Superwoman Syndrome: Did COVID Lockdown Break The Myth Or Exaggerate It?

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Superwoman syndrome sounds like an innovative tag made up to categorise women too cool to be contained within human definitions. But this larger-than-life-sounding condition essentially captures how the crushing pressure of toxic patriarchal systems convinces women they are superheroes and slyly leaves them feeling rather… small.

A term that reportedly emerged in the 1980s, Superwoman Syndrome is heavy with social baggage that carries generations of conditioning through which women have been convinced they are nothing if not highly efficient beings multitasking home and work chores round-the-clock.

The desi version of the concept is ceremoniously decorating women as devis and betis only so they work in rigorous self-fulfillment of these ‘honours’ to the point their most basic, most real identities are lost.

Think ‘supermoms’ who have the entirety of domestic burdens on their lone shoulders. Think working women who push the envelope on timings so they can meet office deadlines and kiddie school project deadlines. Think young female professionals who, in a bid to be par with privileged men in their fields, exert triple the amount of what their bodies and minds can take.

What are these if not recipes for burnout? 

Being a Superwoman is not the best way to be. And yet, the idea of it has dogged women throughout the pandemic-induced lockdowns all of last year (continuing into this one). With entire families collected under the same roof, has the status of women as domestic nurturers increased in intensity? Or has the setup distributed homely work, relieving women of the solo stress?

Superwoman Syndrome In The Pandemic: Realising The Worth Of Domestic Providers

What was already known about the correlation between gender and domestic work was evidenced in fact by a report in the PNAS journal this year that found across countries, women have been expending more energy, effort and time in household chores than men.

For India, given how syncretic familial cultures are here, experiences are charted wider. Some women work more, some less, some happily, some with resentment, some under pressure, some out of norm.

These young women, for instance, came into adulthood during lockdown by learning how to manage more responsibility around the house – as every individual must. On the other hand, other women – older women – have filed petitions demanding men be directed to share tasks at home in equal measure.

The question then ultimately, as it always does, boils down to choice. How many Indian women have agency to decide the extent of domestic work they want to do? To compensate for the absence of said choice, are women fed the Superwoman myth so they are goaded into domestically working more?

Caught in the designs of social obligations, women anyway harbour higher tendencies of people-pleasing. Dr Saloni Singh, NLP practitioner and life coach, tells SheThePeople, “I coach women in their 50s and am yet to come across someone who says ‘I sacrificed everything and I am so happy about it.'” Women who reach middle-age are, thus, “clueless” as to how to proceed in life, after the bulk of their lives’ domestic responsibilities are complete. Read more on it here.

Are women unfairly beating themselves down into superhuman shapes because society tells them their worth is to be adjudged by how efficiently they manage their ‘duties’ as wives, sisters, daughters?

Between or beyond the rush, do women have time for comfort? Time to kick back and bask (if even for a little while) in the glory of all they have accomplished up till that moment in their lives? Time to just be happy? Time to just be?

Views expressed are the author’s own.