Ever ask yourself why Wonder Woman never made it as a feminist icon? Because she’s not real – she’s The Impossible
2011 is the year I gave up on Woman Impossible and fell in love with real women, and my transformation was final last week when – in the midst of the work/holiday stress – I cancelled my annual-for-20-years Christmas party.
Want a holiday gift for yourself? Give up on being a Superwoman and fall in love with yourself.
Superwoman a Heroine? Not!
I’m into hero stories so I’ve always wondered why powerful women don’t have a comic character that resonates with us. Betty Friedan was right in the ‘80’s to accuse Superwomanhood of being a double-enslavement of women, requiring us to be the perfect spouse and employee, mother and supermodel – i.e., The Impossible Woman. And yet, like most women I know, I’ve spent a good portion of my life trying to be The Impossible Woman anyway, disappointing no one and achieving all manner of worldly success – in my career and at home. As I and my family have both matured, I’ve made a lot of progress in giving up trying to find work-life “balance,” but still sometimes – like this December – the inability to do it all niggles at me.
Why Don’t We Aspire to be The Impossible Woman, Yet at the Same Time We Do?
Impossible Women like Supergirl and Wonder Woman were male inventions – just Google their images and look at the boobs that appear. For real women the comic book heroines are simply too comic, one dimensional and – despite their exaggerated femininity – too male. They compete extremely well in a man’s world… achieving power the way a man would, with force. When we try to be The Impossible Woman, we’re still struggling to live up to a male perception of perfection – demonstrating to our men and ourselves that our career accomplishments compromise nothing of our ability to provide tender loving care at the home.
But men fail this test regularly. Superman is The Impossible Man, too. Just look at the tragic new stats on domestic violence – 1 in 4 women harmed by their intimate partner – and every fallen hero in 2011 from Anthony Weiner to Joe Paterno. No, the male power model is not to be glorified or emulated.
But if The Impossibles aren’t possible, who do we look up to? Who do we emulate?
What’s a heroine?
I’ve spent a lot of time this year researching women and power. To my delight the research didn’t just lead to the few-but-important woman CEOs like Indra Nooyi (Pepsi CEO) or Ursula Burns (Xerox CEO). I also found myself discovering women like Leymah Gbowee (leader of the Liberian women’s peace movement) and the brave survivors of domestic violence at the District Alliance for Safe Housing (where I sit on the board).
Here’s what I’ve learned. In short, women’s power simply doesn’t fit a male model. It can’t be analogized by “leaping tall buildings in a single bound.” It’s quieter, less physical. While somewhat less capable of moving a real mountain, women are quite capable of moving a human one. But most importantly, women’s power secret comes from within their own unique authenticity, their ability to tap into their own special sauce of experience, capability and willingness to grow into who they were meant to become.