“This book is great for girls because it has strong female characters.”
“Vote for her—she’s a strong woman who will fight for your interests.”
“At this college, we prepare strong, independent women for their careers.”
“Strong woman” is a phrase heard often these days, and because I admire both words and women, I’ve been paying attention. It’s used in politics, on campuses, in the media, and even by little girls who know at a very early age to describe themselves as “strong.” It’s made me think about what strong actually means—what is the implication when people say “strong woman”?
The tone used when saying “strong woman,” especially in politics, often sounds as if the speaker is correcting a common misconception that women are generally weak or dependent by virtue of their gender, and that the “strong woman” is an exceptional, out-of-the-ordinary woman. But do people actually view most women—“ordinary” women—as weak? Or even worse, is this the way most women view themselves?
I don’t believe so. I grew up at the height of “women’s lib” in the ’70s, and it’s never occurred to me to think of myself as weak because I’m female. I can’t remember a time when I was ever perceived that way by others, either.
So I wonder sometimes what others’ reactions are to hearing that someone is a “strong woman.” I’ll be honest about my reaction: it grates on my ears. Why is that? Because every time I hear it, my brain has the same reflexive response:
Do I even know any women who are not strong?
But then, maybe my definition and the world’s definition of “strong women” are not the same.continue reading