What the heck does that even mean anyway? Does it mean you think I can bench press you? Are you talking about my mental state? My intelligence? My faith? Is it supposed to encourage me? Is it a very condensed pep talk? Or is it a casual observation intended to make me think? Perhaps you are admonishing me for my momentary show of weakness? Maybe you really think I don't know? What? Really, I would like to know what I am supposed to take from that.
First of all – being a strong woman is a given. Women are, by temperament strong – they were created that way. It is women who hold together nations, cultures, communities and families. It is women who give birth, nurture, teach and encourage. It is women, who hurt, sacrifice and live so that others may live. All this is in their very nature (and yes, I am perfectly aware of the exceptions to that rule – but they are just that, exceptions.) We do not praise women for raising their children the way we praise men for even showing interest in theirs. We expect women to sacrifice so that their children may achieve. We praise men as wonderful fathers if they do no more than provide financially for their offspring. From women we expect more; and they inevitably provide it – without a second thought.
This post is not, however about those conundrums that continue to separate the sexes – though I will, no doubt find a way and/or reason for that particular rant at some point. This post is about that insidious phrase, “you are a strong woman.”
In the last couple of years I have had that line tossed at me like a hasty hand grenade by otherwise normal men as they beat a none-too-discreet retreat from my perceived moments of uncharacteristic neediness. Inevitably it is lobbed as a distraction, a tactic designed to throw me off just a little bit. A clever stab at a strategic defense that throws me into offensive mode.
This particular sentiment has all of the hallmarks of a left-handed compliment. Cleverly disguised and stated in such a way as to preclude one from reacting appropriately without seeming decidedly shrewish. This pronouncement has never been delivered to me as a follow up to a particularly satisfying moment of triumph, as a much earned compliment following an achievement nor even as a passing observation during a casual conversation. No, in fact, every single time it was offered as a conversation quelling exit line when it had become obvious that I was overwhelmed, upset, broken, sad or – let’s face it – in need of respite, rescue, relief or at the very least a tiny bit of aid.
Let me be clear here, I have never been perceived as a ‘damsel-in-distress’ or fragile female (weird, really, because I am only 5’ tall and about 120 pounds, but, whatever.) To tell the truth, I don’t much need anyone, male or otherwise, to fight my battles for me as a rule. Still, there are times when it all just becomes too much. And what is wrong with thinking a guy might have my back? I’m not asking anyone to slay my dragons for me but when I am lying on the floor too weak to move they could offer to close the door so an errant monster can’t just wander in couldn’t they? I mean, really, do they HAVE to run and dive out the nearest window?
I have never, not even once, asked a man (or another woman) to “fix” any of my troubles. Yet, every true female friend I have ever had at the very least sat with me and assured me that they were all bastards when I felt the world was against me. The very best actually offered to run somebody over with her car if I wanted. I laughed – I knew she was telling me she had my back, all I had to do was ask and she would help carry the load. Not one of my male friends, lovers, ‘others’ has ever done the same.
When I am at a point where my problems become something I need help with having an idiot say something like, “you’re a strong woman, you’ll be fine” sounds too much like Jerry Seinfeld saying, “That’s a shame” or a new age wimp saying, “I don’t want to mess with your Karma” or a self-centered narcissist saying, “ooh, that’s rough, let me know how it turns out” – in other words I know it is a cop out. It is just a new way of saying they don’t want to deal with it.
Being strong does not mean the same thing as being invincible. I AM strong, but I am also human. Sometimes I will need help, and I don't need to be shamed by someone who is unwilling to help. I am not now nor have I ever been a victim - and using my own strength as a weapon to make me feel worse for knowing I need help is the move of a coward.
As far as I am concerned this new-found method of damning with faint praise that men have pounced upon needs to be nipped in the bud. Let’s call it what it is – a spineless attempt to get out of the hard work of a relationship (romantic, friend, whatever) and still pretend they are real men.
A "real" man (woman, friend, etc.) can and will step in, even if they haven't been asked. You don't need to start a fight, punch someone or even necessarily care beyond the idea that they have hurt your friend. However, showing that you care enough to take a stand can often be more than enough to reaffirm my inner strength, to give me the second wind to deal with the situation. just knowing that someone thinks I am worth their time can make all the difference.
I know my “friends” and I know the reaction this will get from the men. Seriously – I don’t care. I am tired of being the only one in my circle with hair . . . and the balls it is growing on. Whatever happened to real men? Not primitive barbarians. I mean men who can be strong, sensitive, caring and tough when necessary. Men who aren’t afraid to be what the situation calls for . . . hard, soft, strong, smart, wise, angry, calm . . .
Oh wait. That’s women.