Millions of women (and men!) recently came together for Women’s Marches across the country, and even across the globe. It was an impressive show of fierceness, unity and freedom of speech. (And freedom of fashion!)
With the topic of women’s empowerment fresh on many of our minds, people are wondering: What does it mean to be a powerful woman? What does it mean to be a feminist? How does that ideology play out in the political sphere as well as in the personal sphere?
These are questions that are worth asking, and they will have different answers based on the individual you question. But below you will find my take on these issues, as well as five ways that I believe women can become more empowered (both in the world and in their relationships) right now:
1) Understand the value of the feminine. Traditionally, power in our society has been associated with the masculine. And as such, many of us wrongly confuse power with traditional “masculine” behaviors. For example, being stoic (the strong, silent stereotype), as well as aggression, anger, and independence.
Hence, when women seek power, they try to mimic this masculine behavior. They try not to show emotion. They refuse to show vulnerability. They never ask for help. They opt for aggression over compassion. They compete rather than cooperate.
In doing so, they are not only denying key aspects of their personality, but they are denying the world their feminine power. Being soft doesn’t mean you aren’t strong. Being vulnerable doesn’t mean you are weak. In fact, nothing takes more bravery than showing your soul. Women can’t do that if they are so busy trying to fit into a masculine cookie-cutter.
2) Understand what feminine really means. By now, you might be thinking, “But, Dr. Berman, I am not a typical woman. I’m not a “girl’s girl.” I don’t like rom-coms and hearts and flowers.” That’s okay! First of all, none of those things are actually feminine in nature…we might stereotypically assume those things are feminine in our culture, but lots of very “manly” men enjoy Meg Ryan movies and romantic bubble baths.
Similarly, being ambitious and outspoken doesn’t mean that a woman isn’t feminine. Sharing your opinions and chasing your goals doesn’t have to be masculine in nature. The crucial part is to ensure that your strength is coming from a place of authenticity, a place of vulnerability and presence. When women behave as our true selves, rather than trying to copy masculine behavior, we do ourselves and the world around us untold good. We prove that being feminine doesn’t mean being weak. That women don’t have to be second-rate copies of men. That we are imbued with our own power and our own important truths.
3) Kick women-shaming vocabulary from your thoughts and conversation. Words matter. When we call the First Lady a “slut” because she posed for nude pics in her younger days, or imply that she isn’t as classy as Michelle Obama or other women, we are judging a woman’s worth based on her sexual decisions. This is an incredibly problematic line of thinking that has poisoned our society for thousands of years. It has led to female genital mutilation. To “honor killings.” To women who are unable to enjoy sex with their partners and women in their 50s who have never had an orgasm. It’s time we stop judging women for what they do with their bodies, whether they choose to be sex workers or whether they choose to save themselves for marriage. Both of these are valid choices. Both deserve your respect. Just as there is no one way to be a woman, there is no one way to embody female sexuality. For some women, that might mean enjoying multiple partners. For others, that might mean just one (or even none!). As long as your sexual choices empower you and honor you, you are on the right track.
4) Worship the feminine. What do I mean by that? No, you don’t have to build a shrine to a goddess (though you can, of course!), but rather I mean spend time exploring the feminine side not only of yourself, but of the universe around you. Creation, cooperation, nurturing, gentleness, sensuality, empathy–these are all feminine powers, and when we spend time practicing these arts, we vibrate at a frequency that is authentic and vulnerable. How can you tap into this side of yourself? Consider spending time among like-minded women, taking courses such as a barre or Pilates class for women, mediating (try this feminine power mediation) or painting. Journaling will also be valuable. Try answering some of the following questions:
What does it mean to be a woman? What do you consider feminine? What early messages about women and girls did you receive growing up? What messages do you try to teach your children about womanhood? What are your goals as a woman? What does being a woman mean to you in the bedroom? In the workplace? In your personal relationships?
5) Remember that sex and gender are not the same thing. Gender is in the brain, which is why some women are born biologically male, and some men are born biologically women. And, regardless of whether you identify as a man or a woman or intersex, we ALL have feminine power within us. We can all celebrate the qualities of the feminine and we can all benefit from tapping into the power of the feminine.