Updated: May 19
The word empowerment really grates on me. I was thinking about why that was the case the other day because 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 power that they didn't have before. And that this empowerment is something outside, 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 that Beyonce is obviously always singing about. Someone with powerful thighs perhaps. Definitely someone with big hair - and she don't care.
The woman without insecurities, with no chinks in her armoury, is a myth. It's just one archetype of a woman. There are so many others faces: vulnerable; broken; nurturing; grieving; surviving. At times we are any 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 base.
And even if the word does resonate as some sort of goal, (because who after all doesn't want to become more powerful in at least one or two areas of life), power means such different things to all of us, that it is not really helpful in trying to describe the elevation 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 we thought it would be.
For a whole generation of women, power, when achieved, was found to be fraught with booby traps, tied to many strings, misrepresented and missold...Power wasn't empowerment after all - so what was empowerment? And I think that's at the core of my problem with the word - no one knows! I'm a lawyer. I like to define words. I don't like words I can't define.
The more you try and define this word, the more frustrating and elusive it is, the more nonsensical it is and the more frustrating it is. Or maybe that's just me.
Now that we as women have a degree of power, we can think about who we want to be aside from powerful. Maybe then the word empowerment will change its context and use in modern-day feminism. And it won't be so grating to me.