March 17, 2008
A salute to strong women
Carol Gee is an editor in the organization and management area of Goizueta Business School.
Growing up, I can still recall overhearing my mother discussing some woman in our community who was going through some personal problems. She would remark to the person with whom she was speaking, “Well, she is a strong woman.”
So whenever life throws me a curve ball, as life so often does, I am reminded of those women who often suffered more serious afflictions than those two laugh lines that recently showed up with an entourage, all of whom have now taken up residence around my eyes and mouth.
Recently celebrating several milestones — over three decades of marriage to the same man, several articles published in national magazines, and the publication of a chapter in a well-renowned Emory scholar’s baby-boomer book — I suddenly realized that my journey into womanhood was borne on the shoulders of many so-called “strong” women.
In my veins flows the blood of women filled with cultural pride, who told me great stories about women like Maggie Lena Walker, the first woman in the United States to become president of a local bank, and Madame C.J. Walker, who turned dressing women’s hair into a mega business, proving that women could be financially independent with hard work and a passion to succeed.
Some of my role models were alone by choice, others by death or other happenstance. A few remained with men who saw them only as bandages for their own wounds. Too soon these women believed the old wives’ tale that if “you make your bed you have to lay in it.” Because they had long learned to keep their pain hidden, friends failed to detect it. For some scars could not be seen by the naked eye. Having known all these women gave me the courage to fully explore life — and to dream. Learning from their traps and pitfalls taught me how to avoid them, or at the very least how to navigate around them. Having known them gave me the courage to find my own truth.
Today, I continue to find myself surrounded by women of extraordinary strength and character: my former administrative assistant, who as a single woman in her early thirties with a small daughter of her own, became the legal guardian of her two nieces, one of them already a teenager when their sole parent died. There is my sister raising a man-child alone in a world where every day black males live in fear of their own humanity. For sadly, not only are my sister’s lectures to Michael about respecting women and himself, but how he should act when or if he is ever stopped by those who took an oath to protect and to serve.
All my life I’ve enjoyed what I call amazing acts of friendship. Like the time I was asked to help decorate the reception hall when a friend’s daughter got married. How could she have known that, not having a daughter of my own, helping to make her daughter’s big day a day to remember touched my tender woman’s heart? Then there were the women who came to my aid when I broke my ankle some years ago. Generous of spirit, these women fetched and carried the entire three months that it took from surgery to rehab before I fully recovered from my adventures in breakdancing.
As I think back to all the women who have been and still are so much a part of my life, I am humbled by their unwavering support. So during National Women’s History Month, I salute them.
Wise beyond their years they are my sisters and my dream sharers. Confident in their own abilities, they also acknowledge that sometimes even strong women need a hand to hold.
Recently, while chatting with a couple of women, one of them remarked how well I appeared to be doing after a recent health scare. Immediately the other remarked, “I am not surprised, as she is a strong woman.” You see, long ago I realized that while life can be tough, I am tougher. Thus the torch has been passed. I have become a member of a select group of women, to become the woman that you see standing before you, a fearless woman, a confident woman, a strong woman.