Finding Strength in Womanhood
By Evamarie Joubert
When boys are young and experience emotions, they are often told to “be a man” or to “man up” and stop crying. They’re constantly inundated with this idea of masculinity meaning strength and toughness that ultimately equates to a lack of emotion, otherwise known as toxic masculinity.
While toxic masculinity is a major issue and the idea that emotional vulnerability is a weakness are extremely harmful, I’ve always admired that a simple “be a man” stood to encourage young boys to find strength in themselves, and in their manhood.
On the opposite end, women as young girls are often encouraged towards weakness. Not the weakness in vulnerability, when we allow ourselves to feel our emotions and recognize that we may need support at times in our life. I’m specifically speaking about the form of weakness that encourages us to disregard our self-worth for the pleasure and desires of men or to comply with what’s been dictated by society.
We are constantly bombarded with the message that womanhood is negative and undesirable. While phrases like “be a man” exist to encourage young boys, others like “stop acting like a girl” or “don’t be a pussy” exist as warnings that the consequence of failing to live up to the standards of manhood is to be a woman. In other words, womanhood is to be weak, emotional, and defenseless; a message that is not only received by boys but by girls too.
Young girls are taught to be “nice.” We are encouraged to seek physical beauty, not to make ourselves feel good but for the attention of men as a means to survive. There is no idea of womanhood that encourages us to find strength within ourselves and our femininity. Instead, we are led to believe that the only way to succeed as a woman is to follow the rules set by men. Rules that keep us trapped and fighting for approval instead of learning to celebrate the power that comes from embracing our true womanhood, not the ideal that society has provided for us.
This trap permeates throughout everything we touch as women. Our romantic relationships, how we show up at work, our interactions with our families, and the image we try to portray to the world outside. It is often so encompassing that it can be nearly impossible to escape.
When I considered returning to a relationship where I had been humiliated and taken for granted, it was my mother who reminded me of my strength when she said the words “be a woman and have some self respect.” In the same way the words “be a man” instantly signify strength, those words rang true in my ears. It was the sounding call that being a woman didn’t mean caving into the whims of another but it meant defining what I deserved and demanding respect.
It was then that I began to understand that womanhood could never be synonymous with weakness but of the courage, strength and passion that lies at the heart of my femininity. I was not meant to cower to the whims of another but instead, to claim my place as a woman worthy and deserving of whatever she desired.