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What are some ways to empower women? How can you build your self-esteem as a woman?
If you want to make the women in your life feel better, it’s always good to start by boosting their confidence. For starters, you should remove the “male-as-default” mindset that prevents you from seeing women as equals. From there, you have to put in the work to empower women in your personal and professional lives.
Whether you’re a woman or you want to empower the women in your life, check out these women empowerment examples to make a change.
Remove the ‘Male-As-Default’ Mindset
When you read the words “average person,” who do you picture? If you’re like most people, you probably picture a man. In Invisible Women, feminist campaigner Caroline Criado Perez argues that this is because most humans operate under a male-as-default mindset: We consider the average person to be male. This mindset is particularly visible in gendered languages—for example, in Spanish, the masculine el doctor technically means “male doctor” but is often used to refer to a doctor of any gender.
Perez contends that this male-as-default mindset causes a gender data gap—a lack of information about the female experience—that harms women’s health, safety, and economic standing. This is because we don’t consider women the “average person,” so we don’t collect data on them.
In turn, this gender data gap reinforces the male-as-default mindset. When there is no data about women, people (especially men) assume that the experience of the average man represents the experience of the average woman, so they continue to make choices that reflect this mindset—but ultimately harm women. In this way, the male-as-default mindset and the gender data gap create a vicious, mutually reinforcing cycle.
Additionally, the male-as-default mindset reinforces the idea that the unique experiences of women are considered unimportant. By recognizing the distinctive struggles women go through, in addition to the general way women live life differently than men, you’re well on your way to helping empower women. So before you instill the following female empowerment examples in your life, remove the male-as-default mindset that is hurting women.
TITLE: Invisible Women
AUTHOR: Caroline Criado Perez
Change the Way You Think About Sex
The second female empowerment example is to change the way you think about sex. More specifically, educate yourself on the misconceptions about female sexuality and anatomy. In Come As You Are, Emily Nagoski argues that the fact that men are the standard for society’s understanding of sexuality has created a knowledge gap concerning women’s unique experiences and biology. This lack of awareness has allowed our society to perpetuate many misconceptions about female anatomy that directly impact the way women see themselves and their sexuality.
What’s more, these misconceptions come from a variety of different places. Nagoski identifies two primary avenues through which society has developed a skewed perception of female anatomy: culturally driven metaphors and media representation. In addition, she points out some other harmful but common misconceptions perpetuated by society. Let’s explore each in detail so you’re educated on women’s sexual health.
Metaphor #1: Women’s Hidden Genitals as a Marker of Shame
According to Nagoski, during the medieval period, people called the female genitalia pudendum (from Latin pudere, “to make ashamed”). The reasoning for this was that women’s genitalia (in contrast to men’s) appear hidden inside the body as if women are trying to conceal something they’re ashamed of.
In reality, the female genitalia aren’t “hidden” at all. Nagoski tells us that instead, the various parts have different sizes and locations from their male counterparts due to biological reasons (which we’ll discuss more in the next section). Assigning such a negative name to women’s genitalia not only points to a lack of biological understanding, but also perpetuates the idea that there’s something fundamentally wrong with their genitalia. If there wasn’t, why else would women try to hide them?
Nagoski explains that although modern culture doesn’t suggest that women are hiding something disgraceful in a literal sense, the idea that women’s genitalia is somehow shameful remains prominent in the way both men and women feel and talk about female sexuality. For example, both sexes shame women when their clothing inadvertently (and often unavoidably) accentuates the shape of their vulva—what is commonly known as a “camel toe.”
Metaphor #2: The Hymen as a Marker of Virginity
Nagoski notes that society has come to view the hymen—a membrane found at the opening of the vaginal canal—as a marker of virginity. Because of its location and potential to change throughout a woman’s life, there’s a common but incorrect belief that the hymen is a barrier that’s permanently “broken” the first time that a penis penetrates the vagina.
Nagoski warns that this misconception is especially dangerous because of the powerful impact it can have on women’s lives. When an unmarried woman’s hymen is absent or torn, she’s seen as impure or marked as “damaged goods.” In some cultures, this has resulted in women feeling pressured to have surgical reconstruction of their hymen as if it were a medical necessity. Nagoski adds that in some extreme cases, women are even beaten or killed because people have seen anything but a fully intact hymen as proof that she has had sexual intercourse outside of marriage.
On the other hand, Nagoski maintains that people have used the presence of a hymen as proof that a woman couldn’t have been raped, preventing her from seeking justice for the crime committed against her. The logic goes that if the hymen is a barrier and it’s still intact, there was no penetration and thus no rape.
Nagoski concludes that the basis of these real-world consequences is an entirely false idea. In reality, the hymen serves no biological function (including being a barrier). Some women are born without them, and when they’re present, they simply stretch with penetration. If they do happen to tear, they heal.
TITLE: Come As You Are
AUTHOR: Emily Nagoski
Help Improve Women’s Agency
Now that we’ve discussed how to empower women in their personal lives, let’s look at women empowerment examples in a professional landscape.
Giving women power in the workplace is not only instrumental in their personal growth, but in the growth of developing countries as well. According to Amartya Sen in Development as Freedom, there is proof that improving women’s agency has economic and political benefits that everybody can reap.
Sen identifies bias against women as a major obstacle to growth in developing countries. This bias deprives women of basic rights in areas such as political participation and family planning. It also harms economic development by failing to tap into the productive capacity of women by excluding them from education and the workforce. By empowering women, Sen argues, not only are women better off, but their communities become safer and more prosperous.
Fixing Gender Bias
Sen says the fix to gender bias is to improve women’s agency (their ability to make their own decisions in pursuit of their goals).
When women are free to choose whether to pursue an education, enter the workforce, or have children, they usually make choices that benefit not only themselves but their families and communities. This is because they are better equipped than the government to understand the implications of these choices on the people around them. When afforded the same opportunities as men, Sen contends that women become agents of change who can transform communities and societies for the better.
Women’s Empowerment and Child Welfare
Sen argues that the most effective way to empower women is to increase literacy. Research shows that increases in female literacy are strongly associated with a reduction in child mortality. This is because the knowledge women gain through education allows them to better care for their children if they choose to have them.
In addition to reducing overall child mortality, female literacy (and female labor force participation) is also associated with closing the gap in mortality rates between boys and girls.
Other factors, such as male literacy and urbanization, weren’t associated with such reductions. This dynamic highlights Sen’s point that traditional methods of development don’t always lead to the desired results.
Overall economic development was not enough to reduce child mortality in this case, but women’s literacy was. For example, one study in India showed that a 50% reduction in the overall poverty rate made almost no difference in under-5 child mortality rates, but an increase in female literacy from 22% to 75% reduced child mortality rates from 156 per thousand births to 110 per thousand births.
Women’s Empowerment and Fertility Rates
The benefits of female literacy and labor force participation have a similar positive effect on fertility rates. Around the globe, according to Sen, greater recognition of women’s rights usually leads to a reduction in fertility rates (the average number of children born per woman).
In many developing societies, women have little choice in family planning. Education gives women greater knowledge about family planning and working outside the home often gives them more options, too.
TITLE: Development as Freedom
AUTHOR: Amartya Sen
Put Women in Leadership Positions
In the previous section, we discussed the options women have when their agency is increased, such as family planning and participating in the workforce. In this section, we’ll discuss the latter option and why putting women in leadership positions helps both women and companies.
In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg saw women excel in college and observed an even mix of men and women in post-graduation entry-level jobs. Even if men still dominated leadership positions at that point, she thought the “glass ceiling” had cracked and it was just a matter of time until leadership roles were equally filled by women.
But as the years passed and Sandberg advanced in her career, her women peers diminished. Often she was the only woman in the room. She once asked where the women’s restroom was at a business meeting and no one knew—no woman had ever been in that conference room before!
Sandberg realized the “revolution” in women’s equality had stalled. Women were fading out of the workforce before reaching top-level, leadership positions, stalled by internal and external barriers keeping them from advancing in their careers.
Externally, women face:
- Sexism in the workplace, both overt and subtle.
- Discrimination in the workplace.
- Sexual harassment.
- Workplaces unfriendly to the needs of parenting.
- A lack of professional mentors.
- Difficulties in getting promoted.
Internal barriers are perhaps more insidious; they’re not discussed as much and many women don’t realize these factors are holding them back. They include:
- Lack of self-confidence.
- Reluctance to speak up.
- Pulling back when they should be leaning in.
- Internalizing gender-specific expectations of women.
- Lower expectations of themselves.
- Handling most of the home duties, compromising career goals for family.
TITLE: Lean In
AUTHOR: Sheryl Sandberg
How Do We Fix This?
This lack of women in leadership roles hurts everyone. Without gender equality in leadership, we’re not tapping half the pool of human resources and talent, so we’re not achieving and innovating everything possible. Warren Buffett attributed his success in part to the fact that he was competing against only half the population.
More women in power will create better conditions for all women, expanding opportunity and fairer treatment. Women leaders would better understand the needs of working mothers, set an example for young women to follow, and ensure equality in pay and respect.
To get more women into leadership positions and begin the sea change toward gender equality, Sandberg advises women to focus on overcoming the internal barriers to success—the things they can control.
She wants women to “lean in,” which means to take risks and be ambitious in their professional goals. She urges women to speak up, gain confidence, and demand more help at home from their partners. In turn, she calls on men to be partners who understand what their wives, colleagues, mothers, sisters, and friends are up against.
Sandberg understands that not every woman wants career success, children, or both. But, she believes it’s about having choices and opportunities. Women who do aspire to be in positions of leadership should be encouraged on their journey.
Encourage Men to Lean into Their Families
What can men do to help women achieve their goals outside of the home? By taking up the “traditional” roles of the stay-at-home partner.
In the last 30 years, as imperfect as it is, women have made more strides in the workplace than the home, where lopsided gender roles still prevail. Data shows that when both spouses work full time, mom does 40% more childcare and 30% more housework than dad. (Same-sex partners tend to divide household tasks more equally.)
Even the U.S. Census Bureau calls mothers the “designated parent,” while a father caring for his children is called a “child care arrangement.”
It doesn’t have to be this way. With knowledge and effort, dads can contribute equally to the home and childcare. For women to succeed at work, and men to succeed at home, traditional roles must be challenged.
A Woman’s Partner Is Her Strongest Ally at Home and Work
Women with partners are more successful in the workforce. A majority of female business leaders have partners to whom they attribute their success. Conversely, 60% of women who left the paid workforce cited their husbands’ lack of participation in childcare and home duties as a direct cause.
Equitable parenting benefits children. Kids with involved, loving dads have better cognitive abilities, a greater sense of well-being, lower delinquency rates, and higher educational achievement. They tend to be more socially competent and empathetic. This data is consistent against all socio-economic backgrounds.
Sharing home duties is critical to the career/family balance and requires communication, honesty, and forgiveness. The division of labor is personal to couples and won’t be perfectly equal at all times, but rather a “pendulum” swinging back and forth.
But mom must not derail dad by slipping into “maternal gatekeeping,” which refers to women being controlling and judgemental about men’s childcare methods. Women should let their partners do things their way; if he’s forced to do things her way, she’ll end up doing them. (Wives who engage in gatekeeping end up doing 5 more hours of family work per week.)
If you want a mate to be a true partner, treat him as an equally capable partner. Ideally, each parent should have their own responsibilities so it doesn’t feel like dad’s doing everyone a favor instead of simply doing his part.
Find a True Partnership
The ideal partner is an equal. He wants to do his share in the home and thinks women should be ambitious, smart, and opinionated. While no one is perfect, and you will grow and learn together as you form your own partnership, it’s important to establish a 50-50 pattern from the start. If a marriage begins in an unequal place, it will only get more unbalanced when children come.
Equality between partners is equated with healthier, happier relationships. The risk of divorce reduces by half when a wife earns half the income and a partner does half the housework.
True partnership sets the stage for the next generation. The sooner we break the cycle of gender-specific patterns in the home, the faster we’ll reach greater equality everywhere. Our goal is to model an equal division of labor for the next generation of women who don’t need to be empowered because they already are.
How You Can Empower Yourself as a Woman
We’ve talked about how men can empower women by educating themselves about sex and letting them take the reins in the workplace. But how can women empower themselves? Women can build their own confidence by preventing burnout and adopting self-empowering behaviors.
As we’ve established, women have it rough. Our patriarchal society has a million expectations for how women should act, look, feel, and speak in any situation. And failure to meet these expectations equates to feeling like they aren’t “enough”—humble enough, generous enough, pretty enough, strong enough, and so on. The result? Physical, mental, and emotional burnout.
In Burnout, Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski give another female empowerment example, which is to prevent burnout by managing both our stressors and the stress they cause. Stress is the body’s hormonal response to perceived threats, and it helps keep us alive. For example, if you’re swimming and see a shark in the water (a stressor), you’re flooded with stress hormones, swim away fast, and feel relieved once you’ve escaped. However, if the shark disappears and your body doesn’t know whether you’ve escaped the threat, the stress will remain.
The stressors women face aren’t usually escapable—they tend to linger in our environment, like the shark. This means women’s stress lingers, builds up, and eventually causes burnout. The authors explain that to avoid this and to feel more confident in yourself, you must (1) dissipate the lingering stress hormones, and (2) manage and minimize your stressors.
Adopt Self-Empowering Behaviors
In Girl, Stop Apologizing, Rachel Hollis discusses how to take control of your life by establishing behaviors that will help you succeed.
She stresses that our behavior and habits are choices, whether or not we are conscious of them. Because of this, we are capable of changing our behaviors so that they better serve us as women. Below we will examine each of the behaviors that Hollis identifies as crucial to success and discuss strategies for implementing the behavior in your own life.
Behavior: Start With a Solid Foundation
Before any other behaviors can be modified, Hollis strongly suggests you start by laying a healthy foundation. These are the habits and routines that will allow your new mindset and behaviors to flourish. She gives the following advice:
- Wake up early: Spend at least an hour each morning focusing on your goals before you start living for anyone else.
- Hydrate: Drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day.
- Eat healthy: Replace at least one unhealthy food in your diet (to start).
- Move your body: Spend at least 30 minutes moving each day.
- Practice gratitude: Designate time every day to reflect on what you are grateful for.
Behavior: Trust Yourself as the Voice of Authority
Hollis notes that throughout history, and across the globe, the vast majority of cultures have been patriarchal. This means that the voice of authority in nearly every government and community has been male since the beginning of time. On a smaller scale, in many (not all) families, the father is the decision-maker. So for most of us, the voice of authority growing up was male, and this is now ingrained in our subconscious beliefs about leadership.
If you’re a woman, Hollis says you must rewire this subconscious belief system to trust your own authority without the need for male validation. This takes conscious effort.
Behavior: Advocate for Yourself
After building healthy habits and trusting your own authority, Hollis wants you to advocate for yourself. Speak up—unapologetically—because while other people want to help, they can’t read your mind.
Hollis says the two best ways to advocate for yourself (and move more quickly toward your goal) are to ask for help when you need it and say no to requests that will hinder your progress.
Ask for Help
Hollis acknowledges that asking for help isn’t easy. Women in particular tend to feel guilty for inconveniencing anybody else, or they feel weak if they cannot “do it all.” This guilt and shame must be overcome.
Hollis reminds us that we each have an entire village that we can turn to when we need help. This help can come in different forms:
- Emotional support from your loved ones when you feel like quitting
- Financial support to help you get that college degree
- Child care, help around the house, and so on
Beyond asking for help when you need it, Hollis’s second way of advocating for yourself is saying “no.” As she explains, declining requests without guilt allows you to reserve your energies for the areas of your life that are most important to you.
Hollis recommends you start by making a simple list of your priorities. Then, if the request isn’t going to serve your priorities, Hollis says you should politely decline. When you’ve decided to say no, Hollis recommends you do it as soon as possible, be polite but honest, and give a clear and firm “no” (not a probably or maybe).
TITLE: Girl, Stop Apologizing
AUTHOR: Rachel Hollis
There’s still a long way to go when it comes to women’s empowerment. Political and economic issues still hinder women’s rights, and not everyone believes that women should be treated equally. But slowly and surely, we will get to a point where women are understood and supported without question. With the help of these women empowerment examples, you can set the path for greater equality and justice one day at a time.
Did we miss any examples of female empowerment? If so, let us know in the comments below!
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