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Strong woman’s right to be ‘weak’

This weekend my friend *Cate (not her real name) shared what she was going through and what struck me was her words “I don’t want anybody to tell me I am strong and can handle this”. That resonated with me so well. *Cate has been going through some very difficult moments in the last three or so months. This has seen her go undergo surgical procedure that has altered her life. Sometimes she shares her thoughts and lonely challenging moments, other times her high moments. I think she has been very powerful in the way she has been handling the issue, she has walked high in the experience and even in denial moments, moments that she has wondered if many things in her life will matter anymore. When she shared with me her thoughts that she could only put on paper and I read those words, all I could think of was “gal I know that only too well”.

I am not sure how many times people have told me that since it is countless. However I know there are times when that was the last thing I wanted to hear. I remember a time I was undergoing quite some challenging stuff and I thought “if one more person tells me I am strong enough for this, I will scream on top of my voice, and I might injure somebody”. Sometimes people mean well, but even well-meant sincere actions or words do not make it right. I have come across the term ‘sincerity is not enough’ and it speaks to me often. One way I can think of explaining this sometimes last year when a very enthusiastic petrol station attendant put diesel in my car! He was the most welcoming attendant I had met, and looking away few seconds and voila! My car had diesel and to make the long story short, instead of proceeding for an important meeting I spent the rest of the day in the garage coaxing the car into action. His sincere actions were wrong. Some well-meant but not thought out actions or words can really hurt. Sometimes they are not well meant, just careless and not thought out.

We are perpetrators of this all too often. Sometimes friends do some insensitive actions and we do the same to others and really hurt them. I still vividly recall when I was 18 years of age, and my older sister passed away. It was the most painful experience I had gone through and somehow adults did not seem to realize an 18yr old hurts deeply. Somehow I recall a lot of insensitivity by some well-meaning adults in my life at that time. I still remember how painful it was and how looking at my then very young nephews would send me back to bed crying and trying to keep a strong face for them. It was in that mood that on the burial day, still in denial my auntie admonished me “Sophie, do not cry, be strong, there are no tears today”. I was so hurt and found that to be the most insensitive comment anyone had ever told me in my young life. I hated that auntie for a while, I am sure she never knew but I could not face her happily, until some years later when I realized she meant no harm. I recall while in campus and a friend lost her mother, and how her relatives acted and talked! One commented that when one is a believer in Christ she should be strong and belief! What the heck?? My friend was in her early 20s, first born left in charge of her mother’s family as her dad had passed on earlier on in their lives. If we are to go all Biblical, even Jesus wept over Lazarus death.

Some experiences may not be death experiences, but affect and touch our lives in very deep ways. The experience that Cate is going through is quite painful for a young woman. I am certain that in her circle of friends nobody has had to go through a similar experience. We can therefore say sincerely, we do not understand what she is going through. The least we can do is empathize, allow her to be sad and be with her in her sadness, support her to be happy and be with her in her happiness, and more so be with her in the little ways we can.

This concept of ‘strength of a woman’ has been taken too far, and often denies women of strength the chance to be vulnerable and weak when they need to. Who determines the duration of time that one should mourn a loss? Cry? Who sets the limits? Who set the limits of which woman is allowed to break down and one who is meant to hold her head high and ‘move on’? I wonder.

I believe a woman need to connect with her true self and even feel her own weakness without having the whole world telling her how she is their source of strength hence she is not allowed to be ‘weak’. For the records I don’t think crying is weak but we know if you burst crying in the board room it won’t be ‘wooh what a strong woman’…unless of course you are Obama and they say “ he was so moved”. Sometimes I need to just let out and not be told about strength coz I feel no strength until am ready to wake up and wipe my tears. This must be what moved Dolly Parton to write the song where part of the words are “It's my time gather round girls, you I grew up with. My old friends that I used to scuff with, need you round me at this time, you've all had your turn to cry. And old friend stood closely by, friends of mine, Stand by me, cause it's my time, It's my time, it's my time, It's my time to cry, Mm mmm, it's my time to cry, Oh oh oh oh” It’s my turn to cry

The truth had dawned on *Cate with severity, she had no right to be weak! Or does she? Of course she does, she has a right to be, or else she will feel that she is dead, as expressed in the poem Black Woman is Dead that says in part“...on August 15, 1999 at 11:15 p.m. while struggling with the reality of being a human instead of a myth, the strong black woman passed away. Medical sources say she died of natural causes, but those who knew her know she died from being silent when she should have been screaming, smiling when she should have been raging, from being sick and not wanting anyone to know because her pain might inconvenience them.”
Let the woman of strength grab back the right to be weak!



ethel tebid's picture

This is a great piece

sincerely.this piece was long over dear sister thank you so much.I feel like u were on my mind.I would turn 30 next month and to be candid I feel like i have lived double my age because of the various difficulties I battle everyday.Yet at the face of each challenge everyone tells me i need to be strong and that its going to be OK when u know clearly it might never be
Sometimes I feel its our culture that has influenced alot of women.A woman is expected to be strong even in the face of an abusive marriage,poor economy and still keep a straight face.Even post conflict countries expect women to be strong no matter what they have experience.Its something that runs from individuals to society.Our parents teach us to be strong and not cry and we intend teach our children.Yet I feel that we are stronger when we are able to cry and let it all out.Because this would reduce depression and somany emotional related diseases. Worst is when they have to quote the bible,some just do it out of context and they are so wrong timing.Like the scripture "in everythg give thanks"I always feel one is able to give thanks only after a while it could be years that u look back to the situation and u are able to say"in- spite of this i can see why this happened"not immediately ,a person cannot be in pain and u tell them to give thanks when there is nothing thankful about the situation.
I cant help but tell people around me that its ok to feel vulnerable,insecure,uncertain,afraid.Yeah its wrong to go around feeling like a victim and calling for a pity party..but once in while it feels good letting it out.I am a strong woman because in-spite of every tears shed I come out stronger and better.God bless u my sister

Sophie's picture


It is nice to know it resonates with many women, yes it is not about pity parties but wrong to have women pretend and put a strong face. I agree thats why many stay in abusive relations since a good woman is STRONG!!

Sophie Ngugi
Child of the Universe

Susan K.A.'s picture

Dear Sophie, I like this:

Dear Sophie,

I like this:

"We can therefore say sincerely, we do not understand what she is going through. The least we can do is empathize, allow her to be sad and be with her in her sadness, support her to be happy and be with her in her happiness, and more so be with her in the little ways we can."

This is so true! I have a friend going through a horrible, painful divorce with an unstable, threatening man. This is so outside my experience and I truly cannot comprehend what she is going through and I often feel helpless and clueless as to how to help out. I think you are right that the most important thing we can do is to keep reaching out and letting each other know that we care, and are "here" to listen and provide empathy..

Last night on the phone w/her I felt my words fell flat when I basically said "you're doing great. Stay strong." That wasn't what she needed.

Thanks for your piece, reminding us to be sensitive to each others' needs.



"I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being."

Sophie's picture


Thanks Susan, you truly identify with this and hope you can encourage your friend more and support her when she is feeling 'weak' and is in no mood to be strong! We all experience this at one time or the other. Thanks for reading and commenting

Sophie Ngugi
Child of the Universe

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