Depending on the culture, country and time, the word woman has taken different definitions.
It has been used to define the weaker gender where man is the dominant gender. In all continents, apart from Asia that is a matriarchal society, a woman was described as one who could not make decisions without consulting a man and upon consultation she needed an approval to proceed. In other words, a woman could not do anything without the help of a man whereas a man was so superior that he needed nobody’s approval.
General Definition of a Woman
A woman was defined right from the time she was a young girl by her duties. Her play toys were characterized by dolls, which symbolized an aspect of giving birth and taking care of children. She was being molded to be a house wife and the kind of skills she learnt included sewing, weaving and embroidery, which were typical of any good woman. As a grown-up woman, her responsibilities involved taking care of the family wealth though none of it belonged to her. There was no much difference between a young girl and a grown-up woman, both of them were considered more like children, the difference was stature and age. In fact, in some societies, a woman and children were considered the same. Domestic violence was nothing to worry about as a woman was considered to deserve a beating whenever she went wrong.
Family Definition of a Woman
A family woman was defined by child bearing and the number of children she bore.
A man was at liberty to marry another woman if he was not satisfied with one woman. It was believed to be a woman’s responsibility to control who she gave birth to, and she was blamed for that without the man considering biological factors of chromosomes. A woman who got a co-wife was neglected, and she had to feed her children through whichever means. She was expected to give birth to as many children as she could, which was a symbol of wealth to the husband.
In the family, a woman did all the house work from taking care of the children to taking care of the animals. It was expected of her to cook, wash and bring up the children responsibly. If one of the children became unruly, it was blamed on her as being a poor parent hence the child was considered to be a mother’s child. She was to take the children to school, follow-up on their assignments, attend all the school meetings and be a good time keeper. For a woman, there was a dictated behavior that was expected of her.
When called by a man, she was expected to respond and talk in a way that portrayed humility. A woman was not allowed to stay for long in a place where men were talking since she could not be trusted with information. In the Asian culture, educating the girl child was a waste of finances and precious time. She was meant to grow up and be married off to anybody who showed interest in her. In all the decisions, she was never involved; her part was to obey orders from her father, her brothers and the elders.
In case marriage did not work, maybe the man was so violent or irresponsible that the wife could not keep up with him, she could not dare to go back home because nobody could accept her back; she was considered an outcast.
Education System Definition of a Woman
For a woman who was fortunate enough to go to school, the education system had very little room for her. The system could not go against what was normal; the boy child was the king, the girl child was the servant. The girl child was considered to be weak in performance and was never given enough opportunities to advance in education. In-takes for high schools and tertiary institutions were not at the same level, and the cut-off point for the female gender was lower than that of the male gender. This affected the view of the society on a school going girl as one who needed help to get to the next level and in turn affected negatively the female gender by depicting it as a gender which always needed assistance. Professional wise, a woman was not given equal opportunities as men. Technical courses like engineering were considered men courses and if a woman emerged and did the same, she was viewed differently by both men and women.
In terms of pay, she could do the same amount of work as a man but got paid less than a man for the same job. In times of promotion, a woman could excel in her performance, but she was never considered to be competent enough. The educated woman was perceived to be the disobedient type.
The Limitations of the Definitions
The definition of a woman as a weaker gender, who does all the donkey work, who cannot make concrete decisions by herself, who cannot perform as much as a man can, and who is more like a child regardless of the age was so limiting. The definition limited a woman in how much she could do with all that she had. She was accustomed to think that she needed assistance in everything she involved herself in. She could not make concrete decisions on her own, including choosing a marriage partner, she was depending on her father or brother to approve the man before she got confident she made the right choice.
This also created a mentality in a woman that she could not do as much the man could do. The idea of setting the cut-off points for joining higher learning institutions for girls lower than those for boys was a bit liberating but a point to expose the weakness of a woman. This exposed a woman to vulnerability of needing assistance, which at times was taken advantage of by the lecturers. Professionally, out of her being considered weaker than the male gender, she was not given enough opportunities. She suffered sexual harassment. Promotions were not open to a woman and regardless of her performance; she still had to work under a man since no man could listen to her decisions.
This limited her, especially when she could provide better leadership than men but was not given the opportunity to do so. Out of the societal victimization of the female gender, a woman feared to venture into politics: she believed she could not defeat men politically; fellow women did not have faith in her potential and therefore could not vote for her; men talked ill of her in public, which created fear in the coward type; and it was not considered her area to be a leader. This limited her in practicing her God given gift of leadership.
The definition of a woman as a source of wealth was such a misleading definition. It has been proved with time that a woman also has the potential to perform academically and achieve what a man can and put it into practice like a man can. Denying a woman education was one of the ways of making her totally dependent on the man which subjected her to be a victim of the man’s decisions.
She too needed to be educated so that apart from contributing to the society, she could be a better mother to her children and better wife to her husband. This could lead to having healthy families. All these limitations could be overcome if parenting was done well. Parents are the best role models to any growing child.
For example, if the boy child grows up seeing his dad take care of a new born baby, he will grow knowing that it is also the responsibility of a male to do so. If a girl is brought up knowing that all a boy can do she can, she will grow up with the courage to venture into the world that is considered to be male’s. This will help in removing the limitations that separate the male and female that has made them to be in two different worlds. The government should also take initiatives to ensure that the modern day woman is empowered through being educated and informed.