Okay. Entertainment industry, time to stop using the phrases “Smart Strong Women” and “Strong Female Leads”. There are no Dumb Weak Women. A smart strong woman is just a WOMAN. Also? “Women” are not a TV trend — we’re half the planet.
— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) February 1, 2018
Shonda Rhimes tweeted this powerful statement a few weeks ago, and when I read it I had one of those ‘YES!’ moments we have in life when Someone finally puts into words something we have been feeling for a while but are not really sure how to articulate. Although she refers to the entertainment industry, this idea of ‘smart strong women’ is used everywhere, even within feminist activists.
A while ago I read a book which comprised of several essays, each one written by a different woman. They were sharing their experiences as feminists, and how and when they realised feminism was actually a very important thing in their lives. I was thrilled to read their stories, especially because there were women with completely different backgrounds from mine. But there was one thing that a few of them had in common: they said that they owed their feminism to their ‘strong’ mothers (or other female relative), and they never knew any other way rather than standing up for themselves and knowing they should never be undermined.
I completely understand the respect and admiration these women have for their mothers (as I have for mine), and I can imagine how great it must have been with this sense of owning your place in the world from a very young age. However, I do have an issue with the word ‘strong’ when it is used as a requirement to be or become a feminist role model. I don’t think it helps the movement, as it taps into the idea that women must be able to perfectly manage everything in their lives to become a role model for other women (and satisfied with herself). It is as if ‘strong’ women are somehow superior, and part of a very exclusive group, which are in charge of rescuing the ‘weak’ ones.
Aren’t we strong enough already just for BEING women? Isn’t the idea of a strong woman something related to those of us that are privileged because of our whiteness, the money in our accounts or because we don’t have to worry our partner might be aggressive again anytime soon? If one of our battles is to fight against victim-blaming and having empathy for women who can’t get out of abusive relationships, shouldn’t we be more careful when we use the word ‘strong’?
No woman is weak. We all know the burdens we carry over our shoulders and how hard it is to have resilience to keep balancing the plates and not letting them break. I know the intention is well meaning (as it usually is the case), and how good it feels to be perceived as a ‘strong’ woman, but we must question absolutely everything as we go ahead (even if we go very, very slowly). The word strong is immediately linked to power, and the distribution of power, as we are well aware, is unfair, corrupted and destructive.
I know that sometimes it’s the language’s (or lack of) fault. It is hard to find words, especially adjectives, that are not the result of sexism or other oppressive tools. As if we don’t have enough work already, shall we include a new feminist language in out to-do list?
Words, Heloisa Righetto