Understanding What It Means To Be A Woman

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated March 2, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The social construct of gender is often imposed before birth. It is common for expecting parents to speculate about the sex of their baby on the way. These binaries can continue as the child gets older. Many people are assigned a gender at birth and are often expected to act in a certain way regarding hobbies, traits, and behaviors. However, gender wasn't always cut and dry. In history, gender has been a fluctuating concept, and what it means "to be a woman" can vary depending on culture, gender identity, expression, and many other factors. 

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Life as a woman can be challenging

What does it mean to be a woman?

What it means to be a woman varies from one individual to the next. Because gender is a social construct, it is influenced by social factors, including experiences, expectations, cultures, and feelings. These factors often make up one's gender identity. "Being a woman" might involve traditional "femininity" for one woman, but for another, "being a woman" might mean challenging gender stereotypes, loving other women, or being masculine in a world that expects otherwise. Self-identity is often an underlying factor in these conversations. 

For women assigned female at birth and women who aren't, womanhood and gender identity can be highly personal. Sex is separate from gender. The female sex can differ from the male sex in the reproductive, neurological, or chemical sense. Those born with a gynecological reproductive system may have different hormones, life spans, and health concerns. For many people, these areas are a crucial part of womanhood. For others, these are not present. 

Often, womanhood can be thought of as the experiences and sense of self an individual who identifies as female or woman-aligning has. What this looks like can differ, as can the extent to which someone identifies with their womanhood. Being a woman can mean whatever you want, allowing womanhood to be a profoundly personal experience.
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What is gender discrimination? 

Despite the many strides made throughout history toward equality for women, including trans women or gender-nonconforming individuals, discrimination is a part of womanhood for many people. Many systemic and societal barriers can limit what women can do and achieve, some of which may uniquely shape a woman's life. 

The way gender discrimination affects women can vary from country to country. However, in the US, it can manifest within the workplace, the home, relationships, and the doctor's office. White women make 79 cents to a white man's dollar. For women of color, the conversion rate is lower. For example, a Latina woman makes 55 cents to a white man's dollar. In addition, many female celebrities and high-profile women find that they also earn less than their male counterparts.

In the near past, American women were not allowed to work, vote, or attend school. The right to vote wasn't sealed for women until after the Great Depression, and it wasn't until 1971 that the Equal Rights Amendment was approved. Attacks on women's rights are continuous in the present, as are the societal expectations that often hold women back. 

Women are less likely to view themselves as leaders than men; on average, women have lower self-esteem than their male counterparts. The reality of womanhood can be draining and damaging to some who identify as women. As a result, many women find that their challenges and connections to other women experiencing similar turmoil become a defining piece of their lives.  

Gender discrimination and stereotypes are often based on misinformation and socialization. Many of the tasks or characteristics assigned to genders are social constructs. However, for many women, it can be challenging or impossible to pursue passions that fall outside their gender's perceived expectations. This factor may be especially true for transgender women or those who do not conform to the gender binary. 

The philosophy of womanhood 

Another part of being a woman is philosophy, or how you view the world and your place. Every woman may have a different philosophy they live by, even if they are not necessarily in touch with the tenants. Your philosophy may reflect your personal and professional values, serving as a self-fulfilling vision for success and personal alignment. 

While individuals of any gender identity can have similar life visions, it is common for women to feel they must act within a separate set of rules and standards from others. If you identify as a woman or with womanhood, ask yourself what makes you feel like a woman and why those aspects matter to you. Doing so may help you discover how to empower yourself and feel comfortable in your skin.

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Life as a woman can be challenging

Counseling for women 

While certain areas of life may be out of your control, how you identify is unique and personal. Understanding and navigating one's gender, whether it conforms with what has been assigned at birth or not, can be a challenging process full of confusion. In addition, managing the realities of womanhood can present emotional and physical difficulty, particularly if you're a woman of color, a part of the LGBTQ+ community, or a minority.

No matter what womanhood feels like for you, "being a woman" might mean managing obstacles. Sometimes, the support and perspective of someone on the outside can make working through challenges more manageable. Online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp may help you navigate your identity from the comfort of your home. When using online therapy services, you can often choose to have a woman therapist or meet with someone who is BIPOC or part of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Online CBT is an effective tool for treating mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. One study of a particular CBT program aimed at helping LGBTQ+ adolescents manage stress and reduce depression found that 97% of participants experienced reduced symptoms after treatment. Even if you aren't living with a mental illness, a licensed therapist can offer resources, problem-solving strategies, and other insights that might make living as a woman feel less overwhelming. 

Takeaway

Finding meaning in being a woman can be challenging if you experience gender-related inequality or transphobia in your life. However, there are ways to cope with these experiences, and speaking to a licensed therapist may benefit you.
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