In Other Words: In praise of tough broads -- hear us roar!

The crowd is seen at the women's march in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017.

The crowd is seen at the women's march in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017.

Gabrielle Lurie / The Chronicle

I was recently told by a woman I greatly admire and respect that I am a ‘tough broad’ and she should know. Tracey is in the health care field and oversees lots of people. So, when she presented this news to me, I was both flattered and curious. She assured me that she meant her assessment as a compliment, and I accepted it graciously.

It also got me thinking. Are tough broads female deviants who act out? Or are they strong women who feel comfortable in their own skins? I concluded, probably a little of both.

I have always equated tough broads with Mickey Spillane dime novels, or sidekicks to gangsters. Gun molls who carry pistols and waitresses who give their patrons lip if they go too far. I never thought I was one of them. I usually know my place, and though I do stand up for my rights, I hardly wear the badge of being a full-fledged tough broad. I just don’t give off that image. I am small in stature, and in my mind, tough broads are tall and can be menacing.

But, here’s the thing: none of the above traits apply. Being a tough broad has less to do with flexing and flaunting one’s muscles, and more to do with mental fortitude and moxie. Moxie is a tough broad’s best accessory. Moxie never goes out of style.

Movie starlets, classified as tough broads, paved the way. Who could resist wanting to emulate Lauren Bacall and Barbara Stanwyck, Ida Lupino and Tallulah Bankhead? As a kid, my friends and I sat memorialized in movie theaters on Saturday afternoons, learning the ropes from the best of them.

Katherine Hepburn gave Cary Grant her best killer remarks. Her “good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere,” resonate still.  Or Bette Davis’ “I’d love to kiss ya, but I just washed my hair.” And you’d never want to mess with Lana Turner when she was in a bad mood. And the legends, Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, and Dorothy Dandridge, as the unforgettable Carmen Jones in which she portrayed the free-spirited titular character, and a flamboyant flirt to her sexy core. And, let’s not forget Carmen Miranda and her signature fruit hats. She didn’t acquire the name “The Brazilian Bombshell” without causing a tsunami reaction.

All of these broads taught us well while we sat in our cinematic stupors, taking it all in.

If by the time a girl reaches womanhood, she has probably been road-tested. She has been around the block, learned a thing or two, and knows how to handle herself. And therein lies the answer: being a tough broad is all in the handling.

Mulling this over, and with Tracey’s approval, I decided that I am, in fact, a tough broad in that I have weathered some heavy winds by being strong and brave. I applaud myself for that, because bravery takes courage, while being strong means you can feel shaky on the inside while your outside persona forges ahead with at least a modicum of grace. Being a tough broad means you stay afloat even when the tide rises and you feel like you’re drowning. Most importantly, a tough broad is loaded with survival instincts.

It doesn’t mean you have to act tough. It simply means you are sturdy in the smallest and largest of ways.

As a kid, I could be rebellious. And in retrospect, I probably on occasion, as kids tend to do, gave my parents a rough run. Sorry guys! But I was grooming myself for what lay ahead, and some of that cockiness held me in good stead.

So, according to the person who bestowed this medal of honor on me, I’m now a fully formed adult who has evolved into a tough broad. I never knew just how tough until I pulled through a few adversities that earned me my stripes.  

To women everywhere then, who take their bulls by the horns, ride them out and emerge triumphant, I say 'Brava!'

To little girls en route to being tough broads, keep up the good work.

And, to Tracey, who is one of the brightest and best toughest broads I know in the most marvelous and relevant ways, I’m glad to be on your team. Thanks for letting me know I made the cut.

(For Tracey Hyatt-Smith)

Westporter Judith Marks-White shares her views monthly in the Westport News and Fairfield Citizen. She can be reached via email at joodth@snet.net or at judithmarks-white.com.