What makes a woman strong? How do we view strength in women and how does it differ to the strength of men? How are strong women portrayed in literature and popular culture?

A panel of female writers, broadcasters, artists and influencers spoke at Arnos Vale cemetery on these questions and many more, as part of Bristol Festival of Literature.

Hosted by broadcaster, coach and intuitive stand-up, Becky Walsh, the panel discussed these and other questions, reflecting on how they had impacted their creative work.

Jean Burnett, an author of both traditionally and self-published books, with her wonderfully wry sense of humour’s response to what makes a strong woman was: women considered by others (men mostly) to be ‘difficult’.

Lucienne Boyce, historic fiction author of multiple books and a specialist on the Suffragettes, talked of how equality was not about women trying to be like men, but by valuing the approaches women bring equally to the skills of men. Women’s strength often comes in the form of passive resistance, instead of aggression. It takes far more courage to stand up to oppression without violence than it does to resort to the use of violence.

Cheryl Morgan, independent publisher, sci-fi author, activist and broadcaster, reflected on women’s roles in film and literature. A ‘strong’ woman is often a token character and little more than an object of desire for men, often appearing as warriors clad in ridiculously impractical bikini’s.

As the discussion continued, she shared elements of her own story of courage in the face of prejudice.

Becky talked about accusations levelled at her of being ‘difficult’ and ‘controlling’ and how she has been torn down, by both men and women, for her success. She also reflected on how the things we see as our biggest barriers can be our greatest strengths. In Beky’s case it is how being dyslexic allowed her to tap into her creativity and intuition.

Deenagh Miller is an artist with an affinity for depicting strong women. She passionately believes that female artists should garner the same respect as their male counterparts. For example, at the upper echelons of the art industry, the work of famous 20th century female artists, such as Georgia O’Keefe (a personal favourite artist and inspiration of my own), commands much lower value at auction than male artists from the same period, such as Pablo Picasso.

In response to prompts from the audience on women’s strength in context – wider global issues around peace, mutual respect and a male dominated media creating a culture of misogyny, occupied the discussions. Deenagh unveiled a harrowing, yet compelling, piece of her own artwork of the unseen effects of war on women in conflict zones.

The discussions stirred up many emotions among the audience, some of whom bravely shared their own challenges in response to the panel.

The enduring theme to tackling the challenges women face every day and how we can be empowered by our own strength was to nurture our ‘sisterhood’. In British society particularly, we all – both men and women alike – are accomplished at tearing people down. However, women especially, find strength in companionship and community and this is something we can all embrace. It starts with the genders being respected equally, not with women trying to be poor imitations of men.

Amy Morse is an author (writing fiction as Amy C Fitzjohn) and an entrepreneur. She works with businesses to grow their writing skills through training and 1:1 support, she also works with writers to help them be better at business. As a female business owner, she is keenly aware of the challenges that women face in the small business community.