Envision the strong silent type. Seriously, close your eyes and see what you come up with.
To me, an automatic association of the strong silent type is Don Draper, a man in a suit at a bar with a cigarette, or maybe a man in a cowboy hat who kills bad guys and abides by a twisted ethical code (Yes, I watch Justified. Rather miss it, actually), or possibly a man with a sweet smile and dangerous stare. At a stretch, I envision a shy drummer who is quiet but a known bad boy.
Notice the similarity? If you don't, another way to examine social associations with "the strong silent type" is to run the phrase through a search engine. Now do you see the pattern?
Growing up, I learned that the words strong and silent were only ever paired together when describing men. Women, on the other hand, the women I grew up admiring, seemed to naturally bear the burden of conversation. They were supposed to be quick to verbalize whatever was right in front of them, or they were weak. They needed to speak, even if said verbalizing seemed quite unnecessary.
In Kindergarten, I didn’t talk a whole lot. I made friends with a girl named Octavia, who was also rather quiet. We would have deep discussions about lizards, and when people would pick on us Octavia would put them in their place. She was quiet but no pushover. I’ve lost touch with Octavia, but if she’s still around, I’d love to buy her a good meal because she was a good friend and also because she was totally confident in who she was long before I was. I felt as though something wasn’t quite right about me.
I began to engage a little more in grade school and found quite a few good friends, but I was still relatively quiet. I wasn’t so much shy as contemplative, observant. “Why are those girls giggling when the teacher is telling us about butterflies?” I’d wonder. “This is interesting as shit!” Okay, I probably didn’t actually think “interesting as shit,” but you get the idea. I would become annoyed when I couldn’t hear the teacher or when my thoughts were overpowered by trivial chitter chatter. I was called stuck up a few times by other kids and thought maybe it was true.
My parents often tried to get me “out of my shell” by encouraging me to go out and play with the neighbors like my sister did. I wanted to read and watch TV and experiment with my science kit or my magic kit (I was fond of kits). When I finally did go out and “play,” urged on by their insistence, I felt awkward and, to add to the weight of my involuntary presence, I also began to feel slightly ashamed of having not wanted to go out in the first place. What was wrong with me? Did I not know how to really have fun? I thought a good book was fun. What was defective about me to make me this way?
Since then there have been a lot of books written about introversion that distinguish it from passivity. Here are a few:
The Introvert Advantage: How Quiet People Can Thrive in an Extrovert World by Marti Olsen Laney
The Introvert's Way:Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World by Sophia Dembling
Party of One: TheLoners' Manifesto by Anneli Rufus
Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength by Laurie A. Helgoe
Is it just me, or are these some mighty wordy titles? Is there a strong positive correlation between introverts and the use of colons in titles?
Wordy titles or no, many of these books are interesting. Some distinguish shyness from introversion, and some claim a sort of spectrum on which introverts can sometimes display extrovert behaviors or fall somewhere in the middle, being classified more accurately as omniverts or ambiverts. I bet the majority of people in the world would fall into some version of this in-between, but the point is, all types are perfectly fine so long as they're content with who they are.
Introvert, extrovert, omnivert or ambivert, I am proud to be a woman who considers herself the strong, silent type. I am a woman who loves solitude and could (often) take or leave small talk. But I am also a woman who can deliver a good speech, who feels comfortable networking, who can manage an event but can also find comfort in the click of my keyboard and the sound of birdsong.
A woman can speak out when necessarily but she can also appreciate quiet moments and remain strong. Unique personalities exist for a reason. Meanwhile, I don’t find near enough strong, silent women in stories, so I’d like to incorporate this subject into today’s prompt.
Prompt: Write a story about a woman protagonist who is the strong silent type. A protagonist who is an observer doesn’t necessarily have to be passive—keep that in mind. In fact, because she’s your protagonist, make her assertive as hell. Make her a hero. A strong woman, of few words.