On Female Vulnerability


A good portion of our #boshemiababesreunion was spent drinking wine while watching overly romantic movies and swooning (I’ve realised we’ve driven straight into a whole bunch of female stereotypes but hey, most of our conversations passed the Bechdel test, it’s fine). As we drunkenly dissected these movies, there was one trait in particular that we found particularly swoon-worthy: vulnerability. When Ethan Hawke decides to risk it all and tell Julie Delpy he wanted to see her again we all just about died; the sheer courage and emotional risk was such a joy to watch. I’d love it if someone did something like that for me? Would I ever do anything like that? Fuck off would I, that shit looked scary. Typically, this string of cinema stirred within some inner reflection, so let’s have a look at vulnerability, shame, courage and most pertinently, fear.

don’t let them see you sweat

As a young baby feminist who couldn’t be bothered to read up on feminist theory, I gained a lot of my inspiration from film and TV (clearly not much has changed), and my main feminist icons were the poorly written Strong Female CharactersTM. Not strong female characters, but Strong Female CharactersTM, there’s a major difference. The Strong Female CharacterTM is a badass with badass lines and badass outfits. They don’t do stupid girly things like wear makeup (even though they obviously do, come on makeup department we can all see the eyeliner!), or care about boys, or show any ounce of emotion or vulnerability. The type of character who comes up with some sort of witty retort instead of actually being honest about anything. These characters were perfect! They rejected feminine ideals while still being the romantic interest, and they were never shown to have any weaknesses. It only makes sense that I wanted to be like them.  Why be vulnerable when you can be a badass? Why show weaknesses when you can be a Cool Girl.

emotional queens and ice wrecks

Vulnerability is seen as a weakness. It is no coincidence that vulnerability is also seen as a typically feminine characteristic. According to a bunch of bullshit lists about “What men find attractive,” vulnerability is a common finding, but if you get too open, honest and emotional then you’re seen as an emotional wreck who’s probably having a period. On the other hand, if you don’t show any vulnerability or emotion, you’re an Ice Queen.


In a choice between Ice Queen and Emotional Wreck, I chose Ice Queen. I somehow didn’t realise that this was playing into the harmful stereotypes.


Courage comes from the root “cor” meaning heart. The original definition of courage was “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” To “tell your entire heart,” you’ve got to fully open up emotionally and allow yourself to be vulnerable. I’m sure plenty of you have seen displays of pure vulnerability and just thought “wow that was brave.” To let the world see you as you are, with no barriers or walls, and be completely open is one of the scariest things in the world. It’s also the best way of making any real human connections with anyone.

Vulnerability is the heart of creativity and art. When I think about great pieces of media, art, and literature, more often than not, what makes them great is their truthfulness. The honesty resonates with the audience / consumer and a connection is made.

Vulnerability is the willingness to invest in a relationship.

It’s the willingness to say “I love you,” first.

It’s the courage to do things that don’t have a definite result.

It’s terrifying, but it’s necessary.

fear of rejection and failure of subtext

I’m currently reading Aziz Ansari’s brilliant book “Modern Romance,” where he delves into the dating world and how technology has completely changed the romantic world. One of his many, many useful nuggets of advice regarding online dating is to meet up with the person in no more than six messages. Or at the very least, as soon as possible; any more than that and it’ll either become awkward when you meet in person, or you’ll never actually meet. Solid advice, but how do you actually go about doing that? What if the person whom I’m talking to hasn’t come across this particular piece of advice? Surely nobody expects me to ask out someone first right?

Isn’t that his job?

By refusing to follow gender stereotypes of vulnerability and femininity, I’ve swooped right into a much worse stereotype; feminine passivity and overreliance on the man to be the initiator. Multiple friends have pointed out the hypocrisy. I get it, I’m a terrible feminist. But I don’t act like this to uphold the patriarchy, it’s just cowardice. For example, I was talking to a guy on Tinder last autumn, and he seemed great. It looked like we had quite a bit in common and he seemed sweet. We clearly got on well, so I was stunned as to why he wasn’t asking me out or asking for my number or anything. Instead of taking the mature route and asking him out, I figured subtext was the way to go. After all, you can’t reject subtext! I dropped a few hints about how bad the Tinder messaging system was, assuming that he’d agree, ask me for my number, we’d talk some more, meet up, fall in love and live happily ever after. Alternatively, we could have met up and he could have been a serial killer, instead of being murdered, I would have caught him, handed him into the police and be hailed a local hero. I probably would have gotten a cash reward for catching such a tyrant. Either way, we’ll never know, all because subtext never works, and I was too scared to ask out a boy.

“when he fails, he loses, but he does so bearing greatly.”

So, is this a new page for Sarah? Will I stop hiding behind irony and sarcasm avoid emotions? Will I go out into the world with open arms and make great, important and beautiful speeches about my feelings? Will I start journaling again because I’m no longer afraid that the paper is judging me (I wish I could say that I’m joking on that point…) Probably not. I still stand by the fact that emotional honesty is super hard, but I’m going to at least try just a little bit harder. The past two years have been really tough; they’ve been shame-filled years where I spun into depression countless times, and I was positive that the world was trying to tell me that I’m a bad person. In retrospect, I don’t really think I’m a terrible person, but it’s more than possible that my sheer refusal to show any vulnerability was preventing me from making real human connections. I’ve tried making some amends and being a little more honest with friends and crap, but maybe now that I’m not quite so terrified of vulnerability I can get some decent therapy?

My heart’s not quite on my sleeve yet, but at the very least, it’s somewhere around my bicep.

Thanks, Richard Linklater.


*apologies about the heteronormativity, I’ve only actually been in this scenario with men.