The Myth of the Strong Woman
The damage we do when we designate certain women as ‘strong’
Apparently, I am a “strong” woman.
This is ironic considering that after two years of consistent weightlifting, I still can’t do a single full-body pushup. I’m also incapable of reading the simplest academic article and remembering the premise five minutes later. I’m a sucker for my kids’ puppy-dog eyes when they beg me for candy. I’m afraid of chickens.
Still, people tell me, “You’re a strong woman,” on the regular. Friends, students, clients, participants at events I facilitate, complete strangers, and my trainer — bless his heart. I am fairly certain that if you were to question a random sampling of people who’ve interacted with me, the vast majority would categorize me as a “strong” woman.
And they have reason: I’ll pick up a mic and boldly guide a group of people — whether 10 or 1,000 — through whatever work needs to be done. Organizations hire me to help them think through the complex issues that trip them up. I hold my children to high levels of honesty and accountability. I am utterly unafraid of telling my story.
Okay, I’m strong at certain things. I’ll accept that.
As opposed to… ?
Whenever someone utters the well-meaning compliment, “You’re such a strong woman,” I am left feeling a little cranky. Touched, but cranky.
My inside voice itches to ask: “As opposed to what?”
Obviously, the answer would be weak.
I know women in their teens and women pushing 80. I know women who’ve completed PhDs on topics I can’t pronounce, and I know women who’ve finally learned to fill out a change-of-address form by themselves. I know women who can hold a plank for five minutes, and I know women who, with much effort, can walk up the steps to their apartment. I know women who have five children, and women who’ve lost babies, and women who’ve chosen to terminate pregnancies. I know women who love men, and women who love women, and women who are repositioning the boundaries of romantic relationships. I know women who own businesses and women who are cashiers. I know women who are changing the course of history with their thinking and women who don’t…