Vol. IV, No. 2, Fall 1990

Superwoman's Last Adventure

An OzarksView by Julie Bloodworth

There has been a great deal written recently about the Superwoman. A practicing Superwoman doesn't let her demanding career as a nuclear physicist interfere with her taking the children to their gifted and talented classes, acting as a spokesperson for Save the Whales, and teaching the occasional gourmet Indonesian cooking class. She will also, of course, maintain a spotless home, teach a Sunday School class, and be President of the PTA.

The Superwoman is a myth. We know that behind that seemingly perfect facade, there are cracks. They may take the form of cellulite on the thighs or a secret addiction to reading the National Enquirer. They may be larger or more dangerous: a troubled marriage, compulsive shoplifting, drug or alcohol abuse. Most of us who have followed the maturing women's movement recognize the myth of the Superwoman for what it is. Surely we have given up striving for what we know is an impossible goal. And yet--

I am an eighth-grade teacher, and it is part of my responsibility to act as a role-model, particularly for the girls in my school. When I applied for the job, "role-model" wasn't listed on my job description, yet I accept it as an integral part of the work ldo. In professional journals, I am exhorted to act as a role model; I read impassioned editorials about the lack of creditable role models in America today; I'm either castigated or praised by parents in that capacity. But I admit that I have confused the idea of role model with the myth of the Superwoman. I am not alone. I see many of my colleagues trying and, inevitably, failing to live up to that myth. In our desire to be all things to all people, we do a disservice to ourselves, our friends and families, as well as to our students. The legacy of the Superwoman is guilt and a sense of inadequacy. It is high time that we who are in positions of role models take a good, long look at the qualities we want to model. It's time that we allow our students to see us as evolving human beings, not as cardboard cutouts.

Because I am familiar with the phenomenon in education, I focus here on female teachers as Superwomen/role models. I believe the same confusion about the definition of role modeling exists in business and other fields, but since the model and the student are in the same place at the same time, the effects of role modeling are often more obvious in the classroom than elsewhere. Women in education, moreover, may be particularly vulnerable to this confusion because, often, we are people who like to be in the limelight and in control. Education has for years offered a forum for women who have these qualities, even during times when other career opportunities for women were closed. The opinions of others tend to matter to us. Many of us were, after all, teacher-pleasers ourselves when we were in school. We enjoy working with people and having them look up to us. We take seriously the responsibility for the young minds in our care.

The Superwoman /role model syndrome peaked in me several years ago when I had one of the most miserable years of my life. Among other things, I was a third-grade Cub Scout troop leader. Every Monday after school, I drove reluctantly to the elementary school for an hour and a half of "quality time" with fifteen eight-year-olds. I set up refreshment schedules, kept track of each boy's progress toward badges, planned weekly activities, participated in monthly pack meetings and troop leaders' meetings. I was, the same year, commuting 90 miles roundtrip to night classes at SMSU where I was determined to make straight "A's," teaching junior high English and speech full time, sponsoring an extra-curricular club, serving as an officer in several professional committees, publishing a school newspaper, caring for, decorating and finishing a brand new house, attempting to stretch a budget to include much bigger mortgage payments than we'd ever had before, helping my older son with his schoolwork and with his numerous social obligations, carting my younger son to and from day-care, attending PTA meetings and other school and church functions, and writing poetry and trying to get it published. The truth is, I took a sort of perverse pride in the fact


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