Photo by Sandra Seitamaa on Unsplash
Unless you’ve been raised by a feminist, most women-identified people have learned from a young age to look externally for validation, for leadership, and for helping us make decisions. Meanwhile, men are championed as being thought leaders and are set up as those we should aspire to emulate. The patriarchy is nothing new, and I’m not here to argue how oppressive it is. We know.
What I am saying is that women are led to believe that their voices don’t matter, and more often than not, we are also undermining ourselves.
It’s so subtle that we don’t realize we’re doing it. Just as subtly, however, we have the power to stand in who we are: powerful women.
In her book Playing Big, Tara Mohr states: “Women are liberated but not empowered.”
That statement really hit me, and it took a while to digest.
She goes on to explain that we have to continually soften ourselves to be more palatable and to be heard. We undermine ourselves by using apologetic and tentative words and phrases in our communications, like “sorry,” “I kind of think,” “pardon me,” and “just.” If we remove them, we’re told that we’re too direct, abrasive, or rude. But the only way we become empowered is by dropping these limiting phrases, which in turn will increase our credibility.
Of course, sometimes it isn’t as straightforward as that, Mohr explains. Sometimes our childhood has taught us that we have to be tentative to be heard by our elders. We may have been taught self-doubt, and therefore, we lack belief in our wisdom and capabilities. But as women, we no longer have to speak in our childhood voices. We have every right to reclaim our power.
It’s also important to note that we are not criticizing women here — we’re pointing out undermining habits of speech because the implications of changing language are enormous.
“The criticism is not of the women using this speech, but of culture that has rewarded this kind of speech in women and punished its opposite,” says Mohr.
She continues, “Contemporary women are alive at a transitional historical moment. We can become aware of the many influences of a patriarchal history and culture, and make choices about how we want to respond to and challenge those influences. This, in my view, is what the work done around speech is about. It’s about seeing how we may have been socialized to be tentative, apologetic, less visible, and deciding if we’d like to choose differently.”
You Might Also Like: Getting Over My Good Girl Syndrome
This kind of undermining has a broader context, too: Some women are frightened to empower themselves because they’ll be unlikable, and, in the same vein as removing tentative speech patterns, there are so many ways we can go a step further to stand in our power and own who we are instead of who we’re told to be.
This isn’t an essay about how “woke” I am — instead, it’s a journey of reclamation and empowerment, which started with my getting sober. Recovery is a lengthy journey of recovering who I am so that I can unapologetically own who I am. This applies to all of us. Here are five ways I’ve stood in my power.
1. Equitable relationships.
I stopped letting boyfriends and girlfriends dictate the terms of our relationships. I’ve been in endless relationships — friendships included — where our time together was entirely determined by the other person’s schedule. I've had late-night booty calls and last-minute lunches from friends whose other plans had been canceled. I also let go of friends who couldn’t let go of the broken mold of me and celebrate the woman I’d become. I no longer needed to live the way I used to, but for them, it was a place to position their false pride — that was their story, not mine.
2. Advocating for my medical needs.
I learned to advocate for my needs with doctors. If something didn’t feel right for me, I declined the suggested treatment. I refuse to get weighed at the doctors, and I remind them that weight is not a determinant of health and that continually weighing someone with a history of eating disorders is triggering. I am also the person who crosses out pejorative terms like “alcoholism” and “nervous breakdown” on intake forms, taking the opportunity to educate doctors that these are not medical terms and that they’re stigmatizing.
3. Controlling the conversation.
I stopped allowing my family to continually talk about my weight as a standing agenda item, demanding that I explain my body size and explaining to me that my health problems stem from my weight, which is simply untrue. I did the same with friends who continually steered our conversations toward body image. Obsessing about how we look only perpetuates the messaging that we must be smaller, as opposed to focusing on our strengths.
4. Selective mentorship.
I became selective about the people I asked for advice: did they have the experience to teach me something, or are they out in the world promoting their own story? I had to clarify what I was looking for and why I was unable to answer those questions myself. Did these coaches and mentors have the ability to enhance my knowledge and my mission in life?
5. Looking toward my inner mentor and listening to my instincts.
I learned how to look inward for advice, which meant leaving 12-step fellowships where you’re taught that you cannot trust your own thinking. Instead, I saw things that had previously been labeled as character defects — like anger — as signs that I needed to heal a part of me that was traumatized. I started seeing my behavior and my instincts as a sign, and sometimes a symptom of an unmet need.
When I began listening to and seeking to serve my needs, I was able to tune in to my inner mentor and hone my instincts. Knowing who I am and trusting my internal system of wisdom and intuition allowed me to make better choices in life and live more in tune with who I am in the world.
In sharing this experience, I can only hope that other women on the fence about who they are, or those who undermine themselves, might take a moment to think about how much of their power they give away when they could be looking inward for guidance.
“Playing big doesn't come from working more, pushing harder, or finding confidence. It comes from listening to the most powerful and secure part of you, not the voice of self-doubt.” — Tara Mohr