Shazia Mirza: What On Earth Is A ‘Strong Woman’?

'Being labelled 'strong' means that everybody thinks you’re ok all the time,' says comedian Shazia Mirza.

Shazia Mirza

by Shazia Mirza |

I had an email from someone the other day. It said, 'I love your new show. You are fierce! #strongwoman'. I thought what does that mean, strong woman? Are there loads of women just going around being strong 24 hours a day, lifting cars, chopping down trees, hunting? Am I a cup of builder’s tea?

I’m strong now because I wrote some new jokes? The pen wasn’t that heavy.

People think that because I’m a stand up comedian, I’m a strong woman. But they didn’t see me crying in Poundland yesterday when they’d run out of my favourite toothpaste, or my foundation melting with tears at the traffic lights because I couldn’t find a parking space and was late for my eyelash lift.

There is this idea that being a strong woman is absolute, 100% and enduring and that once you do one thing that defines you as that, then that is you forever.

In the 1995 interview with Princess Diana and Martin Bashir, he asked her why she thought she’d never be queen and why the royal family saw her as a threat. She said, 'Every strong woman in history has had to walk down a similar path. It’s the strength that causes the confusion and fear'. People perceived Diana to be a strong woman, she referred to herself as a strong woman yet she was so fragile and vulnerable and wanted us to see that.

When my friend Jane split from her boyfriend, another friend said, 'Oh she’ll be fine, she’s strong. She’s got a vibrator and Poldark and lives near a Hotel Chocolat and an Ann Summers, she’ll survive.'

Emotion in women is seen as a weakness, pathetic, or frivolous. Emotion in men is seen as heroic. Frivoulus is a word that only ever gets ascribed to women, like bossy, feisty airhead, bubbly, bitchy or frumpy. 'Strong woman' is a harmful phrase, that puts women in a box as a way of labelling and categorising them and once we’ve identified what they are, we don’t need to deal with them anymore.

‘Strong woman’ can be just as harmful as ‘crazy, mad, or weak woman’. A strong woman is a woman who knows her worth, but if you know your worth you are considered difficult. J K Rowling - difficult, Madonna - difficult, Theresa May- 'a bloody difficult woman' according to Ken Clarke.

Being labelled 'strong' means that everybody thinks you’re ok all the time, so no one bothers to check on you, no one ever asks how you’re feeling. Everyone assumes you’re doing just fine. But behind every iron lady there is a Halle Berry Oscar moment bursting to come out.

See Shazia's show 'Coconut' at the Edinburgh Festival Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose, 3-28 August

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