Redefining The ‘Strong Woman’

by Piyali Dasgupta

“Girl, you have to be strong.”

“You are a woman, you need to be stronger.”

“Women are born strong.”

From childhood, girls are raised to aspire to be “strong women.” Who does our society consider a “strong woman”?

Community rules, mainstream media, religious bodies and corporate bigwigs declare that a woman has to stomach negative, antagonistic and unfavorable people, situations and circumstances to be considered “strong.” We need to constantly give in to and put up with what we shouldn’t. Society says that putting up with this nonsense is part of being a “strong woman.”

Observe the most successful women of the world. Even they talk about the undue and unwarranted discriminations and injustices they endure, just because of their gender. Absorbing this like a sponge destroys our sense of self-preservation. Accepting this silences our inner voices and signs us up for a suffocating life.

Social order and moral guardians believe a self-sacrificing and compromising woman is “strong.” Look around you; examples of great women are always mired in metaphors for martyrdom. Women have to be examples of enormous sacrifice to be called great. A “strong woman” has to bear the brunt of things, suffer, cringe and get tortured before she is turned into a goddess or a saint. When stories taking on unjustified pain promises women peace in the end, women tend to push the envelope and steer towards self-destruction rather than freedom.

Women who find their happiness in others’ happiness are “strong.” Popular convention has established this as fact. Women are taught to be emotionally dependent on their roles and relationships for happiness. Parents, partners and children influence how women feel about themselves. This equation drives their sense of accomplishment. Getting attention in these roles has become so essential for sustenance that when these relationships snap, women break into pieces too.

These definitions for a “strong woman,” as dictated by society, have made life worse for women over generations. It is a bane that has pierced our lives and threatened our complete existence.

Some of us struggle everyday to break through these stereotypes. Here is the definition of for the real and new strong woman:

We have found our voices. Yes, we are speaking up, expressing ourselves, and letting the world know exactly what we think about the unspoken, forbidden, taboo and hidden. We are no longer following pre-established societal decrees, starting with our bodies, our sexual preferences, our orgasms, our workplace opportunities, our pay, our desire to have kids or not, our personality types, and our political rights.

There is no aspiration for sacrificial greatness that includes indulging in martyrdom and victimhood. No one can own or control us. The world tries hard to outcast and ostracize us, but we are simply not cowing down under the pressure.

We do not tolerate rubbish. We walk away, stand up against it and fight for our rights. That doesn’t make us difficult, aggressive, confrontational, loners or man-haters. Our new strength is characterized by our intrepid courage, buoyant spirit and empathetic leadership qualities. It transforms the narratives about how the world thinks, functions, and acts. You will not find us in the backseat.

We do not apologize for who we are. No, we do not need validation from others to tell us if we are “good enough.” We do not fight for a fight’s sake, but to uphold basic human dignity, which has taken a beating. It is not hogwash. Our lives show the way forward. We are torchbearers. In a tough world, we are forerunners.

Self esteem, preservation and care our no longer our last priority. Putting ourselves first from time to time doesn’t make us ruthless, cruel and self centered. We are not pleasers.

Some people sneer and think, “What are these women talking about when they have so much social, economic and emotional independence? Their mothers and grandmothers didn’t even have this. So what are they complaining about?” Yes, in some developed and developing countries things have changed for the better. But in the same countries, you are still slut- and body-shamed and told when to have children or to marry. Opportunity gaps and inequalities are rampant at work,  and violence against and sexual harassment of women is seen as part of human nature. Let’s not even visit the ghastly crimes which are happening in the rest of the world.

We rest our case. This is the new strong.

Piyali Dasgupta is an experiential learning specialist and strategist, who weaves this expertise into capacity building, life skill development, content development and writing. A feminist and wit addict, she is a time and life traveller. She loves trees, water bodies, vintage, cooking and arts.

Top image: detail from Joan of Arc’s Death at the Stake by Hermann Stilke (1843)

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