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The Diversification of Womanhood and Our Resistance to It

March 1, 2023

The definition of what it means to be a woman is expanding. Being a woman is no longer narrowly defined by genitalia, child-rearing, or a submissive demeanor. Instead, we now have more space to spread out and embody an individualized gender expression. Together, we have the opportunity to redefine womanhood.

I want to acknowledge that we are met with various obstacles as we challenge historical confines associated with gender. Women were assumed to be warm, submissive, nurturing, and weak. While we all fall somewhere on the spectrum of each of these characteristics, our sense of self is incredibly complex and contains intersections of various traits, belief systems, experiences, and so on.

More women are acknowledging their complexity and are committed to identifying and advocating for their needs, practicing assertive communication strategies, and adopting body acceptance. As we learn new skills and break away from historical expectations, there is inevitably push-back, confusion, and judgment. The guilt that can ensue as we advocate for ourselves or set boundaries with others can increase anxiety and/or depression symptoms. Behavior and perspective changes come with internal discomfort often related to the uncertainty of venturing into unknown territory.

It is not only cisgender, heterosexual men who have derogatory names on the tips of their tongues when they are confronted with varieties in gender expression. Unfortunately, misconceptions and judgment are radiating among women as well. With the increase of within-group diversity, we are mistreating each other and resisting genuine perspective-taking. Some of us are clinging to a more historical understanding of womanhood, while others of us are shaming those who are adapting more slowly to the evolving definition. Other women may be withdrawing into indifference or neutrality. Regardless, there are ruptures within the woman population that perpetuate misogyny and are harmful to us and to our daughters to come.

For some of us, we may authentically fit into some of the historical stereotypes about a woman. Perhaps accommodating others, expressing warmth, and keeping a tidy household is genuine. For others, challenging others, using logic, and a focus on handiwork are genuine. In the present day, the assumption that passive women lack the courage to break societal expectations is common. Though this notion may be true at times, breaking stereotypes and pushing back by defying them, will not be genuine for all women. A passive style does not automatically translate to oppression. Let us acknowledge the human habit of making assumptions and how it is unhelpful. Curiosity on all sides is necessary if we are going to discover the power of our interconnectedness. Let us all take up space with our individuality and celebrate the diversity between women. All of us are valuable and the diversity between us strengthens the group, for uniformity and conformity encourage complacency and stagnation. If we strive for authenticity and self-understanding (acknowledging the good, the bad, and the ugly) we will become more deeply connected to ourselves and each other. This can provide a context for healing and for emotional wellness.

Like Venn diagrams our experiences, successes, and struggles overlap, while we simultaneously hold unique experiences that may not be so easily understood by other women. How can we connect more deeply with other women when there is so much diversity within the gender itself? If we are curious about the offensive opinions/expressions of others, aren’t we just enabling bad behavior and willful ignorance?

One thing is certain: there is complexity here that need not be ignored. I recommend we all slow down and internally reflect before focusing on others. What are your beliefs about gender, womanhood, and about diversity? What defense strategies are you emulating when confronted with within-group diversity? Do you reject the historical definition of what it means to be a woman, and therefore become judgmental when in contact with those who embrace traditional femininity? Do you exclude trans women from your understanding of what it means to be a woman, and therefore alienate others and perpetuate discrimination?

Inclusivity between women is proving difficult on all sides. The alienation, shame, and uncertainty we are feeling within our gender group are causing pain. The man-made hierarchy that upholds sexism is artificial and morally corrupt. Let us not follow these rules by creating additional sub-hierarchies or subscribing to expired ideologies.

Activism has a wide definition and it is accessible to all. Every time you speak up when you are expected to be quiet, you are breaking harmful stereotypes. Every time you dress for yourself and not for others, you are declaring that the woman’s body belongs to no one else but you. When you customize your role in the household to reflect your interests and values, you are advocating for role flexibility. When you challenge your own perceptions of other women you are leaning into the expansion of what it means to be a woman and rooting down into the bigger experience of human diversity. When you notice another woman has their defenses up and their ignorance out, there is the opportunity to offer her grace while also standing her ground and promoting respectful accountability.

Hope materializes from the action we take.

Together we are wellness

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