The Collective Disempowerment of Women

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As a woman who grew up in the seventies, when ‘feminism’ wasn’t the dirty word it’s become today, I look upon our current society and it’s treatment of women and simply shake my head. Ladies and gentlemen, have we really come such a long way?

I observe the younger generations of women in their various modes of dress – or more accurately ‘undress’ – and listen to their often inane chatter with a sense of disappointment and, it has to be said, a good measure of despair. Three or four decades ago, some of us fought long and hard to promote a world in which a woman could stand tall (even if you’re short, like me), feel self-assured, trust her own decisions, operate from her own reality and mostly, feel empowered to operate on an equal basis with our male counterparts. We pursued for ourselves and our sisters, a strong sense of self-worth, trust in our own capabilities, and the ability to develop a life based on our own values, needs, aspirations and passions. We shunned the 1950’s domestic goddess and also the false value placed upon the female gender based on ‘looks’, advanced by the movie industry and its backers (advertising) for its own ends. We rejected this hierarchy of beauty foisted upon us by outside influences and began to value ourselves for who we really are, with all our attributes and foibles.

Paradoxically, the backlash was both swift and insidious. In the seventies, we wore ankle-length caftans, flares, A-line skirts that reached between mid-calf and the floor, boleros and Laura Ashley. Hot-pants made a brief appearance but were rarely seen on the streets. We enjoyed the clothes. And of course the platform shoes. The eighties brought us lycra and the new era of ‘skin-tight’ from top to toe. Skirt lengths were rising but mini-skirts were reserved mostly for evenings in discos and clubs. Street-length was still just above or just below the knee. By the nineties though, the micro-mini went mainstream, along with midriff tops and ultra-plunging necklines. It’s been all downhill from there.

So why this harping on about skirt-lengths and the baring of female flesh? It’s because I’ve witnessed firsthand the corresponding plummet in the self-esteem of the young women in question, who have increasingly put themselves on display. To those who quip that it’s because these girls are so confident that they step out clad as they are, I say rubbish. A confident woman steps out in sweat pants and no make-up and doesn’t give a toss what anyone thinks. She arrives at the office in a combination that means she’s not relying on her physical attributes to be noticed; she knows she’ll be noticed for her competence, cleverness and achievement. Think long pants, neat blouses and coats.

Over the years I’ve encouraged a number of young women, including my own daughters, to think long and hard about where real self-esteem comes from. (Hint:Β  it comes from a sense of ones own self-efficacy). I’ve also pointed out what seems rather obvious to me – that any woman can get the attention of a man by putting herself physically on display; but do you really want that kind of man? If you want to be loved and valued for who you are, take away the distractions and give him the opportunity to know the unique and precious being you really are.

The current preoccupation with all things trivial and superficial has accompanied this backlash. I spoke recently with a young Indian taxi driver who lamented his inability to find himself a suitable girlfriend. In his view, the majority of girls today just want to go out to pubs and clubs, get drunk, and shop for frivolous bits and pieces. He was looking for more depth and quality of interaction, and I truly felt for him. It’s a trend I’d already noted in the current generation, particularly after my experience with step-daughters who were brought up with a whole different set of values and guidelines to my own. I, too, struggled with having to listen to endless inanities about this pretty dress, that pretty ring, and requests for endless parties, always involving stunning amounts of alcohol; not to mention long-winded soliloquys about the latest episode of this or that, while being driven to distraction by the ever-present ‘can I haves’. My efforts to educate them, to strengthen them against the endless assaults on their self-esteem by the media and to instill a secure sense of self within their vulnerable psyches, were to no avail.

It seems that in a relatively short time-span we have regressed as a society. As technology advances and the external world becomes more civilized, the collective internal experience of the world’s women is being besieged by increasing levels of barbarism. How can we be free to be who we really are if are valued only for outward appearances? We are spiritual beings in a physical body, and yet the world is reducing us to that body alone, leaving so many feeling empty, confused, insecure and mostly, dis-empowered. How can we attain our highest potential and fulfill our life’s unique purpose if we are dis-empowered? The answer is that we cannot.

And that…of course…is the whole game plan.


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9 responses to “The Collective Disempowerment of Women

  1. It’s like this quote I saw, invest more in you soul, you’l have that a lot longer than that Prada bag.

  2. I LOVE THIS ARTICLE!!!!!!!!!!

    This is by far one of my favorite articles that you have wrote. I can definitely relate to what you are saying. Transitioning to my early 20’s taught me a lot of what external factors really influenced me on the way I view myself. Now as I look back into my teens, it all of a sudden hits me that the media did play a crucial role into shaping my self- esteem. It was ingrained in me at a young age that beauty was about how you look; that you had to be the epitome of perfection at all times. What’s truly ironic is that despite my never ending curiosity,I never did get the chance to question that ideology. This article relates to EVERY WOMAN, regardless of their age. I will share this on Facebook and let my friends know . Looking forward into reading more articles from you.

    Kind Regards,

    Ayan Elmi

  3. Thank you so much for dropping in on my blog and I very much appreciate the positive feedback and your facebook share. It’s so useful to know which words resonate with readers and to hear your thoughts about your own experiences. I believe that if enough women could find the time, energy and wherewithal to question the ideologies that we are brainwashed with, so many eyes would be opened and so many women would feel free for perhaps the first time in their lives. As a group, we would have the strength in numbers to activate change; a change away from a patriarchal society and away from the dictates of the shallow, consumerist media that feeds us the lie. And it really is a lie. Welcome aboard, sister.

  4. I agree with you 100%, What you are trying to convey with your readers through your writing is what I am also trying to get out through my work. Women like you inspire me to voice out my opinion and thoughts when it comes to serious subjects like the one discussed in the above article that you wrote. It would be great if we worked together somehow- through wordpress perhaps ?
    anyways, it’s just a thought. But, feel free to contact me through email or wordpress.
    I will be delighted to hear from you.

  5. Hi Ayan,
    It would be absolutely wonderful to work with you. Solidarity and sharing are what it’s all about, and I believe that’s a true feminine strength. The world is currently operated via division, competition and dissension – the masculine way – and it’s not working too well for over 90% of the population! I’ll go to your blog now and see if I can get in touch with you via your contact details. πŸ™‚

  6. I agree with a great deal of what you have said. Since you write so persuasively, it is difficult not to agree (LOL). I, also, grew up in the 70s, and have struggled to educate girls about the issue of self-esteem. Unfortunately, the gains our generation made seem to have evaporated. It is appalling to see young women unabashedly relying on their sexuality to get ahead. I do not, however, believe that women have been disempowered in the last few decades — at least not women in Western culture. UNICEF recently reported that 700 million women worldwide were child brides. At least 125 million have been subjected to female genital mutilation. That is disempowerment…one reason I cannot agree the world is becoming more civilized. Each generation grapples with its own form of darkness. But human nature does not change to which war and crime from one generation to the next attest. Self-efficacy is certainly preferable to self-negation. But it cannot be the bedrock on which self-esteem rests. Yes, we are of value — not though because someone else confirms it, not even because we believe it. We are of value as children of God, made in His image. Whatever our circumstances, nothing and no one can take that away.

  7. Good morning from Oz, Anna. Thanks so much for your extremely intelligent insights. The plight of women in other parts of the world has been breaking my heart for many years now, and I know that by comparison we here in the west, are not disempowered. At least not in the sense where it seems manifest in the day-to-day. I still believe though, that are spirits are being oppressed just as surely as the bodies of our sisters on foreign soil are being oppressed. The two seem inextricably tied.

    And I must admit that when I wrote that self-esteem is due to self-efficacy, I knew I was just touching the tip of the iceberg and thought about expanding the idea on the page. I’ll do so in future posts as it’s clearly a pivotal issue. Without God, I would be a mess and I don’t know how anyone copes without the Great I Am. If only we would all make the effort to see with our spiritual eyes and to act according to that still, small voice! There’d be no more division, no more lies or war or poverty or injustice. Again, thank you for taking the time to think about my meandering thoughts and my attempts to live what I believe is part of my life’s purpose, and it did make me smile to read that I write so ‘persuasively’. I didn’t realize. πŸ™‚

  8. Thanks beautiful. I’m just catching up on my blog comments and found you here, with your wonderful and welcome words of encouragement. (WordPress doesn’t always notify of comments…bit of a glitch…so if I don’t get back to you sometimes, it’s because I don’t realize you’ve stopped by. Every now and then I specifically check to see what I’ve missed and end up with some lovely surprises.)

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your friendship. As you know, I feel we’re such kindred spirits, it’s like I have a spiritual doppelganger in the UK. πŸ™‚ Much love…and you and your mum are constantly in my thoughts.

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