In light of international women’s day happening this month, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be an empowered female in today’s society. I think the idea of empowerment and feminism largely go hand in hand and so I want to take a minute to briefly outline what feminism has meant and means in our society. As a broad definition, the feminist movement is a series of campaigns targeted at establishing equality among sexes. The movement takes on its own distinct definition across different nations, and particularly in the United States there have been various “waves of feminism.” The focus of the first wave of feminism was women’s suffrage. The second wave which spanned into the 1990s centered around sexuality and reproductive rights, and complete social equality across sexes. The third wave began in the mid 90s and sought to destabilize constructs of “universal womanhood,” and targeted the overall sexist culture in America. Finally, the fourth wave which is modern day feminism encourages women to celebrate the goals of earlier waves that have been achieved, and seeks to continually enact the concepts of the third wave feminists
Empowerment is an idea within feminism and so the two terms shouldn’t be confused with one another. The Women’s Empowerment principles website (http://www.weprinciples.org/) describes 7 principles for women’s empowerment as follows:
- Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality
- Treat all women and men fairly at work – respect and support human rights and nondiscrimination
- Ensure the health, safety and well-being of all women and men workers
- Promote education, training and professional development for women
- Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women
- Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy
- Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality
These are all undoubtedly valuable, essential, and highly important principles that we should continually strive towards. But I think given that we are now in what is considered the “fourth wave” of feminism and given the amazing accomplishments we have witnessed, there also needs to be an attitudinal change that goes hand-in-hand with an aspiration towards these principles.
I have sadly witnessed time and time again, women being targeted by others who have outdated and unacceptable views of what it means to be a modern woman. Worse, I have witnessed women hating on other women, “slut shaming” others and tearing one another down when now more than ever is when we should build one another up, celebrate one another, and cheer each other on.
Being an empowered woman in our current society means taking advantage of your basic human prerogative to make your own decisions and be proud of those decisions. I have witnessed far too many times women telling other women to be extra careful of how they act, dress, or talk because of what men might think of them but why don’t we treat men with this same principle? I have rarely (if ever) heard someone say to a man “maybe you should think twice about showing that much skin,” or “maybe you shouldn’t talk about sex so openly.”
If women talk about or have sex openly they are berated for it yet in today’s hip hop culture these rap stars are considered kings for rapping about their “b*tches” and having sex with this girl and that girl. Yet every little action by a woman is scrutinized because many people today still live under the completely outdated and oppressive view that we as women are still living in a man’s world, striving to compete and “blend in” so to speak. In other words we encourage each other to hide our inherently feminine traits and assets because in their minds we should strive to blend in with the man to compete with the man. In short, we should act like men but behave like “ladies.”
We have to think five times as hard about the way we dress, the things we say, and the way we act because otherwise we’ll blow our chances at being successful in the patriarchal perceptions of many of our peers.
I don’t know about you but I think if we are going to live in a society in which equality exists these attitudes have to be adjusted. Long gone should be the days when we bash women for “wearing too much makeup.” Long gone should be the days when we bash women for “dressing too provocatively.” Long gone should be the days when we bash women for “saying something a little too scandalous.” Long gone should be the days when we ask women to act like “ladies” and not like human beings.
It’s not a man’s world anymore, it’s our world.
Let’s start acting like it.