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A woman’s strength

What makes a strong female protagonist? Is it her sexy curve-hugging leather garb? Her knack for downing a half-dozen opponents with her sword, all in the same amount of time it takes for you to reach for another mug of coffee? Or is it her snark as she tells the bad guys just how little she’s fazed by their mediocre-at-best badness?

If you’re like me, physical ass-kicking capacity might be a part of the strength of some women you know. In such cases, it’s likely also not the determinative strength.

Sarah and Julie, who enhanced my strength by sharing their own

Sarah and Julie, who enhanced my strength by sharing their own

Picture a strong woman you know. What is it that makes her strong? Is it the way she kicks butt physically, or is it something else?

No, it’s not the physicality that makes the strength. So what is it? Is it:

  • the way she stands up to her abusive husband, despite his threats to her and her children?
  • the way she teaches her children to believe that life will be better, even if it’s hard now?
  • the way she unflinchingly holds her dying mom in her mom’s last breath and tells her she’ll remember her light?
  • the way she fights fiercely for what she believes, even if she trembles as she does so?
  • the way she tells her abusive father that she’ll always love him, but that she’ll never be able to have a relationship with him as long as he denies he ever did anything wrong?
  • the way she reaches out to her friends as they are struggling to say goodbye to a dying loved one, despite not knowing what exactly to say, because she knows it’s the reach, not the words, that count?
  • the way she sets aside what pennies she can spare to make sure the neighbors’ kids have enough to eat?
  • the way she holds herself together to comfort a friend who grieves, even though her friends’ sorrow feels like her own?
  • the way she decides to have children, even knowing the personal risks to her?
  • the way she intervenes on behalf of a stranger in a terrifying situation because she knows the stranger needs her?
  • the way she walks away from a relationship that’s bad for her because she finally understands she deserves better?
  • the way she forgives because she understands that we all make mistakes, and that failure to forgive will only hurt her soul?
  • the way she works four jobs to make sure her son will never know the hardships she’s known?
  • the way she adopts her friend’s children as her godkids and helps mitigate the impact of their poverty?
  • the way she helps push her friends toward the greatness she knows they’re capable of, even when they grumble at her?
  • the way she always says what needs to be said, in just the right way to make her friends feel comfortable hearing even the hardest of truths?
  • the way she looks at herself in the mirror and sees all the bruises, breaks and bitterness she’s been subjected to over the years and yet smiles, knowing there is so much light yet to come?

I used to believe girls not my sisters were untrustworthy. In my eyes, real friendship and real strength were owned by men. Luckily for me, two martial artists I trained with in college gave those misconceptions a thorough, relentless beating, leaving me to see that there’s no one trait women as a whole are.

Their loving, thoughtful, ferocious defense of me when I didn’t believe there was anything in me worth defending helped me understand a little more clearly who I really am. It helped pave the way for me to see not only my strength, but their own, and that of all the other women my heart was thus opened to call “girlfriend.”

In the wake of their lessons, I’m 100% less likely to assert women aren’t strong. I’m 1000% more likely to affirm there are as many ways to be a strong woman as there are hardships that life can throw at her.

I think it’s possible writers and readers are asking the wrong question when we ask what makes a strong female protagonist. Perhaps we’d be better off asking, is this protagonist a real woman?

If the answer is “yes,” her strength–though it may be harder to see in some cases than others–is then implicit.

This was among posts accidentally deleted from this blog.
Reposted 6/21/15

  1. June 21, 2015 at 10:49 am


  1. June 21, 2015 at 5:17 am

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