I’m a size M in most clothes. I don’t do much in the way of physical exercise. I certainly would not be able to punch someone, or protect myself in a physical fight. I don’t have any weapons in which I am proficient in use. I have long red hair. I like to wear flowery sundresses sometimes, and black corsets at others. I have a bachelor’s degree, an Honours dissertation, and a postgraduate certificate. I don’t have a partner. I care a lot about things like animals and social justice. I cry when something hits me in the soft place of my heart. I have walls and they can be quite hard to break down. I can be sarcastic and funny if the timing is right. I can be hurt by online comments. I am a girl. I am a woman. I am strong.
And yet, a lot of the books I read and the movies and TV shows I watch expect a strong woman to be something that is not me. To be thin. To be extremely beautiful. To be athletic. To be able to hold themselves in a fight. To be closed off to emotions. To not care about things. To be sarcastic and cocky almost all of the time. To not be hurt by the “small” things. These, apparently, are the things that make a woman strong.
And yet, all of the strong women I have met in my life defy this image, this character, this apparition, this ghost, this farce. They may have one or more of these attributes, but they do not fit into the mould that society has created.
I do not have to fight people and kill people and protect my family at the potential cost of death to be strong. I don’t have to win every fight to be strong. I don’t have to overcome everything in my life until they are but naught on my emotional radar to be strong. I don’t have to deny female friendship to be strong. I don’t have to deny comfort to be strong. I don’t have to deny relying on others to be strong.
The things about me that make me strong … are everything. Every part of me is strong. And some of me may fit into the mould of what society thinks a strong woman must look like, but most of it does not.
And the fact that people hold these characters up and say “this is a strong female character”, and “so glad that a character like this exists”, and “this is a kickass female character” make me sad. Because yes, they are strong, and it is good that they exist, and they are kickass. But they are not the definition of strong. They are not the bar to reach to call yourself strong. They are not the strong woman. They are not the only strong women. The way these characters are is not only fictional, but practically unattainable.
And we are saying: this is what you must look like to be strong. This is what you must act like to be strong. This is what you must say to be strong. This is what you must to do be strong. This is what you must be to be strong.
And it is, in a word: wrong. There are so many facets to the word “strong”. There are so many ways to be strong. So many things that make you strong.
I am so utterly and entirely and unequivocally sick of seeing these female characters lauded and praised for being a strong woman when they are not the only ones. You do not have to be like them to be strong. You are strong because you are you. You are a woman. And you are strong. You don’t have to be them. You just have to be you.
You are strong. Just as you are.