I want to begin by stating that every woman I know is DOPE! They are independent, loving, supportive, sassy, classy, businesswomen, educators, multi-job holders, counselors, wives, mothers, grandmothers, single ladies, sisters, aunts, all-around ‘everything’ women.
I intentionally left out the word ‘strong.' Although every woman I know is definitely a strong woman, I find this word to be extremely problematic for the women who would describe themselves as such and the people who perceive them that way.
In order for me to explain my issue substantially, I am going to begin with the definition of the word. Strong, according to Dictionary.com means “able to withstand great pressure or force.” Based on this definition, my girls and I would qualify for the Strong Olympics because we've got some stories that can go into their own anthologies.
The strong are meant to endure, and as women, what are some of the things that we are just expected to get over, around, under and through? Based on my own personal reflections and conversations with other strong women, here are a few examples:
- – Draining relationships
- – Unfulfilling jobs or unappreciative colleagues and supervisors
- – Entitled children
- – Failing mental health
- – Overwhelming sense of responsibilities (professional, domestic, side hustles, etc.)
Strength also renders women like me invisible because my pain and struggles can be easily dismissed by the following words that I don’t care to hear ever again: You’re strong. You’ll be alright. Or, I don’t worry about you 'cause you’re so strong. When my girlfriends and I get together, we vent and curse and cry and the one thing we ALL say to one another is, “Girl, you will get through this, you are so strong.”
I'm guilty of saying these words too. It seems like the default response, but I would like to extend this consolation and say, “Girl, you will get through this because you are POWERFUL.” I am sorry that I haven't told women this more often. We buy into the narratives that we hear often. If we hear that we are strong, we live up to that story — we endure the nonsense because we have convinced ourselves that because we can withstand the BS, we should.
What does it mean to have power? Power is defined as ‘the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.’ To distinguish, strength is the ability to endure and power is the ability to have agency in a situation. Strength is passive while powerful is active; power requires action.
Is that dude acting a fool? Don’t stay! You aren’t required to have the patience of Job and prove that you are loyal to someone who isn’t loyal to you. Reclaim your power and make a decision. Either you leave or you tell dude that he better call Tyrone (in your Badu voice).
Do your co-workers think you're the company mule and keep asking you to do things that they could’ve done had they had better time management? Don't complain. Use the power of NO. It's a complete sentence.
I want ALL women to feel empowered — not just strong — and that begins with the language that we use when we speak to one another, especially women of color. I don't want my sistas to be burned out and frustrated, smiling on the outside while crying on the inside. I want them to know that they have the power to change the things that they no longer want to endure.
I begin my day by affirming my power and rejecting nonsense. I set my intentions for the day and sing, “No one WOMAN should have all that power” in my Kanye West voice.
Start today by thinking about and acting on one thing you want to change. I’m ready to reclaim my power. Are you?