Something needs to be said about how poorly society is addressing female empowerment these days. Female empowerment is supposed to be about inspiring women to live up to their potential. Instead, the message is something about how “females can be whatever they want to be.” No, you can’t be whatever you want to be. Nobody can be whatever they want to be — not even Kim Kardashian. This isn’t female empowerment because it is setting an unrealistic ideal and is even fostering a sense of entitlement. This spoiled version of female empowerment is becoming so widespread that it’s time we remind everyone how delusional it is so that we can get back to what the focus of female empowerment should be.</p>
When I was younger, I wanted to be an astronaut. I grew up in an atmosphere of female empowerment where teachers would tell us to follow our dreams no matter what. Girls and boys alike were told that there were no doors closed to them. So imagine what a shock it was to me when I found out that in order to be an astronaut, I needed to excel in the sciences and be in really good physical shape. I didn’t have the brain for science and I was never athletic, so I had to give up on my space adventuring dreams. Being an astronaut was never really in the cards for me, but I felt like the opportunity was taken from me because I was told that I could have it simply by wanting it.
You’re not doing girls any favours by telling them that they can be whatever they want to be. If you really want to empower a girl, tell her that she has potential and is capable of greatness. Tell her that if she works hard, she can achieve her goals. Then tell her that she is capable of working hard and that she has help available if she needs it. Empower a girl by teaching her to work hard if she doesn’t already know. Empower a girl by showing her the achievements of other women who have worked hard so that she can have role models to look up to.
True female empowerment extends to creating the equal opportunities that women need to succeed so that when they put in the work they are on a fair playing ground. Empowerment also involves communicating to women that they need to be willing to put in effort in order to make the most of their opportunities. Perhaps even more importantly, we need to communicate that failure is possible and is helpful. I would have loved to know that when I realized I could never be an astronaut.
Create space for women to succeed on their own. Remember that saying “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime”? Here’s a new and better version:
“Give a woman a job and she’ll work for a day. Encourage a woman to work hard and she’ll work for a lifetime (or at least until early retirement).”
When we tell girls that they can be whatever they want to be, it sends the message that they are entitled. Entitlement is one of the ugliest words in the English language when it is applied to anything other than a person’s basic human rights. Entitlement is what causes some people to believe they are more important than others — so why would we as feminists try and teach a woman that she is entitled? Jobs are not going to fall into our laps. You are not going to be an astronaut unless you are willing to put in the hard work required, and even then your work still might not be enough. But you are capable of greatness if you commit to trying. That’s so much better than being entitled.
When you promote this deluded message of female empowerment you are just taking the easy way out. You tell a girl “go be whatever you want to be” and then brush your hands off as you set her up for failure. I want to see society committed to supporting women as they struggle and fail and eventually succeed.
No, you can’t be whatever you want. You are not going to get any handouts and nobody is going to let you keep your job if you’re not a hard worker. Get off the couch and go work hard for something. Great jobs and opportunities are becoming increasingly more available to women, and society welcomes you to seize them. You are capable of greatness, but only if you are willing to try. That is female empowerment.