Why is fragility so valued in women? Is it simply that helpless dependence makes men feel stronger and more powerful, reinforcing their role as leaders and providers in society?
We learn what is expected of us from toys, books, games and television, what we see in the media, and every social interaction. In the tale of the princess and the pea, I was encouraged to believe that the prince is wise in insisting on a woman who is so sensitive that she bruises through innumerable mattresses. Am I really supposed to present myself as ‘precious, ornamental and fragile, uninstructed in and ill-suited for anything requiring muscular exertion’ or to strive to cultivate shyness, reserve displaying fear and incompetence to make myself more acceptable to society?
Simone de Beauvoir wrote that women have the capacity to be ‘free to reject male stereotypes of beauty and sexual attractiveness, and to become more equal as a result’. I wish it was that easy. My experience is that women are accused of being “angry” with no ‘sense of humour’ when they stand up for themselves. Take the case of Anita Sarkeesian who received death threats simply because she raised funds to support a cultural analysis of sexism in video games.
I was lucky that I found a boss who once told me that he ‘hired me because I was frank, bossy and opinionated’. Thank goodness for male allies who are not threatened by a strong, independent woman.