Dignity & Strength; Writing Strong Female Characters: Part I

My blogging world has, recently, been quite preoccupied with the hot topic of gender roles in fiction (link list of specific blog posts below). Specifically, what a 'strong' female character is supposed to look like. In an unusual fit of bandwagon-jumping, I decided to pitch in with my thoughts...mostly because this is a topic that I have thought (and, frankly, wrestled) with for a couple of years now.
"I do not fear. God is with me. It was for this that I was born."-Joan of Arc
You see, I'm a very, very fortunate girl. I grew up around a bunch of truly amazing men who encouraged me, valued me, and always challenged me to think a little bit bigger, be a little bit better. I also grew up around a bunch of very smart, very well spoken women who were mentally, emotionally, and physically strong, who managed to be tough and beautiful and feminine all at the same time, who probably could have achieved just about whatever they wanted to achieve in life, and decided that their achievement was going to be the raising of smart, strong, morally upright children.

Some modern feminist might think that these women - my sisters and mother and friends - were forced into repressive roles as stay-at-home wives and homeschooling mothers. I couldn't disagree more. In my eyes, they are strong women who have voluntarily undertaken a tough task - the responsibility of nurturing and shaping young hearts and minds in a hostile and often very ugly world - and are excelling at it. They are my heroes and my role models. I would love to be more like them, and when I asked several of them for guidance and advice, they told me (essentially) this:
We've learned that you have to stop comparing yourself to others (or others to yourself). Everyone is different, and everyone has to live life a little differently, and success looks different for different people.
Our culture has turned the concept of strength into a competition. But true strength isn't about your ability to perform to the level of the person that your society perceives as the most powerful. It's about being who you were made to be and doing what you were made to do. And, since we were formed by a God of limitless creativity, that being and that doing will look a little different for each one of us.

So I, for one, am doing my very best to pull out of the competition. It's a surprisingly difficult thing to do, because despite all the thoroughly amazing people in my life, I have still been poisoned by a culture of comparison. Looking around and comparing myself to the people around me comes as naturally to me as breathing, and the lying whisper which tells me that my worth and value are determined by other people sounds as familiar to me as my own voice.

But the more steadfastly I direct my gaze upward, instead of sideways, and listen to my Creator instead of to the Deceiver, the stronger I become.

My strength probably doesn't look like yours.

It is red-eyed and clutching a coffee mug, because I (once again) heard the call to serve, encourage, or pray for someone instead of sleeping.
It is meek and quiet, as I learn (once again) the lesson of sacrificing personal desires for the good of others.
It is bold and fierce as God prompts me to speak the truth in the face of a lie.
Sometimes, it looks strong - pitching in and doing 'men's work' because that work needs to be done - and sometimes it looks fairly pathetic as I learn to humbly admit that I can't do everything alone and I need help.

Always, it's learning who I was made to be, and being that more fully. Learning what I was made to do, and doing that more perfectly. It is discovering the strengths in the people around me and finding out how our differences can be complementary instead of competitive.

We're all a little bit different, and that's the way it's supposed to be. It's the  process of learning to respect each other and work together in our differences that makes us truly strong.

Oh and yes, I am aware that this has no direct link to fiction writing...yet. The next installment will focus a lot more on how I'm fleshing out these concepts through my writing. Promise. 
I'd be interested to get a discussion going here, so please comment your thoughts.

Link List:
An Open Letter to Rey from Star Wars
A Response to 'An Open Letter to Rey'
Masculinity & Feminity - Where They Overlap
Strong Female Characters - The Truth

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