Come on now, we must get rid of the traditional views on women; a new study shows that less than third of women associate with the prevailing female image.

Come on now, we must get rid of the traditional views on women; a new study shows that less than third of women associate with the prevailing female image.
A recent study confirms what many have long felt, deep down inside: our image of women is hopelessly outdated. Overly restrictive ideals of what being a woman is about cause many people to feel pressured and insecure. The majority of women feel that the existing views on womanhood are so restrictive that they cannot fit them.
Published: 2.11.2022

A submissive carer. A sociable and empathetic individual who will cope no matter what. A family cheerleader who values beauty and looks after her appearance. A counter force to man. Her community’s mother figure, who sees the bigger picture and leads people rather than things.

This pretty much sums up the general image of an ideal woman in the 2020s, according to women themselves, says a recent study commissioned by A-lehdet.

The study analysed how Finnish women feel about the prevailing female image. They were asked how, in their opinion, womanhood is currently defined, whether they fit the definition and how they would like to see this definition change, going forward.

Here is how the Naisen omakuva 2030 (‘Female self-image 2030’) study was carried out:

  • The study was commissioned by A-lehdet and conducted by Frankly Partners in spring and summer 2022.
  • It began with ten interviews with experts.
  • The next step was to hold two six-person group discussions with women of various ages from around Finland.
  • Finally, a survey was carried out, and the respondents included 800 grown-up Finnish women. The age and location distribution of the data set represents Finnish women. The margin of error was approximately three percentage points.

Our female image is too narrow and places pressure on nearly all of us

The study’s findings were clear; our current views on womanhood are hopelessly outdated when compared to reality, and these overly narrow views are causing stress and feelings of insecurity.

Fewer than one third of the respondents said that they fit the traditional views of what women are like. However, the majority felt that the existing views on womanhood are so restrictive that they do not fit them personally.

Nine out of ten respondents said that they occasionally feel an internal pressure to match these ideals.

‘The only thing that women seem to share is their relationship with the public female image. Everyone must have an opinion about it.’
MALIN GUSTAVSSON, EXPERT INTERVIEWEE

One of the experts interviewed for the study, CEO and Equality Expert Malin Gustavsson from Ekvalita, summarises the features that women have in common:

‘The only thing that women seem to share is their relationship with the public female image. Everyone must have an opinion about it.’

Anna Moring, a senior expert from the Finland for All Families project, says that there is a conflict between the existing female image and the internal experience of women themselves.

‘Many people say that how they see women in general and how they feel about themselves as women are two separate things. In other words, their personal experience and the images they see are vastly different.’

‘A pressure to look a certain way, the expectation that I’m compliant, nice and caring towards others (particularly men), because I’m a woman, and that I like and want children (I don’t). The assumption that because I’m a woman I’m orderly (I’m not) and like cooking (I hate it).’
SURVEY RESPONSE

‘Being a woman is merciless: if you don’t fit the bill you’ll be criticised.’
EXPERT INTERVIEWEE

‘Normally, I like to take it easy, but sometimes I enjoy putting on more make up. But that always makes me second-guess myself, wondering whether it’s “too much”.’ It would be nice if you could just put your face on without others immediately thinking that you’re shallow.’
FOCUS GROUP

‘I used to live in a small town, where people focused on looks and started their families young, which drove me away. Young women would either get stuck there and become mothers or leave to becomes students elsewhere.’
FOCUS GROUP

A trusty meal machine or a tattooed tomboy?

The responses by the women who took part in the survey show that womanhood is still defined by women’s biological role, above all else. Women are often viewed through motherhood, as carers and ‘household bosses’.

The same image is also reflected outside of homes, for example in working life.

Physical appearance was also strongly connected to the traditional views on women in the survey findings. A proper woman cares about the way she looks and puts effort into it.

When asked which features and descriptions they associate with, the answers from the women were much more diverse.

Women do not see themselves primarily as carers or cheerleaders, but as strong, funny, analytical, courageous, resilient, responsible and adaptable – as complete – individuals.

The study clearly indicated that many women want to separate themselves from the traditional female image, which they do not agree with. Some described themselves as tattooed tomboys and emphasised that they were fundamentally different, ‘not like other women’.

Women do not see themselves primarily as carers or cheerleaders, but as strong, funny, analytical, courageous, resilient, responsible and adaptable – as complete – individuals.

Being ambitious and athletic, as well as having goals, were highlighted in the women’s personal descriptions. However, for some reason, these descriptions were missing from the general definitions of what women are like.

According to the study, women’s self-images are not purely positive. The respondents tended to link negative descriptions significantly more often to themselves than to the general views on women. Disappointments with personal looks, fatigue, boredom and weakness were strongly present in the women’s personal descriptions only. Conversely, these definitions were not associated with the ideal woman.

Wait a moment, what’s the problem?

What does it matter whether women feel that they match the general female image or not? Could women not stop whining and just accept that an ideal woman is still some sort of a mixture between the Virgin Mary, Mother Teresa, Mona Lisa and Aphrodite? After all, no one is forced to feel stressed out because of the female image.

If you are able to avoid feeling such pressure, good. According to the study, the easiest way for women is to adopt a neutral attitude towards views on women. Women with a neutral attitude will feel less internal and external pressure when it comes to being a woman.

However, that is easier said than done.

The study highlighted that we learn our roles and begin to follow role models early on. We also accept them at face value. For example, women do not see themselves as leaders, because they have no such role models. A narrow image of womanhood is reflected in the way women see themselves.

‘We still need more examples of all the things that women can be and are allowed to be.’

‘People believe that what they witness around them is the truth. Our culture, from art to television entertainment, keeps repeating the same image of what women are like, which strengthens the existing structures without questioning whether the image is even true. That is why we must gain plenty of new examples of what women can and are allowed to be,’ the study states.

Even though attitudes towards women are becoming more liberal and diverse, we have a long way to go before all women can feel accepted:

‘Women must be equally allowed to be social butterflies dressed to the nines and homebodies who prefer natural looks.’

‘When women become doctors, and if instead of GPs they become surgeons, they expand women’s career options and show that women can be competent professionals too.’
FOCUS GROUP

‘Women, too, have a great deal of internalised hatred towards women. If only we could start to encourage each other, other women, and accept several roles simultaneously. For example, a prime minister and a mother, without making a big deal out of it.’
FOCUS GROUP

‘In the future, women could choose the extent to which their gender defines their identity.’
MALIN GUSTAVSSON, EXPERT INTERVIEWEE

‘To be carefree and imperfect. I grew into the role of a nice girl, and I have worked hard in order to be more merciful with myself. In the future, I would like to be just the way I am – multi-faceted and imperfect.’
FOCUS GROUP
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