I sat in shocked silence as she continued to rant. I can’t even remember what I said that triggered her; it was something about women, clearly, and her reaction was swift and exasperated. She wasn’t having it, but why? Where was this coming from? I put my thoughts aside to make way for hers, and as I did, her words hit me like a ton of bricks.
Why can’t women just get shit done, same as men do? Why can’t they just do something without making it about being a woman? Why can’t women just be powerful without going on about empowerment?
The urge to defend myself, and the women she was rebuking, kicked in but I didn’t have the words to do it justice, and we both dropped it. Days later, I am still struggling to articulate why this woman can’t just. Why can’t I just be smart? Just be ambitious? Just be powerful? Why do I have to talk about it… or make excuses, as my friend feels so many powerful women do? Why? Because I have to also just be less opinionated, just more likeable, and just be humble. I am repeatedly reminded to just lean in. And constantly asked when I will just give my husband a baby already?! There is so much I should just do… and so much of it contradicts the rest. For the record, my husband would rather have a new set of golf clubs, but that doesn’t stop people from telling me I need to just do it. Sure, same as men can do?
I could continue down that road, but I’ll go back to my friend’s questions instead. To be fair, maybe she had seen one too many girl power posts that day and felt our messaging would be equally monotonous. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I have wondered about ZOESTs women-centric mission myself. Every day, I come across another female empowerment account.
They are establishing female founder groups, sharing women-only office spaces, and buying and selling free trade goods from women-led co-ops around the world. There are so many women on a mission, I can’t help but wonder: do we need more? And now, with my friend’s voice in the back of my mind: can’t we just be powerful women without being on a mission of empowerment?
Sure we can. But we need men and women to have equal rights and opportunities first. A recent estimate suggests that a woman doing the same work as a man will not earn equal pay for another 257 years. So does the world need more women-centric businesses and more women in positions of power to sooner achieve the basic needs of equal pay, rights, and opportunities? Yes, we do.
And as for why women can’t just be powerful without talking about it? Don’t ask me to verify this statistic, but I’d wager that this already describes 99.9% of women, my friend included. For me, though, the desire to talk about empowerment stems from how I process my own experiences and how I am trying to grow from them.
I have doubted my potential. I have accepted less than I am worth. And I have endured sexist comments with a smile. Admittedly, I have also felt frustrated by the countless women I’ve met who sacrifice their own needs and desires in order to meet someone else’s. It is their choice, usually, but is also just something women do.
My hope is that by talking about empowerment, more women will believe in their value, put their needs first from time to time, and embrace power. I also hope that more men will recognize the need to support the women in their lives, as we face inequalities they don’t experience and can’t fully appreciate.
So, why can’t women just get shit done, same as men do? We can, and we do, but getting real shit done, like closing that pay gap in less than 257 years? That requires more women on a mission, and a lot more men and women empowering them to accomplish it.