This label is burden.
I see a look in my eyes, a look I’ve seen on the faces of divorcees, of women who have been beaten up who’ve moved on, in the fleeting expressions of successful women, old women. Because women only achieve success with age. And success necessarily means surviving very bad men. It is the face of a woman that the world likes to call a ‘Strong Woman’. It is a tired look. A jaded look. A bored look. A dismissive look. These are so subtle, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m just being cynical. But I know how this face feels from the inside because I wear it. I know exactly how the frown lines fall, beneath the matte-perfect makeup. I know what grimaces are smoothed away behind liquid lipstick, what acid feelings are tone policed and polished up behind the articulate, confident speech of this Strong Woman.
I heard it in the voice of a yesteryear actress, now married to a business tycoon who it is rumoured, routinely humiliates her publicly. I notice it in the eyes of journalist once partnered with a serial cheater. I see it in faces of at least two celebrities who’ve been publicly beaten up by their partners while their colleagues watched, who’ve sustained injuries and then gone on to marry other people and re-establish that perfect fairytale everyone wants to see – the Strong Woman.
Strength? This is the fetish of a different sort of man from the one that caused the wounds in the first place. Or maybe it’s exactly the same kind of man – the kind who sees a glass edifice to be shattered, who thinks broken women are beautiful, who writes poetry about this pain and expects to receive admiration, love and sex in return.
It is also the desperate need of a certain kind of woman. My age makes me an automatic, if reluctant role model. The trouble is, because I’m also a woman, they think it’s not just my job to inspire but also rescue and protect. Male role models aren’t asked to do more than be distant beacons. I never signed up to be anybody’s knight in shining armour.
All I ever wanted, was to be a person. The Strong Woman in the mirror rolls her eyes.