Being a woman in today’s society comes with a set of expectations that, quite frankly, can feel like a tightrope walk.
The pressure to embody perfection – to be the ideal mother, daughter, partner, professional – it’s exhausting and at times, downright unrealistic.
What’s worse is that most of these expectations are so deeply ingrained in our societal fabric that we hardly realize the damage they’re causing.
As a woman navigating through this maze of expectations, I’ve often felt the weight of these unrealistic standards.
But it’s important to remember that these standards are not a reflection of our worth. It’s high time we shed some light on these invisible burdens and start discussing their implications.
In this article, I’m going to highlight 9 such unrealistic expectations that society places on women, often without realizing the harm they cause.
1) The pressure to be ‘perfect’
Perfection — it’s an ideal that’s often glorified, especially when it comes to women.
From a young age, we’re subtly conditioned to strive for perfection in all walks of life. Be it in looks, in careers, or in personal relationships.
And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with aiming for excellence, the quest for ‘perfection’ can become a debilitating and unrealistic expectation.
Why, you ask?
Well, because ‘perfection’, as society often paints it, is an unattainable illusion. We’re constantly bombarded with images and narratives of flawlessness that no human can live up to.
Moreover, this pursuit of perfection can lead to immense pressure, stress, and even mental health issues.
What I’m trying to say is: your worth is not measured by societal standards of perfection. It’s your individuality and authenticity that truly define you.
2) The Superwoman Syndrome
Have you ever heard of the Superwoman Syndrome?
It’s a psychological concept that refers to the pressure women often feel to excel in multiple roles.
This syndrome paints a picture of a woman who flawlessly juggles a career, family, relationships, and personal interests. She’s expected to maintain an immaculate home, cultivate a successful career, raise perfect children, and look impeccable while doing it all.
Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?
That’s because it is.
What’s more, this unrealistic expectation can lead to burnout, stress, self-neglect, and even health issues.
Not only does this Superwoman ideal promote an unhealthy lifestyle, but it also completely overlooks the fact that everyone has unique capacities and limits.
Bottom line: It’s okay not to do everything. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to prioritize your well-being over societal expectations. After all, we are humans, not superheroes.
3) The expectation to always put others first
Now, this point might seem a bit counter-intuitive, especially after discussing the Superwoman Syndrome. Shouldn’t putting others first be a good thing?
Well, here’s the thing. While empathy and caring for others are undoubtedly positive traits, society often expects women to prioritize others’ needs above their own, to an unhealthy extent.
This can translate into constantly sacrificing personal time, ignoring emotional health, or even neglecting physical well-being in the process of catering to others.
And these can have serious repercussions on a woman’s overall health and happiness.
4) The ‘beauty myth’
Have you ever stopped to think about the beauty standards that society imposes on women?
From a young age, girls are bombarded with images and ideas of what society deems ‘beautiful’. These standards are often unrealistic, promoting a very narrow perception of beauty that most women don’t fit into.
Whether it’s about body size, skin color, age, or any other physical attribute, these standards can be immensely damaging. They can lead to low self-esteem, body image issues, and unhealthy practices in an attempt to fit into this narrow mold.
What’s worse is that these standards are ever-changing and heavily influenced by trends, making it virtually impossible for any woman to consistently meet them.
It’s high time we challenge these expectations and create a more inclusive and diverse understanding of beauty. After all, beauty is subjective and should be about celebrating individuality rather than conforming to societal norms.
5) The ticking biological clock
One of the most common pressures women face is related to their biological clock.
Society has a way of reminding us that our time to have children is “ticking away”.
This can create immense stress and pressure, especially for those who may not be ready or may not want to have children at all.
This expectation can manifest in many ways:
- Pressure to get married at a certain age
- Expectations to start a family soon after marriage
- Judgment for choosing a career over starting a family
- Stigma associated with infertility or choosing not to have children
Every woman’s journey is unique. The decision to have children, when to have them, or whether to have them at all, should remain a personal choice free from societal pressure.
6) The need to always smile and be pleasant
How many times have we heard the phrase “You should smile more”?
As women, we’re often expected to constantly maintain a pleasant demeanor, regardless of our emotional state. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been told to “be more cheerful” or “don’t look so serious”.
While there’s nothing wrong with being happy and cheerful, the expectation to suppress our true feelings in order to appear more ‘pleasant’ can be incredibly damaging.
Let’s be clear: It’s okay not to smile all the time. It’s okay to express our feelings, even if they aren’t always positive. We should never feel obligated to put on a facade for the comfort of others.
After all, our worth isn’t determined by how often we smile. It’s about being true to ourselves and honoring our feelings.
7) The expectation to maintain traditional gender roles
Imagine this: you’re at a family gathering and the women are expected to prepare the meal, serve it, and clean up afterward while the men sit, chat, and wait to be served. Sound familiar?
Even in our modern society, traditional gender roles persist. Women are often expected to take on domestic duties, regardless of their personal or professional commitments.
But what if you’re a woman who doesn’t enjoy cooking? What if you’d rather spend your time working on a project, reading a book, or simply relaxing?
Society often overlooks these preferences and imposes traditional roles on women. This expectation not only limits women’s potential but also undermines their individuality.
8) The ‘likability’ factor
When I was younger and just starting in my career, I recall being told to be more ‘likeable’ to get ahead. At the time, it seemed like sound advice.
But over time, I’ve realized that this expectation can be quite damaging.
Women are often expected to be ‘likeable’, which usually translates to being agreeable, non-confrontational, and often, submissive. We’re told to maintain harmony, even if it comes at the cost of our own opinions or values.
This expectation can lead women to suppress their true thoughts and feelings for fear of being labeled as ‘difficult’ or ‘bossy’.
However, being ‘likeable’ shouldn’t mean we have to compromise our authenticity.
We should be allowed to express our opinions openly and assertively without fear of backlash. It’s okay to disagree, confront, or challenge when necessary.
9) The pressure to conform
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the societal expectation for women to conform.
We are often expected to fit into a mold, to align our desires, behaviors, and choices with societal norms. We’re pressured to follow a certain path – education, job, marriage, kids – as though it’s a one-size-fits-all solution.
This pressure to conform can limit our ability to explore our true passions and identities. It robs us of our individuality and discourages us from challenging norms.
It’s time we realize that there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to be a woman. There’s only your way. And that should be the only expectation that matters.
What can we do to challenge these expectations?
Reflecting on these societal pressures, it’s clear that change is needed.
But how can we, as individuals and as a society, challenge these unrealistic expectations?
Here are a few starting points:
- Encourage open conversations about these issues
- Challenge stereotypes and norms in our daily lives
- Support and uplift other women
- Promote self-love and acceptance
- Teach younger generations about equality and respect
Ladies, let’s always keep in mind that we have the power to define our own value. No need to succumb to societal pressures or mold ourselves into unrealistic expectations.
Lost Your Sense of Purpose?
In this age of information overload and pressure to meet others’ expectations, many struggle to connect with their core purpose and values. It’s easy to lose your inner compass.
Jeanette Brown created this free values discovery PDF to help clarify your deepest motivations and beliefs. As an experienced life coach and self-improvement teacher, Jeanette guides people through major transitions by realigning them with their principles.
Her uniquely insightful values exercises will illuminate what inspires you, what you stand for, and how you aim to operate. This serves as a refreshing filter to tune out societal noise so you can make choices rooted in what matters most to you.
With your values clearly anchored, you’ll gain direction, motivation and the compass to navigate decisions from your best self – rather than fleeting emotion or outside influences.
Stop drifting without purpose. Rediscover what makes you come alive with Jeanette Brown’s values clarity guide.