Updated: Nov 8, 2021
The word empowerment really grates on me.
Yesterday, I was thinking about why that was the case.
Although, the broad intention behind it is, of course, something I wholeheartedly believe in and support, maybe it's because, when used in the context of female empowerment, it implies that women need to be empowered. That they need to be imbued with a power they didn't possess before. And that this empowerment is something outside us, something elusive, something to be added, appended, bought, earned, gained, studied.
It implies, also, that it's the pinnacle of female embodiment. It is graduation from the university of modern womanhood. But no wonder, then, that some of us hate the word because no woman wants to have to strive to earn a badge to take her place in the Worthy Woman alumni.
Female empowerment, as a goal, implies that it's somewhere 'out there', a destination to reach, a place that's in the realm of the Amazonian woman, some sort of sculptural ideal of the modern-day independent woman (which Beyonce is always singing about!). Someone with powerful thighs and big hair - and she don't currr.
The woman without insecurities, with no chinks in her armour, is a myth. It's just one archetype of a woman. There are so many other faces: vulnerable; broken, nurturing, grieving, surviving. At any time, we might be any one of these ... or all of them.
The concept of an empowered woman, when I look more closely, becomes a tangle for me to understand and unravel. Women can't be summarised in one word. Our aims, our ideals, the qualities we want to embody or grow into, can't be summed up in one word that has power at its core.
And even if the word does resonate as some sort of goal, the word means such different things to all of us, that it is not really helpful in trying to describe the ultimate peak of womanhood in our current times.
Perhaps we can only talk this way now because we have already made so many strides in women's rights. We now have the space, and privilege, to think about some of these concepts and redefine them for a new generation of women, for whom power may not have turned out to be what they thought it would be and didn't feel as good as they imagined.
For a whole generation of women, power, when achieved, was found to be fraught with booby traps, tied to many strings, misrepresented and missold...What we believed would give us power wasn't empowerment after all.
So what is empowerment?
And therein lies the problem ... it can't be generally defined because it is deeply personal to every woman and her experience.
I am so grateful for the gifts I have been given by previous generations of women, who fought so hard for me to be in a position to even write this post. But for me, now, the best part of this gift is that I have the choice and agency to think about what else is important to my identity as a woman, apart from being empowered.
Because, surely, the best part of being empowered is having the choice to be who you are, even if you are not feeling very powerful at all...and to have the freedom to go beyond power, to claim other qualities as part of your womanhood, such as vulnerability, creativity and compassion.
For me, empowerment is about freedom and choice. And, if that is your definition too, then I invite everyone to claim their own ideal of womanhood and fly the flag proudly for a definition of the modern-day woman that is not just powerful but multifaceted and gifted in many ways, and who has the courage to live her authentic truth.
Your thoughts? What does empowerment mean to you?
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