This essay is from Michael Polignano’s book Taking Our Own Side, available in hardcover and paperback here.
January 20, 2004
“You’re just afraid of strong women!” I can’t count the number of times I have heard this accusation hurled at men who break up with their girlfriends after tiring of their feminist posturing and antics.
I confess: I am afraid of “strong women.” There are good reasons to dislike and even to fear them.
Let’s examine today’s definition of “strong women.” “Strong women” are not those who can lift heavy objects, carry baskets on their heads, and so forth. “Strong women” are not those who can bear with dignity the sorrows of life and death. “Strong women” are not those who, in addition to the burdens of motherhood, heroically shoulder the responsibilities of dead, dysfunctional, divorced, or otherwise absent fathers.
No, what is meant by “strong women” today is: women who can do anything and everything a man can do, just as well or even better, and so do not need men. As the saying goes, a “strong woman” needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. (Surely this is one of the dumbest and ugliest analogies ever to attain the lofty status of cliché.)
But it is nice to be needed: needed emotionally, not just for physical tasks like taking out the trash, squashing spiders, and manhandling recalcitrant jar lids. What man in his right mind would prefer a woman who doesn’t need him to a woman who does? The only man who prefers a woman who doesn’t need him doesn’t really need her either. She may be useful to him for a while, for sex or shallow companionship. But why would he risk a deep emotional commitment—why would he risk needing her—when she constantly insists that she really does not need him?
Men are naturally promiscuous, and they will put up with “strong women” as long as the sex is good. But men are also naturally romantic. I am convinced that men have deeper feelings for their partners than women have for theirs. (Women reserve their deepest feelings for their children.) Men are therefore more emotionally vulnerable than women, and they will naturally be wary of emotionally committing to “strong women,” who are far more likely to put them through emotional hell just to prove how “strong” they are. This is why “strong women” are often screwed, but infrequently wed.
It is just plain false that women can do everything a man can do, even better. Yes, there are exceptionally strong women and exceptionally weak men. But on the average, the sexes differ in countless ways. Thus it is true to say that the average man can outdo the average woman in countless pursuits, just as the average woman can outperform the average man in countless others. Furthermore, in any given couple, there are always some things the man can do better than the woman, and others the woman can do better than the man.
I have never met a man who was obsessed with ferreting out all the things that his girlfriend thought she could do better so he could prove her wrong. I know one thing: I would certainly not call him a strong man. Furthermore, I imagine that his girlfriend would quickly tire of his attempts to best her in cooking and needlework. After a time, I think she would find him downright contemptible. And when she finally walks out on him, I imagine he’ll stand there in the kitchen doorway, aproned and oven-mitted, the perfect soufflé held high in triumph, and scream, “You’re just afraid of strong men!”
“Strong women” are actually the most insecure, petty, and competitive women around. And these are weaknesses, not strengths.
No man wants a woman who constantly competes with him and looks for his weaknesses. Men make life competitive and insecure enough for their fellow men. So men naturally want their relationships with women to be havens from constant one-upmanship. But “strong women” won’t allow that.
Another problem with “strong women” is that they tend to imitate mistaken conceptions of masculine behavior. They can imitate masculine competitiveness, but not the forms of masculine camaraderie, civility, and brotherhood that give competition some humanity. How could they, when all of these softer, communitarian virtues are associated with the femininity that “strong women” are so concerned to overcome?
“Strong women” make themselves annoying, because they inject competition where it is unwelcome. They make themselves ridiculous, because they inevitably fail in some of their attempts to outdo their men. They make themselves contemptible, because they emotionally blackmail their men into letting them win a few rounds, hoping, perhaps, that they will get this damned competitiveness out of their system.
What is a “strong woman”? A creature who has abandoned the best features of her own sex for the worst features of the other. Now that is something to fear.