There is often discussion of the pressures on women to do everything and be everything: the “Superwoman Syndrome” (1).
There are volumes written on work/life balance and companies are certainly paying increasing attention to policies and programs to help their employees maintain a healthy balance between their work and home/leisure lives.
However I have found that it is particularly difficult for women to achieve this work/life balance, as they feel pressured to be “Superwoman”!
Today’s Superwoman is convinced that she CAN have it all, and all at the same time:
- face and figure;
- social life;
No wonder many of the women I see in my psychology practice, are suffering from exhaustion!
Maybe it’s time to stop and reflect: just because you CAN have it all, doesn’t mean you have to …
Why are Women Worn Out?
In the childbearing years, 16% of women say they feel worn out on a daily basis, compared with less than 10% of men in the same age group (2).
A quick look at the following headlines from Google can give us some insight into why exhaustion is more of a problem for women than it is for men:
- More Women Are Breadwinners, But They Still Can’t Get Out Of The Kitchen;
- Forty years of feminism – but women still do most of the housework ;
- Sixty percent of women are the primary breadwinner, but still doing most of the housework.
According to a report from the US Bureau of Labor statistics (3):
- 83% of women and 65% of men spent “some” time doing household activities each day. (Although, I can’t help but question these figures given one of the activities included was “household admin”).
- On average, women spent 2.6 hours on household activities compared to 2.1 hours for men.
- Men were more likely than women to participate in sports, exercise, or recreation on any given day – 21% of men compared with 16% of women. On the days that they participated, men also spent more time in these activities than did women – 1.9 hours compared with 1.3 hours.
It seems keeping on top of the housework is one of the major causes of stress in women’s lives. As Siobhan Freegard of Netmums (4) says, “Nobody lies on their deathbed thinking, ‘I wish I’d kept up with the housework’, but it is a serious issue dividing couples and we have to ask why it comes back time and again. Are we really genetically programmed to be keeping the cave tidy while the man goes off to hunt? We’re educated women, does housework really matter? Why do we care about it so much?”
Where is this pressure to be Superwoman coming from?
We can point our finger at the media, at stereotypes, at men, at the demands of our busy lives, but at the end of the day: Could it be that it is due to the pressure we put on ourselves?
Why do we try to be Superwomen?
Why do we do this?!
1. Since childhood, we have heard: “Okay, you can go out and play – but only if you have done your homework first!” Have we become slaves to this rule, well into adulthood? The fact is, the housework will always be there and we will never get it all done. But that doesn’t mean we should go without leisure and recreation. Remember the old adage: all work and no play makes Jill a dull girl (and tired and cranky too most likely!).
2. Other people (partners, children) just don’t do it right. They may have vacuumed – but have they done it properly – you know, moving the furniture, getting behind the couches? Is it really that important? Maybe it’s time we are just thankful the job has been done, even it it is not up to our exacting standards. Don’t make the mistake of doing it yourself; or even re-doing it afterwards!
3. It’s just easier to do it ourselves. Training children (and sometimes our husbands!) to do various household chores is hard work. It IS easier to do it ourselves than to have a “little helper” slowing us down. But in the long run, we are just creating more work for ourselves, as well as the expectation that we will do it all.
4. We’re tired of nagging. Even though other members of the family are perfectly capable of doing chores, when you have to ask them a minimum of ten times – in an increasingly annoyed voice – before they actually do it … yes, it can seem easier just to do it ourselves.
How can we change our thinking and interactions with others, to improve our situation and reduce our stress?
It can seem like an impossible task on your own.
If you are tired of all the juggling, talking to a psychologist can be an excellent way to help you work out:
- the effects of dropping some of the balls you are juggling – you might be surprised to find that some can be dropped without too much of a negative impact;
- which balls can be thrown for somebody else to catch – and who you should be passing them to;
- and which balls should be kicked out of your life altogether.
And finally, it is worth remembering that Superwoman is a fictional character, and was never meant to be a role model!
Author: Nicole Wimmer, B Sc (Psych), MA (Psych), PG Cert Mgmt, Grad Dip Safety Science, MAPS.
Nicole Wimmer is a Psychologist with extensive experience in providing support and guidance to people struggling to manage their work/life balance and stress levels. Nicole’s approach includes addressing current presenting issues with her clients, while also helping them to develop skills to better equip them to deal with future challenges as they arise.
Please Note: Nicole Wimmer is currently on extended leave.
- Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz, “The Superwoman Syndrome”. Warner Books, 1984.
- http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/04/11/176936210/annals-of-the-obvious-women-way-more-tired-than-men. Viewed 24.11.14
- Time magazine, June 2014.
- http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/mar/10/housework-gender-equality-women. Viewed 24.11.14