Friday, May 25, 2012

Female Power and Strength

Drew Barrymore by Annie Leibovitz
I've been thinking alot about female strength and power, as it manifests differently from male power.  I guess in response to criticisms that the women in some of my favourite stories are weak and unassertive.  It seems to me that strength and power is only perceived as valid if it is of a male flavour, such as in women like Uma Thurman's character in Kill Bill, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  A male kind of power, which uses physical force and the threat of physical harm to impose one's will.

But I read a book a couple of years ago, called The Wonder of Girls, in which the author, Michael Gurian, examines some of the popular fairy tales to explore the intrinsic strengths and unique abilities that women possess.  Why these strengths, such as the ability to endure hardship, the ability to love with passion and conviction, the ability to nurture everything from a baby to a grown man, and the ability to use language and emotional insight to motivate and inspire, are not valued to the same extent as the ability to shove a fist into someone's face, is anyone's guess.  But it makes me sad and a little bit angry.

I believe women are capable of numerous feats of emotional strength, such as fierce love and loyalty, nurturance and protection of the love object, and negotiation as a problem-solving strategy.  True, some of these strengths backfire on us.  Such as loyalty to an abusive spouse or the perception that one can nurture the truly damaged soul of a repeat violent offender.  But the newspapers don't take into account the many ways that mothers, sisters, wives and daughters support, care for, and protect the people they love on a daily basis.

This is not to say that I think men are incapable of these emotional strengths or that women are incapable of using physical force and intimidation to assert their will.  Only that I believe inner strength and resilience comes a little easier and more naturally to women, just as physical strength and stamina is the natural arena for men.

I believe that, for women, perseverance in the face of physical or emotional pain is usually a great and intrinsic ability. Look at what a woman must go through in order to give birth.  She experiences intense pain and emotional fragility in the creation and delivery of a being on whom she will later shower the most love and loyalty she will ever be capable of giving.  Women seem to be more adaptive to change than men, perhaps because we have to adapt to change our whole lives: hormone levels, reproductive cycles, pregnancy and childbirth.

The character of Bella in Twilight is often ridiculed as a silly little girl who falls in love with her stalker - someone who actually wants to do her harm.  What they fail to see is that it is her love for him that makes him able to fight against the beast within and triumph over his darker nature.  It is the classic Beauty and The Beast tale.  It is no accident that when Bella and her Vampire family eventually discover her hidden talent, it is that of being able to protect her child and her family from harm with supernatural emotional and mental strength.

The character of Ana in the Fifty Shades trilogy is also criticized as being weak and easily manipulated by the protagonist.  But she actually has a very strong sense of who she is, and who she is not, and uses this to guide her actions without actually giving up on the man she loves.  This is also a Beauty and The Beast story.  Her love causes Christian to change and heal and become the man that she knows he can be.  It is her love and loyalty, and her expectations for his behaviour, that help him do this.

The Beauty and Beast mythology is as old as time and is no doubt the reason these two stories, written by women for women, have been as popular as they have.  They speak to the intrinsic, and often devalued, strengths and desires of women everywhere.

~ Liz


TdotTwiFic said...

Genius. So well stated. I have been trying to explain this to so many people, mostly men, for a very long time. Thank you for giving the words and validity this theory and understanding of life needs.

Elizabeth Lister said...

Thank you! I was starting to wonder if I was the only one who believed this. I really do believe strongly that inherently female strengths are ridiculed and devalued by modern society.