This weekend, I helped lead a domestic violence and healthy relationships workshop for a group of teenage girls. The first activity we had the girls do was write down what traits make a woman strong and what traits make a woman weak. The things they said make a woman weak included low self of steam esteem, lack of self-love, thinking she’s too fat/skinny or not pretty, letting a man treat her disrespectfully. The things they said make a woman strong included having high self esteem, loves herself, is comfortable in her own skin, holds her head high. The list for what made a strong woman stuck out to me because her characteristics matched my own.
This got me to thinking: Can you tell a strong woman just by looking at her? At what point does a strong woman become weak? Is there ever a point where a woman’s strength can become her weakness? Can a woman be both strong and weak at the same time?
Many times women, black women especially, take being a “strong woman” as feeling the need to be everything for everybody, without buckling under the pressure. As superwoman, she meets the expectations to maintain and sustain her career, her family, and her home simultaneously. She picks up the slack when others fall short, and she fills the void when others vacate responsibility. And when some one or some thing throws a monkey wrench in her superwoman path? She dodges it and presses on. Even if she can’t do it all, she tries her damnedest to succeed. Because if not her, than who?
Recently, I’ve been dealing with family tragedies, heartbreak, failed/halted experiments, pressure to publish, and anxiety to graduate. If it ain’t one thing, it’s another. I’ve tried to keep myself from thinking too much about it or feeling it too deeply. I laugh the pain away on twitter, I work the worry away at work (when I can manage to focus), I sweat the sorrow away at the gym, and whatever is left I package into a blog post. A friend I hadn’t spoken to in awhile said to me, “you’re a stronger woman than most.” Am I? Is that what he sees? How can I be strong if deep down I feel so weak?
If you peel back a few of these outer layers, you’d see that I”m busting at the seams. Like a blouse that no longer fits, I’m holding it together just enough to appear normal. I keep a straight face to prevent having an emotional break down in public. I avoid crying because I fear I won’t be able to stop. I just want things to go on as usual, so I behave as if things are as usual. With a tuck of this sadness here and a tuck of that worry there, no one should know the wiser. I don’t even think I’ve been disguising my inner turmoil on purpose. It just… happened.
Despite choosing not to be outwardly transparent about the personal struggles of my life, I believe that I am strong. Though my emotional despair can make me feel weak at times, my emotional self is not a weakness. Ultimately, emotional states are dynamic and temporary. Though I find myself in a difficult place, struggling to keep it all together all the time, I am determined to move forward and to get to a better place. And thank God I have the strength to do so…
What do you think makes a strong woman? Do all strong women look alike? Does a strong woman have to have it all together all the time? Can a strong woman be vulnerable? Is it possible for a weak woman to pass for a strong woman?