As a woman, I have faced this question everyday, “Who am I, and how am I going to make a difference?” When I was younger, I did not think much about gender. I knew I am a girl and I knew that I was growing into a woman. Women make real moves towards change, making a difference, and taking hold of the life they want to lead. I did not know the impact women have had on this world until I entered college. I was blinded by my closed minded and unaccepting town. I was limited. In my higher education prospects I have found this limit to exist no more. There is much work to be done, and the work will never stop.
Empowerment, for me, is the ability to help others achieve their aspirations while moving towards the greater cause of social justice, equity, and eventually equality. Now, this can be done through many different mediums: community discussions, public learning seminars, workshops, etc. all these are integral ways empower others. I think, however, we often forget about how valuable one on one conversation is in the moment of learning in action. When someone says something that either degrades themselves or others, I almost always follow with a different way to look at the situation. I think people are afraid to call each other out. It may be misconstrued, or maybe you misheard, yet probably not. If you heard something then others around you may have heard the same thing. All too often it goes untouched, undisturbed, and it leaves this odd feeling deep your chest. I don’t like it.
Problematic statements and ways of thinking stay with us. It bashes us time and time again because once you hear, “You can’t…”, “That is stupid…”, “You are not supposed to…”, it is this constant and nagging voice in the back of your head. I give this example often, yet I think it is significant: my sixth grade math teacher told me I asked too many questions, I was disrupting the class. Granted, I was a bit bold and raised my hand promptly to ask her how many questions are too many, and she just continued on with the lesson, yet it still stuck with me. After that I thought I was annoying for asking so many questions, maybe it wasn’t a good question, and these thoughts swirled in my mind from that point on. I was always a bit introverted, yet if I think about it, middle school was the time I really started to keep more to myself. Kids were unkind, unaccepting, and just down right mean. No person ever really wanted to genuinely help one another and this is where the problem started.
I do not think I am the only one who experienced this. In fact, in all the places I have interacted with people, I have always come across a hesitant or unwilling group of people, and furthermore most of the time they are women. Empowerment is something to spread around as you go. Almost all women I have interacted with a built relationships with have experienced some sort of negative influence that caused them to not do something or pursue a particular goal. I am not saying that men do not experience this too because they do, yet I am calling attention towards women because our voices need to be heard on higher frequency with more attention to the things we say. However, as women we also have a tendency to bring other women down, whether it is using a degrading term, not helping when it is called for, or misrepresenting the fierce woman inside us all; we are not perfect. Young women especially those enterting high school have this skewed image of what a woman should be. They rely on media to tell them what is acceptable and what is not, and therefore they think they have the right to exclude anyone who does not follow this suit. Somehow many of us do expect this same perfection and in that moment when we are about to go against other women we need to take a step back and ask ourselves to dig a bit deeper, try harder, and make the situation better. This devotion of time is something we need to practice more often and in this we may find more acceptance, love for one another, and, something even further, change.
If we start making degrading words and statements unacceptable and we stop using these phrases or actions in our lives, people may catch on and question their actions as well. Having that conversation, making that statement can make either make a world of a difference or just plant the seed in one’s mind that something just isn’t right. People may not get it their first time, or their second, or third, yet over time they too may start to change the way they speak and act with others and therefore develop their own sense of empowerment. Being inclusive, understanding, and bold are keys in making this mindset possible. It has to be in everything we do, until it is just a natural part of our being. It is a hard task, yet it is necessary and right. Empowerment is the future and we all need to contribute.
In response to this call for action, I am currently working on a project involving empowerment spaces for women. I hold workshops, host small group conversations, and provide materials to further the empowerment reach. If you are interested or would like to coordinate a workshop for a group, team, or office, please contact me through sending a form in my contact page.