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Feminist Linguistics; On Powerful, Strong Women

I’ve been thinking lately that I might want to write fiction. This non-fiction stuff, which I love by the way, is really hard to write with kids running around. I don’t know what makes me feel like I could write fiction with kids running around. There’s something about the prospect that I might convey my ideas symbolically and subtly rather than all this trying to be clear and concise with these complex thoughts I want to pick through. Maybe I’m fooling myself and it would be just as hard. Maybe harder, seeing as I have not spent the last 25 years trying to learn how to be a good storyteller, or write like one.

I even have the outline of a renegade feminist twist on Cinderella. She doesn’t work hard and get herself out like some other feminist twists. The focus is not on beauty or hard work or independence or anything like that. It’s on friendship. Because to me, family and friendship is really the only thing it could be about. Otherwise it gets too narcissistic, just like our culture would, and I don’t like that.

Except, I’m afraid that my story might be a little boring. It’s possibly a little bit anticlimactic. I mean, it’s a fairy tale so it doesn’t have to rock anyone’s world or anything, but when was the last time you enjoyed a story that didn’t have vanity and violence in it?

I watched the Hobbit movie, The Battle of Five Armies a few weeks ago and couldn’t help but roll my eyes from all the dripping toxic masculinity throughout. I can barely stand it anymore. It’s everywhere. I mean come on; a bunch of men deciding to go out into a battle where many have already died because to not do so would be dishonourable. You’re made to feel so proud of the bravery. These are strong men, aren’t they? The kind you want your husband and son to be, right?

Well, no not me. I sat there and felt the things I was supposed to feel; I cheered them on, I celebrated their victories, I was immersed in the the glory of power. But I also second guessed each manipulated scene and rolled my eyes. I’ve been socialised in this culture too, I watched She Ra and wanted to be her and I wanted to marry He Man like many other little girls. I spent my adolescence and much of my adult life, and even now often prefer to feel strong and fierce to anything else. Vulnerability is hard and it’s not acceptable in public anyway so why do that?

But is strong, fierce, powerful the thing to be? Feminism has been telling us we can be those things, and we can. We are, of course, humans and humans can be strong, fierce and powerful. But is it THE thing to be?

SHOULD we be strong and powerful? Is it important for us to be “warriors”?

I saw a quote by Emma Watson on social media that said “You know, I feel like young girls are told that they have to be this kind of princess and be all delicate and fragile, and it’s bullshit. I identified much more with the idea of being a warrior, and being a fighter…”

And my immediate thought was, “bullshit you are not a warrior, you are a Hollywood actress.” And there’s nothing wrong with being a Hollywood actress. There’s nothing wrong with not being a Hollywood actress either. None of us need to be warriors. I’m not a fighter. I’m also not exactly the softest, most feminine woman either. In fact I, as I said, spent a good portion of my life trying not to be feminine.

It’s not really very respectable to be feminine is it?

Or is it? See I don’t know. That’s how I felt growing up. I didn’t want to be feminine and worry about hair and fashion (although I did have my own hair and fashion ideas). I wasn’t into frilly, princessy things. I didn’t squeal or scream… or hug… or talk about how I felt.

I’ve looked up that quote by Emma Watson and part of it which was left out of that meme was, “I think women are scared of feeling powerful and strong and brave, and I think that’s something they’ve got to embrace.”

Are they? That’s definitely not my experience. But, I’m not blind I can see that it is the experience of other women. I’ll never understand it though. It wasn’t my interpretation of what was happening around me.

I guess we all have to understand that we interpret the world differently. And, how much more fundamentally differently can you get? One girl looks around growing up and decides not to be anything like all these other girls no one seems to respect and another looks around and decides to be just like them, presumably because that’s what’s expected of her? I don’t know. That’s the thing that I lacked. I didn’t notice or care what others expected me to be. I just was. But it’s what I understand drives most human beings. I’m sure it did drive me in some ways too, just not in the same direct ways it does others I guess.

You may have read in my About page, or maybe not, that I didn’t know until I was almost 30, and it had to be pointed out to me, that some women pretend to be dumb because boys/men don’t like smart girls. My first thought when I heard that was, “No way!” “Who would do that?” “Why would you not like a smart girl?” “Why would you want to be with a guy who doesn’t like smart girls?” “Why would you give a shit what that kind of guy wants you to be like?” “No way.” “It doesn’t happen.” Then I looked around and realised it does.

Like, what the actual fuck ladies? Stop it. (Not that you do that, I realise.)

Anyway, my point is, maybe a woman who has spent her whole life being “afraid to be powerful, strong and brave” needs a bit of encouragement in that arena. We all need to be whole people and feel the entire range of who we are and can be. Strong, powerful and brave is a part of that. So is vulnerable, caring and bitchy and helpful and curious, logical, cheerful, honest, realistic, sincere, or not. We are all varying degrees of all of these things. But we don’t talk about all of them. We just talk about being powerful, strong and brave.

Why do you think this is?

Well, clearly this is because back in the day, men were powerful, strong and brave and women were caring, loving and vulnerable. That’s it. Men couldn’t be caring, loving and vulnerable and women couldn’t be strong, brave and powerful.

Today, luckily women can be strong, brave and powerful, and men can be cari… wait can they?

Well, they should be caring and loving. Everyone is pretty sure that’s true. But really, let’s not see public vulnerability out of a man ok? That’s just icky.

“Well,” says the feminists, “if public vulnerability is icky from a man then it’s icky from a woman. We want equality and we can be just as strong and powerful as you, you know!”

Oh. Shit. Now we all have to strive for toxic masculinity.

That’s not the way this was supposed to work.

So to those who got a bit peeved because I dissed Emma Watson for empowering women, I’m sorry. She was coming from a different place than me. But I am still worried. So often in this struggle, we aren’t creating a new feminist world. We are co-opting words and trading identities and doing everything we can to make it look like a new world, but really, the game stays the same. We remain a competitive society, hell bent on beating our neighbor in order to feed ourselves or our children and we teach them to do the same. And on and on.

“The point is not for women simply to take power out of men’s hands, since that wouldn’t change anything about the world. It’s a question precisely of destroying that notion of power.” Simone de Beauvoir