Here’s the thing about strong, independent, intelligent women: they are nothing new. They have always been around. They lacked some institutional freedoms in the past, but feminism did not just suddenly spawn strong-willed and opinionated women. They have always existed. They did not always have the public platforms to speak, several career options, or the right to vote. But that doesn’t mean that all women back then were a bunch of weak airheads. Having opinions, an independent spirit, and self-assurance are character traits that have existed since the dawn of time.
Characters like Cinderella and Snow White were created by men, and depict THEIR views of women. But when given half the chance, women pursued their own interests and goals. Jane Austen wrote novels. Nikola Tesla’s mother worked on making her own craft tools and mechanical appliances, and he actually credits her influence in becoming an inventor. Rosa Parks straight out demanded that she be treated with respect. Harriet Tubman escaped slavery and facilitated an Underground Railroad to help others escape to the North. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote books against slavery and became very influential in the abolitionist movement. Einstein’s first wife also studied physics. Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin helped make groundbreaking scientific discoveries. Florence Nightengale was a nurse during the Crimean War and worked to improve medical conditions for women.
And these are just the women we know about. Women, especially women of the working and middle class, had to be hard working. They were productive in the opportunities and spaces they had available to them. They may have been pigeonholed to the private spaces of their homes and community, but that didn’t mean they didn’t have their own opinions, interests, and goals.
I understand the need for ‘strong women’ in mainstream media and literature, where women are portrayed in degrading ways. I also understand the need to teach women to respect and protect themselves. However, a lot of feminist rhetoric make women who express their opinions and independence seem like a cultural anomaly. (I feel that this is in line with the “Not Like Other Girls” trope I wrote about in a previous entry.) Look, I ALREADY KNOW that women are strong and independent. Let our strength and independence go unquestioned.