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Women’s Empowerment; a Broader Concept

By Maha Noor Elahi


When Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote her renowned, lengthy article Women Still Can’t Have It All, was shamed by the sum of elite feminists. Of course, a lot of other women, perhaps the less privileged, applauded her wholeheartedly. What Slaughter did is that she put her hands and nails on the trigger…or perhaps she took the lid off the pot…sorry for my womanly kitchen-related metaphor …it’s not up to a lot of great women’s standards, I know. All that shock and shaming was because Slaughter dared to face herself, and because she spoke on behalf of so many women who were intimidated by the image of the powerful can-do-it-all-can-have-it-all women and by their belittling attitude towards other women who chose to go against the imperialistic norms of wanting it all. Slaughter clarified her most misunderstood article arguing that she didn’t say it was time for women to go back home and quit their jobs; rather she explained that it is time for the workplace regulations to change and operate to fit women’s needs and to be at their convenience instead of women weaving their lives and families around their jobs. In other words, Slaughter has posed the foregone yet overlooked questions; Why does a woman have to sacrifice her femininity and her family life for her career? Why is the workplace system creating this conflict?

And here, I echo Slaughter’s article; these days women’s value is determined based on their financial earnings and on their looks, of course. Despite all the equality and freedom talk that has been going on for decades, today, women’s worth is still measured by sheer materialistic standards; money and body…position and/or beauty…nothing else seems to matter. A woman’s tremendous efforts in bringing up her children and taking care of her family are just taken for granted just because it is part of women’s nature…as if being herself doesn’t matter.

Think about a typical woman’s response in two different situations. In the first one, a working woman meets an old friend and after asking her about what she has done in the last ten years or so, she says that she had chosen to be a stay-at-home mom and that she has been raising three brilliant and talented children. In the second situation, a working woman meets an old friend, and the latter talks about her achievements and about her position as the manager of X company. A typical response to the first would be rather cold, sweet, sugar-coating, and perhaps obviously complimentary put into words like “good for them…but what about you?” Or the response might be frank and rude enough to be like “taking care of a family isn’t a woman’s thing…in fact, it isn’t anyone’s thing anymore!”

On the other hand, the response to the “successful” friend would be somehow like “Great! You make us all proud!” Once one hears the word “manager”, questions about the successful friend’s family life are not brought up because we have been programmed to believe that success at work is the only thing that matters…it is the only achievement that is considered an achievement. Any other aspects of life do not matter as long there is money and success…of course a fit and attractive appearance is a bonus. Right?

I cannot believe how much pressure we_ women_ are putting on each other…how many ways we belittle each other just because some of us don’t fit into our own standards of accomplishment. Why are we limiting the concept of success and women empowerment like this? Why are we allowing capitalism to direct us all to go through one tunnel in order to be socially accepted and valued?

Throughout the last fifty years or more, women have been educated to be themselves, to defend their rights, and to shape their own personalities regardless of social or media pressure, yet when women abide by these very principles, which they have been taught for years, and make their decisions to stay at home in order to take care of their children, we contradict all the “freedom of choice” slogans and we start judging and demeaning women for getting out of the frame that has been drawn. I cannot understand the value and significance of women’s empowerment if it does not support and promote women’s choices and decisions.

I think that the concept of women’s empowerment should be redefined and augmented to suit the wide variety of women’s different personalities, circumstances, abilities, and backgrounds. Instead of linking the concept of women empowerment to economical aspects only as the UN Women has put it, the perception of women’s empowerment should consider, in my opinion, women’s self-development and their peace of mind whether they decide to work or stay at home. This imbalance of women’s empowerment principles creates more successful women at work but more unhappy women at home. Why is the world striving to lead women to a path where they have to choose between being content and being achieving women? Why can’t women be successful and empowered at both work and home? Why do women have to make innumerous sacrifices at home in order to be successful at work? Why has motherhood and family nurturing become looked down upon? Why are women’s options so limited, especially in the Middle East, when it comes to work? Why aren’t there more part-time jobs that increase women’s income, develop their career prospects and be at their convenience at the same time? What about the less privileged women as Slaughter states; why are we ignoring their rights to have better work atmospheres and better family conditions?

And …why is a woman constantly judged and criticized for the choices she makes?

I sincerely believe that the key solution to the imbalance and conflict in women’s lives lies in options. This means providing more various and flexible job options, accepting women’s choices regardless of our capitalist-shaped opinions, and above all, respecting and valuing women’s choices because each woman knows what is best for her. Not respecting women’s own choices simply means that we do not trust women’s sense of decision- making, and that takes us decades back to point zero in terms of freedom and equality. If a woman knows what she wants…if she knows her abilities and limitations…if she has set her priorities and goals…if she knows how to make herself and her family happy…if she has decided on her role in life, she earnestly and certainly deserves respect, regardless of her chosen roles or priorities. And that can only happen if she is well-educated away from the media or politically-shaped systems. Educate her…elevate her…then give her the freedom to choose what she wants to be. Respecting her choices is a must; any endeavors made to talk a woman out of her choices demonstrate how controlling and backwards a society is.

Shaming a woman for being a mom only is the most uncivilized and demeaning thing one could do to a woman. It is just like the 19th century attitude of shaming a woman for not getting married; only it is other way around.

A woman is an achiever whether she decides to stay at home and be a full-time mom and wife or decides to work and become the CEO of any company.

Let us be what we want to be; not what the institutionalized education wants us to be.




Photo credit: The U.S. National Archives / Foter / No known copyright restrictions

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