Dear Women’s News Readers,
It is my pleasure to have this column in this newspaper and to write about different topics that are deeply relevant to the women’s realities in different spheres of our lives. In this first article, I want to share some of the most important lessons I have learned about what it means to be empowered.
There was a time in my life I felt powerless beyond measure, I felt crushed by the weight of my responsibilities and I felt trapped in my role as a wife. For a few years, I believed I had no way out and most importantly that the life I was living was not my creation, that I was just following what I needed to do to be a good wife, daughter and mother.
Looking back on that time after my long journey, I now understand the role I played in the creation of that life where I felt miserable, where I felt like a victim. The biggest problem was that I had given my power to choose away to all the authority figures around me. I was “just following what I needed to do to be a good wife, daughter and mother”. That was exactly the problem, I was following. I was trying to be what others defined for me as good, and when my opinion was different, I was criticized for it, so I kept choosing to be good by their standards until it became too painful.
I lived in different countries and came to know women from many backgrounds, cultures and religions and yet everywhere I have been, despite race, religion, culture and age, giving our power away is a common denominator for women. For many of us, it is so deeply engrained, so widely accepted and so strongly expected that we don’t even recognize it. When we do, it becomes a whole different battle to undo the conditioning and choose what makes us happy, to find the balance between being good to those who matter to us and yet being good to ourselves, between the responsibilities of the roles we play and our responsibilities to our self as a person.
The contrast in the lives of the women who have shaped my life was so evident, I could not ignore it. I saw women who spent their lives cooking, cleaning and taking care of their family and complaining how unhappy and unappreciated they felt. On the other end, I saw women who had a career, a happy marriage and children and were able to balance it all fairly well, and I wondered for a long time, what is the difference between these women? Why do some find their recipe to happiness and others stay stuck? Given that these women were in different cultures, the first answer that made sense to me was the environment they live in. But then I found women living in the same environment yet, mirroring the same contrast and the biggest revelation came to me when I realized that beyond the environment we live in, it is how we respond to it that shapes our lives. It is what we choose to accept and what we choose to do differently that ultimately determines the quality of our life.
If we are each born as an individual with our own body, feelings, needs, dreams, experiences and values, how does it make sense that we are simply asked to follow the collective? How could any society expect its specific set of rules, values and norms to make each and every person happy despite their differences? Unless, the goal is not to be happy. And it seems to me the role of societal norms and values is to give a certain comfort found in knowing, to appease the fear of being different, rather than make individuals happy.
It is evident that there is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to our roles, our dreams, our values and our lives. Expecting all members of society to behave according to the same norms is the same as asking an entire society to wear the same shoe size.
And I am not talking about legal norms here, I am talking about cultural conditioning. When we stop judging societal norms as a good or bad and we stop attributing our individual worth to how conforming we can be, we start understanding our individual needs and values and connecting with our true feelings, the ones deep inside us, not the ones others tell us we should or shouldn’t feel. When we choose what makes us happy even if it is not the most popular choice while being caring and compassionate individuals, we are well on our way to becoming empowered. It all starts with the realization that we are feeling powerless in some area of our lives, which is usually a good indication that we have been conditioned to give our power away.
Disempowerment shows up as the choices we don’t make because we don’t feel we have a choice. Many women would like to have a career and feel pressured to be limited to the roles of wives, mothers, daughters and daughters-in law. Many women choose to study in the program of their parent’s choice because it would look good rather than pursue the study program of their dreams. Even when it comes to our life partners, we often choose life partners that our families would approve of.
The journey to empowerment is not one of rebellion, it is one of clarity. It is simply about separating what we accepted as our values because it is what we were told should be our values and our own personal truth as the person we really are, not the person we are trying to be. It means having the clarity of our authentic selves, our needs, and what we stand for in this world. It is about being anchored in our truth so strongly that when people criticize us, we do not lash out in anger, we simply know it means they have different values.
From this place of clarity about ourselves and courage to uphold that comes the strength to keep our boundaries from being violated with assertiveness rather than aggression. Empowerment is about strength yet compassion.
This journey is not always an easy one but it certainly brings a lot more harmony and peace to our bodies, minds and spirits and brings out the best of us. This is the journey to leadership of Self and shaping a life that is aligned with our individual essence. It requires us to break free of the mindset that life is black or white and start admitting, understanding and embracing the complexity of our humanness which opens the doors to new choices we never thought were there for us to choose. And with that great power, comes great responsibility.