What Is a Good Woman? An Uncommon Answer

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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What is a good woman in today’s society? Should women follow society’s expectations?

Untamed author Glennon Doyle deconstructed her beliefs and practices about marriage, motherhood, and family in her pursuit to answer the question: what is a good woman? Doyle’s answer suggests you should be constantly evolving into a more authentic and fully-formed version of yourself.

Read on to find out what a good woman is, according to Glennon Doyle’s method of deconstructing old beliefs.

What Is a Good Woman? Deconstructing Beliefs

As Doyle embarked on a new relationship with her partner Abby and began to rewrite her vision for the future, she examined the life she had been living and saw that it was limited, narrowly defined, and based on society’s expectations. Doyle’s conditioning provided the framework for her life, but she realized that her true, wild self was too dynamic and vibrant to be confined by this framework. She began reconnecting to her true self by examining the foundational beliefs informing her life and then sought to create new ideas that better matched the life she wanted for herself.

(Shortform note: Deconstructing your foundational beliefs is an essential step to living your most authentic life, but you may not feel ready for it. Experts concede that it can be a tough process—requiring you to examine your deepest self closely, let go of things you’re attached to, or confront unpleasant emotions. However, the happiness and freedom you gain from the process is well worth the struggle.)

Original Beliefs 

During her life in captivity, Doyle adhered to the cultural mandates that women should be quiet, pleasing, agreeable, and self-sacrificing. She believed that a good woman is selfless and should put her desires last. In her life, this showed up in three ways: 

  • She tried to be a dutiful wife. She went through the motions of sex and intimacy while neglecting her desires. 
  • She tried to be a selfless mother. She operated under the assumption that the way you show love and devotion to your children is through self-sacrifice. 
  • She maintained a traditional marriage and family structure. She believed that her children’s well-being depended on maintaining a traditional family structure, which she had to preserve at the expense of her happiness and fulfillment. (Shortform note: Many women—like Doyle—stay in unhappy marriages for their children, but studies show that children often suffer when their parents are in conflict, feeling insecure in the tense home environment.)
Pursuing a Balance: Selflessness and Self-Care

Doyle criticizes the societal expectation that women should be selfless, but you may not be ready—or willing—to completely reject this aspect of your nature. there are ways that you can integrate selflessness into your life without sacrificing your well-being by cultivating a balance between selflessness and self-care

Selflessness can help you serve others, be more empathetic, and tune into the needs of those around you. In marriage, tuning into your partner can create intimacy, and empathically connecting to the needs of children can foster their well-being. But as Doyle notes, being too selfless has many negative consequences, especially when it drives you to neglect your own needs. By balancing your selflessness with rejuvenating self-care practices, you can both honor your needs and fuel yourself for the necessary emotional work of caring for the people in your life. 

There are numerous practical ways that you can bring self-care into your life: You can keep a journal, play your favorite music and dance, take a 10-minute nap, eat your favorite food, take a walk, or get a massage. You can also set aside parts of your day as sacred time just for you (for example, when you’re drinking your coffee or winding down after work). Taking this time for yourself will allow you to balance your needs with the needs of others. 

Reconstruction and Rebirth

These four pathways empowered Doyle to reconstruct her life to reflect her truest self:

  • The Pathway of Embracing Emotion: By feeling difficult emotions, she can face the future confidently knowing that her difficult emotions will help her grow into the person she needs to become. Doyle built a new purpose based on empathy and activism. 
  • The Pathway of Embracing Intuition: By accessing her intuition, she can understand herself more deeply and feel secure when making difficult decisions. Doyle formed a new understanding of her inner self. 
  • The Pathway of Embracing Imagination: By envisioning and articulating her deepest desires for the future, she can rewrite her story so that these imaginings can become her reality. Doyle built a new marriage based on imagination. 
  • The Pathway of Deconstruction: By deconstructing prior beliefs, she can separate herself from social structures and institutions that do not reflect who she is and what she believes. Doyle built a new family, faith, and worldview based on consciousness rather than complacency. 

What is a good woman? Doyle believes a woman should be true to her primal self. For Doyle, this primal self was the person 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. 

How to Be a Good Woman: Doyle’s Advice

Doyle stays true to herself as she continues to follow 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 to construct their truest lives. 

Exercise: Change Your Beliefs  

Doyle achieved freedom from her captivity by systematically deconstructing her beliefs and assumptions about what makes a good woman. In this exercise, you will reflect upon the beliefs you’ve adopted and how they’ve changed over time—and you’ll identify which beliefs may need deconstructing. 

  • What were you taught to believe about gender roles? 
  • How have these beliefs changed over time? What caused this change?
  • What beliefs do you have today that need to be deconstructed or reexamined?
What Is a Good Woman? An Uncommon Answer

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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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