By Dina Schwartz, LCSW
Imagine this scene: A beautiful woman, perfectly dressed and thin, strolls to the door to greet her husband. She flashes him a beautiful white smile and serves him and their children a gourmet homemade meal. Over dinner, each child is given her undivided attention and support as they discuss their day in school. The husband then talks about his day and his wife eagerly offers advice, support, and guidance. This woman then cleans up after dinner, washes the dishes, sweeps the floor, does homework with her children, gives the baby and the rest of her younger children baths, and sings them lullabies as they drift to sleep at their exact designated bedtimes.
You may think this sounds like some scene out of a 1950s movie, but unfortunately (with the exception of some details here and there), this seems to be the bar our community has set for us women. The modern woman is a blur of activity, she is pressured to be all things to all people, and we do nothing to condone it. As we culturally advance and progress, as feminism is now stronger than ever and women are becoming close to achieving equality through pay and job advancements, we are still set in the mindset of women doing it all.
Perhaps women can do it all, but the real question is should they? This question is what I hear from so many of my female clients. To them, their neighbors and friends seem to be these mythical creatures who hold down 9–5 jobs, cook gourmet meals, and manage a harmonious household. They often turn to me bereft and downcast and ask the allusive question: “What is wrong with me that I can’t do it all?”
These women see themselves as lacking and incapable, when they are in fact very capable. How come they can’t see it? Because we glamorize “superwomen,” and “moms who do it all,” when really we should talk about how wonderful it is when we make supper (even if it’s chicken nuggets) and feel good about taking some time for self-care, instead of feeling weighed down by heavy guilt. Brené Brown, in her research on shame, defines shame for women as: “A self-held expectation that we need to do it all and do it all well.” Brown explains when we don’t do it all, “we believe we have failed, and then shame swallows us into the abyss of unworthiness.”
Women are natural givers and caretakers, our maternal instinct prompts us to care for our families and ensure everyone is safe, healthy, and happy. I’m wondering how that snowballed into absolute perfection in all of these areas? The Torah never says anything about perfection or the perception of perfection. The clincher here is that we are all in this together and have similar underlying struggles, yet, we dare not speak of it for then that would mean we are incapable, broken, irresponsible, inattentive, not good enough, and/or not a good mother/wife. We definitely feel a mixture of all of the above, which results in our plummeting self-esteem, a distorted perception of who we are, inaccurate priorities, and damaged mental health.
I believe it would help if we would take a closer look at the root of this phenomena. It is time we women sit with ourselves and evaluate where this need stems from. It is easy to blame society and its natural assumption on gender roles, as well as the frum community and its assigned gender responsibilities and the natural roles that results from them, (e.g., men going to shul while the women stay home with the children and prepare meals, as well as clean and get dressed up.) Upon further introspection, you may find that there are many unrealistic expectations you place on yourself, whether it be due to an inherent need to compete and compare, anxiety, OCD, and/or low self esteem.
Social media only exacerbates the issue. How can we perceive ourselves as doing well, when we scroll through Instagram and spot woman after woman portraying their flawless lives? We need to understand that Instagram and other social media platforms only exist for that purpose — to depict the illusion of perfection, yet this only makes us feel more insecure and incapable. How can we open ourselves up to seek support or that relatability from other women, when their personal highlight reel seems so unrelatable? Yet these women are also suffering from the same insecurities and feelings of inadequacy and therefore desperately seek validation and acknowledgement through their posts.
What if we opened a conversation? What if we started speaking out and expressed our concerns, fears, and real struggles? Let us denounce “superwoman” and “women who do it all.” It’s time we, as women, talk with one another about how we don’t do everything, and we certainly don’t do everything well. It’s time to share ways to manage, along with our families, all the priorities wrapping us tightly into impossible no-win expectations. If we stop competing and support one another instead, we can begin to rebuild our understanding of ourselves and our roles and start feeling good about who we really are again.
I would like to hear from you. I want to hear your everyday struggles. I want to hear what and how you juggle. I want to hear your fears and what you dare not speak of among your friends. I want to hear your shame and despair. I want to hear because I want everyone to hear, anonymously of course. Why? Because you deserve that validation and you deserve that recognition that you are not alone. Perhaps these can begin to ignite conversations and you can slowly, slowly, begin to rebuild, recharge, and feel empowered. Our heavy load may not get lighter or go away, but if we stand collectively and hold each other’s hands, we can bear our burdens together.
Dina Schwartz is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker practicing in the field for over 10 years. She has experience with all populations and is currently the school social worker/supervisor at Ivdu girls’ high school and maintains a private practice. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.