The Challenge of Being a Strong Woman

“I’m tough, I’m ambitious, and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay.”

~Madonna

 

In honour of International Women’s Day yesterday, I felt that it was an appropriate time to do a post highlighting what I feel to be a very important issue facing women today. Being a strong woman is a challenge we have all grappled with, and while my perspective revolves primarily around the world of athletics, this is something that women all over the world deal with, no matter their occupation or age or where they come from.
 

If you ask a dozen people what their definition of a strong woman is, you will probably get a dozen different answers. If you ask me, being a strong woman is knowing what you want, and not being afraid to go and get it. It is being true to yourself and what you believe in, no matter what anyone else has to say about it. I would define a strong man the same way.
 

In a society with opinions being thrown from every direction, and people hiding behind their computer screens, ready to bring others down without a second thought, it is hard for anyone to have a voice and be forthright about what they want. For women, though, who have been labeled as being the “weaker sex” since the beginning of time, it is exponentially more difficult.
 

As women, I feel that we find ourselves in a type of Catch 22. When we are assertive and confident, and have a take-charge attitude, we are called bitches. When we are vulnerable and quiet, and show emotion, though, we are considered to be weak. Both have negative connotations attached to them in these contexts. It really seems like a no-win situation. When can we just be respected for being who we are? The thing that makes this situation even more frustrating is when the criticism is coming from other women. We are all in this struggle together, and we have all experienced this double-edged sword to some degree in our lives. When women judge each other for demonstrating their strength, it is really sad. We should be building each other up, and encouraging each other to succeed in whatever path we choose instead of trying to tear each other down.
 

To me, a true demonstration of strength is to de-emphasize this Catch 22, and just be who you are. Women are constantly trying to figure out how to act to avoid criticism, or to avoid offending anybody, but that is impossible. If you are assertive, be assertive. If you are emotional and very honest about your feelings, let them show. There is incredible strength in having the confidence to be unapologetically you.
 

I have been called a bitch by men, by women, by my opponents, and probably even by my teammates at some point or another. I am a competitor, I am a fighter, I know what I want, and I won’t let anything or anyone stand in my way. I am not afraid to speak my mind or ask for what I need. These qualities are usually applauded in men, but if they make me a bitch, so be it. Sometimes I need to cry. There are days when I get so incredibly frustrated or stressed out that I just let it out, and sometimes it happens at practice. If that makes me weak, go ahead and call me weak. I call it being human.
 

Most people associate being upfront and assertive with strength but there is also great strength to be found in vulnerability. Being vulnerable and letting people see the real you is often even more difficult, and comes with great risk. There is no right or wrong way to be strong, and the important thing to remember is that we all have strength inside of us, even if it doesn’t come out in the same way for every person.
 

I know that men struggle with the expectations surrounding their gender as well, and I’m not trying to minimize that at all. Being a woman, though, I can only speak to my own experiences, and the challenges that me and many others have faced. Regardless of our gender and the struggles we are going through to let our own strength shine, the strongest action we can take is simply to love ourselves and be ourselves. If we take care of that, nothing else matters.
 

xo, Sarah

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