What Happens when Wonder Woman “Leans In” and Winds up in Traction? by Michele Stopera Freyhauf


FreyhaufThey always say in writing – use a title and the first few sentences to grab attention and the reader will want to see what you have to say. By my title, you have probably ascertained that I have made reference to a couple things:  Wonder Woman, Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” and traction.  While lately, I have suffered from writer’s block and lack of time to work on my writing, I have also found myself in another place of suffering that has me in traction at least thrice weekly.

It is in that spirit that I reflect on my former status as the infallible wonder woman – the mom of 4, who works full time, teaches, writes, supports her family, is in the middle of writing a dissertation and who started this new year as my year to “Lean In” and really excel in my career  – to the current status of fallible woman, mom of 4 trying to stay afloat in all of her obligations, dealing with difficult sibling and teenage bantering as well as (thanks to a begging daughter spouting promises of responsibility) a Siberian Husky puppy and a resident 10 year-old Boston Terrier who now demonstrates the IMG_3984epitome of love-hate relationships, to prioritizing projects in order to keep everyone happy while I try to heal, attend physical therapy, and manage newfound pain and limitations.

In this post,  I offer my [brief] thoughts about aging and struggles when a body, probably abused through pushing too hard, but also enduring the normal wear and tear of aging, begins to betray you while trying to come to terms with to a new normal of limitation within your own being  –  “adapting” if you will – a skill that I believe women have come to master well.

Throughout life, we all face our shares of limitations and encounters with mortality.  Lately, it seems like I have encountered one thing after another.  However, as these events arise, life must inevitably move on – but, moving on does not mean ignoring what just occurred.  Rather, time needs to be taken to understand and appreciate each of these things – even if things do not go our way.

Road bumps are a normal thing for me.  I am a non-traditional student trying to make my way in the world while working on a Ph.D., supporting a family, and teaching – publishing – and keeping up with the other Ph.D. students with activities, memberships, and paper presentations as well as publications.  Before I returned to school, raising 4 daughters while working 60+ hours a week, I nonetheless had an immense void and time on my hands.  The house got quiet, and I became stir crazy.  Certainly the calm of those days has passed, but I sometimes yearn for them (only sometimes – usually when I am sleep-deprived or merely want to binge watch a new series for a weekend instead of working!).

I encountered a physical limitation over the last 4 weeks that has me falling behind and has caused anxiety and an anger at the betrayal of my body – and frankly has made me irritable and upset.  This betrayal is exacerbated by the impending anniversary of my birth as it comes nearer and nearer to another decade mark, accompanied by the rash of departures from this earthly life, both in my personal life and actors/musicians I admire or grew up with in the news.  And while I struggle with day to day activities and something as simple as sitting in a chair, I also berate myself for my misplaced anger.  Certainly many people live their lives experiencing the level of pain and maybe more throughout their lives that I am currently enduring.  Others have lives with incredible limitations or maybe they wish to see that decade mark or to have a child or a parent to cherish as they age another year.  So do I really have a right to be upset or frustrated?

Coming to terms with the aging process and deterioration of our own bodies is difficult.  Mentally, at least for me, I still feel much like my 20-year-old self – just that person with more years of experience. This is something my grandmother told me; she had this mind-set until her 83rd birthday.  Physically, my family is so used to “Wonder Woman” doing it “all” that my call for help is viewed as an inconvenience (and I don’t want to ask because I don’t want to deal with the pushback or attitude – sometimes physical pain becomes a better option).

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My parents, February 11, 1966

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My parents – 50 years later

Then there is watching those close to you, including your parents and children, as they age.  This past week, I had the great opportunity to celebrate my parents 50th wedding anniversary: it is surreal to view my parents as that “old.”  Tomorrow, I am looking at houses as my eldest child and her fiancé begin to start their post-college “adult” lives.  Time speeds by faster and faster the older we get. We stand toe-to-toe with our own aging – our own mortality – new limitations and not being able to do it all.

Women seem to have the expectation of themselves and others have this same expectation – that we can be and do everything we want (because we always have made it seem so or made it work) – when we want it (never missing an appointment or deadline) – in other words, we are wonder woman!  Success is the only option – failure is never an option.  For Wonder Woman, limitations do not exist.  We can do it! We can have it all!  url

I have never been a big believer in failure and always believed that I could do anything and everything.  But after a minor health set back and following the funerals I have attended lately – I think the best I can do at this point is to prioritize my  obligations, learn to ask for help (even at this stage in my life), accept the help offered, and most of all, give myself a break when the to-do list or deadline isn’t always met.

In the world where we want to “Lean In” – – sometimes leaning can be painful (especially these days) or laden with roadblocks – – I am not saying to give up, but rather try to balance and remember even though we are women and dynamic, we are most certainly still human.

Michele Stopera Freyhauf is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and a Member of the Centre for Catholic Studies at Durham University as well as an Instructor at John Carroll University’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies and Ursuline College’s Department of Religious Studies. She teaches in the area of Religion, Culture, Terrorism/Violence, and Biblical Archaeology.  Michele has an M. A. in Theology and Religious Studies from John Carroll University, and did post-graduate work at the University of Akron in the area of History of Religion, Women, and Sexuality. She is also a Member-at-Large on the Student Advisory Board for the Society of Biblical Literature and the student representative on the Board for Eastern Great Lakes Biblical Society (EGLBS). Michele is the 2015 recipient of the P. E. MacAllister Excavation Fellowship where she participated in the Bethsaida Archaeology Project.  Michele is a feminist scholar, activist, and author of several articles including “Hagia Sophia: Political and Religious Symbolism in Stones and Spolia” and lectured during the Commission for the Status of Women at the United Nations (2013 and 2014). She also wrote “The Catholic Church and Social Media: Embracing [Fighting] a Feminist Ideological Theo-Ethical Discourse and Discursive Activism” that appears in the recently released book, Feminism and Religion in the 21st Century: Technology, Dialogue, and Expanding Borders, edited by Gina Messina-Dysert and Rosemary Radford Ruether. Michele can be followed on Twitter @msfreyhauf and @biblicalfem. Her website can be accessed here and is visible on other social media sites like LinkedIn and Google+.

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Categories: Academics, Aging, anxiety, Feminism, Gender, Gender and Power, General, Gratitude, Grief, Motherhood

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7 replies

  1. Sounds like you deserve a rest and some help from your children and others in your life! And yes, while you are resting, it is good to think about the fact that no one can do everything. LIght and darkness, work and rest, giving and receiving, these are cycles of life deserving of our attention and respect. Take time for yourself. Insist on it!!!

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    • “it is good to think about the fact that no one can do everything. LIght and darkness, work and rest, giving and receiving, these are cycles of life deserving of our attention and respect”. this quote made my day. thank you…
      Btw nice article :)

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  2. Hurdles and challenges… opportunities to go deeper inside while waiting for ones body to heal… and aging… coming to terms with the body/mind wobble where the one is not in sync with the other… all opportunities to loving oneself better and not be angry at what seems like an inconvenience…
    Seven years ago I broke my back when I jumped away from a green mamba slithering over my foot, and landed on the paving with a crashing thud… discovering I had osteoporosis… I learned to ask for help which was not easy for a fiercely independent person (!) …a year of recovery kept me from my active studio work and I turned to my research on the witch persecutions… with my back in pain I was able to read these materials that were previously too painful to absorb… out of this came my 20 yard long paper scroll, ROLL CALL, a vindication of the lives and the bodies that were so brutally tortured and killed… http://www.trans-end.org.za/white_cube/ROLL-CALL/
    Three years ago I collapsed from anaphylactic shock after being stung by a wasp …I saw the white light and felt the allure of that final embrace… I live in the mountains in the South African bush and far from medical services but my veterinarian daughter-in-law saved my life by injecting me with expired animal adrenaline! …and a few months later gave up both my breasts to cancer… all of this by way of honoring the hurdles, and grateful for the opportunities to love life ever deeper… and knowing that rest and work are hand-maidens each of the other.

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  3. Thanks Michele, I truly sympathize here. When I was a girl growing up I always did some of the housework, because my mother had a full time job, and got worn out trying to do everything. And her own mother would sometimes visit and take on the cooking and some of the cleaning too.

    The most important thing I think Rosie the Riveter needs to to do here is to NOT see her body as betraying her, but rather love that body and give it real affection, and understand that it does indeed need her love in order to heal and to thrive, just as much as the Siberian Husky puppy and the Boston Terrier.

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  4. A wonderful post, Michele, and one that so many of us recognize ourselves in. Diana Laskin Siegal, who co-created Ourselves Growing Older, once told me when I was very much where you were – raising a child while working full time and just finished grad school – that when her generation was working and raising families in the 60s, they knew that they “could have it all, but just not all at once!” When she needed to spend more time on one aspect of her life, she let the others go for a time, always making sure that she picked them up later. I’ve always remembered that and it has made it much easier for me to do the dance of meeting sometimes mutually exclusive obligations while not feeling guilty if something slips for a while. I think the other thing we sometimes forget is how much family and community help our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers had that we, who are much more mobile and may work in environments without help available, may not. When I was growing up, we had grandparents in the same town who gladly took my sister and I for a weekend when my mom had just had it (she never told us that, but now that is my guess!). In earlier times, women gathered to do some of their chores together, to share information about farming, making a home, and child care, and to be there to support one another. I was lucky enough that I worked in an environment with many other working mothers as well as had many older women friends when my son was young and they all made it possible for me to keep going with things got tough. None of us is alone – we are here to help one another and so I’m glad that one of the lessons you are learning is to ask for and accept help!

    I think many of the insights in your post and the comments about health are right on – as we age, we have the opportunity to see that our bodies need to be treated in a loving way, and sometimes that means resting. I’ve found as I get older that staying healthy is a “marathon” rather than a “sprint” – eating well, exercising enough and appropriately, getting enough rest and sleep, etc. all pay off for decades to come in better overall health as well as the ability to heal from injuries, surgeries, and other challenges.

    Take care!

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  5. Michele, Thanks for the reminder that we need to care for ourselves if we want to care for others. This made me think of a time in my life I when I was 8 1/2 months pregnant with my daughter, zooming down a hill through an intersection on my bicycle. As I crossed the intersection, I realized that I had put both me and my baby at risk. But then I realized that if I hadn’t been pregnant, I might have missed the fact that I had put myself at risk. This was one of those times when I promised to take care of myself — period. Not so I could take care of others, but to prioritize my own health and well-being — period!

    I also think I recognize — reading between the lines in your post — that you’re having back problems. I had 4 years of debilitating back pain, something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I believe that it resulted in large part from psycho-physiological issues, and that if I’d known that from the beginning, I could have avoided many of the years of pain. For me, it was not my body betraying me, but my mind not honoring my body sufficiently. If I’m right about your physical issues, the book I’d recommend is Edwin Schubiner’s Unlearning Back Pain. Especially for an “infallible Wonder Woman,” this book could make a big difference.

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