Each of us has the potential to influence and control at least some aspects of our lives, though much of what happens in life we certainly don’t control. However, as women, many of us have lived lives of relative disempowerment. So, what is empowerment? Empowerment is the idea that each of us has the right and ability to claim our personal agency to direct and control those parts of our lives over which we do have influence.
Historically, women could exercise only limited control over many aspects of their lives. Only a century ago women did not have the right to vote and were legally considered to be the “property” of their husbands. Just over half a century ago, women rarely owned property, seldom had control over money, and relatively few women had careers. Those that did almost never worked outside of the typically female occupations of teaching, nursing or secretarial work. Higher education was generally seen as optional—unimportant for women’s truly important future roles as full-time wives and mothers.
The Women’s Movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s focused on advocating vigorously for women’s right to participate equally in society and achieve empowerment in personal and professional arenas. Role models, support groups and legislative advocacy created a cascade of changes that gave women greater power over finances, education, career options, sexuality, marriage and parenting styles. According to women’s rights advocates, women have the right as well as the responsibility to take back power over every aspect of our lives that have been controlled by the male-dominated institutions and individuals who have claimed authority over us. Let’s discuss our own experiences with powerlessness and empowerment and how we can start taking charge of our own lives and destinies.
- What arenas of decision-making in your life have been controlled by institutions and authority figures over which women have had little or no influence?
- Through your early and middle adult years, were there major life decisions over which you felt you had no control? What were the consequences of those life decisions?
- Which of these life areas have changed in meaningful ways and how has this affected your choices and decisions?
- Are there arenas in which you believe you could now take back your power but feel reluctant to do so due to fear, insecurity, lack of self-trust or other barriers?
- In which ways have you taken control of your life and how do you intend to continue shaping your life from this time forward?