If you’ve been following the news at all over the last few weeks, you may even recognise her. Her name is Zoe Smith, and she set a new British record in the women’s weightlifting at the Olympics. She lifted rather more than twice her body weight – 121kg. This 5’2” girl could pick you up and hold you above her head. Yes you.
You live in the real world, so it’ll come as no surprise that the Internet knuckleheads responded to her by saying she’s unfeminine and they don’t fancy her. Well, this sweet-faced angel then proved she not only kicks ass in the weightlifting arena, she wrote a blog post that, as a professional writer and a woman old enough to be her mother, I would have given my right arm to write.
Among other pithy and brilliant things, she says to her detractors,
“This may be shocking to you, but we actually would rather be attractive to people who aren’t closed-minded and ignorant. Crazy, eh?! We, as any women with an ounce of self-confidence would, prefer our men to be confident enough in themselves to not feel emasculated by the fact that we aren’t weak and feeble.”
This bit of 2012 has seen a bizarre confluence of social and cultural influences. We’ve just had the Olympics and we’re all riding high on the joy of every wonderful story we’ve experienced in the last fortnight, and commentators are talking about how Olympians like Zoe offers new role models for young women – and then you get on the Tube and every woman it seems (and some of the men), has their nose buried between the monochrome covers of the Book that Shall Not be Named. Now I’m not going to write a lot about it because, God knows, everyone has said everything that could be said, and while it wasn’t my cup of tea, I’m thrilled to see any book make that much of a splash. But let me just say this.
Of all the erotic scenarios that could have captured the imagination of millions and millions of women – I am surprised, and in equal measure horrified – that this was the one that did it. Because the Christian/ Ana liaison isn’t a BDSM relationship, as far as I can tell, nor is it a conventional love story. It’s a deeply unequal, quite abusive relationship between a man who holds all the cards and a woman who has none. I giggled through the book and was mildly titillated until a scene near the end where Ana and Christian go for breakfast. She offers to pay and he says in horror, “Are you trying to completely emasculate me?”
I would think most people would want a partner upon whom they could rely, especially if they see the relationship as a long term prospect which might involve joint financial affairs, a home or children. To many heterosexual women, the idea of a masterful, able man is extremely sexy – when what he’s doing is pleasuring you sexually and buying you Audi convertibles. But as many people who have entered into in an unequal relationship can tell you, it’s slightly less titillating when he’s using that power to separate you from your friends and family, control you financially or abuse you physically or emotionally.
I'm reminded of a poem I wrote when I was a broken-hearted teenager, which (thankfully, as my poetry was generally terrible) has not survived in its entirety. It ended with a pithy rhyming couplet:
"To make you big, I cannot shrink myself,
So grow, my man, or leave me on the shelf"
So what I’m trying to say is that Zoe Smith has it spot on... a partner who needs you to be weak, poor, uneducated, or financially dependent is not strong. He or she is very, very weak. A partner who celebrates your strengths and talents, whatever they may be, who is the chief cheerleader on your team, who offers practical and emotional support to help you reach your goals – that’s the kind of strength we should be looking for. And I should know. I married it.
Follow Zoe @ZoePabloSmith