What Makes a "Strong Woman" Strong?

What is a "strong woman"? Is it the 'Wonder Woman' ideology, glamoured by Hollywood that puts female actors in leading heroic roles - Hollywood's attempt at building a bridge in the gap between what is seen as masculine and feminine? Or is it a woman carving out a slice of life that allows her to be successful in a career, and raise a family at the same time? What if you are not the status quo and something else all together? 

As a member of a female household; my dad was totally outnumbered, a strong woman was not an alien idea. But one small birthday gift with the words, "Stronger Than The Storm" etched into a bracelet, made that idea very real. My first thought was, "cool" followed by "why", what makes me so strong?

Her Strength Was Her Love

Fortunately for millennial women, if you are described as a "strong woman" it's more than less a compliment, but historically a strong woman was someone too independent or too stubborn. On this topic I tend to think of my grandmother. Having moved to London before the Turkish invasion in Cyprus, her English was poor and my grandfather's earning capability not much better. So adjusting to life in England and raising six children in a poor household was tough, but she never complained and her husband and children were loved beyond the need for material things. Her strength was her love and she loved all her family so much. She would often help family members even if she couldn't afford to. I didn't see that growing up, but as a mother I do now. But women of my grandmothers generation were not seen for this type of strength, you were a strong woman because you "coped" with your husband, and "put up" with family members who treated you like a doormat. If you were too vocal about it, you were thought of as a strong woman for being stubborn enough to ignore it. Not a compliment but a censorship.

 A strong woman in today's society seems more symbiotic with our capacity to overcome our mental health issues, rather than the issues themselves. Younger millennial's socially except the freedom to talk about their mental health issues without batting an eye. More and more I find the conversations with younger women start with how they are feeling. Conversations with my older peers tend to dissect the day to day issues, but don't tend to come from a place of "I feel...".

If I didn't feel guilty about re-gifting my birthday present, I would pass it on to a mum I believe is actually "Stronger Than The Storm". Having found herself pregnant, not really ready for children, her baby started a hard road to survival before she was even born. Fortunately her baby survived the birth, but it would be a month before she made skin to skin contact, and then a string of operations to keep her baby alive. As a new mum, it was a cruel and heartbreaking first five years of ensuring her child could have some quality of life. This put pressure on her marriage and her job. Recently, (in between pandemic lock-downs), I met up with this mum and was amazed to learn that she used the pandemic lock-down in 2020, to lose a staggering three stone in weight and come off of her anti-depressant medication. Personally, I was guzzling back the drink and putting weight on during that time, but my friend was determined to get control of her life and try to feel good again. My problems seem trivial in comparison, but my friend has never put her problems above anyone else. I am humbled by her attitude to life and how openly she talks about her mental health struggles. Would she say she is a strong woman? No, she would say she's a survivor.

It Comes Back to the Fight

Women identify with other women's strength based on a vulnerability that they could not envisage they could cope with better themselves. It comes back to the fight. Life can sometimes feel like you are always fighting for something, whether that is equality, success, a relationship or parenthood. A woman's achievement no matter what that looks like is a sign of strength and an inspiration to other women. 

So am I a strong woman, yes, because I had inspired another woman. But we shouldn't try to live up to the label, instead we should listen, guide, motivate and learn from each other. In the words of Maya Angelou: "You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them."


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