Strong women don’t need to be told that we’re strong. Strength does not need reaffirmation, for strength is, in part, the ability to stand alone and be unafraid. What we do need to be told is that it’s ok to be weak. It’s ok to let our insecurities burrow through that inflexible outer wall. It’s ok to want to be held and comforted and coddled, to feel overwhelmed and needy and to want to be loved. Strong women stand alone without fear, but they often don’t know that it’s OK to be afraid.
This should not be a revelation. This is not something new. This is something that should be inherent in who we are as strong women, inherent in what it means to be a strong woman – a woman who embodies not just one trait but many, a woman who can be exactly what she wants to be when she needs to be.
At this point I ask you to do me a favor. Go back through this text and wherever you see the word woman, replace it with the word man. Because in the end, strength is gender-blind.
When I was young, I laughed when my father cried. It was an embarrassed laugh, a laugh to cover the fact that I could not understand why my Daddy got so emotional about the simplest things – 5th grade graduation, that interview with Jonathan Sanchez after he threw a perfect game for the San Francisco Giants, the end of “Finding Nemo.” Even as a child, there was something so deeply engrained in my concept of how a man was supposed to act, that watching his eyes well up with tears made me uncomfortable and a little ashamed.
As I got older, entered high school, went away to college, I would still avert my eyes or say things like “Come on Daddy” when we were watching a movie and he started to sniffle. A couple times he snapped at me, storming from the room, and I always figured that it was just annoyance at my insensitivity. But I think I am a bit wiser now.
When I was young, my mother only cried when she laughed. She has an uncontrollable tear shedding reflex when she laughs too hard. But as a child, I cannot remember my mother crying because she was sad. At least, not in her daughters’ presence. On the one or two occasions when she could not hide her emotions – my grandmother’s passing for example – I did not know what to do. How does a daughter comfort her ever-resilient mother?
As I got older, entered high school, went away to college, that hard outer shell softened and cracked. My mother began to show when she was upset, or overwhelmed, or extremely happy. At the time, I attributed it to sending one, then both daughters away to college, after being a stay at home mom for 20 years. But I am wiser now.
Our culture tells us that boys don’t cry. It tells us that fathers are the pillars of the household, the iron shoulders bracing the rest of the family, the figures to look to for support, to rely upon for dependable, strong, masculinity. If boys don’t cry, then fathers don’t cry. By the age of 10, I was already so aware of this that watching my daddy cry confused and embarrassed me becausethat’s not how men are supposed to be. And when he would snap at me and storm from the room, it wasn’t because he was annoyed with my snippy comments, it was because he, too, was embarrassed. My father also knew what the man of the house is supposed to be like, and knowing that his own daughter was embarrassed because he was crying must have hurt him more than I want to imagine.
I am a strong woman. My sister is a strong woman. And our strength originates in our mother, our strong woman but our culture tells us that strong women don’t cry. It tells us that strong women have to defy the stereotypes of femininity – hysteria, being too emotional or too concerned with trivial matters – because a strong woman cannot be girly. My mother did not want her daughters to see her crying, she did not want us to see her in a moment of weakness. She was, and still is, our rock, and she was afraid of showing us that she was not perpetually strong.
Strength is the ability to stand alone and be unafraid, but it is also the ability to embrace moments of weakness and admit that you do not want to be alone. Strong women can be weak women without giving up the strength they hold dear to heart. And strong men should show weakness when they need to without fearing that those they hold dear to heart will be ashamed of them.
Our culture needs to start teaching its children a new lesson. Strength is gender-blind. But so, too, is weakness.
California grown, for the past year and a half Sarah has been working in Madrid. Her love of the Spanish lifestyle is matched only by her frightening ability to recite Harry Potter verbatim. If there exists a profession where learning languages, reading literature, and eating Italian food are required, please let her know.