When we think of strong women, we conjure this image of a bossy, independent, sasha-fierce-type who runs (and owns) the world.
She may look like a modern-day suffragette, she may have Tina Fey’s biting wit, she may hold her head high in the truest imitation of Ms. Carter. She’s smart, smooth and articulate, and you know she don’t take no mansplaining from nobody.
She is feared and admired in equal parts. She is power and love and nurturing on her terms and her terms only.
She is also incredibly exclusionary, unrealistic, and….well, sometimes harmful.
Because even Kerry Washington can’t be Olivia Pope (who, by the way, talks a lot about how she’s a saviour right before a night of wine, popcorn and staring pointlessly at The President.)Because many of us in the real world are much more Ke$ha pre-rehab than 1970’s Angela Davis (love her!). Because we’ve limited ourselves with our idea of strength—the strength isn’t just about the boss-bitch personality traits. The strength is also the struggle.
Keeping this in mind, I suggest a redefining of strength. Rather than seeing strength as the no-bullshit-boss-bitch, I ask that we broaden our view of strength to include all women. After all, it is this dichotomy of strong and weak, that keeps us clamouring for power, judging each other, deciding who is deserving of admiration and who is isn’t. Why reinforce that? Let’s evolve beyond the binary.
Let’s see strength in the girl who expresses her emotions, while also seeing the strength in the woman who shuts down and enters a day dream when asked to talk about her experiences. Strength in the one who is angry. Strength in the one who is soft spoken. Strength too in the woman who bows her head in silence as she is screamed at by the man she loves. Strength in the person who has experienced childhood violence and goes on to raise kids of her own. Strength to the ones who have had their agency stolen from them, their voices taken, their dignity traded, and still find a way to exist. Strength in the woman who has to convince others she is feminine/sexual/beautiful/important/valid on a regular basis. Strength in the girl continuously scrutinized for her sexual orientation, ability level, skin colour, who still tries to create understanding. Strength in the single mother working tirelessly to feed her children.Strength within the person who uses and misuses substances, as a means of survival. Strength in those who contemplate or attempt suicide. All of these experiences have merit. All of these realities hold the strength of women’s truth.
So, on International Women’s Day, I ask you to revamp your strong women meme, to re-categorize your bossy-bitch admiration. Adjust it, to include the different shapes of strength.