Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

HEYMANN: ASB’s Contributions to Body, Mind and Heart

Allie_HeymannI have spent the past few days thinking about the concept of strength. What does it mean? Who has it? Where does it come from? How do we get more of it? What kinds of it are we seeking?

This reflection has mostly come in response to the Alternative Spring Break trip that I took last week. I met 14 people who rapidly became my close friends and confidantes. Our work, while physical in most respects, also had a very powerful, emotional aspect to it. The experience prompted intense thought. And here is what I have determined.

People have many perceptions of strength. To me, strength has three distinct facets: physical, mental and emotional. Women on most accounts are considered weak in the former two, and are overtly, and sometimes negatively, associated with the last one. Women are characterized by the yin: slow, soft, cold and passive. They are meant to yield to their male counterparts. They are supposed to be mentally, physically and emotionally malleable. But to illustrate my thoughts, I am going to use a personal example — someone I recently got to know very well and for whom I have the utmost respect. We will call her “Jane Hoya.”

Over the course of our ASB trip, I watched Jane master two of her three sources of strength. The physical came first: In an almost ironic test of will, she came up against a wall and was asked to break it down. The construction site manager handed her a hammer and told her to have at it. With a concerned look in her eyes, she hefted the heavy tool and swung it. The sound of metal meeting wood resonated throughout the mobile home we were renovating. After the first swing, she took another. And then another. Soon, with a smile nearly leaping off her face, she brought the wall down. In the same week, I watched Jane wield a nail gun, operate a power saw and build new walls to replace those she had so forcefully broken down.

Physical strength can be surprising in many ways. Some women don’t think they have substantial physical strength or, like in Jane’s case, are told repeatedly by parents and peers that they are more suited for easier, safer and less strenuous work. Yet, physicality is the most observable and tangible form of power. During ASB, our mobile home project became a great equalizer — it took all of our combined physical abilities to hoist the beams, cut the wood and pull the entire project together. Physical strength is not just reserved for men; it is a tool of empowerment that is equally applicable to their female counterparts. The muscle ache and strain of using that power should be cherished and shared across the sexes. It is an outward manifestation of the things we can do — women should use it to gain respect and to fight against the perceptions of weakness purported by their gender.

One other aspect of the trip included intense emotional discussion and reflection. It was a completely different study in power. In a very reflexive way, all members of the group were forced to assess their own strengths and weaknesses and share them with the group. It was a very challenging component of the ASB trip, and one I struggled with immensely. By nature, I am not necessarily a “sharer,” but Jane always had a lot to say.

She opened up and discussed her life in the most organic and genuine fashion, and it was empowering to watch. This was a girl I had always associated with frequent mood swings and a love of drama, but hearing her share her stories made me realize that I myself was too quick to condemn her for emotional immaturity.

Our culture likes to presume that most women are “too emotional.” Women are not praised for their emotional depths, but rather scorned for a connection to their feelings. Emotional strength does not mean being taciturn and stubborn, strong-willed or closed off, loudmouthed or erratic. Strength of this kind and power in this way is being able to reach out and touch others. It is connecting to oneself. It is completely unlike physicality in that it is a very inward type of strength. And Jane showed me that my emotional fortitude was not emotional strength — it was simply a block.

Being strong is amazingly vague and distinctly ambiguous. It is a tricky thing. And I think that Jane was able to touch me in a profound way because of her willingness to find that strength in herself. Maybe she also taught me that I need new strength as well.


Allie Heymann is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. THROUGH THE GLASS CEILING appears every other Friday.


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