In Search of The Perfect Woman

24 вересня 2013
Helena Stern

In this “have it all”, this American “can-doism” lies the true image of the perfect American woman. She is stuck somewhere in-between the 1950's housewife and the modern ageless attractive professional. It is also what most American men want – a Superwoman. Being completely independent and keeping your life together is a necessary attribute of the perfect woman in America today. As a result I think it might leave one exhausted trying to do well all these things. 

Americans are a nation of hard-working people. Because I am an immigrant and I didn't grow up with this attitude, I often notice with amazement how encouraged and rewarded hard work is here. So, the Perfect Woman here is undeniably that. She is a hard-worker...on all fronts: domestic, professional and the womanly front of staying beautiful.

Thomas Hardy, an Englishman, has gotten it right “The perfect woman, you see is a working -woman; not an idler; not a fine lady; but one who uses her hands and her heart for the good of others.” 

It is no secret that European women are very different form American. And it's a simple conclusion that we are all, no matter where, shaped by the society's image of the ideal woman. Hence, I started wondering what is the deference between the two perfect ladies: European and American. 

I recently finished reading “Two Lipsticks and a Lover” by Helena Firth Powell. A very good and light read, and a phrase is stuck in my head and I can't get rid of it, it goes something like this: “ In France you have to show your cleavage to cross the street. If you're not sexy, you're worse than a nuisance, you're invisible.” Helena Firth Powell had lived in France for a very long time and wrote this book as her research on how to be a French woman. A journey she bravely encountered herself. So, I will take her word for it – French women are expected to be both attractive and intelligent. Women that inspire French society - Simone De Beauvoir, Colette, George Sand, Francoise Sagan all combined these two characteristics. In the end it is not so different from what is considered “perfect here”. However, consider this statement by Firth Powell “No French woman willingly works, they have better things to do with their lives”. Aha, here she is – true femme francaise! The mysterious woman of elegance, beauty, sexuality and joie de vivre. Many, many people in the world look up to her. Even here. Look how many books are written about French women! And apparently they need not work to be perfect.

Many European countries have strong support systems for women who become mothers. This time for motherhood and homemaking is allowed and welcomed. And even though many still work and earn their living, it seems like women there are not under such pressure to combine family life and a career. They also don't try to prove that they are equal to men, oh no. On the contrary – differences between sexes are recognized and embraced. 

It used to be, sometime in 1950s, that a perfect American woman was a housewife, she was a mother of multiple children. Women were encouraged to concentrate on creation of the family. An average American girl would be wed at about 19 years old and pregnant within the first year after marriage. That was an image of the woman enjoying the fruits of American freedoms and capitalism. But the Women Rights Movement parachuted American women into the whole new dimension. But somehow the old ideals were not overridden, and a perfect woman still has to be a good mother. That is what was so surprising for me to discover when I started researching this topic. The “women's problem” is still so hotly debated in society even though the times are now very different. As Debra Spar points out in “Why Women Should Stop to be Perfect” on The Daily Beast, millions of men have already witnessed this shift in roles. They watched their wives, daughters and sisters try to assume this new role of the “do-it-all” woman and they know how hard it is to keep up with. Hence I can't help but wonder, fifty years from now, who will be the new Perfect Woman? She might abandon the art of homemaking altogether or return to care for the home fires once again.

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