When does a girl become a woman? In biological terms, this is a really easy question to answer: it’s defined by a puzzling process called “puberty” that we all learned about in health class. And in some cultures, this is the entire answer. A girl reaching childbearing years is cause for celebration, and it allows her to move into the next stage of her life, whether that’s marriage or another role in her community.
However, it’s not always that simple, especially in our Western society. In our culture, we spend our youth in training for adulthood, even though most of us aren’t quite sure where we’re headed in the future. Womanhood can feel like a mysterious, distant destination. Unfortunately, we can’t use Google Maps to find it. Biology might not reveal the dividing line between girls and women in our culture, but the question is: what does? What does womanhood really mean?
As young women, we are faced with a number of conflicting messages. There are teachers and professors demanding academic excellence. The media teaches us to settle for nothing less than perfection, both in our careers and our appearances. And then there are the “traditional” views that suggest a woman’s place is in the home, raising her children and caring for her husband. Family and friends have influence too, based on their own values and perceptions.
Within these stereotypes of womanhood, there are impossible standards for success, making some girls feel like they will never become the woman they’re supposed to be. While they try to sort through the confusion, girls see wealthy but isolated businesswomen, proud but unfulfilled housewives, and exhausted women who struggle to fill both roles at once. On either side of the spectrum, “successful” women still receive criticism. Our culture seems to label motivated women in the workforce as too aggressive, especially in male-dominated fields, and dedicated mothers as too submissive or even apathetic in their life goals. It’s no wonder girls head into womanhood looking like a deer in the headlights.
If womanhood has so many different definitions, how can we know which one is right? Perhaps womanhood can instead be defined by characteristics: integrity, physical beauty, compassion, ambition, obedience, wisdom… Which traits are the right ones? We crave the fulfillment that comes from meeting the expectations for us as women, but it’s hard to decide how to achieve it.
Western culture tells girls that in becoming a woman, they have some pretty big shoes to fill. How can we choose the “style” or the “size” that fits our role in society and the direction for our lives?
What do you think it means to be a woman in today’s society? Feel free to post your comments below!