There is a cloud of pressure that hangs over black women in our society. The pressure to be strong, independent, confident, among other things. We are ‘queens’ if we do not break down when something saddening happens to us, or if we do not fight back and take it elegantly. We are applauded for acting unbothered when things are actually wounding us, or bouncing back fast from situations that require us time to heal. So, do people want a strong black woman?
No one wants the reality of a strong black woman. Who wants a black feminist that explicitly voices her stance on social issues that negatively affect her gender? Who wants a plus-size black woman that fights to dress how she wants and not because it is ‘appropriate?’ Who wants the black bodybuilder because she defies the standards of womanhood? The truth is, most people find strength attractive until the woman is career-driven, outspoken, or is physically muscular. The reality of a strong black woman threatens the fantasy of a strong black woman. In hindsight, people want a fictional character. A customised strong black woman. A reformulated meaning of strong. A ‘strong’ that is limiting and binding. A strong black woman that is not ‘too strong.’ People want strong black women that are tireless and invulnerable, but at the same time, that are deeply caring. They want black women to be independent and confident with a twist of maternal devotion and a traditional mindset that encompasses various morals and values. They want black women that are strong enough emotionally because it means they are less likely to cause a scene or entertain ‘petty’ drama. Black women can be strong as long as they do not articulate the real issues to those around them because no one wants to be put in their place. Black mothers are allowed to be strong if they fight to make ends meet as they raise children on their own but not if they choose to leave a toxic situation or stand up for themselves. They can be strong while simultaneously being physically weak because physical strength and femininity do not co-exist in our society today.
Ari Eastman said it best, “everyone wants a strong woman until she actually stands up, flexes her muscles, projects her voice. Suddenly, she is too much. She has forgotten her place. You love those women as ideas, fantasies. Not as breathing, living humans threatening to be even better than you could ever be.” This fictional character is exploitive, solely benefits the patriarchy, and is costing black women. Honestly, the black woman becomes ‘too strong’ the minute it gets harder to keep up with her. And this narrative is simply unfair. Black women are highly versatile, sometimes not even by choice. There is external pressure to maintain constant change otherwise we are less interesting. Fundamentally, we are encouraged to be deeply grounded, while maintaining the flexibility to accommodate society’s expectations. This illusion that is reinforced, mostly, to cater to the validation of black men’s strengths or capabilities, is depriving black women of their inner beauty. Aside from the fact that it creates a toxic environment that is not appropriate for the upbringing of young black girls, black women are victims of psychological distress and disorders, among other things, due to succumbing to these unfeasible misrepresentations of their strengths. Additionally, some consequently doubt their worth and shrink themselves into identities and relationships that are not for them.
Strong black women envelope more than we can comprehend. It is unfair for people to pick and choose when we get to demonstrate our strength, or what ‘strong’ version of black women is permissible and what is not.