What is power?
This word always felt foreign, like a concept that was almost untouchable to the many aspects of my identity, particularly being a woman in a male-dominated society.
But to know power is to understand where it comes from; and better yet, why the ones who yield it have gotten such access to it in the first place.
Before, power was my enemy because I felt it was unattainable. But now, I try to view power as a new friend; because I choose to find it daily within myself, even when our patriarchal society attempts to keep it out of my reach. Out of our reach.
Just last Wednesday, I was curled up on my bed, a pink fuzzy blanket covering my back. I squinted down at the tiny words in my textbook for my Women and Gender studies class. The second week in, and I was already absolutely smitten with this class, and the fact that my private, $60,000-a-year, Jesuit-founded university was requiring it as part of our core curriculum!
There I was, sipping my coffee when I came across an important passage from Peggy McIntosh’s piece, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. The quote expands on the idea of a certain obliviousness about male advantage and white privilege in the United States. This obliviousness is kept in U.S. culture to maintain the myth that democratic choice is equally available to all people, even though this is sadly not the case.
Peggy McIntosh elaborates on her point:
Keeping most people unaware that freedom of confident action is there for just a small number of people props up those in power and serves to keep power in the hands of the same groups that have most of it already.
As someone who’s a feminist and raised by my mother and grandmother, I always found it utterly bewildering that in 2021, women are still not treated equally in society. Worse still, in other countries, women’s and minority’s rights are even worse.
But then it struck me that so many people are unaware of this power dynamic and what it means to live in a patriarchal society, where the needs of men (mainly white men) were catered to when society was first established.
I am a feminist not because I desire women to have rights over men, but because I believe ALL women deserve equal and fair treatment. That is the meaning of intersectional feminism. I believe that ALL women deserve human rights and freedom.
Men should be feminists, too; otherwise, if they continue living this way, they contribute to an oppressive system that some were not even aware of in the first place since they were not being affected by it. I can’t tell you the number of men I’ve encountered who I’ve had to explain feminism to, simply because they don’t know and are uneducated on the matter.
It baffles my mind and breaks my heart to know that women today still have to fight for equal pay and rights, while men have never experienced this struggle of equality, all due to their gender.
The classes I’m enrolled in highlight concepts of feminism and feminism history throughout our world and have opened my eyes to the fact that women have been fighting this unfair treatment for thousands of years.
McIntosh emphasized that power is difficult to acquire and therefore kept solely and carefully within the same people who already have it. In terms of patriarchy, power is held by men, who benefit the most from this advantage.
Slow signs of progress after generations of protesting, marching, and taking emancipation declarations to the government is all that has been handed to women; despite those of us who continue to raise awareness and fight for our rights.
Apart from educating myself proactively and raising awareness about women’s rights, finding my power also means acknowledging that all of the constructs society has forced-fed me to believe for many years are just those-societal constructs.
Can you imagine how powerful and free women would be if they let go of those societal expectations and double-standards of living?
If we stopped competing with each other and stopped bringing other women down to raise ourselves higher on this pedestal that we didn’t create in the first place?
If we found the power to be our true, authentic selves instead of living life to please those who benefit the most from the patriarchal society?
This act of embracing who we are is the first step to gaining power. It’s challenging to do, especially when others are bringing us down.
In addition, to grow our power, we must first be mindful and open-minded. It’s impossible to know all the answers right away. But deciding to learn more and be proactive is the first step in gaining knowledge.
Knowledge then becomes a great resource for power. We can recognize the methods and strategies used to keep women at bay, such as limiting access to educational opportunities, discrimination in the workforce, spreading mistruths about virginity and sexuality, and find ways to advocate for ourselves (and also for others).
Are you curious about growing your power?
I highly recommend taking a Women and Gender studies course; to educate yourself further and grow in your knowledge of how these societal constructs impact us all. I am so blessed to have that opportunity.
Reading great feminist books about the history of these patriarchal systems and the women’s rights movement, written by independent and powerful women such as Peggy McIntosh, Maya Angelou, Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolfe, and much, much more, is another significant step forward.
We are all-powerful in our own ways. Only by educating ourselves can we find the knowledge and passion to bloom in our power; without bringing other women down, but instead lifting them with us as we go about this roller-coaster ride called life.
To the men we love: we invite you to support us. I love you, sisters (not just cis-sters), and hope to grow in our power together.