So, considering March was Women’s History Month, I decided to ask a bunch of people “what does it mean to be a woman?” or “what is your definition of a woman”. I basically phrased it to mean that if a person ran up to you and asked you to describe a woman, what would you say? Mainly, I wanted to phrase the question in a way that would basically allow any kind of answer to be given, whether that includes physical traits, personality traits, etc. I wanted it to be as open as possible.
And I would say, I was not disappointed.
The number one thing that stood out on the responses was that there was no one definition of a woman. Over half the respondents said it was difficult to give a firm definition because doing so could actually exclude a large majority of women in the attempt to label it.
Some responses included characteristics such as: strong, resilient, compassionate, beautiful, magic, warm, brave, or emotional. These are nice as they can apply to a large majority of people in some way, but they also don’t feel as grounded as a very set definition could be.
Many other responses said that if the person says they are a woman and go by pronouns (such as she/her or she/they) associated with being a woman, then they are a woman. These same responses would explain that since there is no set definition, then all that should matter is if the individual feels as though they are a woman. In particular, these responses emphasized that a person should not spend their life feeling uncomfortable, but that their feeling as a woman should be as natural as any person feels.
This is very important because the truth is, the idea of a woman is either founded in social norms of a time, defined with physical aspects, or is given characteristics that (while not wrong) could also be attributed to men or other genders/sexes as well. Now, let’s go through each of those areas and see exactly why it is hard to solidify the definition of a woman.
Let’s start with the obvious one: the physical aspects.
Now, yes, biologically speaking a female is someone who has the reproductive organs including a vagina, uterus, and ovaries, along with the addition of breasts on their chest. It’s also characterized that, because they have these parts, then a woman is also defined by her ability to have children. Then, through the idea of social norms, we decided that these are the characteristics of a woman. But what about those who do not have them? And no, I’m not just referring to transwomen. What about women who have a medical condition that makes these biological aspects different from normal, the women who have lost these physical traits due to trauma or disease. Or even the women who are unable to become pregnant because of some disease or genetic difference.
Would you tell these women that they are not women because of this?
And no, this in no way is meant to take away from the women who do have these abilities and the trials and joys that come from having a working womb. They are just as amazing as any other women, but also remember that that is not the only thing that makes you a woman.
Now, onto the next idea of a woman: the social norms.
Now this is a big can of worms if you ask me. Social norms are made up by humans to help make order and community. As such, already this can’t be a definition for women, since the “facts” were made up through time rather than being a universal law. For example, women are supposed to wear makeup and dresses, look pretty, and take easy jobs such as secretaries or, for some odd reason, nursing as opposed to jobs like being a doctor or construction worker. Except, we learned that women can handle any job just as well as men, I mean, look at nursing! That is not an easy job! They have to be able to work with all types of people and all types of bodies, so for people thinking women don’t have the strength to work in gyms or construction sites, clearly they don’t know the details of nursing.
Of course, the easiest way to prove the idea of going off of social norms wrong would be to hold up two pictures. The first would be a woman in a pink dress with lots of makeup and jewelry, while the other would be a woman in a navy blue tank top with large muscles and doing pushups. If I held up both of these and asked, “Who is a woman?” response should be they both are. This is because, since all women are different, they all like different things. Not all women like to wear dresses or play with dolls despite society thinking otherwise.
Now again, if you are a woman and you like dresses and makeup like the “stereotypical woman” does, good for you. I’m happy you have things that you enjoy. Just remember, that that does not define your whole personality and that you should also not shame the woman who likes monster trucks and fighting.
Now onto the final thing: the characteristics.
This is probably the easiest one to describe simply because any person can have any kind of characteristic, therefore any woman can have them as well. If you describe a woman as brave, beautiful, and caring, that’s awesome, but also remember that any human can have those same characteristics. Now, some might say that you don’t call a man beautiful, you call him handsome, while a woman is called beautiful, too which I will point back up at my previous argument of social norms. Those just happen to be the way we describe pretty people, but that does not mean you have to keep it exclusive.
Now once again, this does not go against those who like to be called beautiful over handsome. That’s perfectly fine if you prefer one thing over another, it is what helps you be your own person. Just remember that not everything sticks to a specific definition.
Because really, what matters in the end is if you call yourself a woman and if you are comfortable with it or not. There is no set definition, not really, but I do want to shout out to all those who have to struggle against these social norms. All of you who have had to fight to show your power and that you are as equal as any other person, you are all amazing. Because that’s the thing, despite there not being a set definition, somehow all the women of the world got screwed over by social norms and constructs.
And if you ask me, that is what the community should be united over, that’s why we should celebrate ALL women. Because there are so many different women in the world, defined by so many different ideas and identities, yet all of them have to fight just because their idea of being a woman is different from someone else’s, or even just fight against the fact that a woman is ‘weaker’ or anything along those lines.
Some might be girly, some might be a tomboy, some might be trans. But in the end, they are all women because they all say they are a woman, and that should be respected for each individual. And each individual, no matter how different from what social norms say they should act like, should be seen as equal just as any other human.
Also, even though I was emphasizing women in this, please keep this in mind for all genders because they have all become victims of social norms and constructs.