Wednesday, July 10, 2013


"Boston Strong" and "Watertown Strong" T-shirts, bumper stickers and lawn sign have become ubiquitous throughout my daily orbit from Somerville through Belmont to the Wild West and back again.  (Oddly, I have yet to see a "Cambridge Strong" item.  Perhaps that's a topic to think about later - the culture clash of different visions of community building.)

Obviously, I feel enormous sympathy and despair about the Marathon Bombings.  But it reminds me of something else, too: the word "strong" when it comes to women.  Women are sometimes described as "strong" around the trope of suffering - through childbirth, through immigration, through poverty, even through their husbands' infidelity.  These are all considered appropriately feminine occasions for strength.

And then there's:  "She has a strong personality."

People who thought I was too strident as a teenager and young adult would sometimes say that I had a "strong personality".  I felt insulted by this, and certainly that was the goal.  In the context of personality, "strong" is a snide weasel-word that is meant to have the same connotation as it does in "strong odor".  Sure, it could be a good odor, but well, you know it isn't.

Plus, if you argue that you don't really have a strong personality, well, that's the pesky strength rearing its head again, so ha!

Now that I'm a grown-up, I embrace being called "strident," let alone "strong," so it's not a daily personal problem.  Plus of course, studying Civil Engineering neatly substituted "strong bridge" for "strong odor" in my connotation lexicon.  But in the broader context - can we have strong personalities without detracting from our essential American femaleness?

I think things actually have changed for the better over the past twenty years.  One of my favorite icons is Hillary Clinton.  She was widely denounced for her strength for many years - but who knows - she might be on the Presidential track now!  Maybe I need to make a "Hillary Strong" T-shirt.

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