A FRIEND OF MINE went off the other day to give a speech about something she calls The Myth of the Superwoman. This is the woman who is supposed to be successful as a mother, wife, lover and in her career. My friend gets paid to say there's no such thing.
My friend is not the only one who will tell you this. While the conventional women's magazines persist in writing about a woman who is the president of her company, pilots her own plane, has a husband in America, a lover in Italy, three children, cooks like a chef and looks -- like a million bucks, the word filtering back from the front lines and reported in feminist journals is that no such person exists. In fact, the women's movement had not gone very far before some wise people thought it time to call time out and see what's possible and what's not. If only someone would do the same for men.
There is, of course, no real men's movement. And there are really no magazines devoted to how men really live, as opposed to how they would like to live. There are only so-called men's magazines and instead of exposing the myth of the superman, they propagate it, depicting men as lovers, successful executives, sports car racers, sky divers, fathers, husbands and God knows what else.What kind of man believes Playboy? An overextended fool, that's who.
What most men don't know, some women are beginning to learn. They understand that no one can be all things to all people, that a woman cannot be the world's most terrific mom and the world's most terrific lawyer -- and go out at night looking like Lauren Hutton in a television commercial. Something has to give somewhere. A decision has to be made to either settle for being less than the perfect mom or less than the perfect lawyer -- or even less than the perfect bombshell.
Most men, though, are not willing to concede this for themselves. In some sense, they have gotten the worst of the women's movement -- learning little from it except that they are now expected to share more of the burdens. Where once a man measured his worth be being something called "a good provider," he now has all kinds of other standards. He has to be a good father and good husband. If he has a wife who works, he has to take his turn with the raising of the children, with the car pool and with the cooking and all the other chores. And he has to be a real success at the office.
In other words, he has to be a superman. It's not that he has to excell in everything he does, it's rather that he has to continue to excel in the traditional things -- business, for example -- while also taking on new obligations. Instead of just business, there is also family. And instead of just making sure that the family is well-provided for, he has to listen and talk and take part in the innards of family life. This sort of nurturing is what women used to do while, at least in the movies, men read the newspapers. It is what a friend of mine sarcastically calls "trying to be a human being." She thinks this is beyond men.
Based on the evidence, it's hard to argue that it is not at least difficult. But it is not hard to see that men resent the way they are being overextended, the way goals and challenges are given to them without priorities. In the magazines and on television, everything is as important as everything else. Thus, it is as important to be a success in business as it is to be a successful father as it is to be one hell of a golfer. This is the contemporary version of the Renaissance man -- the man who can do anything and it do it well.
But probably the most important thing is to decide what is really important and what is less important; what is worth excelling in and what is not. Society will no longer make those decisions. There is, after all, a lot of territory between success and failure and only some things are worth the ultimate effort. This is something the women are learning, and learning the hard way, often at the cost of considerable pain. It is a lesson that men could learn as well. If there is no such thing as the superwoman, there is no such thing as the superman, either. Thank God. Sometimes it's hard enough just being a mild-mannered reporter.