We Need to Stop Calling Working Moms ‘Superheroes’

Now is the time to transform this dated, dangerous social norm.

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“We’ve normalized raising the bar in a never-ending quest to achieve the impossible. Let’s change the narrative.” – Nathalie Rayes

Ahead of the most critical election of our lifetimes and amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and worldwide calls for social and racial justice, I became president of Latino Victory Fund, an organization that works to elect Latino candidates, many of whom are Latina mothers, to run for political office. We know that now more than ever, we need diverse leadership that represents us.

Across the country, my home included, the pandemic is highlighting the work and household responsibility disparities women have always known. Like so many women, I am struggling to juggle work and family. Each day I show up for the Latino community, I am taking on board positions and motivating my children, staff and communities. At the same time, I’m expected to raise a perfect family and run a national organization.

Just as this pandemic has upended our lives, the “new normal” is a time to re-evaluate and transform our idea of modern motherhood. And it begins with letting go of our self- and socially imposed pressure of being “superwomen,” which I embraced in the past. It was my badge of honor.

To be a “superwoman” means walking a road paved with impossible demands. It is an unachievable standard that only places more weight on the already-overburdened shoulders of women. It creates a toxic idea that harms our mental health and dooms us to failure.

Women have fought hard for our rights, but the definition of successful womanhood remains stuck in time. From maternity leave to impractically long hours, hormones and breastfeeding, dealing with the working world while responsible for the formative first few months of child development—the current system is rigged against us. Society tells us to be perfect wives, mothers, breadwinners and housekeepers. By placing ever-growing expectations on ourselves and other women, we have normalized raising the bar in a never-ending quest to achieve the impossible.

I don’t have superhuman powers—none of us do. I am flesh and bones, vulnerable, with anxieties, fears and worries. As women, mothers and a society, we need to accept that some things will drop, and they might need to be dropped. We must normalize the strength of shared responsibilities. The stigma of asking for support should not paralyze us. Our fear of breaking our “superwoman” facades only holds us back from achieving our fullest potential for our families and our communities.

At just 9-years old, my family immigrated to the US from Venezuela. At 10, we lost my father. I was only able to pursue my dreams, attend UCLA, serve the people of Los Angeles as the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, and write this as president of Latino Victory thanks to my mother and all those who supported us. I built my career, my family, and my dreams on a foundation fostered by communities of shared responsibility. As an empowered Latina with two pre-adolescent boys, I feel blessed that I am lucky enough to have the support of others. Millions of women do not have access to support systems.

In these challenging times, we have seen a sharp, tragic rise in domestic abuse and violence against women. We see essential workers—many of whom are working mothers—faced with the daunting challenge of keeping our nation’s economy moving forward while caring for families facing closed daycares and schools.

Even pre-pandemic, women, especially mothers, made 81 percent as much as our male counterparts, and are hired less and promoted even less. This disparity is especially striking for Black and Latina women—50 percent of women of color considered quitting their jobs, and 31 percent of Latinas started their businesses to advance careers stifled by employers.

Women’s entrepreneurial tenacity is nothing short of inspirational, but it should not have to be the only option. Being a “superwoman” is a lonely road to walk. We need to shift our collective focus to building communities of success by amplifying and empowering the unique strengths of all women.

That is precisely why Latino Victory supports women candidates and working mothers for public office–from school boards to state legislatures, Congress and the White House. Women leaders such as Michelle De La Isla, who would be the first Latina elected to Congress from Kansas; Candace Valenzuela, who would be the first Afro-Latina elected to Congress; and Christina Hale, who would be the first Latina elected to Congress from Indiana.

We support these extraordinary women because, with the right support and resources, they win. In 2018, 60 percent of Latino Victory’s endorsed candidates were women; an astounding 68 percent won their seats. We helped elect nine new Congressional Hispanic Caucus members, and, in a historic milestone, five new Latinas were elected to Congress.

Representatives who look like us and hear us will implement policies that help our children and communities thrive. Our government needs more leaders who champion women’s issues, including a robust economy, job opportunities, affordable healthcare, high-quality education and childcare, immigration and climate change.

This November, we have a pivotal opportunity to participate in civil dialogues, share our stories and challenges, and vote for change. Together, we can expand government diversity, bring more women into decision-making spaces, and build policies that remove societal barriers and catalyze real outcomes.

This is a mother’s call to action to build a better, more equitable society where more women reach their fullest possibilities—for ourselves, our families, and the daughters and mothers yet to come.

Nathalie Rayes is the president and CEO of Latino Victory.

This story was first published on Working Mother on September 17, 2020.

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