LOS ANGELES – I hate superwomen. Newspapers and magazines are filled with them. You know who I mean.
Hardly a day goes by that I don’t read an interview with some glamorous, successful, beautiful, rich, thin, brilliant woman explaining how she really was chubby or thin or friendless in ninth grade.
But not since. No, now she has it all: the adoring husband, the beautiful children, the stunning and perfectly appointed home or apartment, and the love and respect of all who encounter her. I have come to find such profiles more depressing than obituaries. I read one yesterday on an airplane that almost made me lose my airline breakfast, and another one today on-line that made me want to do worse.
I am not a superwoman, and I have never been. Most days, I feel like a failure at most of the things I try to do, and the only question is the matter of degree.
Tonight, when I am supposed to be on a plane home so I can pick my son up at school tommorow and take him to pick up the new computer he’s been waiting for, and go to a school dinner for the mothers of seniors to learn the song which we will sing to our daughters, I am sitting alone in a hotel room trying to figure out what I can bring home to my babysitter to make up for the fact that she has to take care of the house and the dogs and do the pick-up for an extra day.
Tomorrow, I’ll be in federal court arguing when I should be doing pick up and the dentist, and on a plane half the night tomorrow when I should be going to the school dinner. Thursday I’ll be so tired I won't see straight, and a day behind on everything else.
I am neither as successful as I wish I were, nor as good a mother as I’d like to be. I’m not as thin as I’d like, I don’t work out as often as I should, my house is messy and worse. I don’t even have a semi-adoring boyfriend. I’m in the middle of a fight with the unscrupulous rug cleaners who destroyed my living room carpet and floor, and the miserable HMO that encouraged my babysitter to apply for more comprehensive insurance and then rejected her on the ground that I didn’t fill out the form sufficiently accurately, even though I wrote a lengthy note explaining the difficulties of doing so and making clear that they already had the access to the information.
My body hurts from minor surgery that was supposed to make me feel better and turned out not to be minor and to make me feel worse.
And I’m not complaining.
I don’t know all that many people who are better off than me. Most of the women I know are in the same boat, or worse. The ones who are more successful, most of them, don’t have kids. The ones who have kids are mostly less successful. All of us spend our time worrying about money, taking care of sick friends and relatives, and feeling like we’ve somehow messed up on something, usually more than one something, every single day.
Why don’t you take a day off, my daughter says to me one day, amidst her list of what she needs me to do. My friends who work full-time tell hilarious stories of the guys sitting around on Friday talking about what they’re going to do in their "free time" over the weekend. For working mothers, "free time" is an oxymoron. I haven’t had any "free time" since I was 15.
Partly, of course, it’s our own fault. Most of us try to do too much for our kids. The less we had ourselves growing up, the more we try to provide for them, and spare them.
Sometimes, when my kids complain, I have to bite my tongue, lest I get lost in my own Abe Lincoln routine of working since the day I turned 16, never taking trips anywhere or shopping for clothes at retail and defining my first choice college in terms of how big a scholarship I got and not how much I wanted to go there.
It’s my fault, I know, for bending over so far backwards sometimes to spare my children my own pain that I hit my head on the ground behind me.
But it’s also true that life’s not fair, especially if you’re a working mother. I’m nobody’s victim, and I’m not complaining. But it’s just the facts. No one has it all -- not all at once, not one thing after another, not ever.
"Family friendly" doesn’t mean your employer accommodates to the needs of a family, it just means you don’t get fired right away if you have one. "Equal opportunity" means beautiful young babes of every nationality get preference over more experienced women who aren’t as young and beautiful anymore.
I sat next to a woman on the plane yesterday who is one of the real pioneers in Hollywood, one of the first woman this and first woman that of my generation, and I asked her how she was doing. She said she was lucky to be "surviving," and she meant that literally.
Had she faced sexism? Is the sky blue? She gave her life to her career, and now she’s surviving, and she’s grateful, and we didn’t whine about it, we laughed. Got it, she asked me. Got it, I replied. We know the drill.
Which brings me to the subject of Hillary. A funny thing happens when she makes a misstep, takes a hit, becomes the target for a prolonged mass attack. Her numbers, especially among women, often go up. The chit chat you hear from regular women is that "they’re after her," and even though, or rather especially because, that is the wrong thing for her to say publicly, it resonates even more strongly privately.
When Hillary is the perfect candidate, the superwoman in teflon, it’s a little hard to connect. When she isn’t, when she makes a mistake, takes a hit, when her face tells you she’s ready to scream in frustation that the guys are never this tough on each other, a funny thing happens.
She starts looking familiar. She becomes ones of us. Just another girl trying to make it in a world that wasn’t made for her.
I know it’s wrong, but it’s when I like her best. I even imagine her sitting in a hotel room, the way I am now, beating herself up for all the things she did wrong today, and for all the things that went wrong even if she didn’t do it. You go girl! We’re with you.
Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for FOXNews.com.
Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.
A woman of firsts, she was the first woman president of the Harvard Law Review and the first woman to head a national presidential campaign (Dukakis). Estrich is committed to paving the way for women to assume positions of leadership.
Books by Estrich include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders." Her book "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women," is a departure from her other works, encouraging women to take care of themselves by engaging the mind to fight for a healthy body. Her latest book, The Los Angeles Times bestseller, "Sex & Power," takes an impassioned look at the division of power between men and women in the American workforce, proving that the idea of gender equality is still just an idea.