Strength doesn’t always look like a muscled Atlas, holding up the globe.
Sometimes strength wears a red power suit and steps into the unforgiving light of the television cameras to debate an opponent whose ability to hate knows no bounds, carrying the expectations of the nation – and, yes, an entire world - on her firmly squared shoulders.
Sometimes it wears an elegant blue dress and stiletto heels, cuddling a clinging toddler and gently navigating a lively three-year-old, all without missing a step or a smile.
Sometimes it walks alongside the most photographed politician on the planet, smiling and waving with an exuberance that belies a punishing travel schedule and her other life as the mother of three small children.
Strength is Hillary Clinton.
Strength is Kate Middleton, a.k.a. the Duchess of Cambridge.
Strength is Sophie Grégoire Trudeau.
These three women have been popping up in my social media feeds for the past week, what with the media circuses that have been happening on both sides of the border. Seeing all three of them navigate their respective circuses with poise and confidence made me start to think about the many faces of female power in the world I’m now raising my daughter in.
I admire these women, all three. And all three have become symbols for me of the kind of women I want my daughter to see, to admire and, in her own way, to emulate.
In many ways, they couldn’t be more different. The coolly professional secretary of state with a lifetime of paying her political dues, now so tantalizingly close-yet-so-far-away to the most powerful office on the planet. The elegant and charming commoner-turned-duchess who has become the world’s most-watched young mother. The effervescent first lady (yes, yes, I know, we don’t have such a title in Canada) who loves yoga and wears her heart on her sleeve and takes on causes with passion and abandon.
They’re not of a generation – for the record, Middleton is 34, Trudeau is 41, and Clinton is 68 – and they seem to have little in common. I have a hard time picturing them hanging out together. I can’t imagine them having a great deal to talk about once their obvious common ground (namely motherhood) was exhausted. And I can certainly imagine Clinton rolling her eyes at the thought of even being mentioned in the same breath as the other two, when she’s so obviously a lifelong overachiever and the others are largely known for, well, marrying famous dudes.
But what I admire about all three of them is the way in which they’re putting themselves out there. They’re being themselves – as different as those selves are - in a world that isn’t always kind to women who dare to stand out. A world where haters and detractors are lying in wait for the next moment: the next off-the-cuff comment they can pounce on; the next unflattering photo they can use to denigrate your femininity; the next moment you let your professional, smiling face slide for just one moment so they can question your worth as a human being.
There’s no question they all have their detractors. Middleton comes under fire for her fashion choices, for paying too much attention (or not enough attention) to her young children, for being nothing more than an “appendage” to her Prince Charming and letting down educated women everywhere. Trudeau comes under fire for her fashion choices, for paying other people to watch her small children, for being too frivolous, for being too visible.
And Clinton? Well, if there’s anything she hasn’t come under fire for, I can’t tell you what it is. The fact that it’s Clinton, more than the other two, who constantly comes under fire speaks to the world’s discomfort with women who hold power. Uncomfortable as we are with women who stand out, it’s just about acceptable as long as you’re standing out for a properly feminine reason – like, say, being glamorous and having a rich and powerful husband. Once you’re standing out for being ambitious and powerful in your own right, then just watch the world sharpen its knives.
No, Clinton isn’t perfect. The fact that I even have to make that very obvious point is an annoying commentary unto itself about societal expectation. Flawed men have been wielding power for years. When you want to back a woman’s quest for power, you somehow have to qualify your support by saying she isn’t perfect? Well, duh. Lack of perfection is implicit in her humanity.
I’m sure Middleton and Trudeau aren’t perfect either. Nor am I, if we’re getting right down to it. I’d go all biblical and talk about those without sin casting the first stone, but let’s just accept we’re all not perfect and move on to the next point.
As role models, these three women have their flaws. Let's face it, they're not exactly a representative sample of the population. They’re all white, straight, married and moneyed – the very definition of “privilege,” aside from the whole not-men thing.
I still hope my daughter can grow up seeing women like them and realizing all the things she can be. That she can be strong. That she can be outspoken. That she can be kind and warm and giving and considerate without sacrificing her strength. That she can marry Prince Charming – or not – and become part of a relationship without losing her own sense of self. That she can be a mother – or not – and that motherhood can be her primary focus, or that it can be just one part of who she is. That she can be gracious in victory and in defeat. That she can be courteous in the face of criticism and rise above those who will try to cut her down.
I hope she will learn from women closer to home too. I hope she will learn that some days, strength doesn’t look like a magazine cover. Some days it just wears a pony tail and yoga pants and it’s all it can do to get out of bed. I hope she will learn that some days, strength lies not in shouting at the world but in being still and present and calm. I hope she will learn that, some days, strength does not just reside in those who live in the spotlight but that it’s found in equal measure in those whose lives will never make the news.
I hope that she will always look at others and see their strength too. That in the lives of other women she will both find support and offer it. That every day in the world around her she will find evidence of strength in those who don’t look like Atlas either.
This is what I want for my daughter. This world where strength has many faces and wears many outfits. Where whether her chosen outfit is a power suit or a designer gown or a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, she will embrace her own being and not be afraid to stand up and stand out. Where she can choose to be a princess or a president – or both – and where she won’t let the haters and detractors shout her down.
Let’s hope by the time she’s grown, this whole “being a woman running for president” thing is old news. And hey, perhaps, just perhaps, there won’t be a glamorous first lady at 24 Sussex Drive anymore – but rather a glamorous first gentleman instead.
So here’s to Hillary. To Kate. To Sophie. And to the dozens, hundreds, thousands of women who will cross paths with my daughter each day for the rest of her life.
Keep on being you. And don’t let the world tell you to be anyone else.
And Hillary? Go get ’em. The Oval Office needs you in it.