I’ve long said that the feminist movement has strong parallels with the patient empowerment movement. Both involve people who perhaps at first didn’t feel mistreated (though some did) but who went through an awakening – “consciousness raising,” we called it in the Sixties, started to speak up, and discovered how it feels.
There was a great example today in the New York Times: Mormon Women Set Out to Take a Stand, in Pants. As I said on Twitter, “A long time feminist, I’m tickled to see Mormon women starting the process – by wearing pants to church. Some backlash.” The lede:
A call for Mormon women to wear pants to church, begun this month by a small group of women, has stretched across the globe, but not before creating a backlash and even generating death threats.
And so it begins.
In the Sixties I occasionally saw “girls” come to Boston from the midwest (my home), go through such an awakening, and start to speak up. Some requests were met happily by guys who had no idea they’d been diminishing the women’s potential. Others who spoke up were derided, ridiculed, told to stay in their place. Some, I imagine, received death threats.
(Although I think of myself as a feminist, I’m no student of the movement so I can’t cite specifics. Additions welcome, in comments.)
At my speeches sometimes people ask what, specifically, is meant by “empowerment.” I’ve never seen a better example than this, from the Times article:
… Kari White, in Sheboygan, Wis.: “felt free to be an authentic me for the first time in my nearly 5 years of membership in the church.”
The authentic self: that’s what it’s about. The essence of disempowerment is not being free to be your authentic self.
And look at the woman’s face in that Times photo.
After a person’s awakening in such a movement, what follows is an increasing sense of one’s power – not necessarily in a forceful sense, but in a growing awareness of capability. One of my favorite books of that era was Ms. Magazine’s Decade of Women, including a terrific quote from 1973, as stewardesses rethought who they were, including renaming as flight attendants:
I don’t think of myself as a sex symbol or a servant. I think of myself as somebody who knows how to open the door of a 747 in the dark, upside down, and under water.
“Power to the people,” as we said back then. The democratization of knowledge, tools, and autonomy. Society changes, as people get unleashed.