Here’s an essay published in the Times about how the word “empowerment” in relation to women, especially, has become nothing but a marketing ploy. The author argues that she really knows what she’s talking about because she’s an editor for a women’s website, is “young, female, educated and upwardly mobile,” “loves raises and underwear and voting,” and, therefore, is the target demographic for marketers marketing empowerment.
Women’s empowerment, she argues, is no longer about taking action against one’s oppression or oppressors; it’s no longer about solving one’s own problems or viewing personal competency as limitless or embracing personal responsibility. Women’s empowerment, according to the women’s website editor who fields emails all day from marketers wanting to market to upwardly mobile women, is all about: sell, sell, sell.
Women’s empowerment borrows the virtuous window-dressing of the social worker’s doctrine and kicks its substance to the side. It’s about pleasure, not power; it’s individualistic and subjective, tailored to insecurity and desire. The new empowerment doesn’t increase potential so much as it assures you that your potential is just fine. Even when the thing being described as “empowering” is personal and mildly defiant (not shaving, not breast-feeding, not listening to men, et cetera), what’s being marketed is a certain identity. And no matter what, the intent of this new empowerment is always to sell.
Well… that’s depressing as hell. And also not true. I mean, who the hell is this woman to say if you happen to be young, female, educated and upwardly mobile, you only experience empowerment as a marketing ploy to feed your undying desire for pleasure, or that if you aren’t young, female, educated and upwardly mobile, then you experience empowerment as a service provided to you by someone in a position of some power? Fuck that shit.
My moments and experiences of empowerment (or “women’s empowerment,” since I happen to be female) have little to do with commercialism, and, knowing a little about some of you, I’d venture to say the same applies to a majority of DW readers. I, for one, feel empowered by what my body can do — Grow and birth babies! Run miles! Age (sort of) gracefully! — more so than what it looks like in clothes I pay for or with products I buy to tend to it with. I’m empowered by the positive changes I can make in the world and the lives of others. I’m empowered when I vote, when I share my opinion in a thoughtful way, when I stand up for myself and others, when I make clear and strong decisions (even if they aren’t always the right ones), and when I actually learn from my mistakes and see myself evolve.
What about you? What empowers you?