“You’re a strong woman”. I once liked hearing that.
Nowadays, it’s not like it offends me, but I feel differently when someone tells me that. I have a potty mouth, I say what I think unapologetically, I take up space, I look people in the eyes and have a firm handshake… I act as though I am not afraid of being who I am. In other words, I am, in many small things, what most people would expect a man to be. Hence, I am “strong”.
That is why telling me I am strong became, to me, a cookie that patriarchy (that is, institutionalized sexism) throws at me for being “more of a man and less of a woman”. Because being a woman is being weak.
This change in my perception happened because I now know that those things are not what makes me strong. If I am strong – and yes, I am strong – it is because I survived. My mere presence in the world right now proves my strength. I fought and I prevailed.
I could well say it was against myself. And I wouldn’t be really lying.
But it would be more precise to say that I fought against the cage of expectations that emprisoned me and the things and people that kept it strong. It wasn’t really against myself, but against a false self, built around me, smothering my truths and filtering the light and the sound and the smells and the tastes that came from the world outside.
I struggled, I won. I broke many bones, I cut my skin. But one day those bars crumbled and I could finally look out there, mesmerized by all those stars in the sky. I never knew the night could be so beautiful. So serene.
I was afraid to fly, afraid that my wings wouldn’t work, afraid of the sound my body would make as it hit the ground – the insignificance of my existence exposed by the same mundane thump that would have been made by, say, a sack of potatoes. The lights would go out and that would be it. The world would keep turning indifferently.
But I jumped. Because I had to. Because I wanted to live. And that is what made me stronger.
Every time I see a woman, I also see a cage – sometimes still whole, sometimes already in pieces, but always, deep down, the same cage I once saw from the inside. And I see someone who also survived. Because she is there. In front of me.
And she may have delicate hands and slender fingers that feel like cotton in mine. She may have eyes that seem fascinated by the floor all the time. She may be small and use sweet words and blush every time somebody curses around her. She may recoil when shouted at, and cry when she can’t bring herself to speak. She may silence before the injustice inflicted upon her, or upon others. She may look at her own pain and keep telling me and herself that “it was nothing, it is nothing, I’m just gonna go over there and put a band-aid on it, so silly of me to suffer over this, really”.
But she is strong. Because, just like me, she has come this far. And, because of that, I cannot help but see something of me in her and something of her in me.
I need feminism because no one should have to be strong to survive.