Women are powerful. We’re beings with purpose; sustainers of life. While this has always been true, it hasn’t always been appreciated — let alone celebrated — which is why women around the globe have spent over a century championing change.
Since the 1880s, women have sought the freedoms that lie beyond the boundaries of convention. We’ve felt the slight of insignificance, the burn of injustice, and so we’ve counted the cost. We’ve rallied. We’ve picketed. We’ve said yes in spite of a thousand no’s. We didn’t need a voice, we just needed the voice we had to matter. And while there is still a great deal of the mountain left to climb, our voice has carried us a lengthy distance thus far. We’re speaking, teaching, and now, finally, men are listening.
So let’s continue to think about what it is we’re trying to say.
Feminism is a weighty word. Isn’t that interesting? A movement that positions equality as its goal to prove that women deserve the same rights as men, has evolved into more of a seesaw than a starting line. The genders frequently polarize and argue from opposite ends. While this is, of course, an over-simplification, we’ve now reached a point in our feminist journeys where we need to think about the power we’ve found and how we’re using it to usher in the kind of change we really want.
Are we wielding strength for our own pride and gain? Or is there a greater role to play, one that doesn’t ignore the other side, but educates it? A role that doesn’t let men off the hook in certain situations, but won’t blindly vilify them as a gender, either?
“Or is there a greater role to play, one that doesn’t ignore the other side, but educates it? A role that doesn’t let men off the hook in certain situations, but won’t blindly vilify them as a gender, either?”
What could it look like for women to empower men? And is that a role we can, and should, play?
First of all, let’s be clear on what women empowering men isn’t. It doesn’t mean the relinquishing of our dignity, our worth, or our self-respect. True power doesn’t come at the expense of someone else’s. We can both exude strength in equally important — but distinct — ways.
This also, in no way, is making light of cases of abuse. According to The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, women are victims in a disproportionately higher number of stalking, sexual assault and sexual violence cases than men, which means that we need to be mindful when bringing up this topic. One woman’s idea of male empowerment could carry dramatically different emotional weight depending on how the men in her life have previously enforced their strengths. As women, we need to offer support and encourage each other in seeking it. To reach a place of harmony between the sexes we need to speak out of places of wholeness, not places of unresolved anger or pain.
“One woman’s idea of male empowerment could carry dramatically different emotional weight depending on how the men in her life have previously enforced their strengths.”
Secondly, women empowering men doesn’t happen via monologue. Women will only continue to grow in distinction and honor apart from men when we feel the need to stop competing with men and instead invite them into conversation. How or why might a man feel threatened by a woman? How have other male or female figures in his life contributed to the way he treats others? What makes him feel valued and respected? These are kinds of questions we should ask if we want to progress towards true gender equality. The more men and women understand each other, or at least, how we each interpret the world around us, the more organically we’ll grow to respect each other. Equality will be relational, not something politically mandated, and differences will be enjoyed, not divisive.
Balance is found closer to the center of the seesaw, not farther from it. Historically, men haven’t wanted to clear a space for us. But let’s not allow past obstacles to create future barriers. We’ve come a long way, remember? In the last 50 years women have entered unwelcome arenas and are now outnumbering men in professional and technical occupations, as well as earning post-secondary degrees at an even faster rate according to recent surveys conducted by the US Census Bureau and the US Department of Education. We’ve earned the right to be heard, so we can use that confidence to our advantage, regardless of how any one man may respond.
Third, for women to healthily empower men, we should look for ways to stop perpetuating stereotypes and caricatures of what we think men are. We as women have long known the capability we possess to perform the same jobs, handle the same amount of stress or offer just as good an idea as a man. In turn, let’s start believing that men are capable of the same depth of emotion, same sensitivities, and need encouragement just like we would. When we flirt “like a guy” or act aloof and “play the game,” we rob ourselves (and men) from mutually beneficial connections.
“In turn, let’s start believing that men are capable of the same depth of emotion, same sensitivities, and need encouragement just like we would.”
Likewise, being on the defensive or swiftly disregarding what a man has to say is actually reinforcing the qualities about men that we may like the least. Equality isn’t calloused; it’s something that sprouts from a mutual sense of admiration, so let’s begin to view men as individuals… beings who happen to have different wiring than women do, but that we believe to be better than what culture (or our fears) might paint them to be.
To use our feminist advancements to the progress of both genders says more about our character than the deserving nature of either side. By empowering men, women actually ensure their own independent value. By empowering men, women move forward to provide solutions instead of creating new problems. By empowering men, women reveal the truth about what men and, therefore, women, are deeply capable of.
By Nicole Ziza Bauer