What the heck is feminism? To be honest I wasn’t completely familiar with the term until much later in life. Although I had been somewhat exposed by that mindset thanks to my parents and school (I was in an all-girls boarding school for 5 years), I had never quite heard of the term ‘feminism’ when I was younger. And then, as time went on, I began discovering the many interpretations of this term. Madonna said we should all free our nipples. Social media seems to define the epitome of feminism as a woman who has her own business empire and produces a lot of generic self-love advice. One of my girlfriends said it’s the point in life where you no longer need a man except for their sperm. One guy in office said feminism is terrifying because when women rule, everything would just spiral into an emotional-driven hell.
I don’t know. I guess different people have different perceptions and definitions of feminism. For a lot of us it’s not all that dramatic – feminism is just a mentality we aspire to achieve where women can live in an environment where we are allowed to be who we want to be – and that’s pretty much a broad definition with many contexts, depending and your socio and economic background.
But I am intrigued to talk about what it means to be a ‘strong woman’, in today’s society. One day I was enlightened (and by enlightened I mean that a friend shared with me a link on the internet) with a review of one of my books, of which a reviewer had said that the protagonist sounded like a weak girl who needs to ‘wake up and stop being sad’. I was a little taken aback by this. In my writer’s mind, I never wrote the character within the vicinity of ‘sad girl’. She was just a normal girl who was trying to reflect on the process of being sad about something that happened in her life. Being sad was her transient state of mind, but not her entire being.
It made me think about how we sometimes choose to see and define 'strength'. Often, there is this idealistic view that being strong means that you physically look like you’ve got your shit together, you kick a man to the curb the minute he breaks your heart, you post a positive caption on Instagram every so often, you’re financially stable, you’ve got your own business and four kids and a handsome husband who all live in a gorgeously decorated house, or you’re single and say stuff like ‘#livingthelife’ and ‘#singledontcare’.
I’m not saying these things are bad. In fact, these things are good. These are all positive outcomes, after all. But what these also do sometimes is that they contort the dimensions of the idea of 'strength'. They also instil the subconscious mindset that anything other than that is not a strong, empowered woman. A strong woman shouldn’t look like she isn’t dressed to take over the world. A strong woman shouldn’t feel sad and hurt and vulnerable. A strong woman shouldn’t express herself other than something uplifting. A strong woman shouldn’t be okay about wanting to live a normal average life and must always want more, more and more. A strong woman must never feel like she needs a partner in her life.
In other words, a strong woman should never feel human.
It’s a dangerous bar that we’ve raised for ourselves. When strength is equated to being invincible, it becomes an impossible pursuit. When you pursue something that does not exist, you’ll never feel enough. And when you never feel enough, that’s when it all goes downhill – you begin to feel defined by the materials that you own, you allow yourself to settle for less, you repress your emotions to the point of depression, you feel ‘beneath’ others who seem to have more success than you do, and you start feeling lonely and lost. A lot.
What I’ve learned so far, through myself and so many other women around me, is that the real meaning of being a strong and empowered woman begins with you being okay with yourself. Acknowledging your flaws, admitting that you feel overwhelmed, recognizing that you’ve done your best within your means and putting a stop on comparing your life to others is the first step of being empowered. Accepting and loving yourself is empowering. Living your life through standing up for your own worth and according to what you want out of it is strength.
I'm saying all these things as though I've got it all down to pat, but of course not. I have my days when I don't feel great about how I look, when I don't think I have tried my best, when I feel like I'm not good enough for someone and when I feel like my life blows in comparison to that other girl on Instagram. It's work in progress to try and be better at these things. But I do believe that by trying to be a great, amazing, human example of what a woman is, you are actually making a significant contribution in building a progressive conversation about women’s opportunities and biasness in our society.
More of that, and less of just shouting from the rooftops angry, generic ‘feminist’ slogans without even understanding what they really mean.