College Government President Joy Shri Das '14
September 3, 2013
Hi everyone! Well, here we are, the first day of the 2013-2014 academic year. To the first years and new students, welcome to Wellesley! To the sophomores, you’re still here! Excellent! To the juniors… I mean, I’m happy to see you, but you really should try to go abroad. And for the senior class of 2014… Oh hey. What’s up.
So, just to set the stage, I am a procrastinator. Everyone’s been telling me since April to get ready for today’s remarks, and I definitely started writing about a week ago. I was looking back on past speeches, and there seem to be two requirements. First, they all uplift your spirits in the hope that this year will be wonderful. Second, they all make obscure cultural references. So to the Google I went, and found a blog post by Sophia McDougall from two weeks ago which I thought was brilliant and am totally using right now. In the typed copy I cite my sources so if you want to know what she actually says, you can read that. This also means Lily won’t get mad at me for plagiarism.
Basically, the blog asks why movies, books, television, and magazines often define “strong” female characters the same way: “surprisingly” smart, “surprisingly” attractive, or “surprisingly” good at martial arts. This happens so often that the characters start to blur together and become one-dimensional, and it’s a little unfair. For example, “Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong.”
When you think about it, this doesn’t only happen in the movies. This occurs in the greater society, and even here, in the Wellesley bubble. Sometimes, I think that we have to be “strong” because we have something to prove to the world. We hold ourselves to a higher standard whether on campus or out doing “real things,” to overcompensate for our perceived weaknesses. But in the context of our lives, how do we define strength, and how far will that definition take us? Some days it takes all my strength to get out of bed in the morning. So how does anyone expect me to find the power to perpetually hold the world’s expectations on my shoulders?
Defining abstract concepts is a tricky business. It requires more than the courage to challenge and change commonly-accepted beliefs. It’s honestly the complete disregard of reality. It’s the realization that my limitations exist, not because others believe I can’t overcome them, but because I recognize and accept them. To define is to throw away everything anyone ever taught us about “the rules” and to be OK with starting from scratch.
All of us come across people and stereotypes that define our roles based on how strong we are. My challenge for everyone is to forget them, and create your own character. Make your character well-written and complex. Fill your sketch with volumes of angsty development, dramatic irony, and sudden plot twists. Acknowledge your own limitations, but trash the ones that others impose on you. Be perfect and happy, while being afraid and confused. It’s OK to behind in the backdrop, as long as you prepare yourself for center stage. Be everything that you are, but please, this year, don’t feel that you have to hide behind a façade of “being strong.”
To the faculty, staff, administration, and fellow students, I would like to thank you for today, and I hope that you’re ready, because like it or not, we’re back! I’d now like to turn the program back to President Bottomly.
 McDougall, Sophia. "I Hate Strong Female Characters." Web log post. Cultural Capital. NewStatesman, 13 Aug. 2013. Web. 1 Sept. 2013.