I Am Superwoman

I think I like Alicia Keys’ hat days best of all.

While I’m not a hardcore fan like some folks I know, I like Alicia Keys. Generally, her songs are catchy and her lyrics are meaningful. Her talents and uniqueness only seem to be building as time goes on. I especially felt this way when I saw her perform a gorgeous solo version of Empire State of Mind.

In 2007, Ms. Keys released a song named Superwoman. The chorus goes like this:

… I am a Superwoman, yes I am, yes she is/ Even when I’m a mess, I still put on a vest with an S on my chest, oh yes/ I’m a Superwoman …

More cute hat days.

I liked it at first. It was so different than what I typically heard on the radio. These days, I’ve found myself with mixed feelings over songs like this. I’m starting to feel resistance to the notion that women should be strong all the time, should be somehow “superhuman”. That if they can’t describe themselves as superwomen, they haven’t reached a necessary standard of womanhood.

I don’t presume this song or songs like it are cruel taskmasters, intentionally designed to enforce that standard. And this Alicia Keys song does speak to the kind of struggles many women go through. It is also true that so many women I know seem like superwomen, unimaginably strong in the face of obstacles they would never wish on anyone, let alone themselves. They are indeed inspiring. Wearing survival as a badge of inspiration and pride is a very good thing.

But I just wonder. Is the woman who is so depressed that she can’t get out of bed a superwoman? Is the woman who didn’t survive cancer a superwoman? How about that woman who wasn’t able to put a vest on her chest with an S when she was a mess? How do we feel about her?

Notice how these days, women who are so often portrayed as the “strongest” are the ones who have the least resources, rights and respect. They’re strong and they’re surviving, yes. But I wonder if the inspiration they provide in the process is twisted into an escape route for everyone else. If marginalized women are “super” in the midst of great odds, do others interpret it as a sign that the odds aren’t so bad, that the odds shouldn’t be changed, that perhaps the odds are right and fair, a litmus test of those women who are “truly deserving”? It can so easily become a tug-on-your-own-damn-bootstraps kind of thing.

Maybe I’m over-thinking it. I just don’t want to adhere to the superwoman standard – phenomenal woman, empowered woman, strong woman, however you describe it – if it means that it becomes a marker of failure if we can’t always achieve it.

Even superwomen need to take off the vest once and a while, right?

Check out this excellent Crunk Feminist Collective article which provides insight on depression and the “strength standard” Black women are so often measured against.

About Andrea

METRAC staff
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