*This post is an entry in the 2nd Stratejoy Essay Contest. Throughout the next month, we will be featuring each finalist writing their answer to the question: What would your TED Talk Be? On September 13th, we will open the voting to YOU, our community, to select the winner of the $500 prize.”
*HOW TO BE A STRONG WOMAN*
These are words that have been used to describe strong women. And, for some, strong women are scary. They’re intimidating. They trample others to get what they want. For more mild-mannered women especially, strong women are fierce competition. They’re the enemy.
Or so we’ve been socialized to believe.
We’ve been taught to demonize the strongest women among us—Hillary Clinton, Lady Gaga, Miranda Priestly, Condoleezza Rice, Oprah—but who does that ultimately help? Certainly not other women. In fact, criticizing the women who speak up hurts all women. Early on, we learn to minimize the threat of strong women by judging their femininity. But this is not productive, and it doesn’t help the rest of us get ahead.
What makes Hillary Clinton a ball-buster? Her position of power? Her unabashed commitment to standing up for herself and her values? Her ability to play hardball with the old boys club? Her get-shit-done attitude?
What, may I ask, is negative about any of that?
We could all learn a few lessons from these strong women. Instead of vilifying them, we need to celebrate their strength.
1. Stand up for yourself and your values.
Last night I had a dream that some guy tried to strangle me in Starbucks. Instead of playing victim, I looked him in the eye and said, “If you touch me again, I will end you.” Yes, it sounds very Mortal-Kombat-esque in waking hours, but the guy backed off. Even in my dreams, I’m learning to stand up for myself.
Standing up for yourself isn’t simply physical strength. In fact, it’s more about confidence than anything else. If you are confident in your beliefs and values, you are more likely to go to bat for them. Know yourself. Know what you deserve. Don’t let anything get in your way.
The difference between meek women and strong women is that strong women don’t let anyone make them feel inferior. Passionate about a political position? Say so. Disagree with the way your office does something? Offer to change it. Someone tells you you’re wrong when you’re not. Explain yourself. And don’t take no for an answer.
2. Ask for things you deserve. (And you deserve a lot.)
Women are often taught to take the backseat in life. We cross our legs, taking up as little space as possible in the boardroom. We burn a few cookies and offer to eat the mistakes ourselves. We earn less money and are less likely to ask for more. This is not okay. We deserve more.
There is no shame in asking for the things you deserve. Yes, you deserve that raise. Yes, you deserve a day off from the gym. Yes, you deserve to indulge in a pedicure and that frozen yogurt.
We spend too much time, money, and effort accommodating others, which simply leads to letting others take advantage of us. Stop it.
If you want that last slice of pizza, say so. If you’re too tired to go get the laundry, ask someone else to do it. If you can’t finish your assignment without an all-nighter, ask for an extension. You deserve more than you think you do.
3. Give it all away.
The strongest women I know pay it forward. They become mentors to younger women and tell them all the secrets of the trade. They give other women opportunities of a lifetime. They dole out constructive advice and act as a support system when other women aren’t sure of themselves. They find joy in watching others succeed. They lift others up.
Once you have what you want, replicate it for someone else. Achieve happiness through strength, then give it all away. We can only achieve greatness if we are working together. Competition does not beget success; teamwork does. That is true sisterhood.
Imagine the things we could do if we stopped competing with one another. Imagine a world of strong women, speaking up for themselves, recognizing what they deserve, and finding joy in other women’s success. Strength is not something to criticize; it is something to celebrate. Cultivate yours.
Renee is a former Stratejoy blogger and current PhD student in Chicago. At school, she studies feminism, new media, and technology and teaches intro Communication courses. At home, she loves to cook, write, and sample new brews in the charming carriage house she shares with her husband and their cat, Asparagus. Recently she realized her name, Renee M. Powers, sounds like Renee Empowers, and she’s taken that to heart.
*This post is an entry in the 2nd Stratejoy Essay Contest. Throughout the next month, we will be featuring each finalist writing their answer to the question: What would your TED Talk Be? On September 13th, we will open the voting to YOU, our community, to select the winner of the $500 prize.*