I’ve been thinking a lot about this post that I wrote two years ago, and wanted to share it with you again…

What does it mean to ‘be strong’?

When I think of strength, bulging biceps and loud voices come to mind. It seems a very masculine characteristic. Yet I desire strength. To gain it, I lift weights and learn to speak confidently. I assume an assertive and confident air.

So today I’m considering my strengths, those that I have and those that I still desire.

I ask myself if I have the strength…
to speak truth?
to forgive?
to choose right?
to be wrong?
to share sorrow?
to learn from my mistakes?
to bare all?
to avoid pride?
to listen?
to laugh at myself?
to sing?
to share your burden?
to walk a narrow path?
to try harder?
to let go?
to do it all…again and again and again?

Here is my new favorite poem about strong women:

For Strong Women

A strong woman is a woman who is straining
A strong woman is a woman standing
on tiptoe and lifting a barbell
while trying to sing “Boris Godunov.”
A strong woman is a woman at work
cleaning out the cesspool of the ages,
and while she shovels, she talks about
how she doesn’t mind crying, it opens
the ducts of the eyes, and throwing up
develops the stomach muscles, and
she goes on shoveling with tears in her nose.
A strong woman is a woman in whose head
a voice is repeating, I told you so,
ugly, bad girl, bitch, nag, shrill, witch,
ballbuster, nobody will ever love you back,
why aren’t you feminine, why aren’t
you soft, why aren’t you quiet, why aren’t you dead?
A strong woman is a woman determined
to do something others are determined
not be done. She is pushing up on the bottom
of a lead coffin lid. She is trying to raise
a manhole cover with her head, she is trying
to butt her way through a steel wall.
Her head hurts. People waiting for the hole
to be made say, hurry, you’re so strong.
A strong woman is a woman bleeding
inside. A strong woman is a woman making
herself strong every morning while her teeth
loosen and her back throbs. Every baby,
a tooth, midwives used to say, and now
every battle a scar. A strong woman
is a mass of scar tissue that aches
when it rains and wounds that bleed
when you bump them and memories that get up
in the night and pace in boots to and fro.
A strong woman is a woman who craves love
like oxygen or she turns blue choking.
A strong woman is a woman who loves
strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly
terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong
in words, in action, in connection, in feeling;
she is not strong as a stone but as a wolf
suckling her young. Strength is not in her, but she
enacts it as the wind fills a sail.
What comforts her is others loving
her equally for the strength and for the weakness
from which it issues, lightning from a cloud.
Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.
Only water of connection remains,
flowing through us. Strong is what we make
each other. Until we are all strong together,
a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.
~Marge Piercy

I love the closing of this:
Strong is what we make each other. Until we are all strong together, a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.

[Note: Photo by Mrs. Maze on Flickr]


Jana is a university administrator and teaches History. Her soloblog is

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10 Responses

  1. Carla says:

    This is awesome!

  2. “a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid”

    I love that line. I’m strongly afraid to speak the truth for fear of hurting people’s feelings–and I’m not sure that’s entirely bad.

  3. spunky says:

    “Until we are all strong together”

    Love this line. I suspect many of us feel alone at one time or another, and this line makes me feel more like somone- even if unknown… not just someone, but a sister, wants me to be strong, values me and is really with me in spirit. It’s a beautiful feeling.

  4. G says:

    truly profound. definitely going to write that in my book.

    and jana, on every level, you are one of the strongest women I know.

  5. Alisa says:

    Love this, Jana. I need to read this again and again.

  6. Corktree says:

    That poem is enthralling. Thank you for sharing and for being an example of real strength Jana.

  7. s-lpz says:

    What an amazing post! It speaks to all the courage and conflict and messiness and beauty of the never ending journey of being a strong woman. I find it all so humbling. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  8. Stella says:

    Thanks Jana. I was feeling pretty weak today…battling a battle that seems never to go away. I’m glad I read this today. LOVE YOU!

  9. Kelly Ann says:

    This makes me want to be a lot stronger than I am.

  10. D says:

    “A strong woman is a woman who loves
    strongly and weeps strongly”
    -love it!

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