Guess What World? Women Don't Need to Be Saved

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – R. Buckminster Fuller

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time with the phrase to “empower women.” That means that March – Women’s History Month – is a challenging month for me!

This is when I see an uptick in well-meaning commercials designed to “empower” women. You can easily spot these because they follow a similar formula: they feature women of varied ethnicities, professions and socio-economic backgrounds; the women are usually interacting with the product or with each other in a way that exemplifies the message/mission being sold; and the voice over is both sultry and familiar.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have an issue with advertising; I don’t have an issue with promoting one’s product or message/mission. That’s an inherent part of capitalism. What drives me crazy (in much the same way as the phrase “financial literacy“) is the idea that someone else can empower you.

A commercial I saw last night really rankled my feathers in this regard. Let me explain, by starting with the definition of empower: “to give (someone) the authority or power to do something.”

First, what is implied by the definition is that what is given can also be taken away. So, how exactly are you empowering someone if you can also retract that which you have given them?

Second, women are not helpless*. This is why I didn’t like the well-meaning commercial I saw last night. As the woman from the developed world grasped the hand of a woman from a developing world, the narrator talked about empowerment.

Now perhaps the meaning behind that gesture was about support, collaboration, celebration, and encouragement. But what I took away from the imagery (as beautiful as it was) was the message that the woman from the developing world needs to be rescued*. Argh!

I am picking on the commercial. But, really, I’m using my reaction to it to frame a much larger conversation about the intersection of the Sheconomy and the New Economy. And, more specifically, what role does power, permission, creativity, trust and economic freedom play in this intersectionality.

It’s a New World

What’s the Sheconomy? It refers to the growing global economic power of women based on their increasing spending capacity – estimated by some to be $20 trillion dollars by 2020! For perspective, that’s twice the size of China’s and India’s GDP…combined. It’s why women are now viewed as an “emerging market.” It’s why marketers of all types are channeling significant marketing dollars and developing initiatives directed toward women.

What’s the New Economy? Others may define it differently. To me, this represents the rise of entrepreneurship that is amplified by technology – especially service-based businesses with a triple-bottom line. (You even see it with some large businesses that take on the nimbleness of a small, emerging company.)

The Sheconomy and New Economy separately, but definitely together, asks us individually and collectively to create a new model of being/doing/having. One that redefines and re-envisions what it means to “empower.” Including how to tackle this in all its forms (political, economic and social). Intentionally.

Beginning with this: the only person who can empower you is…YOU!

Yeah, I know…it sounds good and trite, right? But it isn’t really when you contemplate this notion through the Sheconomy/New Economy combo, and unpack how each influence the five talking points below:

Power – Fundamentally this boils down to the ability to do something; to make something happen; to choose. The more control you have over your financial condition and circumstances, the more power you have to say “yes” and “no” according to what you want and don’t want.

Permission – There is a strong correlation between power and permission. When you feel powerful, you tend to also feel free to dream big. You give yourself permission to want and expect what currently may feel impossible to experience and achieve.

In the latest mini road-map that I created for members of the Money: Focus & Flow coaching program, I talked about the subtle ways you and I let day-to-day realities, challenges and setbacks dim our vision, and offered simple suggestions on how you can give yourself permission — to give yourself permission.

Creativity – It’s hard to tap into your creativity – aka your ability to dream, to notice patterns and to contemplate what is possible – if you don’t feel powerful and if you don’t give yourself permission (or the space) for your creativity to reveal itself.

Trust – When you feel powerful; when you give yourself permission; when you know you’re fully engaged with your creativity, you have a tendency to trust yourself more.

You trust your decison-making process and skills. You trust your choices, even when the consequences aren’t what you want or expected. You trust that your dreams and goals won’t lead you astray. You trust that you will be discerning enough to trust the right people to help you along on your journey.

Notice how intertwined power, permission, creativity and trust are?! And guess what, they all represent the ingredients required to achieve and experience economic freedom.

Economic freedom – I may not love the phrase “to empower women” because of the usual implications that assume a woman needs to be saved, and that the person giving the power has the answer. I find this both offensive and far too simplistic.

But when I get off my high-horse, I do love that one of the intentions of “to empower” – whether at home or in the office – is to foster economic freedom.

So, how about we call it that!

How about we also invite a shift from thinking of empowerment as a one-time thing that happens. But instead recognize it as something that is practiced daily.

And in the process, how about we emphasize the importance and need to provide access to services, tools and new skills so that every woman can practice agency over every aspect of her life as often as she likes.

I’d very much like to see a commercial that communicated that message!

 

p.s. *I am quite aware of and sensitive to the fact that some women live in oppressive situations and don’t have the ability to practice much, if any, agency over their lives. Yet, I still hold to the idea that self-determination is inherent — that that isn’t something someone else can give. What someone else can do, though, is provide access, resources and tools to help someone feel empowered. #myopinion

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