How to Be a Strong Woman
The Action Method for Women. You were a cheerful kid and you tackled adult life with vigor. Then things started to go wrong. Your marriage required more work and provided less joy than you had hoped. Your co-workers were not as helpful or as respectful as you wished, as you now tell your spouse during evenings when you both know there are more rewarding ways to spend the time.
You have a point. But complaining is not helping. You are not of the grin and bear it school. How do you stop complaining without growing silent and bitter like some of your elders?
First, a quick look at the history of complaining. Our grandmothers could not change their lives; listening to one another’s woes was all they had. This is a centuries long agreement to commiserate with one another—com + miserate means to be with in misery. This female tendency to talk among sisters is one of the chief traits John Gray identified as a Venus or female characteristic, but it is not wired in. It was adopted during years of oppression when women could not refuse a brutal husband, one who drank himself into a stupor, even one who beat the children. A woman could only leave if she was willing to walk into the forest and die—and how could that help the children? So she stayed and talked with other women about her plight. It was better than keeping silent. Complaining was once a positive trait. It kept the family from exploding. (The opposite tendency, which Gray identified as a Mars or male trait, is also not wired in. Men found that to talk was to reveal weakness, a perception of themselves they could not afford in brutal times.)
Complaining is no longer a positive trait. Women can now do something about their lives. It just requires using new mental-emotional muscles. Here’s how:
1) Act. Make things go the way you feel they should go. For example, if a co-worker is short with you, don’t let it slide. Ask, “Are you upset with me? What was that about?” Get to the bottom of any exchanges that don’t meet your standards of courtesy and truth. At home and at work and in politics, whatever is right, make sure it happens.
2) Be courageous. Don’t be afraid of how others will react. We say, “He’s gonna kill me!” But the killing is no longer a literal threat and you can stand up to anger. (Killing may be literal in politics and in some degraded neighborhoods, but even then—especially then—there is courage. Death is not as bad as self-betrayal.)
3) Practice. Practice standing up to anger, standing for what is right. If you have seen the movie Invictus, you have seen in Morgan Freeman’s portrayal of Nelson Mandela how not to get intimidated. When was the last time the US had a leader who knew who he was and what he stood for? But Mandela is not made of any different stuff. With courage and practice we can all be like that. Parents can practice by not giving in to a toddler tantrum or a small child’s whining.
4) Report. If something goes wrong that you can't immediately fix, talk to the person in charge of the area or write a report. Then follow up. Find out what happens to the reports you write. Who reads them? What action is taken? If the new people next door start a bottle dump in the back yard, don’t yell. Help them see that this affects the neighborhood. If they don’t respond, tell them—gently and firmly—that you will call the appropriate city authority. When you do call, follow through until the problem is solved.
5) Relax. Distinguish those things that are in your control and those that are not. For example, eating and using the toilet are in the control of the child. The parent can help the child, but it’s best to keep in mind that the child will decide what to eat and when to use the toilet—and will make better decisions when parental guidance does not become harassment.
6) Assess. Take any action that is courteous and legal. Doing this helps you concentrate on your work and play and lets you sleep serene. If you do get to the end of the day with a grievance, pinpoint where you let things go off track and decide to fix it the next day.
7) Improve. If after practice you still notice yourself complaining sometimes, spot the point where you allowed yourself to feel less than able to get the outcome you wanted. Decide to do better. Believe in you. You are not Chicken Little running down the road to get the king to fix what is not broken. You are powerful. Sweet dreams.