It is not just resistant chauvinists who are spiking the guns of the drive for gender equality. Nor is it the wandering band of fake-woke rogues who slyly adopt the rhetoric of fairness but continue to act to shore up its ingrained structures. There is another band of self-interested twisters who are gorging at the trough rather than joining the struggle for emancipation
Step forward the now fabled and self-styled ‘strong woman’.
You will doubtless be familiar with the spiel: ‘As a strong woman, I think…’, ‘What they need are strong women…’ And lest we forget the gold medal winner of Olympic risibility, ‘He finds it difficult to deal with a strong woman’.
Ok, hold it, love (joke).
Anybody who feels a burning desire to slap on a ‘strong’ post-it note to their brow can be credited only with a modicum of self-awareness. This just reflects that ‘strength’ was never going to be discerned from that person’s everyday deeds by anybody else, but that this was something that person craved.
This flavour of posturing is nothing new. We’ve all had a tedious gutful of self-appointed, virtue-signalling ‘Christians’ over the years, which may help to understand the demise of the Shirk of England.
But let’s scratch beneath the brittle dermis of self-aggrandising ‘strength’. Any conception of strength drags with it a concomitant of weakness. You cannot cast yourself as strong without there being a corresponding suggestion or implication of what else is weak. It is why Christians need the Devil. Without old Beelzebub, ‘Good’ has no relative anchor. Satan is therefore the Christian faith’s most important asset. Apart from a serpentine dexterity to stifle epic scandal, that is.
From this, it emerges that self-appointment as a ‘strong woman’ draws its vim from a wider context that she is in among a whole host of weak ones. It furthermore indicates that the objective of the descriptor and all its associated bunkum is manifestly to avoid being mistaken for one of the lightweights.
Well, this is a very different matter from any challenge to structural injustice. ‘Strong woman’ responds to misogyny not by challenging it, but by staying that she is personally different to those who submit to it. And in doing so, she reinforces the status quo by breaking out as an exception to the rule without ever contributing to any meaningful, wider change. ‘Strong woman’ does not want to help with the fight for liberation. She needs inequality to exist so that her juxtaposition with other trampled women allows her to define herself contrastively – indeed as more superior – and to progress by ploughing her own furrow.
What all self-professed ‘strong women’ have in common is that nobody else reflects on their attributes or deeds and assigns one of the other 4,800 adjectives in the English Language to them. And that is because there is very little to see. This is self-identification, not recognition.
Once you unpack it all, it screams ‘weak‘. Not ‘weak woman’, but ‘weak person’. It is as sorry as the culture of machismo and the rejection of any other representation of being a man, whatever that means. And look how we sniggered at medallions even in their purported prime.
I much prefer those who call out the bad stuff for what it is and drive for emancipation with solid argumentation but never cite weakness as a reason for oppression. Even my layman’s understanding of feminism recognises that it seeks equality while celebrating difference. The self-promoting ‘strong women’ latch onto a stereotypical male characteristic like strength and crave ‘sameness’, and that’s another matter. Their analysis is shallow – they see that male stereotypes dominate in an unequal society, and they want a slice of the action.
Even worse – and if you log in to any social media site, anything will always get worse – I saw a recent flurry of social media posts encouraging ‘strong women’ to post personal stories about their ‘vulnerability’. The gist of this bandwidth-sucking melodrama was to provide ‘inspiration’ to others (another baselessly appropriated and self-bestowed attribute) that such socially groundbreaking titans also experience personal challenges.
What a heap of delusional tosh. So, up they popped, all the self-promoting wannabes with their tales of how they had experienced a bereavement and how they sometimes still felt sad.
Well, congratulations – you’re not a psychopath.
But into the bargain, you’ve whipped out a normal human experience and mischaracterised it as weakness. Just so you could set everybody else back a few steps while bigging yourself up centre stage as ‘an inspiration’.
The problem is that the ascendancy of ‘strength’ over ‘weakness’ is straight from the playbook of toxic masculinity. Margaret Thatcher was seen as a woman who smashed through the glass ceiling but did precious little to bring other women with her. Like other so-called ‘strong women’, she merely aligned herself with the structures of disparity and used them for personal gain.
Is that a strength? Well, only if you’re an oppressor or in cahoots with those who are at it.
Perhaps the struggle of feminism is not merely against male patriarchy, but also this unique brand of female selfishness.