The Problem With Girl Power

The failure of the girl power franchise comes from the idea that for a woman to have power she must be more like a man, able to punch hard and sword fight with ease. But by using another gender's strength as our target rejects and neglects all the strengths women already innately bear. Ironically, the qualities the girl power culture neglects to highlight are the qualities that could empower females the most.

The Girl Power movement we know conjures images of Wonder Woman, Powerpuff Girls, biceps decorated in pink, Rihanna rocking stilettos on a runway, The Spice Girls kickboxing. But the image of girl power desperately needs an upgrade. Like a marketing campaign, the connotations of girl power need to evolve with the times. In light of the recent sexual harassment stories, like Harvey Weinstein’s disturbing behaviors, Uber’s anti-woman infrastructure and Bill Cosby’s date raping habit, it’s clearly time to redefine girl power’s message.

Dr. Christia S. Brown describes today’s Girl Power movement, “Not coincidentally, all of these attempts at girl power want girls to be more like boys – more like boys in math and science, more like boys in sports, more like boys in assertiveness and boldness” (Psychology Today). She then calls for another movement, one that enables boys to be more like girls. I, however, call for an entirely different movement, one that veers away from genders trying to be more like each other. Being true to girl power means really believing in the given power of women, not reaching for the opposite sex, but legitimizing the sex in a world of two relatively divergent sexes.

The failure of the girl power franchise comes from the idea that for a woman to have power she must be more like a man, able to punch hard and sword fight with ease. But by using another gender's strength as our target rejects and neglects all the strengths women already innately bear. Ironically, the qualities the girl power culture neglects to highlight are the qualities that could empower females the most.

The failure of the girl power franchise comes from the idea that for a woman to have power she must be more like a man, able to punch hard and sword fight with ease. But by using another gender’s strength as our target rejects and neglects all the strengths women already innately bear. Ironically, the qualities the girl power culture neglects to highlight are the qualities that could empower females the most.

Present day scandals of sexual harassment demonstrate that kickboxing and midriffs are not what validate female victims; in these instances, it was their voices and knowledge. Knowledge of the law, communication strategies and likability are all required elements of victory in today’s moments of professional conflict (not swooshing stilettos). In the case of Weinstein, Cosby and even that of our president (Trump), once one woman spoke, others followed; they found their voice in numbers. Once they began to announce and communicate, truth bubbled up to the surface.

And what are women stereotyped as being good at? Talking, talking and more talking. Perhaps instead of punishing women for their natural tendencies to share, dissect discussions and gossip, we could manage and master this tendency for communication and collaboration. And what of our annoying desire to be liked? Our worry of always pleasing others? This, alongside our penchant to chatter, could become a power tool, a way to gain the favor of those that may doubt us.

A major set back to girl power in the work place is a fear of reporting breaches in behavior. There is the fear of reporting to Human Resources, to colleagues or to the “higher ups.” Does this fear stem from a dread of being judged, a concern about falling into the embarrassing stereotype of being a nag? No one wants to be called a gossip or a tattle tale. When a woman does report a problem to HR, the likelihood of a career backlash or defamation is real.

Women worry that reporting sexual harassment could tarnish their reputation or image.

In the case of Susan Fowler at Uber, she actually did report to HR, only to be discounted and discredited. Surprisingly, the HR rep she spoke to was also a woman. I remember sharing this story with my pupils. My female students were horrified when they learned this fact. “Wait. She was a woman too?” they responded with their large young eyes. Bless their 18 year old hearts. Little do the know that as people move up in the world, factions form, fears flourish and one’s source of income trumps everything else, even gender loyalty.

This loss of gender allegiance grows stronger as we disembed from girlhood into adulthood and other priorities take hold. “Sisterhood” loses its luster when a male is signing your paycheck. Here’s one element of today’s Girl Power that could be capitalized on: girls sticking together. But wait, there’s a catch, girl power is about girls sticking together, not women. Even Wonder Woman is represented as somewhat of a solitary figure. Yes, she has her sisters back on her home planet, but in the earthly world of conflict, she works alone. Girls embrace the idea of sticking together, but as they mature and enter “the real world,” women are encouraged to fight the fight independently, to avoid the hen house. Counterproductively, this disempowers the girl as she becomes a woman.

The Powerpuff Girls are a great example of gender loyalty but within a certain age bracket.

Girl power needs to really prepare girls for adulthood, it must evolve and cater to the complexities of womanhood. While its refreshing to see a tiny blond little pink thing throwing punches at villains, it is more productive to design an icon for girl power that would suggest realistic forms of female empowerment. I’d like to see the little pink thing hitting the books (not faces!), using legal jargon, brainstorming with her peers and freely using a megaphone.

But as we know, claims are never enough, and logically so. Knowledge of the law, communication skills and likability are all required elements of victory in today's moments of professional conflict (not swooshing stilettos).

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