Unpacking the reality of the too-strong black woman and the resultant emotional distress of this; and introducing the idea of guilt-less me time for the modern day woman.
We have all seen it in popular culture depictions and in real life; the stereotype of the indestructible black superwoman that never tires. It is the stereotype of the “strong black woman”; the idea of a woman who is as hard as diamond and who takes all of life’s challenges in her feat. She is “indlovu engasindwa umboko wayo”.
Ebony magazine describes the Strong Black Woman Syndrome as the societal expectation of a woman that never buckles, never feels vulnerable, and most importantly, never, ever puts their own needs above anyone else’s. The strong black woman places the needs of their partner, children, and community above their own. The strong black woman has it all together, she is the solution to the problems of those around her, she doesn’t get tired, she fights personal and societal pressures but never backs down… This is an undeniably heavy expectation for anyone to have to live up to. Why do we do this to ourselves?
For as long as time, the stories of strong black women have been passed down. King Shaka would not have been the lauded and much revered king that he was had it not been for his mother, Nandi’s strength and perseverance. We learn of a Michelle Obama who supported and held together her family to support Barack Obama’s “come up”… The notion of a strong black woman is emphasized at each corner one turns. It is the narrative we know so well; the story of single mothers who have been both mothers and fathers to their offspring while managing tiresome jobs and selling Avon or Tupperware products on the side, to make ends meet.
We are taught that the strong, successful woman of substance can perform miracles; she is not allowed to be tired or selfish. When do we start to challenge the idealistic expectations placed on women – having to be strong and on top of her game at all times? Is it not unfair to lay this massive expectation at the doorstep of women, that they should be the healers and the Sellotape that holds everything together?
I believe in the embrace of vulnerability and in the guilt-less practice of taking selfish decisions. Let me share with you why…
In November 2015, I was booked off work for burn out. My medical practitioner advised that if I was to carry on the way I had been, a breakdown would be imminent. I saw the signs. I was lethargic and lacked that zest and oomph for life. I was thoroughly drained kodwa I kept pushing. How dare the world see anything less than a young woman that has it all together? How dare I allow myself to not have it all together? Hayibo, get it together girl, you are not allowed to be weak and to not manage; you must always have it together.
It has taken a lot of self-introspection to admit that I do not have to be Superwoman that has it together, all the time. I am allowed to put myself first and to be selfish with my time and commitments. Admittedly, I am not a wife or a mother yet, I cannot speak over that part of my life. What my pursuit of personal and professional mastery has taught me is that “me-time” and “down-time” are non-negotiables in my life. I enjoy guilt-less days off from “adulting” because I deserve them.
Quality of life is equally important. In the pursuit of mogul status and of all the goals we set for ourselves as modern-day superwomen may we never forget to look after “Number One”. I have committed myself to regular spa days, to Wine Wednesdays, to leaving the work laptop at my desk over the weekend etc. These are small interventions which make a big difference to my state of relaxation and energy reservoir.
I’m keen to know, what are some of the small things that you do to take time off from the demanding stresses of modern-day living?