Being a Woman Requires Challenging Perceptions

Regardless of gender, I’d like to ask you as my reader a question. In a single statement, what does it mean to be a woman? In other words, what does it mean to exemplify the identity of womanhood?

It’s challenging to answer that with brevity, so I am going to break my own rules and spend a whole article delving into what it means to me to be a woman. 

Confidence

When I was in fifth grade, my teacher asked us to draw a self-portrait to hang in the hallway. As a self-confident eleven-year-old, I drew what I thought was the most beautiful picture I’d ever seen. My eyes were two baseballs, my head was a cantaloupe, and my lips were two puffy red caterpillars under a button nose. I hung my portrait up with pride, waiting for a flood of compliments from my peers. Instead, only one student commented, saying, “You’re no artist, are you?” 

It's silly to say that a single moment can crush the confidence that young kids exemplify. More accurately, it’s a series of moments: being told that the dress code restricts girls from wearing pants; asking you to switch to softball because baseball is for boys; seeing your brother learn how to rock climb in boy scouts while you craft a dream catcher in girl scouts. 

How do women build up their confidence in a world that teaches girls to be soft-spoken, well-mannered, and demure? How do girls combat their own self-dismissive tendencies when their male classmates are taught to be outgoing, multifaceted, and strong-willed? Do they even have a chance when they are constantly told that they are weaker, smaller, and less talented than boys?

One thing I’ve learned in my twenty years of existence is that you are only as confident as you believe you are. Insecurity has a powerful way of eating away at your confidence until there’s nothing but crumbs remaining. You cannot control the way society treats you. You cannot control the way others perceive you. All you can control is how you view yourself. And a little confidence goes a long way. 

Woman deadlifting

Power

When I think of powerful women in my life, the first two that come to mind are my mother and my sister. I know, typical. And yet, they truly are the strongest people I know. 

My mom has been through all sorts of challenges. But she isn't one to back down in a fight. Whether it be financial struggles, health challenges, or troublesome family members, she holds her ground and refuses to be set back. The scariest moment as a child is to see your parents cry - to realize that no one is invincible and that everyone carries a burden. My mother taught me that crying is not scary. Crying is not a weakness. When men say that women are fragile and emotional, what that means is that we process our world much more vividly. We personalize issues. We reflect on tragedy. We don’t dismiss other’s loss as our gain. 

This is not to say that men don’t do the same. But women are conditioned to be this way, whereas men are conditioned to see emotion as weakness. My mother showed me that emotions are assets that allow us to become better decision-makers. Without her, I think I’d have a much more cynical view of the world. 

My sister is a badass. She is not soft-spoken. Rather, she is concise. She has taught me that eloquently voicing your thoughts and beliefs is much harder than it looks. Sometimes it feels that I need to shout to be heard. That if I don’t yell something, everyone will think I’m shallow and insecure. But an intelligent voice speaks for itself. We shouldn’t wait for others to listen, we should make others listen by refusing to be dismissed. 

Michelle Ding

 

Inequality

Let’s get one thing out of the way: life is full of injustice. Sexism is merely one of the many ways it is displayed. To me, being a woman means taking injustice and molding it into progress. Being a woman means understanding social norms and breaking them. Being a woman means refusing to say yes to a question that rejects any other answer.

I think if all the women of the world came together and wrote a book of their unjust experiences, the thickness would be greater than society’s ignorance and the font smaller than the willingness to change. 

And yet, I reject the notion that this would characterize our womanhood. In fact, the idea that being a woman is all about our fight for equality is ridiculous. It’s not about the fight, it’s about the goal. I hope that sexism is not the foundation of womanhood, that we don’t rely on inequality to be relevant. Besides, what happens after we achieve complete equality? Do we suddenly stop being relevant? While social norms argue that we are only relevant so long as we have the conflict that feminism is rooted in, I controversially say that I am relevant so long as I am my best and truest self. 

Strong Arms Girl

Resiliency

Women are not told what to do when being our best self doesn’t work out. We are told how not to act. We are told what not to say, what not to wear, what body parts not to show. But we are not taught what happens when we do all that we can, and we still don’t succeed. When we cover up and still feel violated. When we stand up tall but still get knocked over. When we fight through the pain but still get killed. 

What is there to do? Being a woman means being resilient. There’s a lot to give up on. There are a lot of opportunities to quit and give in to society’s expectations. But why are expectations put into place? So that we may exceed them. Resiliency is all about expecting more. It means getting handed ash and crafting it into gold.  

 

Unfortunately, I’ve only scratched the surface of what it means to be a woman. I’ve only shown you one perspective from one woman with her own biases and worldviews. Every girl grows up with different dreams. Every woman has different experiences. Every one of you has your own story to tell. In honor of Women's History Month, I'd like you to consider what it means to you to be a woman. I challenge you to embrace your unique self and have confidence, power, resiliency, and pride