Empowerment- A word being dragged through the mud in many liberal feminist spaces. By dictionary definition, to empower something, literally means to give power to. When I think of empowerment, I think of it in terms political power, economic power, and social power. I don’t necessarily think of empowerment on an individual level, or to better put it, I don’t think of empowerment as “user friendly”. If you ask me, there are systems that are either, inherently empowering, inherently disempowering, and neutral. A couple examples would be, drinking juice is not an inherently empowering act, you’re just drinking juice. And partaking in beauty practices is inherently disempowering, etc.
I think this is where I finally realized what it meant to actually be radical. Throughout liberal feminist circles, I have seen the use of the word “empowerment” in what I will call a “user friendly” way. Meaning that, they are not necessarily critically examining the rituals we perform or the systems we partake in, and wether those things are inherently empowering or disempowering, but rather leave it to the individual to decide, and assert that the word can be used to describe any individual’s choices, regardless of the society’s impact on that individual.
But I argue that for the purpose of political and cultural change, we must not look at empowerment as being user friendly, and we must use the word more sparingly.
The hard truth that no liberal feminist wants to face is, the feeling you get from making any choice, isn’t actually what gives you power, it’s how that choice effects your life and society as a whole. Drawing some lines on your face will never open the doors to any real political or social change, in fact, it only serves as a survival mechanism. Wearing heels sharp enough to cut a man will never address the male supremacy we all live under, nor will it actually help survivors of domestic abuse or sexual assault. I’m not asking anybody to completely change entirely, how they live their lives. I am also not asserting that performing femininity is something you should be shamed for, especially since femininity is something I view as being entirely socially constructed. All I am asking for is honesty. With the situation I am personally in, it is not easy for me to opt out of performing sex-based social roles. In fact, I can’t tell you how many jobs I have been denied from for my less than feminine appearance. I’ve been asked to go to the restroom to apply makeup at many of the places I have worked. I have even been fired from a job for refusing to wear makeup and more “feminine” clothes. Seriously, I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried. So, I wear makeup. I straighten my hair in the morning, as well as trim my eyebrows and shave my body. I do these things because it’s a means of survival, and after awhile it even starts to feel good because I am so conditioned to actually hate my natural face. None of these things has ever brought me any kind of power. And wether I perform these rituals or not, I will never be safe from male violence, I never get to opt out of the patriarchy. And so, the option I am left with is to change it. And to be perfectly clear, I am not afraid, when I perform these rituals, of the “swerfs and terfs” coming out to shame me for that choice. Because those women have a better understanding of these degrading practices better than any of you ever will. And it’s those same women that created the rape crisis center I was able to go after my assault. And it was a radical feminist that held me in her arms after my case had been thrown out the window.
I turned down my last job offer actually, because of their dress policy for women, compared to their policy for men. I boycotted one of my places of work for turning a blind eye to sexual harassment, and significantly affected their business. That felt empowering.
So, liberal feminists, I beg of you. Let’s be real about the situation at hand. And for the very few of you who may read this, what is empowerment to you? How can we work to achieve it?


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