For years, in books, movies, and on TV, the main definition of a strong woman was one who survived rape, violence, widowhood, and/or poverty and went on to live a good life. Usually entailing getting married and having and/or raising children.
The only women I remember from my childhood being celebrated as strong were Linda Hamilton in Terminator and Sigourney Weaver in Alien. But they were muscular, ass-kicking, not-afraid-to-kill-to-survive women. Strong the way men are strong.
Looking back, I realize we had more examples. Women like Alice Hyatt, and her fellow waitresses at Mel’s Diner, Ann Romano on the original One Day at a Time, and Nurse Margaret Houlihan on M*A*S*H* were smart, caring, determined women who did what had to be done. But I don’t remember them being celebrated for their strength in the media.
All too often I felt a pervasive sense that everything would be much better for each of them if they just found themselves a man. That their life, family, and career choices weren’t entirely appropriate, even if they garnered respect (sometimes grudging) from the other characters and the audience. Almost as though their strength was an endearing personality quick instead of the foundation of their sense of self.
While surviving adversity can make someone strong, something horrible doesn’t have to happen to become a strong person. And notice I say person, not just woman. Because the kind of strength I’m talking about has nothing to do with muscles. It comes from within, and your sex doesn’t matter.
Most importantly, a strong person has a set of core values or beliefs they refuse to relinquish.
For centuries, organized religion provided many people with a solid set of core values and a good moral compass (Do unto others, help those less fortunate, don’t commit the following sins, etc.). For some of us it was Mr. Rogers. Nowadays, participation in organized religion in the U.S. is shrinking, but the need for core values of the kind Jesus and Mr. Rogers espoused has only grown.
Decades of women portrayed as sex objects, baby-making machines, selfless mothers, or catty gold-diggers, made me wonder where all the strong women had gone. I’ve found a lot of them in Romancelandia, and they’re the kind of people I enjoy writing about.
Men and women who are flawed, but have convictions, and who are willing to go against the grain to create lives that make them proud and happy. Strong people who make themselves uncomfortable in the short term in the service of larger goals. People who often accept ridiculous amounts ridicule because they see a bigger picture than just themselves and choose to follow a different path.
With more movies and TV shows written and directed by, and starring, women, we’re finally seeing more strong women without the rapey backstory. This recent image of teen climate activist Greta Thunberg meeting ethologist and chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall warmed me to my bones with the thought “Thank God we’re starting to celebrate strong women, and they’re supporting each other, for they are the ones who will change the world for the better.”
We should all strive to solidify our core beliefs and become stronger versions of ourselves.
Thoughts on strong women and core beliefs? Do share by commenting below…
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