“I hate being called supermom”, I spat out these words with a vehemence I didn’t know I had in me.
My famously single and usually wise as an oak best friend looked at my seething face and said, “I don’t know the struggles you working women have to go through, but I guess it’s easier being superdad as one just needs to turn up at your kid’s events and people are heaping praises on being such a have-it-all parent”.
And that statement must have been the most truthful statement my friend has ever spoken.
That’s what usually happens. Men do the bare minimum and they are superdads. A woman has to successfully manage the home while thriving at her job to be called a supermum. Home is our turf so we are expected to do everything without breaking sweat and work is a place where we are constantly pitted against male colleagues who probably have never poured a glass of water themselves. Heaven forbid if we have to sit for competitive exams for faster promotions and we complain about the dual responsibilities we women have to shoulder, all hell will break loose and we would be labeled as “seeking excuses” for our weaker performance. The trope of supermum excellence will only take us as much as to hollow veneration but no substantial support or sympathy would ever come our way. We are primary caregivers at home and at work we compete with jaded eyes and tired minds with our male colleagues so we will not be relegated to play second fiddle.
But say everyone has 24 hours in a day right?
A day of a working dad and mum is not the same. I bristle every time I hear my male colleagues talking about how they narrowly missed reaching the office on time as they woke up at 9 and had to hurriedly gulp down the food cooked by their wives or mothers and had near-hits on the road. After waking up at wee hours and cooking for the whole family and packing lunch and cleaning after the mess my son leaves behind, when I reach the office and sit at the desk, my limbs thank me for the first sitting session of the day.
Supermum overlooks all the struggle women like me have to go through to put on a presentable facade. It deifies women. Many may mean it as a harmless compliment, a sweet gesture, an appreciation but it conveniently overlooks or possibly deliberately and dangerously ignores the hard works put in, the nerve-fraying stress, the pushed-to-the-brink pressure of holding it all together, the constant self-negotiation between a woman and a mother, a career person and a homemaker.
We are primary caregivers at home and at work we compete with jaded eyes and tired minds with our male colleagues so we will not be relegated to play second fiddle.
Calling supermom frees the near ones, the family members to pitch in with child-rearing and chores. The ostensibly positive stereotypes perpetuate the benevolent sexism where supermums do not need any form of support or sympathy or understanding because they are not human, they are supers, blessed with extraordinary ability to manage it all. The necessary social and structural support a man needs to function and succeed in normal circumstances is not needed for the special breed of humans called supermums.
So I refuse to be called supermum. I want my fallible humanness to be acknowledged, my insecurities, my constant worry about my child, my occasional failure of handling my child’s meltdown, my sore backs after long days at work and home, my self-doubt at my own ability to juggle work and home to be accepted. I do not want to be pictured with a cape around my neck who can fly around and make everything work magically with her superpowers. I want to be accepted sobbing on my friend’s shoulders at my recent failure or fighting sleep so I can finish my project at work or cooking over the stove with a hand supporting my waist so it would hurt less. I am no supermum, I am just a regular mum gloriously succeeding in some things and falling flat on face in others, trying to make things work while hoping and praying my kid would turn out just fine and during the process I will not lose my singularity and individuality.
Astha Subba is a section officer with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Nepal.