Wonder Women: Sex, Power & The Quest For Perfection

The modern day woman has a lot of pressure. We are expected to be career women, highly educated, take up leadership roles, yet do all this whilst balancing a (hopefully) successful home life. Sure it is more common to see stay-at-home dads, but the truth of the matter is we women have maternal instincts built into us, and those of us who have career and family aspirations struggle to find the perfect balance.

Add to that the intense scrutiny of our physical appearance because unfortunately, we are still measured heavily against unrealistic standards perpetrated by the media, advertising and fashion industries.

Author Debora Spar, President of Barnard College at Columbia University in New York, which is a liberal arts college for women, recently released a book called ‘Wonder Women: Sex, Power and the Quest for Perfection’ where she discusses women in leadership roles and whether there aren’t enough women at the top of the ladder because we find it hard to balance that aspiration with home life.

Wonder Women Full Cover

“Today, women are regularly trapped in an astounding set of contradicting expectations:  to be the perfect mother and manager, the comforting spouse and competent boss. Not only do we strive to be the perfect person, and the perfect leader, but we blithely assume we will achieve it all.  And when, inevitably, we don’t, we don’t blame the media, or our mothers, or the clamoring voices of others.  We blame ourselves,” she says on her website.

The stats seem to say a lot when it comes to women achieving parity in the workplace amongst men in the top positions.

“Women are still sorely under-represented at the top of the professional pyramid: only 15.2 of the board members of Fortune 500 corporations, 16 percent of partners at the largest law firms, 19 percent of surgeons.”

Does that mean we aren’t capable? Does that mean women are less inspired to pursue these career paths? Or perhaps is it the never-ending struggle we face, unlike men, to be perfect at balancing everything?

“Feminism gave women of my generation an infinity of choices and opportunities to lead. We could cheer for the boys and play alongside them; look effortlessly elegant while chairing a board meeting, performing surgery, or saving the world.”

spar decanio4

She told the New York Times there are many barriers that women face, and she hopes books like hers, and Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In will dispel some myths and take the pressure off modern women.

Teaching girls at Barnard College has given her a greater perspective, as well as having three children of her own. She speaks about how its OK to sometimes be content with second best, as long as it is the right thing for you and not feel like you are missing out on anything. It’s a term she has coined called ‘satisficing’. Debora is also pretty candid in admitting she had a breast reduction many years ago because she wanted to be taken seriously in job interview, and was sick of men looking at her breasts all the time!

“My generation made a mistake,” Ms. Spar writes. “We took the struggles and the victories of feminism and interpreted them somehow as a pathway to personal perfection. We privatized feminism and focused only on our dreams and our own inevitable frustrations,” she says.

In an interview with The Washington Post she outlines that while the 70s gave rise to feminism which liberated many women, the traditional struggles still existed and we need to be better at giving women options. She says it’s a trifector of events that have caused women endless frustration.

“What makes it a triple whammy is, if you buy into the media culture that surrounds us, we’re supposed to do all these things easily. There’s no sense that it’s actually a struggle to build a career. It’s a struggle to build a family, to maintain a marriage.”

Her conclusion is that there is not one set of rules that apply generally across the board with women. But speaking out about her individual experiences she hopes to inspire women that it’s not bad if life turns out a little messy at times. We can’t be wonder woman 100% of the time, but being open, honest and staying authentic to your path is a great start.

Watch Debora as she talks about her book and why she feels it is important to speak out about this issue of reaching perfection, and how she hopes it will help the next generation of ‘wonder women’ who want to balance it all.

Do you agree with Debora’s message? How do you balance your personal life with your visions, dreams and career aspirations?




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