Photos by Nancy Sterrett
Strength and femininity; two words that are often painted as mutually exclusive. That one cannot exist with the other, but each must and can only occur in isolation. On the opposite side of this loaded fallacious argument, we often find the black woman.
What does it mean to be a black woman in relation to both of these characteristics? Is there room for both of them to coexist within us? If so, how does that look and how is it balanced? So often, black women are spoken on behalf of or silenced altogether, so I dared not miss the opportunity for our voices to be heard as I pondered on the answers to these questions.
Here are some influential black women on this campus’ thoughts in regards to the interaction to femininity and strength:
“Being a black woman means balancing both strength and femininity. We have to be stern but with tenderness and bold in places we feel terrified in. We are constantly proving to both ourselves and the world that we are worthy of everything in order to break the glass ceilings. But most importantly, being a black woman means building up people around us. So many black women are the backbone of their families, jobs, and communities. We are expected to “be okay” and keep it pushing. So, being a black woman means to know it’s okay to not be okay and get work done. “
“For me, the intersectionality of my Blackness and my womanhood is what makes me strong. Black women are expected to hold up people, places, nations, etc. that still don’t want to acknowledge that they are held. We must be strong because society does not allow us to be weak. As we tackle the weights of the world, there’s also an expectation of silence and submission, the most unfair part of our duties, but the part we’re most willing to reject.”
“It’s interesting that we often think of strength as the opposite of femininity as if we can only have one over the other. The black woman is a prime example of how one can exemplify both characteristics. Since many often characterize the two words as opposites, black women are left misunderstood in society. This stigma has to be broken in order for black women to feel 100 percent comfortable being themselves and bringing their full selves to the table when it comes to contributing to the world.”
“… expressing my femininity and strength as a black woman is a difficult balancing act. I sometimes feel compelled to portray a more quiet spirit in order to not seem intimidating, but I also feel like I have to work extra hard to make my voice heard in a group setting where I am the minority. A black woman who is able to embrace her femininity while exuding strength and confidence is a rare but true force to be reckoned with.”
“As a black woman, I believe that strength and femininity coincide directly. For many years black women have carried what seems like the weight of the world on their shoulders all while making it look effortless. Black women serve as the glue in most African American homes and communities where they are the confidant, giver of wisdom, and an overall source of support for everyone they care about. These are just a few reasons why I admire black women so much. The grace, dignity, and resilience shown in their actions are unmatched. In addition to the character traits that make black women strong, there is also a nurturing and motherly side to black women that can bring comfort to anyone in need. The multifaceted nature of black women is what makes them the complex beings they are and despite any obstacles that may arise that is something that can’t be taken away. Strength and femininity work together in every aspect to make black women who they are. In fact, to be a black woman is to be strong and feminine. “
“My ancestors created strength. The endurance of the black woman inspires me every day to continue to excel and burst glass ceilings. We’re still accomplishing firsts and I’d like to accomplish one as well.”
As black women, we have naturally found ourselves at a crossroads. Not only are we marginalized for being black, we are also slighted for being women, which has historically put us in a peculiar predicament. Survival in this unforgiving world that has snuffed out the lights of so many beautiful black minds calls for black women to exude a fort like strength. It’s this strength that allows so many to carry the weight of being both mother and father, to work long shifts at multiple jobs to provide for their families and to go above and beyond in a career just to receive the same recognition as their white and male counterparts.
It is this strength that is necessary to avoid your own brilliant flame from being the next to go with only a hashtag or statistic in your wake. Alongside this component of strength, there is this expectation as a woman to still maintain a soft gentleness and overall “femininity” in the most patriarchal sense of the word.
Have too much resolve and you are considered stubborn. Show too much determination and you are considered undesirable. Use your voice too often and you get classified as unrefined.
Black women learn from a young age to become masters of balancing. We must maintain a perfect equilibrium of strength to survive the harshness of this world and femininity to be found desirable enough for others to even want to deal with us. We walk upon a tightrope, teetering across day by day. However, we are not helpless or a victim in this.
We have taken the trap like conditions of this world and turned them into a form of artwork. We have taken the challenge of being bold, confident and resilient while also being kind, loving and intrinsically beautiful with stride. Our society has created a fictional narrative where these traits are opposing, but black women have altered this narrative into one that fits our reality. One where the bleakness of our world cannot and will not stop our perseverance.
As another bright light on this campus, Qhira Bond told me, “Being a black woman, creation runs through our veins. We are filled to the rim with this creative energy just waiting to be released. Life flows through us and from us. If we can dream it, we can bring it to fruition. No matter the obstacle we make things happen.”
We have been making things happen since our first ancestors of humanity graced this earth and we will continue to do so until the dust has settled and what was is no longer.