Writer / Reader / Fandom Extraordinaire
Chiara / September 28, 2016 , Wed / feminism

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.

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10 Responses to the idea of a strong woman

  1. Romi says:

    This. Is.
    Everything. Perfection. What I needed to hear when I fell into thinking I had to be cold to be looked up to. It’s incredibly important, Chiara, and it is written so, so beautifully and honestly and I read and loved and cherished every moment that I spent reading this- and I’ll cherish all the moments I spend thinking about it, directly or indirectly, forevermore. Saying these things, things that are so true and accurate and necessary to say, it is most certainly not easy and it can be uncomfortable and hard to explain: and you nailed it.

    I wish, when I was younger, that I had seen a character in a book and loved them and admired them because they were flawed and realistic and still painted as strong. Instead, I was reading about characters who went on amazing adventures and sacrificed themselves or lost the people they loved the most and were still epic, and, as I moved from MG to YA, characters who were all these things that I was not- but thought I should be because being hurt is a weakness and look how ~they~ react to pain. Look how they are brilliant and icy and perfect.

    But I was quiet. Shy. Parts of me were broken and breaking. Parts of me have grown and developed and started banging on the walls of my chest, yearning to be said, and yet the strong people I read about didn’t break, and if they did… they didn’t need help to get better. And these characters are marvellous and fantastic and they can be so important, so necessary because you see yourself in them or you find a way to get by, because stories are magic and they know how to help sometimes when you don’t know who else to turn to, but they aren’t the only characters. And there shouldn’t be this strange, unachievable benchmark of what it means to be strong and wonderful and just about perfect. There isn’t only one type of strong person. There is EVERY type of strong person. And crying is pretty much wonderful.

    (Just like you)
    xx

    • Topaz says:

      I was going to write a proper comment, only then I read this one and it pretty much said everything that I’ve been feeling with regards to this post. Thank you, Chiara, for saying it so beautifully. And thank you, Romi, for expressing my own feelings in the gorgeous & eloquent way that you always have. I love you both. We are strong just as we are. xo

    • Chiara says:

      Thank you so much for this comment. I hardly know what to say because I think we have both said it all. But I am so very pleased that this post was able to give you something, and that you were able to take something away. And that you enjoyed it, and it meant something to you. I can only hope that the idea of a strong woman changes as time goes on, because it needs to. For so many reasons. <3

  2. Beth W says:

    I think strength is two things: The resilience to keep living, in spite of anything that robs you of joy (or challenges it), and the wisdom of knowing yourself. Clearly, you have both. I wish more strong female characters were portrayed in this way (especially in YA), but I do take heart that there are female characters whose strength lies in their imagination, or their compassion, or their teamwork attitude, or their leadership skills.

    (also, my fight/flight reflex is to freeze even in the face of certain death, so even though I’m proficient in recurve bow, I’d be right there with you, not being post-apocalyptic warriors)

    • Chiara says:

      Thank you so much for your comment, Beth <3 There are definitely characters that we come across who defy this concept of a strong woman, and I wish there were more of us who recognised those traits as strengths, and not just aspects of their personality (although they are that, too).

      (We could all form a band of inept warriors!)

  3. Rebecca says:

    This post is everything. Especially in YA, where the beloved strong female characters are all expected to be kickass, fighting fantasy heroine types. There’s nothing wrong with those characters, but there is something wrong with the idea that people think that’s what strength is, when it really is so much more. Strong girls and women shouldn’t only lie with the image of fighting and badassery, fearlessness and cold exteriors. I think strength lies in knowing yourself and being true to you are, unequivocally. I think strength lies in following your path and not following the path most travelled, when it doesn’t hold your truth. Strength is following your dreams and being resilient in your quest to achieve them. Picking yourself up when you’ve hit a wall, been told no, had a rough day. In the words of one of my fave lovelies and actors Gina Rodriguez, it’s saying and believing: I can and I will. But strength is also being human, and flaws, and tears, and feeling what you need to feel. It’s being imperfect and owning it anyway, screwing societies ideals and making up your own. As always, I love your words and your ability to get me thinking and impassioned, especially this early in the morning ;)

    • Chiara says:

      <3

      I absolutely adore this comment and I love that you added to this post with your thoughts, and that you were passionate about them and willing to share them with me, Rebecca! I am infinitely grateful.

  4. Jacob says:

    Do not have much to say. And yeah, I’m a guy commenting on this haha. I like it. Definitely agree with everything you said. :) Nice job!

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