I like the word "super." It's one of my favorite words partly because it sounds really awesome when you say it in French. It also serves as a wonderful adjective, especially when someone is complimenting you: "Hey, you're super cool!" or "I really liked your yoga class. You're a super, awesome teacher!" While I could go on tongue-n-cheeking my way through this word, I am more concerned about the Superwoman stereotype that is so carelessly applied to women. For my generation, I pinpoint the syndrome back to a 70s commercial for perfume where a thin, White woman, fashionably dressed for the office, effortlessly makes her way through her long work day managing to sing:
I can bring home the baconThe tune had a cabaret feel to it, and by the end of the commercial, you realize that this little ditty was not really about what she was capable of doing, but who she was doing it for. The decade ushered in a renaissance for women's rights anchored by Roe v. Wade and an influx of women in the workplace and in the academy. This commercial for a cheap cologne, no less, cheapened, sensationalized, and mocked the idea of a super woman. Yes, she can do it all and look sexy while feeding the baby! For those of us who either majored in or took courses in Women's Studies (or American Studies, as it was known before it became legitimately recognized as a major), we are familiar with Jean Kilbourne and her pioneering work in the depiction of women in advertising. At some point during a stream of consciousness, or unconsciousness depending on what direction you swim, women internalized the Superwoman persona. We ate the so-called expectation of be all and everything to everyone, digested it, only to spit it back up because it didn't sit well with our soul. We were even bullied into a national debate pitting breast-feeding mothers against those who bottled fed to find out which type of child is declared the undisputed champion. And, if that's not enough, don't expect a winner in the stay-at-home or work-outside-of-the-home war. You're either choosing to make no money or seventy cents on the dollar.
Fry it up in the pan
And never let you forget you're the man
'Cause I'm a woman...
The Superwoman or mom or whatever you want to call it is simply a myth. The idea of her only exists to perpetuate a notion that women can do anything humanly possible and still manage to keep their sanity in tact despite living in a patriarchal society. We live in a time and in a country that says that we must stand on our own two feet and ruggedly go the course alone. It's a long and winding road, and even though a few of us may be fortunate to carry a compass, most of us have been treading along carrying groceries, little ones, men, and the weight of the world on our backs. We are weary, doggone tired, and fed-up, only to find out that the kryptonite that we've tried so hard to avoid has been neatly stashed away in our pocket keeping us from flying.
But wait, there is another way. I had the great blessing of attending three beautiful events last weekend. The first was at the University of Massachusetts Boston celebrating the US launching of the African Women's Decade. This event marks 30 years after the Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the United Nation's General Assembly. Ambassadors from several African Nations and preeminent women leaders from around the Boston and the national stage convened to highlight and discuss the current state of affairs for women of the African diaspora and to mobilize and create a plan of action to ensure a bright and successful future. Liz Walker, noted television journalist, gave the opening address and spoke of kiros, a Greek word meaning a "moment of divine time" and how the Universe is ripe for change in how women view their relationships to each other and to the world. The second event was on a much smaller scale. Joyce, a dear friend of mine, hosted a gathering to honor and introduce the work of Hand In Hand, a network of integrated schools in Israel, the only schools in that country which are multicultural and multilingual where Jewish and Arab children learn together. There, children learn what it means to truly live in a complex society. Joyce and her husband had visited one of the schools in Israel, and she was so profoundly moved by the work, that she sounded a clarion call to alert others of this fascinating school. Lastly, another close friend, Adrienne Miller, was officially introduced to the Karuna community as its founding Head of School. Karuna is an upcoming high school, established with Buddhist principles in mind and its foundations rooted in teaching a philosophy of peace. Adrienne, a woman of the African diaspora, has achieved, in being appointed the school's Head, what so many teachers of color aspire to, but so very few actually become. These fine women do their part in creating community rather than opting to go it alone. Instead of feeding off of an deprived illusion of an indestructible woman, they've internalized what Benjamin Disraeli once wrote:
The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches, but reveal to them their own.These inspirational examples illuminate the deepest definition of super. Beyond meaning exceptional and outstanding (which I do think these women and causes are), super also means, "containing a specified ingredient in an unusually high proportion..." (from American Heritage Medical Dictionary). This ingredient is called Inescapable Mutuality. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. first coined the expression, and it's the idea that somehow in this journey of life, we are bound together to work together to figure things out. We can't ever pray to cast out the demons, meditate "OM" for peace, simply close our eyes and wish it all away, or throw our fists in the air to fight for justice for all until we take our hands and interlace our fingers with the sister next to us. This decade can again be a series of defining moments for all of us.