The 'Successful' Woman

Updated: Jun 17

When you think of a ‘successful’ woman, what do you see? A strong businesswoman managing the companies she worked so hard to create? Or a housewife, managing her house and working day and night to raise her kids?

Our society works in a funny way. It assigns certain definitions and sets specific criteria for each group of people. Thus, for every age and gender, there is always a social standard to measure up to in order to be considered successful.

The definition of a ‘successful woman’ has changed in every era. For the longest time, a successful woman was considered to be someone who knew her way around her house. A good housewife focused and committed to her family, in charge of all the domestic duties. The standard then changed over the past couple of decades, and we transitioned into a new definition of the ‘successful woman.’ Instead of staying at home, a successful woman became one with an ambitious career. One who was independent, working to make a strong career and focused on her goals.

With each era’s definition, also came the disapproval when a woman didn’t fit into the standards. When the standard was being a good housewife, a woman wanting a career for herself was considered a disgrace. Since men were considered the only source of income, it made no sense for society to allow women to work. On the contrary, when the standard became a career-oriented, independent woman, the one wanting to stay at home to focus on her family became a shame. In every case, a woman choosing a different path than what’s expected of her is disapproved.

People always say "one must do what makes him happy". Yet this support disappears whenever someone decides to go a different way than where society wants them to.

An example of this is feminism. People are fed with the misconception that feminism is only about women asking for independence, choosing their careers over traditional domestic duties, standing up against the historical oppression by men. People believe this side of feminism is the only face of the movement. And based on this misconception, just like how a working woman was considered a disgrace in the old times, now a woman wanting to start a family early and becoming a housewife is considered anti-feminist and narrow-minded;

when actually feminism is about empowering women to make their life decisions themselves and choosing what they want to do.

Whether it’s to have a strong career and big goals in mind or if it’s just staying at home preferring to do housework, as long as it’s something desired by the doer, that goal becomes the definition of success. Not any other that the current age and society made for her.

We take pride in the fact that we belong to the 21st Century; that we’re a more modern, open-minded, and accepting generation than any other before us. Yet we set up the same bar in our society just like all those generations before us, only we change it a little to a newer packaging.

Another funny thing about our society is that we believe that the concept of a working woman and a housewife cannot coexist together. Women are made to believe that they cannot work at all once they start their families or else their children will be neglected, which is why many women never pursue their careers - and the ones who do - are expected to excel at it to a point where it compensates for not focusing on the family. It’s always one clashing with the other and the ‘successful woman’ never comes.

In Pakistan, we have so many female medical graduates each year, yet only a few who actually pursue their career after marriage, because it’s always career vs family. Then there are women who want the opposite. They want to focus on their family and their home but since this has been linked to its oppressive history for such a long time, this option is deemed as a shame. In simpler words, a successful woman is a career-oriented woman until it’s time to start a family.

It’s time we change this definition of ‘success’ for women and define it as something she wants for herself. If the woman wants not to pursue her career, that’s her measure of success. If she wants to work even with children, that becomes her measure of success. If she wants to take career breaks to focus on her family, that’s her measure of success. If she wants to jump back in her career after years of not working, that becomes her measure of success. Not what the society, or you, or I decide.

A woman's success is not something that is defined by society. It isn’t bound to the preferable choices of someone else, rather it is something that only she gets to decide for herself. She’s the one responsible for setting up the standard and criteria she wants to meet, and it all should revolve around her comfort and desire.

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