This is the first of a series of articles by Alex Shewan – a journey of discovery and a resonant voice for women everywhere.

Inspired by a conversation I had online, I was left asking myself what does it mean to be a woman in 2021? Why is this question so relevant?  This led me to think, not about attitudes to women, but about my own place in society as a woman. What is my identity and is there such a thing?

For me, identity and society’s expectations of me has haunted me since my childhood. I was very fortunate in my upbringing. At home, being a woman was never considered to be a barrier to life. The concept that it might be did not exist in my head until I became older and ventured into the outside world. As I grew and began to forge friendships with other children, the pressure began and I found myself part of a societal thinking which was alien to me. The expectation that I look a certain way. The expectation that I dress a certain way. The expectation that I should have a boyfriend. The expectation that one day I would marry and have children; on the surface, all of this is perfectly harmless and innocuous. But the question this raises is what happens when these expectations are not met? What happens if life simply does not provide these opportunities? What happens if this is not the individual’s chosen path?

And this is what happened to me.

As a single woman in her forties with no children, I essentially go against society’s ideal. My life choices and experiences did not lead me down the path of social conformity. As a result, life can be difficult for me; the feeling of constantly having to justify myself or excuse myself. Almost apologising for who I am. The constant judgement and the feeling that I have failed. That I am not good enough. That I do not fit in. The result of this has the power to be damaging and devastating to the human soul. This raises the question as to how far this is a societal issue and how far is it something within myself? Is blaming society too easy? Do I have a choice?

Yes, society creates expectations, barriers and likes to define who we are and what we should be. Conformity is powerful and becomes engrained in our psyche and our culture which makes fighting against it very difficult and often very frightening. Going against the norm is difficult. It takes courage and strength, something which is within us all but is sometimes very hard to unleash.

Recently, I have come to realise that my non-conformity is my strength. The things I felt were my weaknesses and failures are actually my power. I have learnt that my mindset is a choice and that choice gives me empowerment. I have also learnt that I am not alone. The battle against conformity is one which individuals are fighting every day, the desire to fit in and the need for acceptance. After years of searching my place and yearning for that elusive feeling of “fitting in”, I realised that this is an illusion; a concept but not a reality. Fitting in is a state of mind, not an actuality. I have spent much of my life searching for my place in society, finding the box in which I could fit and feel a sense of belonging. Belonging to what? And eventually I realised that there is no such thing. The feeling of belonging and the feeling of fitting comes from within. It is to do with self-acceptance and inner peace.

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