Saturday, March 10, 2012

I would’ve been burned at the stake

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 3 March 2012)

To call a woman a “strong woman” means different things to different people. To some it is a compliment about a woman who has the ability to weather the storms of life and love. To others, a strong woman is someone who walks with too much confidence and needs to be “put in her place.”

In this month, Women’s History Month, it is right and proper that we address long-lived misconceptions about strong women. The very reason there is need for a month dedicated to Women’s History on an international scale is because written human history has always just that – His Story. It is very seldom Her Story.

Without much history on the spectacular feats of women (when they were “allowed” to be spectacular), women are incessantly reduced to minor, supporting roles in historical context. Therefore, a strong woman is out of place in the light of recorded texts and a female with a confident stride must be arrogant.

Yet the strong woman is a misunderstood soul. I know this quite well because I am a strong woman. In my 30s I was being told that I walk with too much confidence, so I tried to slouch my shoulders, bow my head and walk more gently to conform to the meek and mild societal perception of how a woman should act.

That experiment ended quickly when I realized I am not, in fact, a woman who walks around gently with bowed head and slouched shoulders. It is not arrogance that feeds my confident stride; it is simply my personality. I know who I am and I am comfortable in my own skin, so why should I pretend to be something else?

Some think strong women are overbearing, but just because a woman is strong it does not mean she walks all over everyone around her. On the contrary, a strong woman needs little or no affirmation from others to know she is where she belongs.

The fear others have of strong women comes from the fact that women are expected to be weak. When women are meek and mild there is nothing to fear. Meek and mild translates to submissive and obedient. Social protocol has long insisted that as long as a woman submits and obeys, she is a good woman. Which means that if she is a strong woman with a confident stride and brain, that she uses on a regular basis, she is not a good woman.

Why on earth would a woman who is intelligent and capable feel the need to submit and obey anyone else in vital decisions concerning her own life? Would an intelligent and capable man ever willingly choose to do such a thing? Never. So why should a woman be expected to spend her life in droll acquiescence to please the egos of men she could run circles around intellectually and morally?

I would much rather be thought of as arrogant than to pretend to be ignorant. Yet still, as has already been mentioned, thinking of a strong woman as being arrogant is a misconception. I know many strong women who have weathered life with grace and dignity and there is not one of them who is arrogant in the least. In fact, the strong women I know are very caring women, most of whom spend large amounts of time helping others and contributing to their communities.

There is absolutely nothing to fear from strong women. In fact, strong women have much to teach the world. Guyana is full of strong women and I am humbled every time I meet one of them. Each one teaches me another lesson about life and I am always a better person for having spent even a small amount of time with them.

It is not quite clear to me what it is about strong women that strikes fear in the hearts of others. For instance, what was it about Faith Harding and Valerie Garrido-Lowe that so scared the male leaders of the PNC and PPP that both parties were desperate to lock these women out of the presidential running?

Clearly, neither of these women played the political game the way it had always been played. I suppose that alone frightened the male politicians who wanted things to stay the way they have always been. Yet if you meet either of these women in person, you would find it refreshing to hear them talk about their love for Guyana (as opposed to a love for power).

These are two well-known women who are strong, but I know so many others who are not in the spotlight and are just as strong. They inspire me. They do not scare me.

It is ironic to me that there are endless complaints about the political, economic, sanitation situations (and many more) in Guyana and a constant call for better leaders; yet when strong, intelligent women step up to do something, they are chased off because they are feared. Can you just imagine where Guyana could be today if these strong women were embraced as community and business leaders?

Throughout history, some of the strongest and bravest women have been killed for their “arrogant” ways. In the 15th century, Joan of Arc led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years’ War, which paved the way for the coronation of Charles VII. She was captured and burned at the stake when she was just 19 years old.

Countless women were killed during the Inquisition because they were accused of witchcraft, interrogated (tortured) and burned at the stake. In her book, Loving to Survive, Dee Graham said, “The most reliable estimates suggest that in the course of three hundred years they executed about nine million people branded as witches. Who are ‘they’ that executed the witches and who were the witches? Williams and Williams (1978) note that the ‘accusers were mostly men, [and the] accused mostly women.’” (p.4)

The truth is that many of the women killed during the “Burning Times” were women who chose to use their brains and spoke their minds. In other words, they were not submissive and obedient; they were strong women. It chills my soul to think of the millions of strong women who were murdered. So much life and potential burned like mere trash for simply using the brain God gave them.

I would have been one of those women who were tortured and burned alive. Would you have been?

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