I have this dream about the word “empowerment” fading to obsolescence….
Indigenous People’s POWER
POWER at the Margins
Do you see and feel how subtle that shift is? What happens in your body when the “EM” is taken off? More to the point, I wonder what your mind says about that? Does it get loud, noisy, start to “Yea….but…”, get defensive, annoyed at me because I don’t understand and have missed the point? Does Siri shout at you that she’s recalculating because we’ve dodged the satellite and have left a government-sanctioned road?
Are we okay with the word “power” just as it is?
These are the places I play with women, and what gets talked about behind closed doors more often than you might realize. The women I know are irritated by this word “empower”. It doesn’t work for us, it seems, and I’m starting to get louder about it. For many women, it feels like it’s a word we’re told we should want—and when we actually don’t want it, we somehow feel like we’re in danger of getting voted off the island.
What if she’s already feeling empowered? Is she free to admit that to you or is there something wrong with her? Does she have to shrink or lie to fit in?
Is this how we might inadvertently be holding each other back as women? I think about these things.
When have you seen a leadership conference or a New York Times bestseller about “men’s empowerment”? How often do we applaud corporate initiatives dedicated to exploring how we can “empower men?” Exactly. Because men’s power is presumed to be present already—so no one feels the need to talk about it.
But what if men’s power—specifically white men’s power—were exactly what we needed to be talking about?
Consider this: What if there were entire conferences, magazines, and books dedicated to “men’s disempowerment”? Can you imagine what the reaction to that might be from men and women alike? And can you imagine how bitter and resentful men might be if others profited financially off of this? Weird to even consider, right?
But isn’t that exactly what we’re getting at when we’re focussing on empowerment for women (and others, like people of color and LGBTQ)? We’re talking about our need to reckon and respond to the entitlement, centering, unchecked privilege, abuse and corruption of white men’s power…
See what I’m getting at here? We’re talking about our power in relative terms—relative to white men, that is. We’re talking about power as if we weren’t all born with it inside us already.
We’re not really talking about the root of the conversation: white men’s power. So here’s my latest hunch: “empowerment” is actually a white man’s word…
What if the word “empowerment” was a tool of the Patriarchy—to keep it functioning?
Our words matter. They shape our reality. As a word nerd who actively plays with things like this, and as a midwife to badass women, I actually have loads of stories and evidence now that tell me I’m not alone. I hear and see the reaction women have to this word “empowerment” everyday in hushed tones behind closed doors.
I’ve always hated that word…
I’ve never understood that word…
I’ve never related to that word…
I never identified with that word…
“Empowerment” subtly points us to something “out there”, and suggests someone need to hold space for it to emerge and be turned on. This word suggests the POTENTIAL for power, not its presence.
POWER is undeniably and ALREADY here. There is no “getting”. It doesn’t need to be “given to”. It affirms its existence and gets down to the business of honoring, celebrating, and expressing it.
Which is a wholly different conversation to have than searching, wondering, strengthening, and waiting—for our power to be discovered or emerge.
Women have not misplaced our power. It’s right here inside us. It is the source, in fact, from which every person was born.
What I’m talking about here is subtle and could easily be dismissed, but it’s distinct and important to acknowledge.
Some might read my thoughts about this, hear my humble invitation to simply use the word “power“, and say it’s the same thing—the intention is the same, I’ve missed the whole point, and I don’t understand. And that’s okay, we can agree to disagree here. “Empowerment” is, after all, the sacred cow of women’s language—it’s everywhere and entire industries hold it as the holy grail.
But I’m old enough to know that my body doesn’t lie to me—and it doesn’t rise at the sound of that word, it waits. I trust her truth.
What I do know for sure is that women are more hellbent than ever on rising up. We’re no longer waiting—and this is good, and awesome and timely. My invitation, however, is this:
Let’s leave our “em” at the door, and travel a little lighter as we rise with power.
Can I get an amen to that? Does any of this resonate with you over there or is this just my truth? Feel free to let me know if you’re on this slip ‘n slide with me. Or check out my second book, Ignite: Lighting The Leader Fire to read more about what change-powered by women looks like from where I sit.