4 Unconscious 'Female' Behaviors That Might Ruin Your Life

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girl looking in mirror

There are some things that, once you know them, you don’t get to stop knowing. You get a momentary flash of understanding and then it colors the way you see the world around you. I had one of these moments last winter when I first encountered the term "feminine conditioning." I heard the term from Jo Casey, an amazing coach for coaches.

When Jo started writing about feminine conditioning, a huge light bulb went on for me because the idea perfectly captured an undefined swirl of issues I was encountering in my clients, seeing in my life, and talking about with virtually every woman I know.

Finally, I had a name for what we were dealing with. Feminine conditioning refers to an internal set of rules or beliefs that the majority of women hold about the nature of being a "good" woman within modern culture. Over and over, in my work and conversations, I’ve seen this particular brand of social conditioning show up for women, including myself.

It holds us back from speaking out, expressing ourselves, being seen for who we are, pursuing our goals, and following our passions. In most cases the effects of this socialization are unconscious, but it plays a huge role in the lives of women.  Not sure if you know what I’m talking about? Think about these unconscious behaviors which show the oppression of women in our daily lives.

RELATED: Why Do Men Think Feminists Hate Them?

Here are the 4 unconscious 'female' behaviors that might be ruining your life:

1. Declaring war on our bodies

Our size and shape determine our cultural values, and more importantly how we value ourselves. Letting our bodies age, naturally, is considered a crime against society. Eating, as in nourishing our bodies and minds, is considered to be a sign of weakness. An estimated 3 in 5 women have an eating disorder. We are raised to view our bodies as ornamental. What matters most is how we look, anything else is secondary.



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2. Believing that female goodness is synonymous with sacrifice

Women are taught that, above all else, we need to be giving. We’re taught to put others before ourselves, whether it’s making people comfortable or giving others credit for the work we do. We’re told to ‘play nice’ and expected to smile. One of the highest compliments a woman can receive (other than comments on how she looks) is that she is "selfless". As in, without regard for self. As in, check your true self at the door, because there is no room for you, your thoughts, or your opinions in this man’s world. You are ‘supposed to’ be the wind beneath someone else’s wings.

3. Not speaking up

"Good girls" are quiet, meek, modest, and agreeable. If we dare to speak up, disagree, or get too loud or visible, we are labeled as shrill, bossy, emotional, hysterical, nasty, and irrational. For the women who break this mold, the public backlash is immediate and intense. Just ask Leslie Jones, Hillary Clinton, or Jessica Valenti.

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4. Yielding none of the power and decision-making capability

There is a whole host of external reasons for this phenomenon, but right now I’m talking about the internal causes. We have internalized this conditioning to a point where it starts to look like Stockholm syndrome. I say this because the fact is that many women are the ones perpetuating this norm; turning on each other, rather than fighting the standards that hold us all captive.  How often do you hear women — in person, in the media, or online — judge and trash other women for not conforming to the standards detailed above?



When was the last time you heard a woman criticize another woman for being too brash, too loud, or too fat? How often do you hear women call each other names and criticize each other? Criticize each other for the way they look, dress, talk, or parent? Women are just as guilty of perpetuating these norms as men are. 

So, how do we begin to overcome this? 

  • Awareness is the key to the beginning. The first step to overcoming feminine conditioning is by building your awareness. Learn the messages of your conditioning and begin to recognize them when they show up for you.
  • Communicate about it. Talk about this with other women. When you feel yourself getting smaller or holding back from what you want to say or do, name what’s happening aloud to someone you trust. Naming something reduces its power over you. Help the women around you to do the same.
  • Sisterhood. I cannot overstate the value of finding sisterhood. Join or cultivate a group of women around you that you can count on for support and discussion of the things that matter. When you see women being targeted, step in to defend them. Be the voice of reason in a conversation that is descending into petty gossip or harsh judgment. This isn’t easy, but it will feel better than just jumping on the bandwagon. 

Feminine conditioning can be addressed and managed, but it takes a conscious effort. As individuals, we can learn to address this within ourselves and then help the women we know. As a culture, we can create change, one woman at a time.

RELATED: FYI: Feminism Is A Reaction To Men, Not An Original Standpoint

Jen Pavich is a professional and personal development leadership coach and facilitator. She has been featured in the Sensuality Project, Rebel Crones Rising, Medium, Going There, Kind Over Matter, and more.