I get asked from people curious about feminism about which behaviors are considered “empowering” and which ones aren’t.
“I heard women find dressing provocatively on Halloween empowering.”
“I heard women find being submissive in bed empowering.”
“I heard women find wearing pant suits instead of skirt suits empowering.”
If only power were this arbitrary.
My first gut reaction to hearing the word “empowerment” like this is to wonder why women are seen as so helpless that they have to act out in minuscule ways to feel any source of power. Like come on, we know that women are just as apt as men at dominating in their academics, careers, talents, so on and so on. Yet it’s wearing a Wonderwoman costume with a push-up that people like to exalt as empowering. There is more to a woman than her body, her sexuality and her appearance. Why can’t we break free of this?
Additionally, statements about “empowerment” lump women into one monolithic entity. Where one woman derives a sense of empowerment, another woman might not. Empowerment is not about an arbitrary checklist of preferences; it’s about an individual’s sense of self. There has been all this debate about whether dancers/strippers are “empowered” or if they’re slaves of the patriarchy. To me, dancing as a profession is just another arbitrary preference that, in and of itself, cannot be labeled as empowering or not. It is not the job itself that is empowering or disempowering but one’s own desire or lack of desire to do it.
The bottom line is that as long as you are doing what you want, you are empowered. Not because society tells you it’s right or wrong but because you truly desire it. Empowerment does not accumulate like coins in a jar every time you perform a certain action; it is a state of being. Empowerment means neither actively abiding by nor actively breaking society’s rules. Empowerment means putting your personal preferences and dreams and ambitions above the rules. It means wrestling the power to dictate your life from society and making it your own.
Great article overall, but I really I love this last line as it can apply to everyone. Live life according to yourself; not our (flawed and arbitrary) human-made rules.