By Gràinne Thompson
Empowerment. What a massive and effective word.
Encompassing so much power and strength whilst having many simple and easily understandable definitions, such as “the authority or power given to someone to do something” or “the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one's life and claiming one's rights”. Although these are both similar in sentiment, they differ slightly in quite a significant way. Both are about power, strength, and control essentially but the main difference is whether to be empowered we need to be “given” the power by someone or if we can do that for ourselves.
Empowerment is a word that has been used since the 19th century, but it feels like we are hearing it, talking about it, and most importantly embodying it more and more over the past few years. And although the act of empowerment and being empowered has been an entity all through time, maybe like me, you have been unaware of its place of importance in society before its most recent popularity and “moment” within mainstream media and marketing.
Looking back on my memories of being or feeling empowered, there are some subtle and some vivid experiences dotted throughout my life, stemming all the way back to my childhood and right up to my life now. Although I have only consciously been aware of the Empowerment movement and its importance over the past 5 years or so, I am fully aware that my journey and experiences unknowingly started a long time before that. Thinking back, and with my interpretation of what empowerment looks like to me now, my first memorable experience of being empowered was most definitely as a young child probably of primary school age. Of course, in my younger years, I had not even heard of empowerment, let alone be aware that that was what I was experiencing. And on the other side, the people who were empowering me were probably none the wiser either. They were just encouraging and supporting me, a young girl, at a time in my life when their belief, influence, and guidance were very much needed and appreciated.
I remember when I was little being told that “I could be whatever I wanted to be when I grew up” on more than one occasion. Albeit a pretty standard statement to make to a child, these people who I loved and admired; my Mam, my favourite teachers, the people I looked up to, planted a seed of belief and encouragement in me that I, unbeknownst to myself, carried with me. This is one of the many advantages of a young mind; the unwavering belief that anything is possible. And to have that notion reiterated by someone else sparked a light and a belief in myself that stayed with me for a long time and continued to grow more with the further nourishment and guidance that I received. As I grew up, like most people, my confidence and self-belief dipped at times, mainly through my teenage and early adult years. And even though it felt like everything I did at this time was nerve-wracking and panic-inducing; like trying to be myself without standing out too much either, it was a statement that I would constantly refer back to and repeat to myself the many, many times I needed to. This was not authority or power being given to me as such, but it was the feeling of support and encouragement, and being given the space to grow stronger and more confident in my own beliefs and abilities.
Like all societal and economical movements, empowerment has evolved and changed through the years, with various people and organisations stating what their ideologies of it are. And although at its essence it is a positive, uplifting, and warranted movement it is not without its problems or discrepancies. All it takes is a quick google search to see that there are many discussions happening around a myriad of topics that one side deems to be empowering and a celebration of women, while the other side says they are actually disempowering and damaging to the cause. Differing opinions on whether certain types of music, clothing, job roles, and even our sexuality are empowering or demeaning. The list is expansive and never-ending as are the arguments surrounding them. A lot comes back to the differing definitions mentioned at the start, on whether or not we should have to wait to be “given the power and authority first” or if we as women should be shown and encouraged to use the power we already possess, which in turn leads to us becoming empowered. It's hard to not get confused and bewildered by all the noise and talk around it all, especially now with so many companies and industries jumping on the “Empowerment” bandwagon and using it as a buzzword and as a sales tactic for their marketing. Maybe all of this combined is why there is so much confusion around empowerment and what it actually means and stands for? Because unfortunately as the understandings and explanations become muddied, and numerous differing opinions get added to the mix, it may end up actually diluting the overall message and effect.
The conversation around what is and isn’t empowerment could go on all day, and although some may feel the confusion and debates are detrimental to the overall cause I think that having the conversation, either way, is too important to be seen as negative. These conversations lead people to think. Think about what they define empowerment as and what it means to them. It leads to peers discussing what it feels like to them and the effects it has on their lives. It also leads to people standing up for what they deem to be true when they feel the message is becoming misconstrued. The conversations are good and needed. It keeps the heart of the cause beating and growing to more people and communities, which continues the push for change.
For me, my understanding and what it means to me is quite basic. It is about creating and providing spaces and environments where women feel safe, heard, confident, and important. Spaces where we are elevated to a point that we feel supported enough to be able to stand up for what we believe in. Where our rights, feelings, and opinions matter, and if we don’t deem this to be true, that we can use our voices to work towards changing it. It allows us to have power over our own lives, the choices we make and the paths we follow. There is an element of entitlement that we can and should be able to make decisions for ourselves because we know what we feel is right and worthy for us.
Like a domino effect, the individuals who supported and allowed me to feel empowered initially (and many who still do now) enabled me to now do the same for people in my life, who in turn, do the same for others in theirs. I know of mothers who tell their children daily that they can achieve anything they want to in life. Friends who constantly remind each other of their value and worth, regardless of what they may think of themselves at that moment. And teachers who inspire little minds in their classrooms to dream big and aim high no matter what their circumstances are right now. These can seem like small and trivial things but through my life all of the small acts combined, allowed me to truly believe in myself and my abilities when I may not of otherwise, which gave me the power to set out to do the same for others when I can. Empowerment is not necessarily measurable by the size or scale of an act or the feelings it evokes, as even the smallest of ripples can cause the biggest of waves.
So tell me, what does empowerment look like to you?
By Kelly-Marie Baker
Adaptations One evening, whilst scrolling through the usual social media noise, I was struck by an image that stopped me in my tracks. It was a standard, unfiltered image of a mum. Headset on with her laptop at the kitchen table. Her son sitting with her on his tablet completing his own work. They were sitting opposite one another with their respective paperwork encroaching on each other’s side of the table. Beautifully representing the new adaptations both mother and son had to make during 2020.
Family rhythms and flows have changed and adapted in households all over the world this year and I have come to realise that no two households share the exact same experience. Each home and its occupants are unique. Homes with key workers, some with their main earners furloughed, others completely at a loss when their small business can’t open. We have families forced into a homeschooling situation, whilst others relishing at the chance to spend more time together. Half the population are enjoying a slower pace of life whilst others are highly stressed. Families suddenly all under one roof, all day, every day. It has been a bizarre and challenging time.
Resilience There is enough content out there to delve into the hardship that this year has brought to humanity. I would like to focus on the resilience that has been displayed. Especially from the women in this world.
Many are concerned (and rightfully so) that the progress and advancement for women could have been undone this year, with early lockdown studies showing that even when working from home, the mothers have taken on the majority of household chores and the homeschool burden.
* Side note: I would hope by now (December 2020) a better flow and fairer sharing of household and family admin has been worked out in your home. If not, then that is something to think about and discuss amongst your fellow house people. ASAP!
I see these points and my initial feeling is anger. Why should it naturally fall on us? We have advanced and why is it when things get tough, we are the ones that end up digging deep and make everything work?!
Well unfortunately for us, I believe it is because we have the capacity too. History has shown how adaptable and determined we are. I would like to celebrate the sheer grit and resilience amongst women. This year the world has needed a female’s touch. It has needed kindness and strength, flexibility, and compassion.
The incredible spirit displayed amongst the women in my life has been beyond inspiring. Their ability to ride the highs and lows, but most of all the way they process their situations and just crack on with life. They always manage to find the strength and creativity to pull through and flourish.
Finish Fierce Lately all I see are Christmas cards, GIFs and memes all striking 2020 off and wishing next year to be better. As funny as some of them are I just can’t get on board with wishing time away. Every single day of our life is borrowed time. During this year we have still been living and experiencing life. It’s just been a version of life that we are not used to. And NEWS FLASH! it’s not about to magically change at midnight on the 31st!
Don’t get me wrong, there have been times I’ve felt worn out, desperate and fed up. During those times, I noticed how little that state of mind actually served me. It just amplified those gloomy feelings and felt rubbish. By switching our mindset to a place of gratitude and compassion is the only way to get the most out of today.
Lesie Dwight put it best:
What if 2020 isn’t cancelled?
What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for?
A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw – that it finally forces us to grow.
A year that screams so loud, finally awakening us from our ignorant slumber.
A year we finally accept the need for change.
Declare change. Work for change. Become the change.
A year we finally band together, instead of pushing each other further apart.
2020 isn’t cancelled, but rather the most important year of them all.
I urge everyone to use the final days of 2020 to reflect, process, be grateful for the lessons and look forward to a better you and a better world. If there is anything this year has taught us is that it’s the small things in life that bring little pockets of happiness. The compassion and connections with our fellow humans and environment.
I believe if we adjust our focus to experience joy in everyday wonders, we can get the most from life. Not just in these crazy times but always.
Stay fierce and finish strong.
By Kelly-Marie Baker
Edited by Roni Edwards
Disclaimer: We, of course, recognise that gender is non-binary. This article is referring to men and people who identify as men.
Every person has their own emotional traits and complex life experiences, this article has used research based on the generalisation and trends in men’s psychological behaviour.
Us and Men. Oh, how far we have come. After millennia of female struggle, we are finally arriving at a place where the importance of equality is recognised.. We can do all the jobs, earn the money, raise the family, even procreate without a physical man in our lives. The age of empowerment is here. And as empowerment is being achieved, we have an opportunity to use this empowerment to walk alongside those who need it.
Our men are struggling. The statistics are screaming at us to do something. But what? How do we support and empower the men we have fought so deeply to be on par with? Why should we add this as another job for us to do ?
How do we keep in balance the fierce feminist activist within us with the challenge of also being a supportive equal that can sympathise with male emotions?
The Men in Our Lives Well, to begin with, think about the men we choose to connect with in our lives, the fathers, husbands, brothers, friends, uncles, cousins, grandfathers. Those individual humans and their individual traits are special to us and they won’t always be the ones contributing to the discrimination women face. Some of them may have even fought by our side.
Our Beautiful Differences It is clear, in many areas of life, that men and women approach things differently. Gender can be fluid and as much as we are equal in society, there are still psychological traits that are gender specific. A basic example is the consensus that women are predominantly ultra-thinkers. Their brains are a mesh of connections and wires that think about multiple thoughts and complete multiple tasks at any given time. Men have more of a sectional approach to thinking. They are task orientated and solving problems create feel-good hormones.
John Gray explains that when women sit down, the blood flow to their brain increases and they think even more, whereas when men sit the blood flow decreases and they can “zone out” more efficiently. I’m sure many of us can recall a time where we’ve been calling the man’s name, whilst he is staring at the TV, with very little to no response! Turns out he isn’t ignoring you, he’s just seriously good at “zoning out”.
Instead of being baffled by our differences, I decided to do some research and became fascinated by the wonderful differences (and similarities) we possess. Knowing the reasons behind our difference and quirks leads to better understanding of each other and allows us to be considerate and adaptable. We want our relationships with the men in our lives to be rich and fulfilling so put the work in and begin to build some awareness about their model of the world.
Create Opportunities for Openness and Be ReadyThink of the person you are most likely to open up with. It is normally someone you can completely be yourself when you are around them. The men in your life must feel accepted by you for who they are. It creates a safe space for them to be able to share. Most crucially though, you must be prepared to allow him to speak, withhold judgement and defensive reactions.
“They would rather see me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall off”
Have women become the ‘emotional patriarchy’? In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown highlights that many men feel that when they do open up the women in their life “can’t handle it”. It’s often easier to withhold their emotions to preserve the relationship and their ego. But the emotions and feelings that aren’t being shared need to be released. If they are locked up inside, they will eventually break free in less constructive ways.
Brene Brown uses the term “pissed off or shut down” to describe a response pattern she noticed in her research. She describes; if a man’s feelings are met with resistance, critique, or lack of understanding then they are likely to withdraw and turn their emotions into either rage or shut down completely.
What we can do is create opportunities for a man to speak his mind and pay attention to our own emotional reactions. To accommodate and encourage his openness we can be calm, understanding, supportive and loving. When a man opens up to you, remember they are his feelings, and the focus should remain on him.
Using our Empowerment An empowered woman takes responsibility of her life, she lives by her values and trusts her intuition. She is courageous and empowers others to be empowered. Not because of what she will get from empowering others. But because after she has rested deeply in her empowerment, she recognises that empowerment without action is a vacuum.
The last part of that definition is perhaps the most crucial here. Supporting, honouring and encouraging other humans to feel empowered is a quality every empowered woman can possess. What does an empowered woman who continues to call out gender based injustice but can also gently walk alongside that man who needs to heal look like ? Men deserve respect and compassion.
So, how can we empower men?
I have a vast array of different male figures in my world and they all have their own ways of dealing with problems and challenges. Making sure I listen and offer support allows me to notice when something isn’t quite right with any of them.
My approach with my male friends or family members is quite different to the females in my life. I tend to joke more and talk less. When we meet, we will mostly be doing something like walking, playing sports or cards rather than sitting down for an actual chat. I find this makes conversations more relaxed and if there’s something on their mind it will normally come out. If not, and I suspect there’s something the matter, I will make special effort to build rapport before just asking out right.
“Recognising and preventing men’s health problems is not just a man’s issue. Because of its impact on wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters, men’s health is truly a family issue.” — Bill Richardson.
We love the men in our lives so let’s keep a caring eye on them.
Kelly Marie Baker
Edited by Roni Edwards
"My love for my city, Portsmouth, runs deep. I am likely to politely walk you to the door with a list of alternative options if you live here and have nothing positive at all to say about the city. I am also Zambian born and grateful for the depth and colour the moulding of these two cultures has given me (like my inability to project a quietly poised, feminine, and cultured amused smile as opposed to my full blown hysterically-pitched belly laugh...I am working on it). The company name Pamodzi, meaning together, is a celebration of the two cultures meeting.."
Lockdown brought its own unique, never likely to be repeated challenges. I lost count of the times I sat in front of an online video meeting knowing full well that although the top half of me looked professional(ish) and in keeping with the meeting, I was definitely wearing my other half's boxer shorts/pajama trousers. So I am still a little bit bemused that I managed to string together enough coherent sentences to warrant a chapter in the book 'Being a Badass B***h in Business & Life'. whose proceeds will go to the SmartWorks charity . Smart Works is a UK charity that provides high quality interview clothes and interview training to unemployed women in need
It was an absolute privilege to be asked to contribute a chapter to a collaborative project led by the wonderful Personal Brand expert Annelies James.
Roni Edwards, Pamodzi Creatives Director
Ken Robinson. News of his death floored me. He was a constant muse to my schools dance work, and I modelled my practice based on a lot of his thoughts on creativity in the education system. And at the cusp of a Creative Transitions project that we are about to launch. I can't help but wonder, who will bridge the creativity in education gap ? Who will empower those wonderful creative, passionate teachers out there drowning in the bureaucratic system they have inherited from stringent government policies ?Thank you, Sir Ken for the inspiration you will continue to be.
Post by Roni Edwards
Lead Author : Kelly Marie Baker
Kelly-Marie is a tree loving, free spirited mum of two. Based in Southsea, she leads her family on a Home Education journey, learning from life and the world around them. Over the years her creative soul has been fed with the likes of poetry, dance, choreography and, more recently, writing. Her writing is predominantly focused on personal growth and development with a special interest in using the platform to challenge social norms and provoke deep thought. Kelly believes that The Arts are an immensely important tool to communicate complex and delicate issues and is proud to be collaborating with Pamodzi Creatives. Kelly’s favourites are nature, travel, personal development and coffee…all the coffee!