Dear Strong Woman
It kinda cracks me up how much I have used the word ‘strong’ and how much of a code word it really has become. Like how racism is disguised in blatant everyday language especially in what even sounds like compliments but make no mistake, those listening in the other frequency you are not privy to know exactly what is being said.
Like when you describe a quarterback as very physical. And everyone is thinking, dang, he must be very strong and irreplaceable to be physical but to those that really know. The man is relegated to his athletic abilities and a perception of poor intellect is perpetuated. The great quarterbacks are not described as physical because the overwhelming need at that position is intellect, smarts, and memory. You are not an NFL or professional quarterback if you haven’t met the minimum physical standard to perform the job. So being physical essentially means, he has no quality besides being distinguished at the least important skill- physique.
Another way of looking at it. It’s kinda asking a man who is looking for a wife, who is this girl that you just met, and he says, she is really hot. To a bystander, he is smitten! Right? There can’t possibly be anything bad about being described as hot. Nothing bad about leading with the heat in his blossom. Well, no, except, this man is looking for a wife. It’s kinda expected that he’ll be attracted to her. The minimum barrier to entry is physical attraction. Hot just means she is over the top physically attractive, but in the context of a wife, more physical attraction as a leading indicator for all the guy sees or how he sums up her qualities is code word for — I’d like to bang but nothing else.
That is the word. Another word that gets used in professional corporate context is passionate. When you say especially a black person is passionate. Yup. It’s code word for he is out of control emotionally and cannot lead.
Unfortunately, we today describe men and women as strong. Except strong implies different things. Strong etches different perceptions about people based on their sex. For so long, I have described my ex as strong. And it’s been a way to be nice to her but really I was calling her a female dog in code whilst keeping my Christian dignity.
A strong man is a man who knows who he is, what he wants, why does and or a combination of one or all three. Especially one that because he knows _______, he becomes obstinate and unrelenting and uncompromising and flat out dogged. I’m a world where clarity comes from men, and we are to know, and we are to go and pull others too. This is incredibly attractive in a man.
Unfortunately, if that world is the reality and a woman is to not know _____ then strong is the worst kinda code word back hand insult that sounds like a compliment. For a lot of men, okay maybe the lot that I have seen and talked to and grown up under, preserving the man’s place to know and the woman’s place to follow is a silent status quo that doesn’t need to be uttered but continues to be encoded and propagated without any crime committed because it’s a systemic agreement that is written nowhere.
She is strong means, she thinks she knows, she thinks she is the fixed point, she thinks I, we must follow because she knows. And oh is she wrong because there is no following. Doesn’t matter if she knows. She is strong is a code word for date her, learn her, know her, listen to her, AT YOUR OWN PERIL. It’s so funny because we are all complicit male and female but somehow we are also all innocent. I’ve heard women call other women strong and I know exactly what they are saying and not saying. Yet we all hug them and agree what a beautiful thing to say! Only for the woman called strong who nods and grins in agreement going home to go cry and be broken because she feels affirmed and known yet it comes with a burden and a stigma that is confusing and painful.
It’s like the very label that feels empowering and affirming is like a badge of dishonor labeling similar to whatever was used to identify an adulterous woman in ancient Biblical times. She is unfit for love, “healthy” leadership, and whatever else a woman is supposed to be.
She doesn’t want to fit but she also wants to love and lead and be who she is. And it seems those two don’t go together somehow. She is a strong woman and somehow she is incompatible with strong men. How does that even work? Is it because opposites attract or is there just some more sonically things going on here.
Well there are and there are not.
I am happy though because I see around me that strong women have begun to use their strength to stay long enough in the stigma, to be more consistent in what, who, why they KNOW that the courses they are beginning to chart unapologetically is paying off for the current and next generation of women.
Strong women all of a sudden are not only desired, they are becoming the Queen of the crop. But this issue still exists. Men, strong and others are still unsure and sometimes unwilling to share, or collaborate or exchange what they know. Okay maybe I should just use myself.
I have formed a deep appreciation for strong women. But I totally don’t like them. I love and respect and fear them but I don’t like them. They are pests, annoying, insistent, uncompromising, unyielding, rooted, clear, unrelenting… the list goes on. These are traits I wanna have and some they have mastered but always they stay on a journey to master. These women are hungrier than me, they are smarter than me, they are ever learning and putting distance between me. Everytime I engage with them, they are either caught up to me on areas I had distance on them or surpassing me in other areas. They are strong!
I want strength on my team but because the very nature of a strong person is the ability to wreck havoc, I am more terrified of being against them instead of enjoying being on the same side.
I don’t like them because they remind me of where I fall short and need to submit. Brings me to the whole point.
Men have used strength as a reason to dominate women when the needs of the world revolved around physical needs. Ability to go hunt, ability to hunt etc.
The playing field is now level. Strength is no longer a physical metric, it’s closer to emotional and mental; and I must say women have an edge.
I recognise now that I was fighting against the tide. I was happy to propagate the sexist code words that maintained male dominance because I am human. I am that white man that doesn’t now what white privilege is, only to find it out and be confronted with a harder life but a more equitable one OR propagate the status quo just long enough to not have to be affected by the reality of what a more equitable world would look like.
I am that human who seeks to maintain power when he gets it by expanding the gap and difficulty that almost kept him from ever reaching where he is today. We as people don’t seek to make it easier for people to surpass us. We fight to stay ahead before we fight to help others get by.
What I am really saying here is this. To every woman called strong. You are Rosa Parks. You are MLk. Sit on that bus. Be strong, and use your strength to change the taste. Create an alleviate for who you are. Showcase a different reality from who we fear. Collaborate. Emphasize meekness. Power in the hands of others threatens us. But your empathy, your emotional maturity, your humanity can constrain you.
Dear strong woman, don’t fall prey for the old tactics of men. Even strong men. Become your own leader and lead with the innate empathy that doesn’t leave others behind. Lead not merely by doing but being. We are ready to follow you as dysfunctional as our discipleship is. But you can outlast the rage of my ego. Just continue to be. Have pity for my fear and coax better out of me. All you need do, be.