Ever ask yourself why Wonder Woman never made it as a feminist icon? Because she’s not real – she’s The Impossible Woman.
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.
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.
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?
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.
So this holiday season when I found myself a bit too stretched with client commitments in mid December I asked myself whether The Impossible Woman would cancel the Christmas party. The answer I got back was the usual – “Nah! Just send for takeout after your last client meeting and stay up late cleaning the house, go shopping for catering plates on the way home from retrieving son #1 from college and show up with too little sleep and a smile on your face!”
Then the real woman living inside me stepped in, reminding me that my client commitments were important, that quality time with victorious-from-first-semester-away-from-home-son was just as important, my friends would still love me and my neighbors would be happy to come to a pre-New Year’s pot luck. The party invite went out for the 3-week-later potluck and I’m enjoying my family and friends in truly deep and meaningful ways this season. Just because I won't DO it all doesn't mean I can't HAVE it all.
Know who I love most for this decision? Me.
And that’s the other secret to women and power, the ability to own ourselves for who we are – not because we’re perfect – but because we’re perfectly ourselves. Owning yourself is loving yourself. When you can own who you are, you have the power to change yourself and the world around you – or not. If it’s your choice, you’re the one In Power.
This year’s research lit a fire in me to explore and celebrate the unique relationship women have with this deep internal power we all carry within us and help us access the world’s external power more fully. So I’ve begun a new research project, The Woman Effect, which will launch in 2012 to rewrite the narrative on women and power. I’m really excited about the possibilities of helping real women tap into their own real, authentic power, leaving the stereotypes and comic book characters behind.
Care to join me? What does real power mean to you? How to you observe women using their authenticity most powerfully? When you break out of the traditional narrative on power – that it’s largely about external power – what language do you use to describe it? How do you practice your own power to bring your world and yourself into alignment? What are you choosing to do this holiday to practice being IN your power?
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(Note: This post originally appeared on Blogher)
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