“I like to play a strong woman, but a strong woman can also be very fragile and vulnerable at the same time.” ~ Carice Van Houten (Melisandre, the Red Priestess on Game of Thrones)
Let me start by saying that no one has the right to tell a woman what she can and cannot be.
This piece is about my own personal experience, having struggled my entire life due to societal misconceptions.
As a little girl, there was nothing I desired more than to be a boy, because back then, I thought men were stronger, and I simply wanted to be strong. Rambo, Rocky, Bruce Lee, Superman, and Grendizer were all male figures. Alas, Wonder Woman was not popular in the Middle East where I grew up.
See, I was born in the 80s in an extremely patriarchal society where girls were told to be good, to behave, be pretty, learn how to cook, clean, and take care of a household. They were constantly reminded one way or another that their sole purpose was to become a good wife and a perfect mother.
I had no problem with the idea of being all of that, except I wanted more. Also, I have always been passionate, rebellious, and full of life and other big dreams—my biggest dream was to experience everything fully. Needless to say, my fire did not please and warm all the time the way society had expected it to. People tried to put it out with the wrong things, with things that would only feed it—and the fire ended up burning its surrounding, but mostly me.
That said, I tried to remold who I truly was to please what I couldn’t beat. We’ve all heard the saying, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” I did my best to fit in for years, not realizing that I was made to stand out—we all were. Why else are no two fingerprints alike?
However, the thing that hurt me the most throughout my struggle, depression, and despair was that almost everyone I have met thought I was weak. I should have said many times, “Do not mistake my kindness for weakness,” but here I am, and late is better than never.
These are the main misconceptions that lead people to believe that a girl does not have grit or guts, since she isn’t their stereotypical strong woman:
1. She does not cry.
I tear up a lot, especially when I read and watch something that touches my heart. “Titanic”—I was bawling in the theater. However, when people made fun of me because I cried in public, I started suppressing my tears. What leads human beings to associate not crying with strength will always remain an enigma. Tears show that we are letting our empathetic selves feel and become vulnerable, which is the epitome of strength. A strong person cries. Period.
2. She always speaks up and even shouts.
If this is true, then no introvert should ever be considered strong. However, many introverts were presidents, leaders, activists, and prominent historical figures. I do not like public speaking and big groups. I am not a loud person, except when I am super comfortable with my tribe. This does not mean that the lady who is loud and all over the place is stronger than the quiet one. You’d be surprised!
3. She is not feminine.
If I had a dollar for every time someone made fun of long, manicured nails and associated them with weakness, I’d be a billionaire. They’d be like, “You can’t open this; you’d break a nail and start crying.” A woman can doll up and still kick ass. I was a tomboy throughout my childhood and teenage years and primped myself like a beauty queen throughout my 20s and 30s—and my heart, mind, and soul have always been the same. Strong.
4. She is always well-dressed, poised, and presentable.
Like every other woman, I also have my sweatpants and messy hair days. I’d let myself go and start eating chips in bed. It doesn’t mean I am less strong during those days. It only means that people assume, “Poor her, she has lost it.” But I really do not want to be poised and presentable every breathing moment. Trust me, even when a woman is eating popcorn off her stained sweater, she can still rule the world and do a great job at it.
5. She is a social butterfly.
I have said it many times before: I hate socializing. I love humanity, but people drain me. I have pushed myself for years to be a social being, but I am not. I used to accept invitations, go out, and party a lot, until my true self got sick of the role I was playing—consequently, depression hit me like a wrecking ball. Some women were born to be the life of the party, others were not. It does not mean that one is stronger than the other.
6. She is ambitious and driven.
I got to a point where I was so competitive in every area of my life that I became disgusted from the old me. I still have many aspirations, but I am learning to make peace with my sweet self. I am neither aggressive nor highly driven in nature, but I am strong enough to accept this and be in the moment. I kept pushing myself and repeating that only dead fish go with the flow, but to be honest, I realized that miserable and exhausted ones try to swim against it.
7. She never loses faith or hope.
Whenever we hit rock bottom, become hopeless, and lose our faith, friends and family run to remind us that we are stronger than this. What if I told you that only the strongest and best of believers doubted? Accepting our flawed human self is a surefire sign of strength.
8. She does not have a point of weakness.
I am ashamed to admit that I was such a control freak to a point where I’d consider having a child a point of weakness. I used to think if I let myself love someone this much, it can be used against me. Last year, I met a person who became my first and only point of weakness. Loving someone with all my heart taught me what strength truly means. Loving and trusting someone unconditionally is only for the strong. This is why when my friends have babies now, I make sure to tell them how strong I believe they are.
9. She is a pushover and always gets what she wants.
I have always been a goal digger. It kept me going, and when the door would not open, when I was not able to get what I wanted, I’d push and break it. How else would people know that I, too, can be like those women—strong? Surprisingly, I am an easygoing person in nature, and whenever I start being more myself, it dawns on me that it’s not a sign of weakness at all. In a world of abundance, there’s a place for everyone. Why push and shove to end up with what we want but not what we need?
10. She does not want a partner.
The misconception of all misconceptions would be this one. When I say I am independent, people instantly assume that I do not want a partner. I will never understand how the two are related, but this needs to stop. A strong, independent woman misses companionship like any other being. She just doesn’t need anyone, but when she falls in love and finds a suitable partner, she’d definitely and gladly let him into her world.
Dear world, stop assuming stuff about our gender and stop putting us in boxes with labels. As for me, I vowed not to let anyone other than me decide whether I am strong or not. Nobody knows what I am made of except for me.