Rite of Passage: What It Takes to Transition From Girl to Woman in Your 20s
A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with one of my grad school professors that really got me thinking about what it means to be a woman.
I had arrived early to class and I was talking to my professor, whom, I’ll admit, I find quite attractive. Okay, actually, he’s pretty hot.
We talked about the course and about what it takes to be successful in counseling. I expressed some concern about whether I had what it takes to succeed, especially given that I’m making a big career change and I have no education background.
“You seem to be a pretty assertive woman,” he said. “I think you’ll do well.”
My mind fixated on that word “woman.” He saw me as a woman. Not a girl. Not a student. Not even a young adult. He saw me as a woman.
It was empowering. With just that two syllable word, I felt more mature, more respected, more validated, more alluring.
I don’t doubt that my strong reaction to his words had at least a little bit to do with the fact that I see him as an exceptionally attractive, intelligent and successful man.
But it also left me wondering: Regardless of how enticing I find him, why would any one man addressing me as a “woman” leave such a notable impression on me?
I found my answer in a question: Did I even see myself as a woman?
No, I realized. Not really.
An adult, yes. I do consider myself to be a “grown up.”
I’ve certainly done many adult things: I’ve held a corporate job for the past several years, owned my own car and reserved a hotel in my name. I’ve been able to buy cigarettes and alcohol for several years now (of course, now I abstain from both) and I’ve lived on my own since 2009. I know what 401ks, W-4s, FHA loans and P&L statements are. I’ve replaced light bulbs, cooked three-course meals, gardened and adopted a dog. Heck, I’ve even owned my own home – and at the age of 24, I might add.
But a woman? No, I don’t think I usually see myself as that.
Inside, I still feel like a 16-year-old girl inside. I am prone to mood swings, I’m not the best at maintaining stable and supportive relationships and I have a lot of insecurities about myself. Often, I feel more like the little girl raiding her mother’s make-up bag, trying to pass for a sophisticated woman: I may try my darndest to play the part and act as if but, to everyone else, it’s all too obvious that the blush is a little too heavy, the eyeliner a bit too dark.
To me, a woman is poised and maternal, graceful and wise. She is gentle yet strong, passionate yet emotionally stable. She is a protector and a nurturer, exuding sophistication, independence and class in everything she does. She knows who she is and she’s comfortable in her own skin.
Of course, that’s just my definition.
Technically, the dictionary’s defines a woman as “the female human being, as distinguished from a girl or a man.” And it defines womanly as “like or befitting a woman; feminine; not masculine or girlish.”
Meanwhile, the Internet is full of theories on when you can consider yourself a woman. Specifically, they say, you’ve reached womanhood….
- When you’re going through pregnancy and menopause
- When you’ve had sex
- When you’ve had your first period
- When you turn 18
- When you get married
- When you have a full time job and can pay your own bills
- When other women are no longer the enemy
- When you can walk into a party alone
- When you order what you want at a restaurant instead of resigning yourself to a salad
- When you say things with assertion, like “In my opinion” instead of “It’s only my opinion but…”
- When you don’t need to wear revealing clothes to know you’re sexy
- When you don’t expect your man to be a mind reader. Instead, you’re able to communicate your feelings, needs and wants.
- When you can hold your liquor and don’t get wasted all the time
- When you don’t need validation from social media
- When you prefer to read a book over watching junk television
- When you can hold a stimulating conversation
- When you’re not afraid to expand your horizons and try new things
- When you don’t need anyone except yourself to be okay
- When you have standards instead of expectations for how others treat you.
- When you respond rather than react to your emotions and the emotions of others
- When you base your value on your intelligence, strength, integrity and contributions rather than just simply your looks and sexuality
- When you views domestic activities like cooking and cleaning not so much as chores and duties but rather, as means of taking care of yourself and those whom you love
- When you want respect more than attention
- When you cherish you health and respect your body
- When your criteria for a mate are less superficial (ie, 6-foot-1, blond hair and blue eyes) and more thoughtful (ie, a man of integrity, a man who is emotionally available)
- When you value deep friendships over a wide circle of acquaintances
- When you stop playing games with others in an effort to control them or get what you want
(Main Sources: Daily Mail, Elite Daily, Female Breadwinners, Just My Type)
The Bible sheds additional light on what it means to be a woman:
- The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down. (Proverbs 14:1 ESV )
- An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. … (Proverbs 31:10-31 ESV)
- House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord. (Proverbs 19:14 ESV)
- Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion. (Proverbs 11:22 ESV)
- Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 2:3-5 ESV)
- Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, (1 Peter 3:1 ESV)
- To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16 ESV)
- For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, (1 Peter 3:5 ESV)
- Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (Ephesians 5:22-24 ESV )
So What’s Your Definition of Womanhood? And When Did You Reach It?
My casual Internet research has shown that I’ve definitely made some progress on that transition from girl to woman (ie, I do respect my body more, I can hold stimulating conversations, I’m not afraid to walk into a party alone, I do enjoy domestic activities more than I used to). But I also have a ways to go still, particularly in terms of being more secure with myself and not needing other people’s validation or attention as much.
What about you? When was the moment you realized you were no longer a girl, but a woman? Or if you’re a male, what do you think is the main difference between boys and men? And when do you think you made that transition?
I’d love to hear about your experiences.