This interview is a collaboration between Our Shakti and Dévé. I will interview Esther, the founder of Dévé about the dark side of female empowerment. Esther, could you please tell us more about yourself?
My name is Esther, I’m a civil engineer, coach, and content creator. My passion is to help professionals to have a better relationship with life, work, and money. That’s why I founded Dévé, a digital magazine for strategy, leadership, and lifestyle.
Before reflecting on the dark side of female empowerment, I would like to know what your understanding is of female empowerment.
Well, we can start from the beginning. I don’t want to go too far to the times of Adam and Eve, but History in Western culture has always shown women as powerless beings, with some exceptions. Women have been sold, used, abused, and considered servants of men, as beings made to please men. We see it even in art. It is said that women are the most creative beings, how come even in art women had no voice? You see, for centuries men painted and sculpted figures of women and if you realize, you see that women are represented not based on their reality, but based on what men wanted and fantasized – this means, naked, laying down, with a smile, in the ‘nurturing’ position… representing beauty. Even with the facial expressions associated with sex. Or in a seductive mood. Or submitted. You do not see women in assertive positions.
At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th women started requesting a little more ownership of their lives. They started to march in the streets. In the beginning things like “not having to wear tight corsets”, but it was the beginning of what we have achieved now. And everyone can have an idea of the reactions it had on men – artists, by the way, could not assume that women were changing, so they kept painting women the way they fantasized… until those artists disappeared. Something to remark is that the previous generation of women has achieved many many important things, freedom and rights. Yet some women take their achievements for granted and deny that feminism is, in fact, a good thing.
For me, female empowerment is when a woman has information, knowledge, means, and space to make her own decisions without coercion from history, family, culture, religión, etc. When a woman can decide who she wants to be and this decision comes from understanding herself and her value.
Although much has improved for women because of the female empowerment movement, there is also a downside. In a previous conversation, you told me about the things you have observed. Could you please tell our readers more about this?
This is going to lead to a difficult conversation. Not everything is black or white, and in this topic, there are several contradictions, and contradictions are a part of life.
It is related to the last phrase. Taking your own decisions requires a balance which is sometimes difficult. Let me explain myself: before, women had only one option, which is “to be below the man, less powerful than men”. Female empowerment showed us that there is another option. Nevertheless, a history of systematic discrimination and abuse towards women has created resentment inside women in general. Women are resentful, it’s understandable – men have behaved very badly. And before a man says “not all men!”, the answer is that every time a woman knows about the murder of another woman, or that a woman has been killed by her ex-partner, she always has this fear saying “what assures me that this will not happen to me in the future? What guarantees me that my partner will not try to do this? Because the partner of that woman was with her, he seduced and conquered her some time ago…”
Then this resentment pushed many of us to recover the power that was historically denied to us. Having power is good even though many men may not like it. The issue emerges when the sense of importance or value gets attached to getting what men get or doing what men do or being what men are. In addition, mischievous words like “women can be at the same level as men”… assuming that men are at a higher level! How many women are actually lowering themselves because they want to be at the same level as men? But all these series of ideas have pushed women into thinking that in order to be valued, and respected, they have to be like men because men are the standard. Women who act like this, unfortunately, feel very insecure. It’s not their fault. The result is that women are pushed to seek respect and validation by climbing the career ladder, achieving, paying 50/50, chasing men, having mindless sex, and still taking care of the house, the husband, and the family. Most of them will say they do this because they feel empowered, but if they had the space to be really true to themselves, I wonder if this would have been the answer to the imbalance between men and women.
What is the impact of this attitude on the lives of women?
Women are exhausted. Many women have been strong and independent until one day they realize that they need people and there is nobody around because they didn’t let them be. Then being strong and independent becomes their only option. On the other hand, imbalanced feminism pushes women to be masculine. I mean: doing, thinking, being strong, giving…yet the feminine energies are suppressed, eradicated. Because they are told that femininity is weakness, that femininity will preclude their success, and that will not inspire respect. So this is a sacrifice they consider worth doing until one day she wonders why she is unhappy despite her achievements, she can’t receive a compliment, she can’t receive a hug, she projects issues on her children, her husband is distant and so on.
What lies at the root of this attitude?
I may repeat myself and add to the idea. We live in a patriarchy, and the fight against it is something necessary. However, the best thing we can do is not to lose ourselves in the fight and not to bark up the wrong trees.
What do women who adopt this attitude need to know, you think?
I believe the value of a woman is always within her, not based on what she achieves in a world ruled by a system man created. It’s good to know that feminism has improved things for us because we have options now. So let us not forget that we always have options. We can be feminine and very respected.