Steel Magnolias: Born or Made?
Until a few days ago, I would have argued that strong women (read: Steel Magnolias) are not born but made. Life hands us a set of circumstances and we can choose to deal with them directly, up front and with an inner strength capable of doing such, or we can sail along hoping others will treat us kindly–but taking what we get.
I had to fight, and fight hard to get into this world. Born as a footling-breach delivered by natural child birth and without anesthetics, the event inflicted much pain on my poor mother. Perhaps because of that, I spent the first half of my life “doing right and being good.” But then, at midlife, I learned I had the right to fight for what I wanted. To name it and claim it. Claim it I did. I fought for my rights as a strong woman, and continue naming and claiming it today.
In contrast, my sister, born two years earlier, describes herself as spending her life trying to get along as easily as possible–making the least waves while trying to work her way through the jungle called life without cutting a path.
She describes me as searching until I found a machete. Once I did, I cleared that path and laid out my life as a smooth road. I created my place in this world, she says. Whereas, she knew it was going to be hard and didn’t want to make it any harder than possible. She wanted life to be as easy, to just get through it. Then life handed her things she couldn’t avoid. Afraid to make a wrong move, for too many years she chose to not make any move at all.
So, I had this theory worked out. You either mold yourself into a strong woman, or stay passive all your life.
Jourdan and I met at the library last week after her mom called and told me her daughter heard me mention that I write strong women. Jourdan’s eyes lit up, her mom said, and Jourdan wanted to meet me. Why? Because Jourdan is a strong woman. She has no problem naming it and claiming it.
Jourdan is an 18-year-old senior at Georgetown High School, in Georgetown, Texas. We met for an hour at the local library. My first question to her was, how did you get to be a strong woman?
“I’m opinionated,” she said. “Always have been. I know what I believe and I speak up for it.” She went on to say she figured out really early who she was. “I insist boys treat me with the respect I deserve.”
Jourdan went on to explain that from her earliest memories, she has never had difficulty claiming her right to speak her mind and voice her opinion–often to the consternation of her father, she said, with a smile.
One of her pet peeves is the sexist comments boys make to girls in her school. When she hears it, she speaks up, while at the same time trying to teach her girlfriends to not allow boys to talk to them that way. She also approaches the boy and asks for a behavior change–and they give it–at least to her!
Her mom confirms that she has encouraged her daughters to be strong and to speak up for themselves, although she did not set the example for them to do so. Often times our children are our teachers.
Jourdan coined a new term for me when she said she had girlfriends who were “boyfriend dependent.” They feel so needy for male attention that they allow and put up with crude sexist comments, choosing to shrug them off rather than standing up for themselves and calling boys on their behavior.
How much better our daughter’s lives would be if they stood confident in their own strength, as does Jourdan.
We will hear more about strong women like Jourdan in the future, but for now, she’s changed my opinion about strong women and how they got there. I now believe some are simply born that way–as says Lady Gaga–while others of us grow into our voices when life circumstances force us to get stronger or die.
What about you? What has been your experience with either becoming and being a strong woman. Or if you are male, what has been your experience with the women in your life? How might we encourage girls and women to stand in their own power? We’d love for you to add your comments to the posts.