Superwoman and the Fourth Wave of Feminism

Ratan examines the emergence of Superwoman and the fourth wave of feminism, in a historical perspective. The New Woman has to strive very hard to establish her identity in the oppressive patriarchal system.

In her book, Super Woman Syndrome, Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz describes women as excelling both in career and family. But recently in science fiction and comics Superwoman emerges as a great role player. Marvel Comics superhero remodels Thor as a Superwoman hero. Women engaged in war, as mythological figure have entered the cultural heritage of a people. Some women warriors are documented in the written record. The superwomen concept was there in the ancient times but they were more historical than fictional. Betty Friedan in her book, The Second Stage, argues that ‘super womanhood’ of 1980s has evolved as a theory because there is the double enslavement of women, both at home and at work. Her advice for feminists was to step up to the ‘second stage’ of the feminist movement and to struggle for reshaping both gender roles and redefining social values, styles, and institutional structures, for the fulfillment to be achievable in both public and private lives without the necessity to sacrifice one for another.

SuperwomanFeminism is an ideological position, which aims at structural and cultural transformation for equality, elimination of all social evils and establishment of social and moral justice. It aims at revealing the status of women of society determined by the social environment. Elaine Showalter sees ‘self –discovery’, a search for identity’ as the main theme of women’s literature since the 1920’s. Masculinity is associated with superiority, prosperity; whereas femininity characterises inferiority.

The concepts of New Woman or Superwoman are simply the outcome of this search for female identity by the female, which becomes an imperative for them. Even Aristotle says, “A female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities.” St. Thomas states that ‘the female nature is afflicted with a natural defectiveness. We find women, though not born passive, secondary and non-essential’.

Simon de Beauvoir in her epoch making book, The Second Sex, analyses how ‘masculinity is considered to be the ‘absolute human type’, the norm standard of humanity whereas a woman’s views are often held to be grounded in her femininity rather than in any objective perception of things. Authority taboo prevents a woman from their desired freedom. Women are now different from that of the past ages.

Today, she is confident, self-respecting and independent. She can take bold steps in various fields and certainly does not want to be treated as weak one who is deprived of all rights of equality at home and outside. Betty Friedan calls this woman ‘Superwoman’ in her book The Second Stage where she talks of a woman, who can establish her identity both at home and outside.

The New Woman concept flourished in Europe since the publication of Ibsen’s Doll’s House where Nora protests against the patriarchal pampering for exploiting a woman and depriving her of her real freedom. Life is a trauma for Nora at home when her too much caring husband dominates her by his too much exhibition of care and affection. She was reluctant to accept this position as a doll, a pampered doll without the individual identity. Shavian plays tried to present a Life-force theory for depicting the ‘Superwoman’ but he has entitled the drama as ‘Man and Superman’ and not ‘Man and Superwoman’. This concept may seem to be a fantasy but as a concept it is deeply rooted in reality.

The New Woman, which precedes the Superwoman concept, feels that she is alone and has been born to seek permission for everything under the sun, be it food, fashion, or the choice of friends even for the article to be published in a newspaper and she finally revolts or better to say, she is compelled to revolt for the sake of her identity to the age old custom and rituals of the patriarchal society.

She decides to love life on her own terms as she draws strength from her own sufferings and rises like a phoenix completely empowered, ready to face whatever society has to dole out to her lot. This is the theme of the feministic literature all over the world. The trauma of a woman in a patriarchal society is so great that a woman has to prove herself something more than ‘new woman ‘for combating the domination of the male patriarchs at home and outside home’. 

The home is regarded by the male patriarch as a palace where the hubby is the King to enslave the wife as a sexual chattel and a cook. Life is a death trap for the wife, especially if she is a working woman. She has to bear the burden of family responsibilities and also to please the whims of the husband. They may draw same salary, but the husband after all day in office, majestically unconcerned about the domestic responsibilities enjoy his evening in watching TV or other entertainments such as gossiping with friends over phone. Some have social sites, while the poor wife after all hectic schedule in her workplace has to bear the drudgery at home — teaching kids, getting their homework done, preparing good dishes for lunch and dinner at home for all and then rushing for the workplace sometime even without any time for taking food and water. Still for any lapse in domestic responsibilities it is the wife who is blamed.

If a woman writes about all these in a newspaper or gives any interview somewhere, the husband becomes furious why she heckles him in public by giving vent to personal sufferings and all tortures cracked down upon her with the fiercely demonic anger. This very husband may be a public lecturer where he upholds the rights of female freedom but when at home he is the husband for whom the wife is a slave or a prisoner or a pampered doll, dependent on him.

Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique grew from her determination to locate the deeper causes of the frustration that she and women like her felt. As she researched how society directed women into child rearing and family to the exclusion of their own talents and abilities, she became convinced that the ideology of accepting such roles accounted for much of the problem.

The Marvel comics superhero Thor, is now newly reincarnated as a woman. It is simply amazing to know that the hammer-wielding Norse god would be recast as a woman. Marvel seemed to be edging ahead in the social media love-in after unveiling an all-female Avengers team. There was no sign of Captain America, Iron Man or Hulk, but instead a host of Marvel’s female heroes in a team to be introduced as part of its cross-title Secret Wars event in May. This use of the Superwoman concept provokes all in the male dominated patriarchal society to a new thinking. May be we are moving towards a concept of woman with the fourth dimension and a fourth wave feminism has begun. All Women Avengers

Ratan Bhattacharjee

Ratan Bhattacharjee

Ratan is a bilingual writer and academician, he isAssociate Professor and head of English literaturein Motijheel College, Kolkata. He is a guest faculty at Rabindra Bharati University and a
member of the advisory board of International Theodore Dreiser Society, USA. He is the founder
director of the Dattani Archive and Research Association (DARA), Kolkata. He edits a journal,
authored several books, published poems and writes for several webzines. His book of love poems for his wife was translated into Assamese. He is also is a social media buff.
Ratan Bhattacharjee

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