A Belated International Women's Day Piece

What is an inspirational woman?
What is a strong woman?
How do these differ from strong and inspirational men?
What is a feminist?

Inspiration lies around us wherever we are in the world: in order to live a fulfilling life, I believe it is necessary to be inspired and watch others be inspired and thus inspiring.

We live in an age where inspiration and feminist and strength and all these other descriptors, when applied to women, take on a rather arbitrary meaning. Beyoncé and Rosa Parks and Emma Watson, Marie Curie, Kim Kardashian and Caitlin Moran, Christiane Amanpour, Amal Clooney, Emmeline Pankhurst and Malala Yousafzai. All described, by varying media sources, as all of these adjectives. I won't get into the convoluted back-and-forth of 'are they - aren't they' for some of these women, as I think it rather undermines the whole process, yet it is undeniable that without more of a clear cut idea, these words are lazily thrown around.

Celebrity culture is, therefore, partly to blame for the bastardisation of a word, that, even when applied to men, connotes a wholly less vacuous meaning. 'inspirational male celebrities' brings up Muhammad Ali, a sportsperson and Richard Branson, an entrepreneur, as opposed to 'inspirational female celebrities' which suggests that Guiliana Rancic from Fashion Police (who was racist about a red carpet look by Zendaya) and Taylor Swift (arguably one of the least feminist feminists around). Even these simple searches show that the parameters for the key words I highlighted are just different, based on gender.

For a woman to be strong, as has been said many times, she has to act more like the perpetuated view of an ideal man. Yet in practice when a women acts in this way (assertive, dominant, confident etc) she is labelled a bitch, bossy and that almost certainly she is on her period.

I disagree with this perception of what a strong woman looks like: it's another attempt to pigeon-hole women and shame them into one certain model. It's like when members of the feminist community dictate what a feminist is: no, that is equally harmful and oppressive as a patriarchal society telling the population what a man and a woman should look like. It isn't difficult to be strong, in fact you almost have to disprove yourself to become 'not strong': cowardice isn't borne through action, but rather inaction. Take myself: I am strong, in certain ways yes, yet am I inspirational? Most certainly not. Therefore there must be some difference.

In a roundabout way, I am trying to show that 'empowering' labels such as strong will never be empowering until they mean the same for all genders.

'Inspirational' is an easier word to define. Young people are naturally less likely to be inspirations, as they have done less in their shorter lifetimes, but surely if we take the idea that oppressed groups within society 'work' harder just to exist (i.e. each day been more of a struggle, due to prejudice, institutionalised discrimination etc) it is easy to see why when someone from an oppressed group within society does something amazing, they are lauded even more highly. Let's apply this model to women: a female, ethnic minority CEO is thus surely more inspirational than a white, male counterpart, as the struggle within society to reach that point is harder. It's like when you run on a treadmill, but there's someone next to you in the gym running on an incline: when they're doing equally well, this is a result of greater effort.

This is why the words 'inspirational woman' or 'strong woman' are used regularly and interchangeably. I think it's also important to remember that 'celebrity' and 'inspiration' are also not equivalents: an inspiration can be anyone, and you may be inspired by one tiny part of a person. I think that wanting women to be strong and recognised as strong can never be a bad thing, so long as those that aren't strong aren't looked down upon for not fitting this new female ideal.

Essentially the crux of this column piece has been the simple line of: 'you do you', and to try and separate out some of the messy descriptors given to women. For it is better to be strong and not to have lived a hugely inspiring life, than it is to be inspirational for celebrity or something like that, and weak.

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1 comments

  1. Beautifully written, so so much love!

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