and siblings, and then console others because we are stronger than this. We are women; hear us roar!
We are Superwoman…
…only we’re not.
We. Are. Human.
Whom exactly are we being super for? The people at church that side eye us if we don’t show up undeterred by the things happening in our lives? Our bosses who really need that project done and can’t understand if it gets delayed because of their inability to empathize with our situation? Our patients who can’t understand that we also get sick and we also get tired? That petty person that feels the need to dictate what goes on inside of a house they don’t even have access to? The random stranger we may run into who’s friend had the same problem that one time but managed to get over it so how come we aren’t doing the same? …. Or other women…who forget that they are only pretending to handle it? That’s ridiculous.
The truth is this: the people that truly love us will know that we are not super; we’re not invincible. We are fallible beings that need to admit, “I can’t do it,” or “I can’t handle this,” or “This is too much for me today.”
We have nothing to prove to anybody. We just need to be who we are.
And if we happen to make history doing it….well then, good for us.
I know I’m right.
Happy Women’s History Month!