Society Dictates What It Means to Be a Woman Today

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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How much influence does society have over what it means to be a woman today? Does being a woman mean suppressing your true identity?

In the book Untamed, speaker, author, and activist Glennon Doyle explores how she freed herself from the strictures of society and embraced her true identity by rejecting the expectations and limitations society imposes on women. Doyle wants her readers to use her story as a framework to examine their lives and deconstruct societal expectations, thereby liberating themselves from the metaphorical captivity that limits their potential.

Keep reading to learn what it means to be a woman today and how to break free from society’s cage.

What It Means to Be a Woman

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. Through exploration of her story, she instructs readers on what it means to be a woman today, teaching how to rebuild their lives using emotion, intuition, and imagination as guiding forces. In this article, we’ll explore Doyle’s journey out of captivity and her lessons for other captive women.

Embracing Intuition to Overcome Social Conditioning

When thinking about what it means to be a woman today, Doyle observes that women are conditioned to please and seek approval from others—as a result, they don’t often trust their instincts and search externally for advice and validation. She wanted to find a way to connect with herself deeply to make decisions that were based on her inner wisdom and intuition rather than the opinions of outside sources. 

Having landed on the right practice, Doyle no longer feels she has to consult others for advice or validation. Her intuition frees her from being controlled by society’s expectations and empowers her to make her own choices. When making a difficult decision, you can use Doyle’s method for tapping into your intuition:

  • Retreat to a quiet place where all you hear is your breath. 
  • Sink into your consciousness and become aware of a deeper sense of yourself. 
  • Connect and commune with this version of yourself. 
  • Ask a question in this mental space and see if you sense a gentle push towards the next step to take. 
  • Sit and reflect on this new knowledge and insight. 

This practice will get you in touch with your intuition, allowing you to make your own choices, confident that your decisions come from a place of strength and inner knowledge.  

Deconstructing Society’s Beliefs

You’re now ready to examine areas of your life where emotion, intuition, and imagination are suppressed. By deconstructing those areas, you can let these powerful aspects of yourself shine. Deconstructing what it means to be a woman today requires dismantling old beliefs and practices that you have inherited from your culture. This gives you a clean slate upon which to reconstruct a new life that better reflects your current values and goals. (Shortform note: Deconstructing your beliefs about what it means to be a woman today not only allows you to create a new life that’s more aligned with your values, but also allows you to more easily engage in change and creativity. In Think Again, Adam Grant says that the crucial ability to rethink your beliefs allows you to develop new solutions and ideas for breaking free of old mindsets.)

Deconstructing Marriage, Motherhood, and Family Structure

In this section, we’ll explore how Doyle deconstructed her beliefs and practices about what it means to be a woman today according to marriage, motherhood, and family.

Original Beliefs 

Doyle learned from her conditioning that the best way a woman can love the people in her life and her community is to selflessly serve others and put her desires last. She tried to be a dutiful wife, a selfless mother, and maintain a traditional family structure. 

(Shortform note: You may not be ready—or willing—to completely reject this aspect of your selfless nature. In that case, you might take a slightly different approach: cultivating a balance between selflessness and self-care. By balancing your selflessness with rejuvenating self-care practices, you can both honor your needs and fuel yourself for the emotional work of caring for the people in your life.)

New Beliefs

Marriage: Doyle deconstructed her beliefs about what it meant to be in an intimate relationship. She abandoned the idea that she must be pleasing and performative—instead forming a new belief that she deserves pleasure in her intimate relationships. (Shortform note: When thinking about what it means to be a woman today, many women feel obligated to put their partner’s needs before their own. Rethinking these beliefs can lead to more fulfilling sexual experiences. One way to become more aware of your desires is to check in with yourself before being intimate with another person.  A self-check-in can help you assess what you want and can help you express your desires.) 

Parenthood: Doyle deconstructed her beliefs about what it means to be a woman today and motherhood. She wanted to model happiness and fulfillment for her family rather than self-sacrifice. (Shortform note: Many authors and researchers agree that seeing happy adults provides important benefits for children. In Modelling Happiness, Reen Rose says that when children see adults being curious, pursuing new ideas, and engaging in enjoyable activities, they witness both what it looks like to be happy and learn skills (such as resiliency, bravery, and confidence). These skills will help children to pursue their happiness as they mature.) 

Family Structure: She deconstructed her beliefs about family structure. In examining what it means to be a woman today, Doyle realized family structure can diverge from a nuclear family and still provide love, support, and stability. (Shortform note: Doyle’s assumption that the nuclear family should be maintained at all costs likely comes from societal messaging that this family structure is “best”—but studies show that many believe that any family that provides love, protection, and support is “best.” A larger societal trend towards accepting a wide range of family arrangements mirrors Doyle’s experiences. Research shows that an increasing percentage of the American population accepts and supports non-traditional family structures.)

Society Dictates What It Means to Be a Woman Today

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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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