Why ‘strong woman’ portrayal is bad for women
Published: Monday, April 25, 2011
Updated: Monday, April 25, 2011 22:04
We live in a modern society. Unlike in previous years, we pride ourselves less on old-fashioned traditions and structures, and more on open-mindedness and equality. Sure, it can be said that we're still behind on a lot of important issues that require an open mind. As a country we're not really letting gays and lesbians marry each other for what seems like no good reason, and we're collectively unsure of how we feel about abortion and immigration. However, we're at least able to recognize that these areas need work and every day we're taking steps forward to solve these issues, however small they may be.
Unfortunately, there are some issues that are causing harm to our country's perceptions but aren't given the focus that they deserve and thus aren't brought to the forefront of our national consciousness. One such issue is the portrayal of the so-called "strong woman" that we've allowed to become a cliché.
My biggest problem with the "strong woman" idea is simply that the case can be made that it is having a negative effect on how we perceive women today. One way or another, we've all been exposed to a character or public figure who has been given the title of a tough-as-nails, no-nonsense female "role model." One of the most blatant and prominent examples in recent years was Sandra Bullock's character in the Oscar-winning 2009 film "The Blind Side."
Say what you want about the film, the point here is that Bullock portrayed a classic example of America's "strong woman" cliché. Her character was tough, sassy, quick-witted and wouldn't let anyone cross her, no matter who she had to give a verbal beat-down to. Women should strive to have that much confidence and control over the people around them, right? Maybe. However, the argument can be made that this type of angry, finger-snapping confidence isn't achieving the desired effect of shaping the image of a strong woman. Her character's sole goal seems to be to make all of the men around her feel uncomfortable and put in their place. It subtly sends the message that a strong woman must have a masculine attitude and be confrontational towards anyone who looks at her cock-eyed.
Bullock isn't the only one guilty of taking such a role. USA Network seems to have a cadre tough female characters who week after week are there to make men look foolish and make the audience snap their fingers and shout, "You go, girl!" However, is this really the type of role models that young women should emulate? Should they not also know that it is possible to be feminine, non-confrontational and understanding and still be a strong woman? Or is the message that young girls are hearing simply this: be tough and angry, or the world will walk all over you? I would like to have more faith in society than that.
It should trouble our national consciousness to the same degree as with any social problem in which the media or the general public are allowed to decide one specific way for a mass of people to act. However, this isn't one person or group's fault. Through the years, this image of a "strong woman" has simply taken on a life of its own. Rather than real women who can be polite, kind and choose their battles like anyone else, we have an almost cartoonish version of sassy angry people who are more likely to throw a punch than shake your hand.
It may seem like I'm splitting hairs here. But I feel like it's important to think about this. I obviously don't wish to criticize anyone who enjoys the confidence that such an attitude brings. Nor do I want to say that there is a right and wrong way for women to act. I'm no sexist. As always my motto is, "to each his or her own." I simply wish to shine a light on the fact that we're not only allowing but praising the media for giving young women the idea that there is just one road map to respect, and it is a confrontational, unfeminine and sometimes mean one. I simply would like to see a role model for young women that is more realistic, and not one who will make me want to punch myself in the eye repeatedly out of the guilt she makes me feel for simply being a man.