For five years I taught a “Women and Power” class in Oregon. One thing I learned from the literature and our discussions was how difficult it can be for women to feel comfortable with the idea of having power, or even recognizing how we are powerful.
Many girls grow up with the message that their role is secondary to the men in their family, that they are uniquely responsible for keeping peace in the household, and that it is not appropriate to be pushy or aggressive.
Often the revered value for women is being liked. Sometimes that leads girls to grow into women who don’t believe they are “good enough,” or who are considered self-centered when they want to be heard and respected.
Power in our society traditionally has been one of Power Over, especially in a physical sense. We think of power as part of war, sports, our legal system — winning to become #1. And yet, power has other meanings. Power With: working together to achieve specific outcomes. Power to Make Change: achieve a personal best, create something new, start a movement.
Women are innately powerful in many ways. We influence, collaborate, build self-esteem in conversation with others, find answers to burning questions, and understand that complex issues require multiple perspectives at the table. Women have skills in negotiation and networking, being patient, reading emotional clues, cutting through to find workable solutions, and synthesizing from the broad to the specific. Women use their power in choosing what products to buy, in the voting booth, by connecting people.
A former student with teenage children felt disrespected by them, which made her return to college more difficult. She decided to correct the imbalance. She sat the teens down for a talk — not about how they needed to see her as the boss — but about how hard she was working to improve herself and bring more possibilities to her life and that of the family. She asked for their cooperation so she could be the best she could be. They began to shift their behaviors and express how proud they were of her.
That is power. Being clear with ourselves about who we are and what we bring to the table, and then asking for what we want.
Checks and Balances
Look around your community and ask these questions:
- Who has been in authority?
- Whose words and ideas are listened to with the most attention and respect?
- Whose experience is valued?
- Whose voices are heard?
- Who has access to important information?
- Who talks most?
Use the power of your voice to speak up when you see imbalance.