Commentary: Strength is Spelled with a ‘W’ for Woman


By Frederick Howard, Student at Laney College, Oakland

I have come to believe the word strength is not spelled with the letter “S” but rather with the letter “W” as in woman.

I did not come to this observation by chance, but it is based on the realization of watching the women in my life demonstrate strength. Often, these women at the time of their greatest strength felt they were weak or too passive, but in actuality, they were stronger than the ones were trying to dominate them.

The first woman to start me on the road to recognizing a woman’s inner strength was my mom –Marsha Howard. She demonstrated the quality of being strong in many different ways.

My dad was a very abusive spouse and an alcoholic who never felt any real remorse for beating his wife or his kids. So for the first 10 years of my life, my mom humbled herself and tried to conform to the idea of the “perfect wife” my dad had in mind.

According to the stereotype, a perfect wife never talked back, always had a hot meal on the table and never acknowledged any other men. She walked with her head down and only spoke when she was spoken to.

She was abused mentally and physically.

My mother’s case is not unusual. In fact, the Chicago Women’s Foundation cites recent testimony given to the U.S. House of Representatives that most women try to conform to their abuser because they “are ashamed and believe that the violence (the beating, rape or the various forms of abuse) are their fault.”

In the same way, because of my mom’s upbringing, she could not seek the help she needed.

My mom’s ability to humble herself to the will of a domineering, self-centered, egotistical, and abusive man changed her and changed our family. During this time, my mom sacrificed and showed an inner strength that I believe is unique to women.

See, I believe women have the ability to give mentally, spiritually, physically and emotionally to any person, place or thing they desire without ever receiving anything in return – sometimes knowing their efforts will not be reciprocated.

Even though most women know the object of their affections could never match their love, dedication or loyalty, they are willing to give and put out, many of them stay – until they have had enough.

After eight years of constant beatings and terror, my mom’s inner strength transformed into physical strength. My dad was 5’11” and 190 pounds, and driven by alcohol. My mom was 5’1”, 110 pounds and driven by a desire to protect her kids.

For two years, a battle raged in the home where each claimed the right to supremacy. Taking all the pain and anger my dad inflicted on her while trying to fight an enemy she still loved, my mom showed an ability to finally stand up for herself – something she wasn’t taught growing up.

Even though my mom was battling the enemy, she knew, win or lose, she’d be hurting someone she loved (my father, or the family).

There is an epidemic of women around the world, like my mom, who are being controlled, abused and terrorized with no end in sight. By coming to understand who they truly are and what kind of inner strength they possess, I believe women can realize that being strong sometimes means letting go.

Only through an awareness of self can women find it within themselves to walk away. My mom, Ms. Howard, won the battle and overcame the violence, but the fact remains that many women don’t overcome it.

My mom proved to her children that the strength of a woman lies inside of herself.



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