As usual, it depends on what type of feminism we’re talking about. It also depends on what we mean by “empowerment”, and this can take us down a philosophical road in trying to discern what that word actually means. Lets keep it simple, and begin exploring this by looking at the opposite of empowerment: learned helplessness.
In a study conducted by Seligman & Maier, three groups of dogs were observed in conditions where they were administered electrical shocks. The first two groups had a choice to get away from the shocks – the third group didn’t. Over time, the third group of dogs made no attempt to get away from shocks when they most certainly had the choice. They had been taught to not even try thanks to the previous experience of not having any choice.
In another study conducted by Langer and Rodin, patients at a senior citizen home were divided into two groups. The first group (we’ll call this one the helpless group) was told to let the staff take care of them and do everything for them (it’s important to note that they still had options to do what they wanted – they were simply told to let the staff do everything). The second group (we’ll call this one the empowered group) was told they needed to take care of themselves, and even given a few extra jobs to tend after, like watering plants.
After 18 months, the empowered group had better overall health, better physical and mental conditioning, and were generally happier. However, the helpless group quickly deteriorated, and at the end of the study, had a mortality rate that was twice as high!
This is because responsibility is not just a burden, as we often think it is. Responsibilities can be a hassle sometimes, but they also reflect personal power! Your responsibility means you have a choice. When you give up your responsibility, you’re giving up your choice, and thus your “power of agency” as Third Wavers would like to call it. So with this in mind, lets take a look at the different expectations between men and women, then try to determine if feminism really empowers women.
If people judge how a man is dressed, well you need to dress better! Of course people are going to judge if you’re dressed like a slob. If you want respect, you gotta look respectable. That’s not a problem of course. There’s plenty of resources around that can help you look more professional.
If a woman complains about how hard things are getting, absolutely everyone everywhere needs to walk on eggshells (don’t even clap your hands!) because that might trigger them.
Which one of these sounds empowering? Which one is focusing on what the individual can change when they’re able to change it, and which one continually asks that the entire world change just for them?
If people judge a woman on how shes’ dressed, an emotionally intelligent way to deal with this is to understand that yes, as a matter of fact, people are judged. That’s life. If this makes you feel invalidated, perhaps you should look for a way of identifying yourself beyond what other people say about your looks. Are you a good athlete? An engineer? A teacher? A mother? A daughter? A good friend? Connect with a number of other self-identifying traits so being called on one of them will not make you feel as bad.
If you’re expected to make sacrifices, first rationally consider whether or not this is fair. Are the sacrifices unreasonable? Are most people in the same position asked to do this? If you’ve decided that it’s not a balanced way to proceed, assert yourself. Speak up – that’s your responsibility (e.i. “power!”) Explain why you feel it’s unfair, and suggest a reasonable alternative.
If someone put’s you down or insults you, handle it like a pro. Let others have their say, respect their right to an opinion, then move on. Don’t let one single remark ruin your entire day. I’m a trans woman. I was strong enough to do this as a man, and I’m strong enough to do it now. Becoming a woman, for me, didn’t mean losing my ability to emotionally navigate a world that may sometimes send an invalidating remark my way.
The Second Wave taught us that women can do anything a man can do. The Third Wave took that away, and found ways to turn women into victims at every possible opportunity. Let the Fourth Wave restore female empowerment and encourage personal power and responsibility!