March 8th was International Women’s Day. I found myself thinking about inspiring women, which turns out is just about every woman. There are so many struggles that EVERY woman must face, crosses we all must bear; shared struggles as women. The oppression we face, the harassment and judgement we have all felt and been victim to, and how we all push through it every. single. day. head on, and often with our heads held high as though it isn’t happening. There are the people out there that tell us that women have won, that we have our equality and our rights, that sexism in the workplace has been all but eradicated, but we know better. We have come an extremely far (thanks to those that fought and came before, but we still have so far to go). Until our daughters are raised like our sons, until we stop pointing out every single thing that is wrong with any woman’s body, stop idealizing unrealistic and often harmful/unhealthy body goals, stop writing off women’s emotions as hormones or “that time of the month” and recognize the strength that every women possesses, the fight will not be over.
So very often am I praised for being strong, for being straightforward, for not being afraid to speak my mind, which I appreciate (rather than being told I should be more demure), but when was the last time you praised a man for doing the same? It’s not because men are more straightforward naturally. Men are not only taught to ask for what they want, but praised for taking it. Men, for better or worse, are told they are the strong ones, they are leaders, they are taught to fight for themselves and what they believe in. Young girls are taught to be “ladylike”, to be observers, to sit back and ask for help and listen when they are told “no”. From birth we are molded fundamentally different. “Strong” women aren’t just born, they can be made. We can shape our daughters more like our sons, (and it wouldn’t hurt to raise our sons more like our daughters).
Women often say the wish they could be more like me, and this baffles me. I am not special. There is nothing I do that they can’t. These women are fully capable of speaking their minds, for asking for what they want, and not allowing others to take them for granted. But they are scared. Don’t be fooled, it is frightening and uncomfortable to push against everything you’ve been taught, everything that’s kept you “safe” your entire life.But here’s a secret; nothing worth having comes easily (especially as a woman). You have to fight for respect, and even when you have it, it’s not everything. .
Often I feel as though that respect comes at the cost of being seen as a woman. That by the time men fully respect you, and see you as an equal, they no longer see your femininity. I can be quite feminine but since things like speaking your mind, and riding hard (capably, aggressively) are things usually attributed to men, many men seem to “forget” that I am a women. (Or what may be more accurate, they are intimidated/threatened by a powerful woman.) We are all taught that women are weaker, and need saving. So men typically take the role of fixers, making them feel necessary, needed. Strong women, women that clearly can handle their own issues, make many men feel useless and that threatens their masculinity. (Even now writing this paragraph, I want to end it with “Or maybe I’m way off base…” because I’ve been taught that making such a bold accusatory statement is rude, or alienating, or even *gasp* bitchy. Would I be doubting these conclusions if I was man?)
At the end of the day, I appreciate that I know so many incredibly strong and inspiring women and that I live in a time when I, we, do not have to hide our strength just because it makes some uncomfortable (men and women). We are not jailed for our thoughts or words, or ostracized simply for being who we are, and who we want to be. We sure have a long way to go, but let us not forget to stop and appreciate how far we’ve come.
**Author’s note: Of course I recognize this doesn’t apply to all men out there. I do know plenty of men who are not threatened by strong women. Men that support, lift up and celebrate strong women, men that live with and love strong women (frustrating as that can be) 🙂 But these are men who recognize many issues that face women, and likely wouldn’t find this entry as an attack.