Happy International Women's Day - Should Women Stop Referring to Themselves or Other Women As “Strong”?
My brain is down a rabbit hole, help me decide if I can call myself strong
It’s International Women’s Day. In recognition of this, I want to open a conversation with you all, which I initiated over a year ago.
When did you last hear a man described as “strong”? And no, the bodybuilding context does not count.
The more I read and write about feminism, the deeper my brain dives. I have recently found myself in a new stage of awareness. I fidget and twitch whenever I hear a female described as “strong,” either by herself or by others.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I pride myself on being a “strong female” and have used this term countless times in the past. But something is not sitting right with me. It has taken me a while to figure out my unease with this term. Finally, while running in the woods, it came to me in a cloud of “a-ha.”
A strong woman isn’t viewed as typical
When we refer to women as “strong,” we are implying they are an exception to the rule of the female species.
Oh, you know, yes, they are female, but they aren’t like other females — they are strong, you know!
This term highlights the subject is not a typical female; I mean — they are strong, so of course, they stand apart from other females.
Other females who are weak!
This term suggests a strong female is an anomaly instead of the standard.
Society presumes females are subservient and weak. Physically, mentally and spiritually. We already know an assertive female is regarded as bossy! Whereas a male with similar qualities is recognised as a good leader.
So, each time I hear a female referred to as strong, I don’t hear the quality of the woman in question. Rather, I hear the reinforcement that females, in general, are not strong and this woman is an anomaly.
You know, she may be female, but she’s not like other females; she has qualities…
I read countless personal stories where women refer to themselves as “strong,” and I am sure they are. But I am yet to read a personal story where a man refers to himself as strong, and while he may not be, we presume he is. Because — well — he is a man!
Why is this?
In the same manner, we presume a female is weak by the very nature of her gender. We presume a male is strong by the merit of his gender. We don’t need to describe a man as strong as this is already given; you know, he is male, after all.
Isn’t this perverse when we think about it?
So, yes, I am a strong person. And maybe that’s the word I need to change, the gender indicator. I am strong physically and mentally. But much of my mental and character strength derives from my ability to be vulnerable and authentic.
Going full circle, with the presumption that men are strong, we place an unfair expectation on men.
Thinking about things, I’m not sure I have heard a female described as “weak,” yet I have heard a male described as such, not often, but I have heard it used a few times. And this wasn’t complimentary.
Eradicate the “man up” term
We are working hard for young girls to have an equal place in society.
To raise them as leaders and infiltrate male-dominated workplaces.
To talk to them as more than a pretty dress and cute face.
To encourage them in their passions outside of the traditional and sexist “women’s role.”
We are striving for gender equality.
In the same manner, we need to raise young boys with permission to cry and express their emotions. To eradicate the “man up” term and give them the necessary space to process hurt and joy and feel their own energy. To encourage in them a gentleness towards others and a deep-rooted compassion.
Vulnerability and kindness is not weakness, nor is it emasculating.
Should we abolish the “strong woman” term or not?
I don’t like what the term “strong woman” insinuates about other women in general. But perhaps we need this stage in our language to help the more ignorant of society realise women are strong, full stop, the end. Perhaps we aren’t ready to drop this descriptive term yet.
Until I am fully decided, I will describe myself as a strong person. I am strong, not by comparison with other females, but by comparison with other people in general.
For the absolute avoidance of any doubt, females are innately strong. Yet until this is a widespread understanding, I suspect many females will continue distinguishing themselves as “strong.”
To women everywhere, you are strong as you are. To men everywhere, know you can be vulnerable and kind; these are strengths, not weaknesses.
What do you think? To the men out there - are you ready to open up and be vulnerable? And women - do you refer to yourself as strong?
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I completely get and agree with what you're saying. I wrote about something like this on Medium a while back, about how we don't even blink when saying / hearing things like, "She knows her own mind," or, "She'll want to maintain her own career," or, "She's opinionated and can be feisty." Flip those: He knows his own mind (we never say that unless "he" is a child); He'll want to maintain his own career (assumed, goes unsaid); He's opinionated and can be feisty (okay...)
All of that sounds condescending when talking about a man, but we do it regularly when it comes to women without even thinking about it. Any time any observation will be made about a woman, I think everyone should replace 'she' with 'he' in the observation. If it sounds absurd for him, it's absurd for her.