Sunday, March 07, 2010

Superwoman Lives!

Yesterday, while DD#2 was looking for a birthday present for a friend, I perused the Recent Fiction shelves in my local Big Chain Bookstore.  The novel I began skimming was definitely a "women's lit" novel:  the protagonist is a single mom of  teenaged daughter.  Mom has an Important, Demanding, and Responsible career that puts her in the public spotlight--and, therefore, the public microscope--of her small town.  Mom's friends are the mothers of her daughter's best friends.

Not only does Mom have a career, she is an entrepreneur and is building a business with the other moms.  Their business is based on their hobby.  It's not something simple, like scrapbooking or cooking or buying & selling on eBay.  These women dye their own yarn.  I'm not sure if they also shear the sheep, card the wool, and spin it--I was just skimming through the chapters.

Oh, and Mom is also an artist.  When she can't sleep (which is always, apparently), she opens her sketchbook and grabs her pastels conveniently kept on an uncluttered table.

Her daughter is also smart and talented and an overachiever--and it's the daughter's fall from grace and how it impacts Mom that is the plot of the book.

The title of this book doesn't really matter--it's the females characters I am interested in.  Mom is definitely a Superwoman and her friends aren't far behind.  That they have enough time and energy to invest in a labor-intensive hobby and have outside full-time careers and be compassionate, caring mothers and wives (or lovers) amazes me.  Their support system seems to be each other (Sisterhood Unite!).

Sadly, this isn't the only book that seems to feature impossibly talented, creative women in a tough situation who depend on Love to get them through.  In The Time Traveler's Wife, the heroine is not just an artist--she makes her own paper.  In The Secret Life of Bees, the middle sister is an accomplished cellist, the youngest is an amazing cook, and the oldest makes superlative honey and candles.  The heroine in The Mermaid's Chair is also an artist:  she makes shadow boxes and paints.  I don't read a lot of "chick lit" or "women's lit," so there may be other examples I've missed (I don't remember if the mother in The Deep End of the Ocean was a Superwoman or not.)

Meanwhile, my friends and I stumble through life.  We yell at our children to pick up their rooms, do their chores.  We run into the store to buy milk and orange juice and bread.  Our husbands alternately delight and frustrate us.  Between our families and our paying jobs we don't have time to turn our hobbies into paying enterprises.  We're lucky we have time for those hobbies.

I'm lucky if I have a horizontal surface that's not covered in the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life!  (If you're looking for something, chances are it's on or under the dining table.)

Is the message these Superwoman sending any less detrimental than the message of the 1950's where every woman was supposed to excel at homemaking and child-rearing?  Why can't we admit there are dust bunnies under our couches and dirty dishes in our sinks?  That our jobs aren't always emotionally and spiritually fulfilling, that sometimes we don't want to be Mom or Wife--we just want to veg in front of the TV with a glass of wine?  And we want to do that especially when our world is falling apart!