Expectations of Women: Society Is Holding You Captive

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Untamed" by Glennon Doyle. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you ever feel held captive by society’s rules? Does being a woman in today’s society require conformity to stereotypes? How can you set yourself free?

Author Glennon Doyle discovered four pathways to help women reconnect with themselves: embracing emotion, intuition, imagination, and reconstruction. Additionally, embracing your wildness allows you to live free from society’s expectations of women.

Read on to learn why society’s expectations of women are unrealistic and how one woman broke free from this captivity.

Expectations of Women: Doyle’s Memoir of Captivity

Do you ever feel that there is a more authentic, primal self within you waiting to be free? Glennon Doyle has felt this way, too—like a wild animal in captivity who was conditioned not to feel, think, or trust herself. She tells her story in Untamed, part memoir—covering her personal story of addiction and rehab, falling in love with a woman, leaving her marriage, and rebuilding her life—and part call to action for any woman who feels held captive by society’s rules and expectations of women. 

Through exploration of her story, she instructs readers to rebuild their lives using emotion, intuition, and imagination as guiding forces. In this article, we’ll explore Doyle’s journey to free herself from society’s expectations of women and her most important lessons.

Received Cultural Messages 

As a child, Doyle was creative, impulsive, and intuitive. As she entered adolescence, however, Doyle started receiving and internalizing damaging cultural messages about what women should be: pleasing and agreeable, self-sacrificing, and attractive to men—all while repressing their emotions and desires and deferring to others’ opinions.

Doyle abandoned her unconstrained childhood self to conform to these expectations of women and began bottling up her emotions, distrusting her intuition, and dismissing her imagination—this messaging took away her freedom and put her in the cage of society’s expectations for a woman today.

Why Social Messaging Disproportionately Affects Girls

Doyle describes how she was susceptible to the messages of her culture and internalized them at an early age. One of the reasons Doyle was so affected by this messaging is that humans place a high value on social acceptance and are therefore constantly observing the behaviors of others to guide their behavior. 

In Influence, Robert Cialdini describes “The Social Proof Principle,” which states that when people are unsure of how to behave, they base their behavior on the behaviors of others in the group. Social proofs can be a way to cope with insecurity and pursue social acceptance. 

Adolescent girls can be particularly susceptible to social expectations of women because they are more sensitive to rejection or social disapproval than boys. As a result, manufactured social proofs—social proofs deliberately created to manipulate behavior—disproportionately affect girls. A pervasive example of manufactured social proofs are the messages in advertising that aim to convince girls that they are not good enough. These kinds of manufactured social proofs can have long-lasting negative consequences, including anxiety, depression, and insecurity—all of which Doyle has struggled with throughout her life. 

Pathways Out of Captivity

Doyle identified the “pathways” that had allowed her to break free and live a wild, undomesticated life. Doyle introduces four pathways to help free yourself from social expectations of women.  

  • Pathway #1: Embracing Emotion—numbing your emotions has stopped you from being able to express your feelings. This pathway encourages you to embrace and express your emotions to be fully human.  
  • Pathway #2: Embracing Your Intuition—the tendency to look to others for validation has diminished your ability to tap into your intuition. By following this pathway, you can learn to explore your intuition through quiet reflection.
  • Pathway #3: Embracing Your Imagination—the social message that you must accept your current reality and be grateful for your life has diminished your ability to imagine a new reality. Embracing your imagination will help you create a better, more vibrant life.
  • Pathway #4: Embracing Deconstruction and Reconstruction—your ability to deconstruct your existing beliefs and assumptions and rebuild a new life for yourself has been taken away by society’s interest in maintaining the status quo. This pathway helps you deconstruct your old ways of thinking so you can rebuild your life around emotion, inner knowledge, and imagination.
Women’s Liberation: From the ‘60s to Today

Doyle’s pathways to freedom shares many similarities with the ideas that developed during the women’s rights movement in the 1960s and 70s. Betty Friedan was a feminist leader during this period focused on women’s liberation.

In the early 60s, Friedan experienced a sense of dissatisfaction and purposelessness as a homemaker raising children—an experience similar to Doyle’s captivity. She realized many women shared her experiences of being confined to the home and feeling unfulfilled, so she sought to find ways to liberate women like herself. Friedan realized acknowledging their shared experiences was an important first step toward progress and action. She therefore wrote The Feminine Mystique, which explored this shared female experience and exposed the cultural forces that kept women oppressed. In her book, Friedan suggests concrete courses of action, such as rethinking what it means to be a woman and breaking free of social restrictions by pursuing educational and career opportunities.

Friedan’s ideas about liberation are more focused on direct actions women can take toward liberation, while Doyle focuses more on examining and reinventing your mindset. Still, both Friedan and Doyle agree that rethinking what it means to be a woman is necessary to make progress and pursue fulfillment. 

Reconstruction and Rebirth

Doyle now lives according to her wildness—her primal self who had been there all along, waiting to be free. She has made a promise never again to abandon herself. She will practice self-love and always trust her instincts, and calls on her readers to once again become wild women. 

Doyle’s Tips: Free Yourself From Social Expectations of Women

Doyle continues to embrace the pathways we have explored in this guide—she’s found concrete ways to live into each:
– She has a post-it note on her mirror that reminds her to “feel it all” and embrace her emotions

– She continues to be guided by her intuition as she engages in activism through Together Rising and raises money for causes close to her heart

– Doyle lives the life she imagined for herself with Abby. Together they co-host the We Can Do Hard Things podcast, in which they are honest about their daily struggles and how they try to support each other on their respective journeys
Expectations of Women: Society Is Holding You Captive

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Glennon Doyle's "Untamed" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Untamed summary :

  • Glennon Doyle's story of freeing herself from society's rules and expectations
  • Why you should rebuild your life using emotion, intuition, and imagination
  • A look at how young women are taught to repress their emotions and desires

Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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