Column: What it means to be a woman

Editor’s Column

Alex is the sports editor for Ethic News.


Image made on portraying line art of feminine figures on March 14, 2023. (ALEX VERDUZCO/ Ethic News Photo)

What does it mean to be a woman? The traditional definition confines a woman to her anatomy. Although with time, this has generally changed to appropriately suit the growing culture. This interpretation, however, is not nearly enough to encapsulate about half of the population and their identity rooted in their presenting gender. 

Since the beginning of time, we as women have had to justify our existence. Almost as though our presence is a burden that needs to be compensated by the characteristics we possess. Almost as though no matter our age, we need legislation to allow us permission with what we do with our bodies. Almost as though, intelligence nor age will ever be a factor in our ability to know what is truly best for us. Almost as though, we are restricted to being women. Tied to that word, that is all we are.

From the time of birth, we inherit expectations and rules that society expects us to abide by. Whether explicit or inferred, there are internalized standards that make us women in the world’s eyes. Failure to succumb to these unspoken rules endangers our femininity and the way in which we are to contribute to society. 

Women are diminished to our ability to nurture, birth, and carry on with the bloodline. But not every woman has the desire to create a family. Not every woman has the ability to create life–whether due to illness or gender reassignment. Choosing to not bear children should not be a threat to being a woman. Lacking maternal instincts paints you as cold and/or selfish for not conforming to the construct of a housewife or traditional mother. 

Then, when we are mothers we continue to face judgment. Judgment when quality time with your kids competes with a promotion at work. When spending family time is replaced with long work hours to make up for the wage gap between genders. When the pursuit of a dream job seizes the desire to have children, or just not wanting to have children to begin with. In this, we circle back to the original meaning of being a woman, determined by our physical attributes.

Diminished to our beauty, or lack thereof. Trends circulating social media, with what you’re “supposed” to look like. Beauty standards infiltrate the young, impressionable minds like leeches that cling on until we enter our adult years. Having to erase, unlearn these standards, and learn to love yourself in a prolonged journey of self-love and self-acceptance. For some, self-neutrality is more realistic to achieve due to unwrapping decades of training your mind and body to reflect the news media we consume. 

The ever-changing presentation of, “What a woman should look like,” creates unrealistic standards and makes it impossible to conform to a single image. In every media we consume, intentionally or latently. From newspaper magazines to advertisements and TV shows. The conflicting portrayal of how we should do our hair, dress, and act until it dissipates and the next trend emerges. Scrambling to fit in with the next thing, losing your sense of self, and wanting to be liked. Wanting to be accepted rather than criticized.

Diminished to our husband, or judged if we choose otherwise. We are expected to play into the stereotypical housewife fantasy, just like our ancestors. For U.S history buffs, the cult of domesticity in the 1800s suggested that women were to gravitate towards the home. In this, women were to look after the children, and their husbands, do the cooking and cleaning and maintain a comforting space in the home for the family. Now, women are allowed to be an individual rather than an attachment to their husbands. Although opportunities for change have been adopted by the progressing generations, these expectations remain prevalent in modern-day society. 

To be a woman in American society is to typically be behind no matter how many steps and leaps we take forward. Like mourning the overturn of Roe V. Wade. Not only a catastrophic turn of events for women, but those with female reproductive systems that do not identify as women, and in turn impacts humanity as a whole.

To be powerfully feminine is to own your power. To overcome preconceived notions set by the patriarchy, enforced by society, and internalized to limit young girls and their ability to challenge otherwise. Although appearance can be a determining factor in what makes a woman, no one singular physical characteristic creates the rubric, despite depictions in the media. Even though standards attempt to put women down, women still continue to pave the way in incredible ways as well as the smaller and unnoticed manners. 

As women tackle social issues, we need to be outspoken about what matters most to us. Most importantly, support others and actively try to dismantle the stigma surrounding feminism—to demolish the perspective that the concept of feminism places women on a pedestal compared to men when the reality is to earn the same salary and not have to pay more money for products advertised to women solely because they are pink.

To be feminine is to be gentle yet not fragile, kind but not a bystander, and determined and capable despite limitations. There is no right way to be a woman, just to provide the unique qualities you possess and embrace your identity. The answer to, “What does it mean to be a woman?”, is relative depending on each lived experience. 

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