A Strong Woman's Curse
Updated: Sep 14
I look at who I am and I realize I have always been known as someone you can depend on. Always. I am the highly organized sort, one who pays attention to detail, remembers random facts, numbers and conversations, and can finish people’s sentences just by feeling what they are talking about and knowing their vocabulary choices. I also intuitively sense when something is off in a situation and will try to fill the gap to enable things to run smoothly. As much as I am a highly functioning and helpful individual, there is a huge downside to being that kind of person. I rarely experience that same kind of dependability from others and am oftentimes left hanging. My girlfriends of similar ilk would agree, and would go so far as to say our kind are not extended the same kind of concern, care, and consideration at all, since it’s assumed by others we are in no need of any help. The sad part is that it really is a faux aura of strength and “non-neediness” because we all could use a gesture of support and a helping hand, a "random act of kindness". This “aura” that accompanies the highly functioning persona (and it is a persona) is a curse. A Strong Woman’s Curse.
It follows us through all our endeavors, for better--and for worse. At the workplace, this strength may come in handy by gaining you a certain type of credibility and stature that leads to a level of respect usually only reserved for men. Men, whom most can't actually do half of what you can do, but they are men and the podium is already built-in for them (a whole other topic of discussion). However, you always ride the fine line of the curse when you show up to work with your game face on to get the job done (and done right) and this (automatic) second nature to go above and beyond, because it is your other less-adept, overwhelmed looking co-worker that gets the assist...even though it is you that already picked up their slack before others even noticed, doubled your workload with what they couldn't do, and are actually the one that could really use the help. Undoubtedly, the curse reared its ugly head in your co-workers perceiving your responsible conscientiousness and resilience as domineering and intimidating to the point that your skills are taken for granted and you're continuously disregarded. Your strength is now your weakness; an unspoken detriment.
It somewhat follows the saying, "the squeaky wheel gets the oil." If you always have the strength to figure things out and help yourself, and end up never saying you need help, no one will then ever be in the routine to think to check on you, because your "wheels" never "squeaked" to alert them - despite you only just barely having the strength each time. And in that regard, it actually is the faux look of strength in your game face and the faux aura of having an impenetrable strength that is the detriment. Or to the point: Just even exuding the look of a strong woman is the curse in itself, inhibiting and often unrewarded; and having a look of unsurety and tenuous strength is, conversely, considered a strength and unwittingly rewarded.
At work, when I bartended, I would call it the 'money sparkle'. A term I coined for those chicks who guys would throw down the bigger tip for even if their drink was made wrong…or even if they didn’t order a drink at all. In personal relationships, you see it when your partner lets you do all the planning. Or socially, it can be seen in that night out at a bar, when your friend sitting next to you, who is notorious for having doe eyes, is the one who gets a drink bought for her.
Yes, I think all of us have been the one who didn’t “get the drink” sent over. It probably kind of irked you a little (not that you would ever openly admit to that). Sure, you could rationalize the situation in your head and come to the conclusion that your friend may be a little taller and prettier than you, or that maybe she really is the guy’s type and it is what it is. Life is like that, 'you win some, you lose some.'
I've of course gotten my own niceties bestowed upon me from time to time, and definitely know some things are what they are: a cocktail being bought for a girl across the bar. I'm far from a bitter bitch, raging with jealousy over nice things happening for other women, but I am a people watcher, always objectively observing. And there are definitely some interesting patterns and similarities in the type of women who are granted niceties and a helping hand of care and concern…and the women who are disregarded.
Simple drinks aside, a true quandary exists: There are women out there, who by happenstance, exude this energy, or aura, or something, that makes people feel like they want to help even if it is within split-seconds of meeting them. While people like me exude an aura of what, exactly? Work presents one side of the coin of a Strong Woman's Curse, where I silently wonder if it is written on my forehead that I am so responsible and capable - so together, so indestructible - that I couldn't possibly need a nice gesture of even a check-in on my workload? But on the personal side of the coin, there is this whole other landmine of social and intimacy constructs that makes me stop in my tracks. Sure, people are compelled to help whomever they are drawn to, but when you are on the reverse end, and actually know the type of woman who is being lavished with attention and gifts, it becomes a bit nerve-racking. Not to mention, it is the same woman that repeatedly is lavished by man after man, and literally doesn't need actual help at all and takes for granted the charmed life she's always been afforded.
Resentfully, I then look at my own life, where for me, I try so hard to do the right thing, be helpful to others, and stay focused on the proverbial “carrot” that is my life’s passion, that it irks me to think that somehow my drive, and salt-of-the-earth nature has translated into others thinking I don’t need a friendly hand as much as the other woman. The woman whom usually is on the superficial, selfish side, never aware of those around her, and no actual goal in life. It's that realization, that I'm not going to lie, I do feel this creeping hurt and a jealousy in the unfairness of it all. I honestly do wonder how and at what point in my life that I came into this (deceptive) aura of capability and devalued for it?
How is it that the drive and tenacity I muster to get through the day can sometimes cause me to be grossly misconstrued as someone that is in no need of a little care and consideration? I suppose I could just write it off as just naturally being a Type A personality type, but beyond my acute conscientiousness and reliability, I don't have the cutthroat aggression that is associated with Type A personality to warrant that label. However, it fundamentally doesn't actually add up to my conflicting feelings I keep having of resentment, anger, and all around feeling misunderstood that have been brought on by the act of seeing help being given to the apathetic, lazy chick at work with doe eyes, who then also is the same chick who gets the drink bought and money thrown at her for literally exuding an aura of a take-care-of-me-because-I-have-no-career-goals.
To be clear, I have no problem being considered a strong woman. I have no problem with my independence and self-reliance, and the act of not having drinks bought for me because of it. Men actually do those things more out of creating a sense of ownership (aka toxic masculinity) rather than it being a genuine act of random kindness; otherwise, they would buy drinks for everyone at the bar. That said, I do want to actually be the strong woman everyone seems to think I am. I don't want to be this person who keeps taking on so much, continuously thinking I'm climbing some ladder of success, working harder and harder - because I automatically do it without thinking. Though somehow burning with resentment in how I am doing all of these things, meeting everyone else's needs, and not my own, and I don't incite someone to want to buy me a stupid drink?
I put this faux persona of strength on at some point in my life, and beyond wanting to set the record straight to these people who seem to think a women strongly holding their own in the world is less in "need" of care and consideration while lavishly gifting women who take it all for granted out of not having true need, I do want to reconcile the true meaning of a strength because it should never be considered a curse at all. And the only moment in time that I immediately thought of was The Runt Factor.
My divorced, single mother, despite the stigmas surrounding therapy, was adamant about me and my brother getting one-on-one therapy, as well as family counseling to keep us connected. Though, I'm not actually sure if it brought us together or left us feeling more confused about ourselves and worsen our connection.
My brother was a teenager and already doing his own therapy of drugs and truancy. Subsequently, the majority of my mother’s focus, time and energy were spent on him. I, a few years younger, was kind of this afterthought. In my frustration of all the attention my brother was receiving, I was given an analogy in therapy that would alter my behavior for a lifetime. I can only sum it up as the Runt Factor, a concept that worked for me as a child, but as I have grown older and looked back to that session, I now question the use of the analogy at all. The therapist talked to me in that low mother tone, as if death or love were being explained. “You know when you have a litter of puppies?” she says. “Well, you know how there is sometimes a puppy that is smaller than the rest, the runt of the litter?” I, mesmerized by her voice and how this puppy story was to unfold, nodded with each line said to me. “Well, you know how extra care has to be given to the puppy, special feeding and holding, or the puppy will die....? Well, that is kind of what your brother is, the runt of the litter. He is the runt of the litter and needs a little more attention.”
I remember thinking it completely made sense to my 10 year-old mind, and I felt this softening towards my brother, a sympathy of sorts. I also remember starting to feel like I finally had one up on him, that I was better than him since if he was the runt that would make me the bigger dog. Come to think of it, I am wondering if that moment is the moment: Ego came into play and somehow I made the survival connection that I must be of strength to stay ahead of the game and not be forgotten and left behind. So, I took the Runt Factor to heart, I parentified to be the parent my mother couldn't be, and put on this “costume” of strength and ran with it, not knowing I was exuding only the concept of strength and not true strength in which you have solidarity of heart and a belief in yourself.
I’ve run “strong” for so long, taking it upon myself to be everyone’s Girl Friday, and getting the job done no matter what it takes, that I forget that my strength is a borrowed “costume” that doesn’t fit very well. A costume I get tripped up in when I hit those moments where I really could use some help but it's not available, and I feel scared and unsure if I can accomplish the task at hand...but I somehow power through, just barely. Or I get tangled in the costume, thinking if I don't do all the work in any type of job or relationship I have, I won't be considered good enough and deserving to be thought of at all and I must stay in sight and working, so I'm not out of sight, out of mind. But it was though me repeatedly getting tripped up in this suffocating "costume" in the same patterns, that it dawned on me that maybe my brother wasn’t the runt - I was. Or, perhaps, we were both runts but of different breeds, and the therapist, who thought she was so clever in telling me such a story, forgot to focus on just making me feel like a priority in the ways that my mother could not, and instilling in me a sense of self-worth beyond the comparison to my brother.
And there you have it: How a whole aura is born, a whole false person, really. It really does feel like I unearthed this dead body I didn’t know was weighing me down through rooting out this starting point of my faux strength that took over my aura and rummaged about, Unfortunately, I don't think my doing so will ever magically disintegrate the strong woman, no-help-needed aura that seems to scare people off from wanting to buy me a drink, and jump-start a new, curse-free, doe-eyed, damsel-needy aura. But I'm okay with that because that same aura is what attracted only friends who share this aura of faux strength with me. In fact, I only have strong women who match my strength on all sides, and we buy each other drinks.