Being a Woman On My Terms by Benita Ikpeamar


The next endangered beings on Earth are women.
~ Benita
Chapter 1: Womanhood
I keep grappling with the concept of ‘Womanhood,’ and with each attempt, I find myself faced with the daunting realization of its complexity. It’s like trying to catch a slippery fish—I think I have it, and then it slips away again. Perhaps that’s because womanhood is a multi-faceted entity, encompassing biological, cultural, psychological, and social dimensions.
Biologically speaking, womanhood can be defined by the physical attributes specific to women—the presence of female reproductive organs and characteristics such as the menstrual cycle.
Culturally, womanhood takes on the roles assigned to women within a cultural context. It extends beyond mere labels, encapsulating responsibilities like caregiving, nurturing, and maintaining familial and communal relationships.
On the psychological front, womanhood unfolds as a journey of emotional and psychological evolution. It involves aspects of self-perception, personal growth, and the intricate development of a woman’s identity over time. Interestingly, some women traverse their entire lives without unraveling the mystery of their own identity, while the fortunate few celebrate the profound ability to know who they are.
So, the question is: “How can one define what it truly means to be a woman?”
Sure, you can resort to online searches or consult a dictionary, and you’ll be bombarded with thousands of definitions for words like ‘Woman,’ ‘Womanhood,’ and ‘Female.’
Yet, to me, these definitions fall short of encapsulating the genuine essence of womanhood. They fail to look into the profound depths of womanhood within a world teeming with societal expectations, imposing a set of norms that women are expected to embody.
Simply being born female means carrying a load of societal pressures, a weighty baggage of expectations dictating how you should live your life. From childhood to adolescence, and through young adulthood to womanhood, the journey is paved with societal expectations that seem to grow in magnitude.
According to, “social expectations are those implicit rules that govern one’s reactions and beliefs in a way deemed acceptable by society.”
Sure, there are numerous definitions out there, but they all revolve around the notion that, as a woman, you’re expected to behave, talk, and express yourself in predefined ways.
Women, it seems, contend with a plethora of societal expectations unlike any other gender. The gender norms imposed upon them are remarkably rigid. And so, commences a woman’s narrative on Womanhood.

Chapter 2: Do this. Do that. What about what ‘I’ want to do?
My tale is not unlike that of countless women throughout history. Gender roles have gripped us in a vice since time immemorial. I find myself engrossed in the pages of regency novels, those tales of the allure of British aristocracy in Victorian times. The Duchesses, Countesses, Viscountesses—romance written in its purest form. Yet, something nags at me in these novels. The leading ladies are groomed for marriage, their debut seasons often at the tender age of 17. And by four and twenty (24 years), you’re deemed an old maid, unfit for marriage. Now, how on earth is a twenty-four-year-old considered too old?
These women are corseted into air-seizing ball gowns, paraded like prized possessions with dowries to be auctioned. Forbidden to work, their sole purpose is to bear heirs while their husbands entertain mistresses on the side. Dreaming of a business or a career is a threat. The best-case scenario, if your noble spouse has a shred of sense, is to manage estates alongside him while juggling full-time housewife and mom duties.
Though we’ve moved far beyond the Victorian era, I struggle to accept that society still slaps an expiration date on women, labeling them as unmarriageable. It baffles me that some men, far from traditionalists, still bar their wives from pursuing careers.
Traditional gender roles dictate that women should prioritize domestic responsibilities—caregiving, household maintenance, and nurturing family ties. But hit your thirties, and suddenly your personal goals don’t matter. Just get married.
As a woman, being opinionated is a crime. Having a voice is an affront. Expressing emotions? Outrageous! Set boundaries and be assertive, and you’re automatically labeled “aggressive,” “loud,” or “uncouth.”
The scrutiny extends to your appearance. What are you wearing? Don’t wear this, wear that.
Earn more than your partner? How dare you! “Since she got promoted and started earning more, she’s now proud.” But when the man earns more, he’s not tagged as ‘proud.’
If he indulges in extramarital activities,, it’s excused as “men are polygamous in nature,” conveniently forgetting the word ‘adultery.’
Society doesn’t care if you’ve eaten, but you keep hearing, “You can’t cook? What will your husband eat?” Husband, mind you—a grown, working man perfectly capable of caring for himself.
Pregnant? Suddenly, your body changes, and you’re no longer his type. While you navigate the discomfort of pregnancy, he’s chatting up another woman, now his preferred type because she hasn’t experienced the changes of childbirth.
Married and struggling to conceive? Society assumes you’re the one with fertility issues. God forbid a man lacks the ability to produce children. You’re the one booked for hospital appointments, and scheduled for prayer sessions.
One would think ‘Impotence’ is a concept foreign to society.
Work hard, hustle harder. Entrepreneurial skills and ideas flow through you, and you establish your business. You earn a degree, learn skills, read books, and eventually make money. Buy a house and maybe a car. Then you hear, “A man must be sponsoring her lifestyle.” Suddenly, society forgets that women can earn a living on their own with degrees, skills, and knowledge. A man is never questioned when he acquires a house, a car, or goes on vacation. But a woman must answer to society about how she affords those things. These are people whose moms are often breadwinners or at least contribute to 50% of the bills. People whose sisters go to work every morning, and they know where they work. I wonder why these questions don’t sound absurd to them when they spill from their lips.
There’s an extensive list of women in various professions, ranging from doctors and nurses to teachers, engineers, scientists, lawyers, CEOs, software developers, artists, writers, journalists, psychologists, social workers, architects, chefs, astronauts, police officers, firefighters, military officers, athletes, financial analysts, human resources specialists, pilots, fashion designers, marketing managers, dentists, pharmacists, political leaders, government officials, environmental scientists, librarians, veterinarians, film directors, social media influencers, economists, public relations specialists, graphic designers, geologists, interior designers, electricians, mechanics, electrical engineers, mathematicians, diplomats, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, professionals in tourism and hospitality, human rights activists, fitness trainers, marine biologists, sociologists, event planners, pilots, technical support specialists, cryptographers, meteorologists, zoologists. If I’ve left out any careers, just know it’s impossible to list them all, and if a new career emerges, rest assured women will be there.
Society doesn’t hold men to even half the expectations it imposes on women. Men aren’t pressured to stop starting wars that claim innocent lives, or to cease sexual harassment, femicide, ritualism, kidnapping, theft, vandalism, fraud, and the list goes on.
Men aren’t forced to end child marriages, honor killings, gender-based violence, or the molestation of children and minors. They aren’t pushed to halt gun violence, gang killings, drug and human trafficking, organized crimes, and terrorism. The harm and evil they perpetuate threaten society’s existence, yet there are no expectations for them to stop anytime soon.
They can get away with starting wars, committing genocide, rape, and murder. They can get away with almost anything. But a woman refusing to conform to societal expectations—be it cooking, marriage, or pursuing her preferences—they draw the line and enforce conformity.

Chapter 3: A Woman Vs the Society
It’s quite amusing that when you decide to open up about the challenges tied to the expectations dumped on women, you instantly earn the label of an “angry feminist.”
Let’s clear something up—the definition of feminism is crystal clear, and it’s not exclusive to women. Anyone—man, woman, or child—supporting equal rights and fair treatment for women can proudly don the label of a feminist. However, society hurls the term at you, intending it as a slur or a derogatory remark.
The idea that a human being, especially a woman, can ‘expire’ because she’s unmarried is beyond ridiculous. Even in death, your legacy lives on in history. I might not have been around during the Egyptian era, but I sure know who Queen Cleopatra is. Yet, they use ‘expiration’ on a woman simply because she hasn’t tied the knot. The sheer ignorance and stupidity condoned by society utterly baffle me.
Why can’t I stroll alone? Why must I say a prayer each time I board an all-male passenger vehicle? Why do I need to master the art of cooking, dishwashing, cleaning, and homemaking for a man and not for my survival? Why should I have to explain to society the source of my money for my lifestyle? Why must I feel fear when uttering a simple “no” to things I don’t want to do—like giving my phone number to strangers or engaging in sexual activities? Why should I feel uneasy walking past you because I know you’ll check out my backside? Why should I be questioned about my attire as if it justifies sexual assault? Why do I have to clarify that I’m not the reason for childlessness in a marriage? Why should I sacrifice my career to massage your ego because you can’t handle me earning more? Why should I submit to anyone without a logical reason (just because of a certain anatomy)? What does submission even mean? Am I a dog? We don’t tell children to be submissive, so why dictate it to a fully grown adult capable of reasoning and making choices? In what context does submission apply? Are there limits or exceptions to when a woman shouldn’t submit? Why don’t men submit to other men? Who made these rules, and why are they only for women? Why am I labeled a prostitute for being promiscuous while men are excused for being “polygamous in nature”? Who said women can’t be polygamous too? Who gave men the idea that it’s a natural attribute for them? Why should I be the one quitting my job to care for the kids? Why must I suppress my outspoken and expressive self?
And what does society offer in return when you do all these? Threats, abuse, molestation, ridicule, cheating, stripping, beating, breaking, and tearing you apart after you’ve given your all.
You walk on tiptoes your entire life, scared to speak up because you know society won’t truly support you. So, you settle for not discovering your identity, not knowing what you truly want, because society has handed you expectations, whether or not you’re capable of meeting them. And when you finally meet those expectations, you realize you’ve spent a lifetime living for society. The women who break free from these expectations, figuring out who they are and what they want, become villains to society. Not the men gradually reducing Earth’s population through destruction and mayhem, but a woman who decides to say, “You know what? Screw it. I’m going to live life on my terms.” Like I have a choice.

Chapter 4: I’ve chosen the path of rebellion.

Society, “What can you do about it”?
As a sociologist, I find the most intriguing aspect of societal evolution lies in rebellion or revolution. Look at the French Revolution and the British Industrial Revolution, transforming the 19th century into a far better time than its 17th and 18th-century counterparts.
Queens, it’s time to rebel and revolt if you want to witness change. If there’s no clear LOGICAL REASON as to why you should conform to societal expectations, then don’t. We’ll always build a community for ourselves in our golden years. Don’t let anyone intimidate you with visions of growing old with just cats. You’ll have your sisters, emotionally present throughout your journey. Your nieces and nephews, whom you checked in on and supported as they grew up, will be by your side. You’ll have the backing of your children (sons and daughters) because you exemplified what it means to nurture and care as a parent should. And of course, a solid retirement plan to live comfortably till your last breath.
Rebel. Because if you don’t, you’ll spend a lifetime not living for yourself. Remember, you only live once. Ever notice that men didn’t need to rebel against society to stop being traditional men? Where are the 100% providers? Where’s the lineup of men on battlefields started by men, with not a single female soldier in their midst? Weren’t men supposed to be the sole protectors? And where are the men meant to fix things around the house? What do you mean you can’t handle a snake? What do you mean you can’t hunt and gather? They’ve slowly shed all their traditional roles except polygamy.
They want traditional women without being traditional men. Come on, be realistic.
Honestly, I don’t even think carrying out traditional duties should be a problem. What disgusts me is the lack of choice. It’s not an option; it’s an obligation. But men get to have choices. Look at how they’ve abandoned their traditional roles, thinking we wouldn’t notice.
Chapter 5: Does anyone care about our mental health?
The impact of societal expectations on an average woman’s mental health is something we often underestimate.
Staying in an abusive relationship while battling your unhappiness becomes the norm because, well, what will society say?
Facing the aftermath of rape in silence is the unfortunate reality, all because society demands explanations about what you were wearing, where you were, and who you were with.
Feeling like a fraud, wrestling with imposter syndrome, because society insists you can’t make it alone as a woman; there must be a man behind your success.
And if you’re anything like me, living in perpetual paranoia and fear—boarding an all-male vehicle or entering an all-male environment, knowing the odds of harm are higher.
Pulling out your hair in frustration because saying you don’t want to get married, share your contact, cook, or clean feels like an impossible feat. Too tired to wash or too unwell to grocery shop—expressing these feelings seems like an act of rebellion.
Being cautious around your partner, fearing you could become the next victim of femicide, creates a constant state of unease.
For BIPOC women, the statistics on how poorly we’re treated by men are notably higher. Intersectionality, incorporating factors like race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and class, determines how burdensome societal expectations can be. Being born a BIPOC woman from a poor socioeconomic background already places you at a disadvantage. The ability to speak up for yourself is diminished. The risk of rape without justice, the likelihood of becoming a child bride, and settling in an abusive relationship are all too real.
Nevertheless, my message remains to rebel and revolt until you can live life on your terms. You are human, deserving of all the freedom in the world to live and survive without fear. I sincerely hope you do.

Writer’s Bio:
Benita is a writer adept at writing compelling insightful stories with a dash of wit. Her works (fictional and non-fictional) explore the issues of life with a keen eye. A storyteller, she crafts tales that resonate, leaving an indelible mark on the reader’s soul.

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Pencilmarks and Scribbles Magazine was founded in 2017 by Clara Jack to be a home for African writers, asking them to come as they are and giving them room for growth. The publication aims to give back to the Nigerian Literary scene for the things it has given us.