How We Misunderstand Strong Women

I recently called a childhood friend to talk to her about something that had hurt my feelings.

As I unfolded my heart to her, she remarked, “You just come off so strong and confident. I think people forget that your feelings can get hurt.”

This is not the moment where I offer you a humble brag with exaggerated posturing over how I don’t know how I possibly come off that way (“Who, little old me?”). Because I do know how I come off that way: I do it on purpose. It’s both a reality of everything that I have been through in my life and this protective shell that I have built around myself. It’s served me as ill as it has served me well.

There is nothing wrong with being a confident, self-possessed woman. But I think there might be something wrong with our perception of those women.

Strong Women Are Not A Myth

I in no way think that strong women are a myth. There are plenty examples of such women in the Bible who would laugh at that assertion.

“The gentler sex,” is, in general, a hearty bunch. Not only would the sustaining of the human race be impossible without the sacrifice of our bodies (1 Corinthians 11:12); but we are image-bearers of the God of the universe, the completion of the ambassadorship of humankind here on earth (Genesis 1:27). Whether kicking butt and taking names as Amazonian warriors on the front lines of Homer’s epic battles or rocking the cradle and ruling the world at home (and every combination in between), women have played an integral part of history.

The weak and wilting stereotype is a poor excuse for the gentle and quiet Spirit Paul speaks about, which can best be described as strength rightly restrained and honed for God’s purposes (1 Peter 3:4).

Strong Women Are Not Second Best

I’ve spoken before about the stereotype that black women are naturally more loud and unsubmissive than their white counterparts. Rest assured, these are not my own beliefs. I don’t think that white women are more hardwired for docility than brown ones. Nor do I believe that submission is synonymous with being a doormat.

Women who come off strong and confident get a bad rap, regardless of their ethnicity. This is, in large part, because we confuse outward personality traits with an inward posture of the heart. Submission is a willing deference to God-appointed authority (Ephesians 5:22), not (for lack of a better phrase) being a wimp.

Sometimes, godly womanhood is assertive (Ruth 3:4); it’s cunning; (Judges 4: 21) it’s bold (Esther 7:4); it leads (Judges 4:4); it admonishes (Acts 18:26). And, in the broader context of being a godly human in general (remember, we don’t have blue and pink Bibles), being a woman after God’s own heart isn’t as simple as having one personality type or another. A degree of strength is required from all believing women (Ephesians 6:10).

Sometimes, Strong Women Are Weak

When I was twenty-two, in the aftermath of a tough breakup, an older woman who I trusted wrote me the most scathing email I’ve ever received.

While I was licking my wounds from my very first brush with heartbreak, she told me that the reason I had been jilted was my weakness. “Your insecurity has been your own undoing.”

She knew that my insecurity was my biggest, most dreadful secret. I cloistered it behind false bravado and self-deprecating humor. I tore myself down before anyone else could. I was always trying to improve myself, always so hard on myself.

But that wasn’t strength. It was weakness. I was not courageous enough to be broken. I was not courageous enough to show myself for the bumbling twentysomething I actually was, and to accept whatever the fallout would be. My “strength” was just a way for me to hide.

As a side-note, blaming someone’s insecurity for singleness? Don’t do that.

The Double-Edged Sword

And here is the double-edged sword of strong womanhood:

There is strength in being honest about our weakness. In fact, Christ strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). It is the catalyst for him to show his sufficiency.

I come off strong. Sometimes, it’s because I’m afraid to come off any other way. I’m afraid to let down the wall a little and be human. I don’t want to inconvenience the people around me with the realities of my brokenness.

We think that women should be smiling, easy-going, and undamaged pictures of perfection instead of living, breathing, and hard-won evidences of God’s redeeming work.

We’ve bought the stereotype that women are either wallflowers who constantly need guidance through their silly little problems; or warriors who don’t need much of anything. In reality, every one of us is  more complex than that.

We are both. We are strong because we have to be. Throughout history, the weight of the world has rested at least half on our shoulders. We are strong because we were created to be. We were made in perfect harmony with man, crafted to carry out God’s plan on this earth.

And we are fragile. Not because we’re little girls in the grand scheme of things, but because we are human. Because, ultimately, Christ is the source of our strength, just as, ultimately, he is the source of our purpose.

Do not be ashamed of your confidence. You are made in God’s image, and you are the daughter of the Most High King. You have a reason to hold your head up.

Do not be ashamed of your weakness. You have feet of clay, and you are the daughter of Adam. God is not finished with you yet.

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