The obsession with the strength of a woman
There is an obsession with the strength of a woman that often subdues even our weakest moments into a forced strength. The idea that for a woman to be enough, she has to have high stamina, a horsepower to withstand the maximum suffering is detrimental to a society that is heavily reliant on women.
For a long time, the strength of a woman has been measured by the endurance of the most inhumane situations. They were molested, raped, abused, mistreated, and they withstood and survived. They are strong, not by virtue of living great lives of their choice, but by survival. There is emotional and psychological damage that comes with survival. It takes away your trust, brings home anxiety, and often depression, and while you might not be living that reality of abuse and pain anymore, reliving it elicits even deeper pains. It takes a long while to heal from these traumas.
Can a woman be strong without having to endure extreme suffering?
This has me asking if it is possible for a woman to be strong without having to endure extreme suffering. Life as we know it is challenging enough even on its simplest days and does require you to be strong and courageous. However, these extra packets of strength that only women come preinstalled with, sound like a preparation for the worst. Even more, an invitation of the perpetrators because they know ‘you can handle it.’ The truth is, even when you can’t handle it or do not want to handle it, you have no choice. While that SI Unit of measuring the strength of a woman is slowly shifting to accommodate a woman’s mind, there’s a huge part of us still stuck in the past.
The story of strength as society sees it
There are numerous advantages of living in a communal setup. As someone who has experienced both village and city life, I can attest that there is a sense of relief that comes with being on great terms with your neighbours. In my community, for example, it is not abnormal for a neighbour to walk into your kitchen and borrow salt, whether you are home or not. To an extent, it does sound like an invasion of privacy but you wouldn’t lock your gate over salt. However, as I analyzed the situations I realized that the foundation of the community is largely based on women working their bones to ashes.
My grandmother narrates to me, with pride clinking in her voice like a bell on a cow’s neck, about a woman she knows. She had borne babies, the woman, many of them. After each birth, she would ‘bounce back’ without even waiting for the recommended forty days of rest, to go fetch water or firewood, the baby tied to her bosom, the water on her back. Grandma narrates this to tell me that women are caretakers. The said woman extends this care to her mother-in-law. A very old woman who needs extra care, like diaper change and feeding.
In a disappointed voice, she says the old woman has other daughters-in-law who do not care for the old woman at all. You realize that the responsibility of care does not fall on the sons this woman had borne but on their wives.
There is no reward for choosing the more difficult
The assumption that a woman is stronger when she can have a baby today and ‘bounce back’ as soon as possible, is crazy. It is even taking root in the digital society, where mothers seem to show up on social media in make-up and a glowing smile just for the gram. This becomes a collective pressure. The boundaries of our pressures have now expanded, accommodating even people from different continents who display their beautiful perfect lives right in our faces.
That these women prove their strength by being able to endure maximum suffering and some more, sounds illogical. A woman sets out her husband’s clothes, prepares breakfast, and if she has to go to work, has to set up lunch to ensure that when the kids come home, they have food. She cleans and ensures homework is done and the goats are in and the chickens are fed.
In some unfortunate circumstances, I have heard men say to me or to women I know, that they would not want their food to be cooked or served by house helps. They also insist that food cannot be bought from outside. The woman has to cook his food and serve him. She also has to clean his clothes because that is how he likes his women. Laundry machines are disrespectful to his royal status. Top that with having an inbuilt ability to endure an abusive husband and you are his ideal!
Women charting out their own paths is a show of strength
The world is now waking up to the realization that women going up the professional and academic ladder are strong. It is also accepting that women making decisions about their bodies, sexuality, careers, and marital statuses is a show of strength. While a lot of it is still frowned upon, women are becoming more centred in their own lives, showing society the middle finger. When we incorporate these new dimensions of strength into the system, there will be no need to stay in a toxic environment for 'the children' or 'what will people say?'
My refusal to be strong was not intentional. It was a series of breakdowns that had me asking why any of it mattered, why the façade of strength was important. I discovered that it wasn’t and decided well, I am not fighting to be extraordinary anymore. I will remain ordinary if it gives me peace of mind and calmness of spirit. On occasions, I have also been told that my attitude is repulsive to men who would want to marry me. I am not threatened by that.
I do not believe that women are obliged to bring any strength to the broken table of patriarchy. The only strength they possess should be the power to choose the life they desire, whatever that might look like.
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