Is it a myth? A reality? It’s SUPERWOMAN!

2011-08-06 17:12

The “superwoman ideal” which expects women to successfully juggle careers, families and household responsibilities is alive and well, according to South Africa’s next generation of female leaders.

While the idea is rapidly losing favour in some parts of the world, it’s a local reality, says Sina Hina, regional manager of Microsoft Business Unit in the Eastern Cape.

“I have to be super-prepared for work commitments, be a supportive parent to my kids, run a household effectively and, on top of it all, maintain a healthy body and look fabulous,” she says.

Shuvai Nyoni, gender justice manager at Gender Links, says this pressure to perform exists despite a widely accepted narrative that women “can be and do whatever they want. In reality, there is little to no room for failure.”

Fatima Vawda, managing director of South Africa’s first black-owned and female-run institutional financial multi-manager, 27four Investment Managers, says the mass media creates labels for women, such as superwoman, to perpetuate a woman’s subservient role in society.

This label is based on a minority of women reflected in glossy magazines, she believes. “In reality, women are carrying the bulk of social responsi-bilities in our country.

“The majority of homes in South Africa are headed by women, who are responsible for all aspects of their family lives, including generating income.

“At grass roots, women are waking up at 3am, getting their children ready for school, waiting for public transport to get to work, leaving work in the evening, waiting for public transport, then cooking, then family time,” she says.

Nyoni adds: “I do wonder how women do it – have good, healthy families and manage to succeed in the workplace.

Superwomen do not exist; real women who are true to what they believe in exist.”

As for the role of men, Abey Mokgwatsane, CEO of VWV Group and a “proud father”, says while men are increasingly involved in sharing parental responsibilities, the reality is that women will always be the last line of defence.

“More than 50% of children live without their biological father. Men have an opt-out option and they exercise it.”

He believes most women do successfully keep the balance between their careers and family responsibilities, “otherwise, society would have ceased to function ages ago”.

To deal with the “superwoman” label, Nyoni has resolved that she cannot be one.

“I need help to achieve some things and support those I need to support.

“We can definitely say that the Age of the Superwoman is dead.

“Unfortunately, because we are still forced to compete with men in many situations, women will continue to be expected to be superwomen for a while.”

Forty-year-old Mandy Ramsden doesn’t conform to labels. She’s the only South African woman to summit all seven of the world’s highest peaks.

“I do a lot of things and I’m not necessarily good at all of them. I don’t see myself as a superwoman. I’m a good-enough mother, okay climber and mediocre runner,” says the single mother of four.

“The day has come for women to put aside all the labels and stereotypes, which are often used as excuses, get off their bums and go out there and do what they want to do.”

Ramsden is on sabbatical from the corporate world, and gives life skills and motivational talks to young business women.

She no longer wants to be a superwoman CEO. And that’s just super-duper.

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