(This was originally posted on 2 July 2012)
Look, I’m a feminist, which means that I’m all for equality between men and women. But you’ll often hear feminists talk about “strong women”. I’ve been found to say that from time to time as well. “Mother Teresa was a strong woman.” “Dorothy Day was a strong woman.” Yes, women who stand up in the sight of God for goodness and justice and endure the hardships that come with such a fight are indeed strong women. But what I realised is that I don’t often hear people talking about “strong men” in quite the same way.
It’s as if we assume men are generally strong; there’s no need to say it. Shouldn’t we assume women are just as strong? I think we go out of our way to call women strong because it’s counter-cultural. It goes against the grain of gender stereotypes. But isn’t it sexist to assume men strong and just as wrong to over-emphasise women’s strength? True feminism doesn’t pick and choose. True feminism is about equality between women and men. By emphasising strong women more than strong men we are attempting to make up for centuries of patriarchy and degradation of women. Unfortunately, there’s just no way to make up for that.
The best move is to fight for equality rather than sliding toward the danger of reverse sexism. There is no doubt that women in our current time are still enduring the hardships of male-dominance in too many parts of society, but perhaps we can reexamine the meaning of a “strong man” as an effort to balance out our views of men and women. The male stereotype needs to be changed.
True courage and strength means an embrace of genuine feminism—a feminism that reveals the beauty of male and female. A man who represses emotion and gentleness should not be the archetype of manhood. A man who cannot accept tears in the joys and sorrows of life does not represent an acceptance of a real male identity. Saint Ignatius, a warrior in his own time, wrote often about the “grace of tears” in his own prayer and lived experience. “Grace” because the tears were a gift from God. In the Spiritual Exercises Ignatius mentions tears thrice when speaking about spiritual consolation. Here’s one instance:
“…it is proper to the good to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet, easing, and putting away all obstacles, that one may go on in well doing.”
(Spiritual Exercises, )
A man who can shed tears will find consolation in the knowledge of his strength. It’s a strength that accepts vulnerability and leads to a personal examination of the heart. Perhaps we can speak of strong men alongside strong women who both share the gifts of God and produce the fruits of goodness, justice, self-reflection, and vulnerability.
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