Here’s to Women

Today is International Women’s Day, which means that it’s likely we’ve all seen this quote a million times on our social media feeds:

“Here’s to strong women. May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.”

It’s an empowering quote—one that I’ve said myself more than once and shared often. But this year, something about it isn’t sitting right with me.

I don’t feel strong right now. I haven’t felt strong for long stretches of the last year. And there’s a part of me—a tired, broken, sad part of me—that sees this quote and feels like the only kind of woman worthy of being admired, celebrated, and seen is a “strong” woman.

What about the women who are struggling? What about the women who cry, the women who lose their patience, the women who have days when they can’t get out of bed because everything feels like it’s too much?

Most of us will be these women at some point in our lives because to be a woman is to be human, and to be human is to fail and falter and feel big, overwhelming, messy feelings sometimes. But all too often, when we feel those big, overwhelming, messy feelings or when we snap at a loved one or when we spend most of our waking hours in tears on a bad day, we don’t give ourselves the grace to not be okay—to not be strong.

Because somewhere along the way, in our quest to inspire and empower, “strong” became synonymous with “good” and “worthy.”

That’s not to say “strong” is a bad word or a bad thing to be. It’s great! We want women to be bold and celebrate their successes and be open about their strengths. We want girls to grow up being strong in their values, their opinions, and their sense of self.

But we also should want space in the conversation about empowering women to include messages of understanding, support, and empathy for women who are open and honest about their struggles, their setbacks, and their bad self-esteem days.

Because as women, we shouldn’t feel like we need to be strong to have value as a human being. We shouldn’t feel like we have to hide our flaws and our feelings because they make us less appealing—both to men and to other women. And we shouldn’t have to engage in a culture of performative strength that buries our truth as we pretend we’re fine even when we’re falling apart—because we’ve been told that no one wants to hear that kind of story.

That’s what made Meghan Markle’s admission about her suicidal thoughts to Oprah last night so powerful. By telling Oprah that she’d had moments of not wanting to be alive anymore during her time as a duchess and that she’d admitted to more than one person (including her husband) that she was afraid she was going to hurt herself and needed professional help, she did more than just further a dialogue about mental health. She let the world know that there’s no shame in struggling. No one is—or should be expected to be—strong all the time. Her openness and honesty highlighted the fact that she’s not a symbol of a “strong woman.” She’s a real woman.

And it’s more important to be real than it is to be strong.

It’s more important to be honest than it is to be a #GirlBoss.

It’s more important to be open than it is to be successful.

That’s why it’s been so revelatory in recent years to see stories of women on the big and small screen who have moments of strength but also moments of struggle. It’s why seeing Diana be selfish in Wonder Woman 1984 was so important and why seeing Rey be drawn to the darkness in The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker was so interesting and why Wanda Maxmioff’s journey through overwhelming grief in WandaVision resonated with so many. (And it’s why I, personally, will always have a soft spot for Elizabeth Jennings from The Americans and all the anger and flaws contained underneath her wigs.)

We should celebrate strong women. But we should also acknowledge that no one can be a strong woman all the time.

We’re a year into a pandemic that has driven women (especially women of color) from the workforce in droves. We’re a year into a pandemic that’s left so many women grieving for so much while still having to carry on as if nothing is wrong. We’re a year into a pandemic that’s created a mental health crisis and left many feeling lonely, angry, and afraid.

We’re not okay.

We don’t always feel strong.

But that doesn’t mean our stories don’t matter. In fact, our stories of struggle, pain, and imperfection often matter just as much as our stories of triumph, success, and strength—because they make other women who are barely getting by feel less alone.

So on this International Women’s Day, here’s to strong women. But also here’s to the women who spent this morning in tears, the women who couldn’t muster up the energy to make breakfast, the women who lost their patience with their kids or coworkers, and the women who feel like they’ve lost the part of themselves that was brave and bold and strong.

You still matter. Your story still matters.

Here’s to women.

13 thoughts on “Here’s to Women

  1. I love this, Katie! I think we’re all still having a hard time right now, and it feels right to me to honor and acknowledge the struggle as well as the strength of women for this International Women’s Day.

  2. “I don’t feel strong right now. I haven’t felt strong for long stretches of the last year. And there’s a part of me—a tired, broken, sad part of me—that sees this quote and feels like the only kind of woman worthy of being admired, celebrated, and seen is a “strong” woman.”

    I really value what you’ve written here. I value it because I am strong every day. I am strong in so many ways. I am also broken, sad, exhausted, lonely, isolated, scared, worried, and a myriad of other things. I think we need to reframe strong when we are talking about human beings, especially women. It’s a word that’s been polarized and weaponized.

    To live completely is strong.
    To live authentically is strong.
    To live vulnerably is strong.

    Part of the reason Brene Brown’s Rising Strong is my favorite of her many excellent books is because it speaks honestly about what it means to be strong. To live resilience. Too often we are sold the idea of strength through a prism of withstanding, overcoming or surviving. We talk about the rise from defeat, but not the place where the work happens — as she puts it — when we are face first in the arena. That’s where strong manifests, not on the rise, not on preventing the fall but what we do in the time that we are laid out, face in the dirt. This year’s resilience is the definition of strong. It is accessing the gears to move despite fear and paralyzing grips insecurity and uncertainty can hold. It is manifesting ways to exist, attempts to find joy even when we aren’t necessarily thriving because we’ve had to find new tools and wells to tap to manifest those needs and ways we refuel our souls.

    What I love about the collection of characters you named isn’t their stoicism, but their vulnerability. That they harness their power to protect and that the core of their strength is fundamentally their humanity. In a time of scarcity and limited access to connection it feels like the right time to reframe strong when we are talking about women (but frankly, people). That being strong is the ability to see the beauty and light and prisms created by the mosaic that is created from the pieces of ourselves that have been woven and glued together through the ability to rise when we fall, to know that shattering isn’t destroying and that fundamental truth that being broken doesn’t define worth or value.

    • I really appreciate these words. I think they’re such a beautiful reflection of you and your truth and what makes you such an incredible person with such a deep understanding of herself, her story, and its value.

      I might not feel resilient right now. I might not be seeing much beauty right now (in the world or in myself). But I’ll get there again. And I’ll have these words to guide me on my journey.

  3. Thank you for writing this. It really encapsulates how I’ve been feeling for the past 15 years of my life. When you’ve been grappling with crippling anxiety and depression for as long as I have, your days are often a roller coaster. Some days you can push through and other days you need to wave the white flag and admit you need help and time to rest. And all of these feelings and actions are ok and valid! What you wrote reminded me of this quote: “Screw writing “strong” women. Write interesting women. Write well-rounded women. Write complicated women. Write a woman who kicks ass, write a woman who cowers in a corner. Write a woman who’s desperate for a husband. Write a woman who doesn’t need a man. Write women who cry, women who rant, women who are shy, women who don’t take no shit, women who need validation and women who don’t care what anybody thinks. THEY ARE ALL OKAY, and all those things could exist in THE SAME WOMAN. Women shouldn’t be valued because we are strong, or kick-ass, but because we are people. So don’t focus on writing characters who are strong. Write characters who are people.”

    Much love to you!

    • Much love to you too, Kristen! And thank you! ❤

      I totally understand that roller coaster, and I hope this post can make you feel better on those "white flag" days because you're not alone in having them—and there's no shame in having them, either.

      I love that quote so much and have probably reblogged too many things on Tumblr that use it. 😉 So to think that this post reminded you of it is an honor! Today, all I want to do is strive to be a person. I don't need to be strong. I just need to be exactly where I am and who I am today—and I appreciate you so much for reminding me of that.

  4. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this since yesterday, and to no one’s surprise, something this morning even triggered it too. You’ve been so open about your struggles lately whereas I’ve been the opposite—hiding it and pretending like I’m doing fine. (I’m sure this is why, I can’t get Wanda’s “I’m so tired” out of my head because I remembering having to pause to just weep about that.) This post just shook me to my core, friend. No one can be strong all the time—I think that’s something we all know, you and I especially given how many times we’ve written these words about fictional women. And yet when it comes to us, it seems harder to grasp. When I was down (still am) in my brain, I couldn’t seem to open up and say I’m not okay, I’m sitting here constantly wondering that maybe if I wasn’t so weak I would be getting something, anything that I’m praying for. And it’s just wracked my brain to no end. But then I read this post, and between our conversations lately, I feel okay. At least to a degree, it’s so comforting to know I’m not alone, that you’re not alone, and that there are so many out there who are feeling broken and rundown and sad and so far from strong. This isn’t coherent, I don’t know what to say, but thank you, and thanks to Meghan Markle, too for speaking up. These really are the type of things that genuinely inspire and make this darkness a little less hard.

    • First of all, I love you. Really and truly. ❤

      "But then I read this post, and between our conversations lately, I feel okay. At least to a degree, it’s so comforting to know I’m not alone, that you’re not alone, and that there are so many out there who are feeling broken and rundown and sad and so far from strong." — This is all I can ever hope for when I write things. All I ever want is for someone to read something I share and think 'At least I'm not alone.' And right now, when so many of us feel so alone, this is just everything to me.

      "When I was down (still am) in my brain, I couldn’t seem to open up and say I’m not okay, I’m sitting here constantly wondering that maybe if I wasn’t so weak I would be getting something, anything that I’m praying for." — I feel this so deeply, Giss. I remember this being a near-constant thought during some of my darker times in college, and what got me through was knowing that God never sees me as weak or not worthy of asking. His answers might be different from what I want them to be and the things I'm sent might be different from what I asked for, but He has a broader view and a bigger plan—and it's not my fault that I can't see it. I'm not meant to just yet. I hope that can help even a little bit. ❤

      If you ever need a person to open up to and just say "I'm having a hard time," I'm always just a text away. And I mean it. Lord knows I've sent enough of those texts myself. I always feel better when I share my truth—even when it's not the brightest or shiniest of truths. But getting to that point is HARD. Heck, even now, I'm working on my last WandaVision post and am downright terrified of how much of myself I think I need to put into it to make it what I want it to be.

      And speaking of WandaVision, you are not alone in that "I'm so tired" line reading destroying you. Literally the night before the episode aired I said the exact same thing to my mom while crying about everything this year has been and how exhausted I feel by it all, so when Wanda said that, it hit me so hard I could barely breathe. Being a person is exhausting. But we're gonna be ok. ❤

    • Oh, Gissane. I know that feeling of wondering if God is listening. If my prayers are bouncing off the ceiling. Of looking around and wondering why He’s answering everyone but me. Waiting develops faith and trust and that is HARD. Ps 84:11 — If He’s withholding something it’s because it’s not good for you or not good right now. I don’t type that lightly — I share that because I have (and am) living it. I see strength, though, in your willingness to reach out and work through the frustration and discouragement. Take comfort in the fact that whatever God is teaching you now will bear fruit and will allow you to reach out to others. Right now, though, it’s hard. I hear you. I see you.

      • I just burst into tears so hard. I suppose this is my proof that God is listening because I was just refreshing my email waiting for something and continuously getting frustrated because it’s still not there. And so I opened wordpress to get some work done and saw this message. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you. I don’t even have words. You have no idea how much this means to me right now. I hope that your day is excellent, weeks, months, years. I hope He answers every single one of your prayers. You deserve it! I wish I could say this with better words, but I’m just drowning through tears so I hope it’s felt ❤

  5. Ok, a little late to the reply party . . . Lovely job on this, Katie. Once again, you’ve done a fantastic job of exploring this concept and inviting us in.

    That word “strong” is soooo loaded. Society uses the term strong to describe women when they want women to just shut up and deal rather than push back on something. What does it mean to be strong? Do we need to be strong like stone or like water? I’ve been trying to think how I would define this, what it would look like. So, one of the definitions of strong: having the emotional or mental qualities necessary for dealing with difficult or distressing situations; capable of moral courage, rigor, or endurance; firm in will or purpose; brave, resolute, steadfast. (This is from the OED because I am that</i? nerd.) Having the qualities necessary for dealing with difficulties means I am not afraid to ask for help or lean on someone else for a bit. It means that I understand that rest is necessary and good for dealing with difficulty or distress. Strength means we take turns saving each other. Strength acknowledges what I can do and what I can't. Strength is kindness and understanding. Strength is getting up after you've cried and eaten ALL THE OREOS AND STILL NEED MORE (*ahem*). Strength takes a deep breathe and then another. Strength lifts up and is lifted up. Strength doesn't ignore pain, but addresses it. Strength smiles.

    I think, too, we need to remember it's not just about being a strong woman. It's being strong women. It's about community. Being strong together . . . and the occasional Oreo or three.

  6. Pingback: Using It: Pain, Purpose, and a Year in a Pandemic | Nerdy Girl Notes

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