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The Perception of Weakness and Strength

22 Nov
It is assumed I am weak because I am a petite female. I have more strength than anyone realizes until they see me in action.

It is assumed I am weak because I am a petite female. I have more strength than anyone realizes until they see me in action.

I drove to Kroger on Monday for distilled water and an orange. I arrived at the checkout with those two items, an armload of other items, and my giant reusable bag.

I was punching in my PIN number when the cashier waved his hand over everything and asked in his thick accent, “What do you want in the bag?”

“All of it.”

His eyes widened and his head bobbed quickly, “All of it? Including the water?”

“Yes.”

“It’s going to be heavy.”

“I know.”

I really dislike being told every time, “It’s going to be heavy.”  I would not ask for everything in one bag if I did not know this.

The question needled me more than usual this time. Maybe because I watched Chain Reaction the day before and was irritated by Keanu Reeves holding Rachel Weisz’s hand while going through water like she was helpless. It did not help my mood that her character was supposed to be helpless. I have difficulty with female characters portrayed as women physically and mentally unable to help or save themselves. No, the man has to save the woman and help her through physical exertion because she is not strong enough.

Bullshit.

Women are perfectly capable.

Chaz likes to bring up that I like movies and TV shows in which women kick ass and are kick-ass. He also says I take great pleasure watching a woman kicking ass. Wouldn’t you? I mean, who says it is just men who can beat the daylights out of the bad guy? It is gratifying (to me) to see people underestimate women then WHAM!

The men I started training with in Aikido thought they could out-muscle me on the mat. I am a woman right? I am small right? Therefore, I must be weak and meek. They had to show they were stronger than me. It was completely frustrating in the beginning because what they were doing was completely counter to a real life attack. If you throw a punch, you are not going to stop mid-punch to muscle against your victim using your momentum against you. It happens way too fast in real life and the act of missing your target throws you off as much as your victim turning the tables on you. They quickly learned that my size was to my advantage and their size was their disadvantage. Hello, center of gravity. The saying that the bigger they are, the harder they fall holds true on the mat. Yes, I took great pleasure throwing the big guys around on the mat. It was thrilling to throw and be thrown.

What is it that continues to create this perception that women, especially petite women, are weak or need help when physical strength or endurance is required? Is it the roles that are written for women and men? Watch your favorite show for the continued gender stereotypes. How many times is a woman told to stay in the car for her safety? How many times does a man insist he needs to protect a woman? How many times does a man rush to help a woman with something requiring physical effort?

Remember the furor that arose when Battlestar Galactica was rebooted by Syfy and Starbuck was cast as a female? I was thrilled. Here was a woman who smoked cigars, drank men under the table, fought with heart, and never let anyone get away with putting her down for being female. Where the original Starbuck was a handsome womanizer, Kara Thrace was a no-holds-barred fighter pilot who was unapologetic with the air of uncaring, yet she cared very deeply. The reboot gave Starbuck so many more layers than the original. I am not knocking the original, but I love the reboot even more for the complexity and urgency they gave to the story and characters.

Maybe I have run against the grain of the stereotype for so long that I am tired of it. I grew up with my uncles and aunties telling me I could be whatever I wanted to be. My uncles teased me mercilessly which eventually led me to fight back rather than run to Grandma to tell on them. Blame my uncles for my feisty nature, but because of them I grew confident in my physical strength. I knew I could do whatever I wanted, including asking boys/men out on dates. I freaked out my entire high school Health class by being the only girl in the room to raise my hand when the teacher asked which girls had asked a guy out.

I visited family friends in Panama City Beach, Florida, when I was still in college. They are a family of sailors. They took me out on the sailboat one day along with their boys, one of whom is my age and we were good friends, and his girlfriend. We anchored offshore and took turns with the rowboat. Jen and I somehow decided we were going out rowing together. We managed to get water in the boat and had to get out and drag it to shore. Jen kept stopping and looking around for one of the guys and saying we needed a man. I finally tired of it and shouted, “WE DON’T NEED NO MEN!” Boom. We turned the boat over on shore to empty the water then pushed it back out in the water. No men needed.

I know I will be told “It’s going to be heavy” for the rest of my life. I accept it, but I do not have to like it. My usual reply is, “I’m stronger than I look.”

One of these days my filter will be off and I might end up saying, “Do I look weak to you?”

Because I totally want to say that sometimes, just to see how the man will react.

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Posted by on November 22, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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