Real Woman Are Strong Women


I was inspired today by a picture I came across on Facebook, and looked up in the British Public Library.  The picture is from a 13th century manuscript and it depicts the Virgin Mary.  However, it’s unlike another picture I have seen of the Virgin.  Usually, she is depicted as a vessel on Christ (she’s pregnant, or he’s sitting on her), as a follower of Christ, mourning Christ, or being approached by the arch-angel Gabriel.  She is always pious, but never aggressive.  I love this picture (see above), because it shows Mary playing a more assertive role.  There she is, the much beloved Virgin Mary, punching the devil in the face.

The illustration was done by William de Brailes, a British Early Gothic manuscript illuminator.  Just think, in 1240 AD, the middle ages, a woman was depicted physically fighting the devil.  I always hear people saying that there aren’t enough strong female role models for our daughters.  If this 13th century man captured one, why don’t we have more today?  Why don’t we revel in the feisty side of our fellow woman?

My mother raised my sister and I to be strong willed, determined leaders.  She would often say things like “Don’t be a sheep,” and “If everyone else jumps off a bridge, be the person to find a better path and lead the way.”  I never sat in a class room, a board room, a client meeting – any place, really – where I thought I was inferior or less intelligent than the men in the room.  I was an equal and knew my opinion was worth hearing.  I also wouldn’t back down from an argument if I knew I was right.  There was no deferring to others.  And I was not meek about stating my opinion.

What’s strange is that my mother felt she failed to raise my sister and I properly.  She would say “My daughters are like men.”  This was not a compliment.  She disliked the fact that neither of us were meek, compliant women.  We would speak our minds and not do it in a self-deprecating way.  We didn’t (and still don’t) apologize for our opinions, and would not stand back to listen to others because we knew our value.  My mother loved me, but didn’t see admirable traits until I married and started a family.  It was only then that she felt she could relate to me.

I like to think that I am raising my daughter the same way my mother raised me.  At 12, she experienced sexism in the classroom.  Her teacher thought advanced science was too hard for a girl (she had a 97 average).  When he would manage to compliment her, it would be by saying things like she was “on par with the top boys in the class.”  The teacher tried to put my daughter in her “place”, despite her being a top student in the class.  I complained to the school, but was told “That’s just the way he is, he doesn’t mean it.”  Due to health issues, I couldn’t deal with this matter the way I would have liked (see the above picture).  But the issue was not dropped at home.  My girl knows her worth, and can often be heard saying, “I’m a sassy, independent woman who don’t need no man.”

When I write my mysteries, I try to portray assertive female characters.  Sadly, I’ve met with some push back from female critics.  I’ve been told that my female characters’ personalities are too aggressive and not nurturing enough; the characters think and behave more like men than women.  I’m beginning to understand why a lot of female authors write from the male perspective.  Women outside of the traditional role are not believable; despite the realistic portrayal.

Take Ghostbusters (2016), for example.  The movie didn’t do as well an anticipated, and it got a lot of negative reviews.  I loved it. My sister loved it.  My daughter loved it.  My sons and husband loved it.  Why?  As my daughter said, “I saw myself in each of the ghostbusters.  They were all real women.”  Each was smart, funny, and assertive.  They were attractive, too, but not in a traditional Hollywood sore of way; they came in different shapes, sizes, and backgrounds.  They had a mission, but that mission was not a traditionally feminine one.  Each woman could be a friend of mine.  The only sexy airhead in the film (I like to call the damsel in distress) was Kevin.

There are few women in my circle or friends who fall into the category of true nurturers (the ones who do are lovely women who I adore and admire, but they are unique).  Most of my friends are like me: feminine, but not in a traditional way.  I have girlfriends who are/were cops.  One friend would walk the beat in the Bronx; she would talk about how she never left a shift without getting into a fight after someone took a swing at her.  I have friends who are doctors and surgeons; they don’t apologize for making life and death decisions or wait for a male colleague to do it for them.

I think more women are like the Virgin Mary punching the devil.  Intelligent, opinionated, and willing to take matters into their own hands when necessary.  We’re not meek bystanders waiting for direction or protection.

7 responses to “Real Woman Are Strong Women”

  1. Can I just say, you’re brilliant!! The post is so great!!! Thank you for spreading awareness in our world. Women need it. We need our voices to be heard. Thankfully, I was raised in a family where it is normal to have an opinion and express it, but here in our country (former part of USSR) it is sometimes hard to be different, to be the thinker, the doer. You need to go through some terriblr people to get where you want. It can be either on the sreet or on the way to the top or carrer ladder.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s like you took every thought, every hang-up I have about the male-dominated system and culture we live in and put them in this post!
    J, I loved the new Ghostbuster, and frankly, I think the only – the only – reason it did not score high on the charts is all the negative flack it got for it being female-led.
    And when I read the passage of your daughter having to put up with that statement in class from her teacher, I wanted to channel the Mary on that picture and whip it on your behalf. If I received a buck for every time I had to hear a statement like “very intelligent for a girl” or “you have an option not to excel because you are a girl”, I really would never need to lift another finger.
    I can’t say I blame your mom or my mom; they have been raised to believe in limitations. Even raised to have big dreams, women are taught to keep one eye on the marriage track. It’s a cultural thing, it binds us universally. But things are changing, thankfully, and we carry on the race where our feminist ancestors left the baton.
    Regarding William de Brailes, kudos to finding his art. Needless to say, he was an anomaly amongst his species during his time. The good thing is that such anomalies are increasing in number.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.
      DeBrailes definitely was an anomaly, but it gives me hope. I may have shirts made of the picture for the women in my family.
      I was raised by older parents. While they were proud of having two smart daughters, we weren’t boys. My younger brother was offered more liberties than we were. We had to be demure, and defer to those who knew best. Ha! I have to admit, while my father was very old fashioned in some ways, he was extremely proud that his daughters were smart, assertive, and sassy. He didn’t want us to be doormats.
      I like to think we have a nice balance in our home. I try to be fair when dealing with my kids, and think I’m succeeding based on the way my daughter responded to her teacher – she never once doubted herself or her abilities. I’m happy that my boys love Ghostbusters and seen nothing wrong with the females leads. And when they hear sexist comments, they’re confused by the line of reasoning.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It sounds like your kids are turning out wonderfully. And, of course, what we learn from our parents, through actions that complement their teachings as well as contradict them, is what should guide us in our parenting. Good to see that you are making use of it. While I haven’t any children, I think I had a great influence on my brother’s upbringing. He is 6.5 years younger than me and both my parents worked when he started going to school so I was his babysitter after school hours when I was a little older. I had a lot of power over him and I’m not ashamed to admit that I lorded it :p When he was old enough, I made him read feminist books written by women, including chick-lit. I just made sure they were humorous so that they would appeal to him. Years later, he once complained to me that when he is with women, he has to constantly be aware of his actions because there is a little annoying voice always keeping him alert that sounds terribly like mine. Best compliment I ever received from him.

        Liked by 1 person

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