All the single ladies: ’tis the season for the fam to pester you about your love life. Today, women have the opportunity to be dynamic beings and derive purpose through fulfilling many roles in life. Yet, we live in a society that tells us our worth is defined by our relationship status.
A woman’s 20s and 30s is a time when others begin hinting at the proverbial biological clock. The prying questions single women receive about “settling down” don’t stop when married—these questions just then extend to expectations to have children (*fast*).
As inappropriate or annoying as it is, there’s potential for harm because pressures to settle down can often lead women to settle in relationships that are unhealthy or straight up abusive.
So where do these expectations stem from, and why aren’t men pressured in similar ways? We’ll explore evolutionary history, societal norms, and family as roots.
Note: This article uses female/male pronouns. Research cited refers to individuals who identify as cisgender.
Historically, men were valued for their physical strengths to complete laborious field jobs, while women stayed home to care for the children. Tasks and roles assigned to each gender were created based on the needs of society at the time. Traditional gender roles were influenced by the rules and rituals of the prior generations. Women were homemakers and caretakers in our parents and grandparents’ generation, while men served as providers and protectors.
Research shows a male’s value increases as he ages and grows in financial ability, while a woman’s value declines due to decreased fertility and perceived physical attractiveness.
These notions assume a woman’s value is only derived from her role as a wife/mother, invalidating other important aspects of what makes her whole. A single, educated woman who decides not to have children arguably threatens the patriarchal norm that favors men and strips women of self-determination.
“You’ll find someone soon, honey.”
If you’re single, you’ve probably been on the receiving end of single shaming. Families have a vested interest in a woman having a child because it’s an “achievement” others benefit from. The addition to the family provides new roles for individuals to experience—imagine the pride felt being a new grandparent. Members don’t typically reap benefits from women reaching other personal goals (i.e. career).
Elders may believe they know what’s best merely due to more life experience, and they fail to exercise curiosity around a woman’s self-discovery. Reflecting on another’s life that conflicts with one’s own may involve examining parts of oneself that weren’t given permission to be nurtured.
Mom who pressures her daughter to follow traditional timelines may not want to acknowledge how she wasn’t able to pursue passion or self-discovery. And so she’s unwilling to allow her daughter to.
Women have been experts in prioritizing others’ needs above their own. Rejecting traditional norms and outside pressure takes courage, but it’s a path to discovering what will truly make us feel whole.
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