Saturday, March 8, 2014

What Makes a Woman Strong? What Makes Her Sexy? A Rant About Misconceptions.

Yes, she's strong...Image courtesy of Marin/
I'm perturbed. Yes, I guess I'm having a rant. It's been a while, eh? And it being International Women's Day, today seems a good time as any to have this rant. 

But I'm seriously troubled. Over a year and a half ago, I started Strong is Sexy. I featured women of the past and heroines of the week--which you've seen a lot more of.

I edited an anthology called HerStory, featuring brief looks at women, brief moments in different women's lives from all walks of life and eras of our history. Yes, they were SHORT stories; yes, they felt like excerpts, because that's how I wanted them! BRIEF LOOKS INTO THEIR LIVES.

I digress. The point is, when I made the call-out for this anthology, I said, STRENGTH COMES IN MANY FORMS.

Being a woman requires strength and a woman's strength comes in many forms.

There were women who immigrated, faced the unknown, striving to give their children a better life. There were women who picketed the White House and were thrown in prison, merely for wanting to have a say in government. There were women who stood by king and country to help wage wars, fighting for either their religion or their people. There were women who quietly refused to move from buses to break the "color barrier." There were women who wrote poems, inciting revolutions that would be an inspiration for generations to come.

Without these women, you wouldn't be here. Each one, whether she fought with words or with swords helped make this world possible for you. She faced down adversity for YOU. She earned rights and made waves and got that vote for YOU.

But I failed in my mission. I failed to convey this. Terribly. A year and a half later, I get emails from authors that say, "I don't think you'll like my book. It's not a strong heroine."

"Um, why not? What's wrong with her?" I ask.

"Well, she isn't wielding a sword. She's not kick-ass."

First of all, I appreciate a sword-fighting heroine very much, but as I said above, STRENGTH COMES IN MANY FORMS. When my mother fought breast cancer and won, she was strong. When my grandmother left an abusive home and made her own family, she was strong. When my aunt went to work every day and faced discrimination against women, she was strong. When I went fought for the right to wear my hearing aid at work, win or lose, that took a lot of strength from me. 

None of them or myself had a sword.

And so is this woman...
Image courtesy of Praisaeng/
I see many strong women in books. I say, it takes a lot gumption to write a forbidden poem that cites a revolution and gets you exiled from your country. It takes courage to face each day in a society that beats women, to attend school when you know you'll be pummeled with rocks and ridicule for your trouble. It takes guts to call of a wedding to a man your family expects you to marry. It takes a ton of strength to sit by a sick child and show them you love and support them. How many women every day hold in their own emotions just to be strong for their loved ones?

Do I love kick-ass heroines? You bet I do, but I also see strength in all kinds of novels. I see strength in women every day.

And while I'm on the subject, what makes a woman sexy? I failed in this too. Too many authors still think by sexy I mean tits and ass. "My heroine has a great body..."

That's not what I mean by sexy at all.

Your heroine could have an ass the size of a brick house and be sexy. (I have no problem with asses the sizes of brick houses. I just didn't know how else to convey what I'm trying to say here.)

Why? It's what is INSIDE that really makes a woman sexy. Is she confident? Does she love who she is? Does she have compassion?

Show me a movie-starlet lookalike half naked, sticking out her tongue, strutting in a tight dress--whatever. I don't care. That's not sexy.

Show me a "normal" woman with tired but kind eyes offering a rare smile or showing her teeth in a laugh in some random moment in which for just a second, her troubles melt away...that's sexy.

And because I've failed in my endeavor, April will be the last of Strong is Sexy. I'm beyond tired of people not "getting it" and I don't feel I'm advancing my agenda here, or the cause of women, period.

Happy International Women's Day, ladies. Not many of you are wielding swords and even fewer of you look like Jennifer Aniston, but you're strong and sexy. Remember that. Remember what strong and sexy really is and quit letting television and yes, even books, dictate otherwise.


  1. Kudos to you! People just don't get it and I thank you for trying to make a difference. I enjoyed this article a lot. Thanks for trying to open peoples eyes.

  2. That's kind of disappointing that the phrase "strong woman" has come to mean "woman with a sword." I guess we can call that the Buffy Syndrome. I'm kind of tired of seeing endless covers at the bookstore of women casually carrying swords like baseball bats, looking over their shoulders, while a cityscape stretches in the background. But the market must be there.

    Also sorry to hear you're discontinuing "strong is sexy." Sounds like you had a great mission.

  3. Tara - I'm proud of what you've tried to accomplish. You've tried your hardest to reach out and show people women are strong. I was proud to be a part of HerStory, and I think it's a wonderful piece that women and men should add to their book collections.