Empower Women! But what does that actually mean?

What do we (and in particular men), need to bear-in-mind


As a woman, I’m all for the empowerment of women, but what does that actually mean? In my experience men who want to help empower women might just be peddling an insidious form of patriarchy if their own identity is tied up in this role. A man who wants to help empower women might just be dependent on disempowered women for his sense of self worth. Therefore when the  woman in question really does find her power he has no idea how to deal with it, is threatened by it and might use shame and rejection as a result of this unconscious bias. In my experience of this has been from older men, who seem to hold the Christian fantasy of Eve, the meek and mild mannered woman, who’s behaviour is ‘pleasant’ and predictable, but above all deferent to men! Hardly an empowered archetype. 

I sometimes think, that rather than men being concerned with empowering women, they should get together and look at their fear of what an empowered woman might mean in their world. No less because any woman on the road to finding her power will, more often than not, have to navigate the territory of her own anger. Terrifying for her and others! Culturally we are called to reject and shame her and while I’m no more a fan of an angry woman, or man come to that matter than the next person, we have to face the fact that women hold a deep-seated anger about the patriarchy and there is no way around that anger, the only way – is through. 

Emotions are not there to be held onto, but to help us navigate through the swamp-forest of our psyche’s awakening. But in order to journey through an emotion, we have to allow ourselves to enter it entirely. This can be terrifying and dangerous and with anger it’s a good idea to be supported through it, in case what comes out is violent towards ourselves or others. But journey through it we must, in order to find who we are and what we want?

If your idea of empowering a woman is to ask what she wants and give it to her, you don’t understand a damn thing! Women, if brought up in a patriarchal system, have no idea what they want. Indeed, nor do many men. For a woman of patriarchal heritage, ‘wanting’ is an alien concept. Keeping safe is primary, keeping the men around you happy so that you are safe, is primary. Therefore what men want is primary. What we want as women does not simply materialise in our minds on being asked. So first we must find our ability to want.  

This all brings to mind the story of the Loathly Lady. King Arthur is challenged by a dark knight to solve the riddle of discovering what above all else it is that women want. He asks many women but the answers he gets are all different. Chocolates, flowers, a husband, a fairytale wedding, food for my child, healing for my mother. Then Arthur meets Sir Gawaine who joins the quest to solve the riddle and they ride out throughout the land together, but to no avail. Then one day they meet a hideous old hag in the forest, she claims to have the answer, but will only bestow it upon them in return for the hand of Sir Gawaine in marriage. The valiant Gawaine agrees, so committed is he to Arthur. So they are married, and that night when he enters the wedding chamber he finds, not the old hag, but a beautiful young woman. The Lady Ragnell. Gawaine is confused, but she explains she is the very same bride, but that she had a cursed spell put upon her by a sorcerer many years ago. Now that Gawaine has married her, half the spell is broken. “Half?” said Gwaine. “Yes, I will be like this half the time, and you my husband must choose, would you have me beautiful by day or by night?” Gawaine after some careful consideration refused the choice, handing it back to the Lady to choose. In so doing the rest of the spell is broken, for he has given her what she wants above all else, sovereignty over her choices. 

The only trouble with this story, is that we need to be in touch with what we really want, in order to use our sovereignty to make those choices. As I write this I am very aware that I am in the territory of privilege, a person free from fear and hunger, and therefore able to explore the philosophical depths of ‘wanting’, but hopefully there is something of use here for all women. 

How do we find our want? To me this is akin to the holy grail. We quest across the world looking for an object when all along what we seek is within. The mind wants to find some-thing, but only through the body can we come to know, and here in lies the problem not just of the patriarchy but of science and rationality as well. 

In our western cultures mind is king. But, while the mind is an excellent analytical tool, it is not who we are. Ultimately the question for all of us, men and women, is how do we come home to ourselves so that we might know who we are and therefore what we want? When it comes to empowering women, to my mind this is a very important question. 

Women bleed every month with the cycle of the moon. This body has it’s own intelligence, it is the piece of the earth we inhabit and because we are more connected to it due to our luna cycle, we are also inherently more connected with this – the consciousness of matter. The intelligence of the mind is secondary to this primary force, which as many women know is not passive but active. It is akin to a language that the rational mind of the modern era has been hell-bent on usurping, unlearning, belittling, denying the existence of. Which is quite an extraordinary thing when you stop to think about it, for the mind is formed of this primary force of material intelligence.

Women more than men are still connected to this intelligence, which speaks a truth through feelings that we know is far more reliable than any mind. With practice we come to understand this language of the felt sense and live guided by its subtle nudges and impulses. It is through this we come to know who we are and what we want. 

The beauty of this way of being is that it is ‘plugged in’ to the earth network. What we want becomes congruent once more with the interests of all earthly matter. We move into a role of ‘service to’ rather than ‘consumer of’ and with this shift, purpose and happiness are found. 

So, perhaps if we really want to empower women, one of the most important things we can do is to stop the obsessive rubbishing of these other windows of knowing that are not rational or scientific. Because this earthly knowledge, experienced through the felt senses of the body, lies beyond the jurisdiction of our current scientific and rational capabilities. 

Women want to create change in the world, but you have to let them do it their way, with their language, listen to them, try not to judge things that fall outside of your own understanding and experience, and ultimately cultivate the humility to learn from their way of being and doing in the world.

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