The word “Empowerment” is such an overused word these days. As the Onion notes sardonically, women now feel empowered by just about everything they do. Yeah, I know the Onion is satire. But it really does seem that anything that makes a woman feel better about herself or boosts her confidence is now “empowering”. Even more often, at least in the context of parenting – making a specific, fashionable choice (like “natural” birth, crafting a special vaccine schedule for your special snowflake child, etc.) is considered the empowering one, whereas those who make another choice are sheeple who mindlessly follow whatever those ‘in charge’ tell them to do.
It seems to me that this is very far from the original definition of the term:
1. To invest with power, especially legal power or official authority. See synonyms at authorize.
2. To equip or supply with an ability; enable: “Computers … empower students to become intellectual explorers” (Edward B. Fiske).
Assuming one doesn’t live in a dictatorship or is a member of the armed forces, the truth is that parents have a huge range of choice when it comes to raising their children. True, some of those choices may limit choices further down the line – e.g., refusing to vaccinate your child may limit his choice of preschool. Yes, there are stories of CPS abuse. Yes again, women were a disempowered group until a few decades ago. But generally speaking, you don’t need anything or anybody to empower you as a parent – you already possess that power by virtue of being one. The real dilemma is whether you use this power wisely or not.
Some women feel the need to demonstrate how ‘empowered’ they are by being rude to others, especially those whom they perceive as being in authority. Such women confuse an assertive manner with an aggressive one. A prime example would be the woman described in this post. However, true empowerment means you don’t have to put other people down in order to feel good about yourself. It means you can appreciate others’ experience and knowledge, and even acknowledge that they may possess greater knowledge and experience than your own, worth listening to and learning from. Remember, every king and prime minister has a bevy of advisors.
Knowledge – genuine knowledge born of long study and hands-on experience, as opposed to fly-by-night and Google degrees – really is the ultimate source of empowerment. But so is knowing how to seek out good sources of information, be they people or Internet resources.
Some women, however, do legitimately feel disempowered in other spheres of their life. Perhaps they didn’t have the opportunity to attain the academic degree they wanted; maybe their husbands refuse to participate in caring for the house and children, seeing these as “women’s work”. But if you’re ‘empowering’ youself vis-a-vis the medical profession or other perceived authorities in order to make up for other areas of your life in which you are disempowered, your feelings of satisfaction will probably be fleeting. After all, you haven’t actually dealt with the true source of your feelings, which would entail all sorts of inconvenient things like going back to school or confronting your husband about his behavior. “Speaking truth to power”, if that’s really what you believe you’re doing, is taking the easy way out. It certainly does nothing to increase the respect, or your power, in the eyes of the other party.
These are my (admittedly disjointed) thoughts about a word I really don’t like very much. Maybe it’s because I don’t see my main source of personal power in parenting, but in my chosen profession. And I think constantly about the power I hold over other people in that context, and how not to abuse it.
What’s your take on this buzzword?