27 DOs + DON’Ts for being a badass woman

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I was invited to participate in Productive Flourishing’s ongoing “core conversation” about female empowerment.

Which got me thinking about what it means to be ‘empowered’. As always, I consulted some books — in this case Anne Doyle’s POWERING UP, Gloria Feldt’s NO EXCUSES and Linda Austin’s WHAT’S HOLDING YOU BACK? (excellent, all; I highly recommend them) — and came up with the list you see below. Said list is by no means exhaustive, so if you wish to add to it in the comments section, go ahead, I’d be delighted.

And just to add — I searched stock images for ‘powerful woman’ and ‘powerful womanhood’ and was depressed and dismayed at what came up. Apparently being a powerful woman means wearing a manly business suit, pretending to box, pretending to box while nearly naked, holding a gun, or standing alone. Lame. Incredibly lame. If you can find something better, please send it to me.

1. DO tune into your inner knowing/still small voice/intuition/north star/ whatever you want to call it. It’s a powerful form of nonverbal intelligence and keeps you tethered to what is really going on outside your head. The head and the gut should work together. DON’T get so trapped in your head that you ignore what your body is telling you.

2. DON’T get hung up on command-and-control definitions of power. DO redefine it. Think of it as power-to (inspire, lead for change and do cool epic shit) rather than power-over others.

3. DO develop your passions. If you don’t have any passions yet, settle for developing some “deep interests”. Or even just “interests”. If you keep following and following up on what intrigues you, those interests might develop into deep passions, or passionate interests, and wouldn’t that be groovy.

4. DO make it a point to regularly expose yourself to cool new experiences. The brain craves novelty, and without it you won’t be as happy or creative or inspired as you could be. And that would suck. You also need cool new experiences in order to discover your interests and passions (see #3).

5. DO live with intention. DON’T do something because society expects it or that’s how it “should” be done or things are “supposed” to turn out a certain way. That way lies doom. And many bad marriages. DO shape and define your own life, instead of having it defined for you.

6. DO cultivate a laser focus. DO stimulate, nurture and direct your awesome mind so that it can throw off cool unique ideas that go beyond what others are doing in your field. DO seek a way to synthesize your diverse interests, talents and experiences so you can apply your attention to one specific area. You can burn through steel that way. DO develop a body of significant achievement in one area. DON’T remain a “diamond in the rough” (lots of little achievements in different areas, or spending your energy and intelligence supporting the visions of others) — unless of course that is truly what you want and makes you satisfied.

7. DON’T secretly nurture a “rescue fantasy”: that the perfect job/man/lottery ticket is going to come along and take you away from all this. Give away your power to anyone or for any reason, and it will come back to bite you in the ass. Always. DO believe this.

8. DO realize that a woman’s career/accomplishment journey is often different from a man’s. Our culture celebrates young achievers, but many women don’t come into their true personal power until their 40s. If that’s you, DON’T dismiss yourself as second-tier or fail to take yourself seriously just because you’re following your own rhythm, not the culture’s.

9. DO master the game – so that you know how and where and when to break the rules. DO be brilliantly and strategically disruptive.

10. DO learn how to take the heat. We are forged in fire. Stand up to controversy, criticism and conflict. People will shout us down because they rely on us being polite and turning away. Surprise them.

11. DO seek out mentors, guides, coaches and role models. DO ask for help.

12. DO turn around and mentor others.

13. DO embrace the struggle. Those are our defining moments.

14. DO discover your purpose, which will allow you to find purpose in power. When we learn how to get personal satisfaction out of using power for positive change, we can overcome our ambivalence toward it – and maybe even have some fun with it.

15. DO learn how to talk money. I know. Ugh. (At least for me.) But DON’T stick your head in the financial sand or allow yourself to walk through life in a financial fog. It’s chipping away at your self-esteem and you know it.

16. DO be aware that if you take yourself out of the work world for any reason, you put yourself and your future at risk. Poverty rates tend to be highest for elderly women. DO decide that, come what may (death or divorce), you won’t ever end up in that group. And DO realize that the person in a relationship who makes more income (usually) has more power – and does less housework. DO learn to negotiate for yourself, even (or especially) at home.

17. DO speak first. That’s the person who frames the conversation and sets the terms for the debate. He – or she — who controls the frame, controls the conversation, and who controls the conversation always wins. DO remember that sometimes conversation is actually not about communication – it’s about who has power over whom.

18. If you don’t speak first, then DO be aware of how the other person is framing and controlling the conversation, especially if they’re doing it from a one-up position. Because you DON’T have to go along with it: you can walk away, laugh it off, or smile charmingly and call them on it.

19. DO have good clean fights. When it’s over, it’s over. Take what you learned and carry on.

20. DO learn your history as a woman who believes in equality between the genders (whether or not you consider yourself a feminist). Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. We want to move forward, not back.

21. DON’T wait to be chosen.

22. DON’T wait for permission.

23. DO embrace your ‘womaninity’. As Anne Doyle put it, “Our gender is a strength to be embraced and developed rather than an obstacle to be overcome.” DO be yourself, your whole self. DO relax in your skin. DO think like a woman and act like a woman.

24. DO travel. Get out of your own reality, so you can deepen and enrich your perspective on the world.

25. DO “drink at dangerous waters”, to quote Anne Doyle again. Take calculated risks (if you’re not comfortable with risk, you can practice by taking really small ones.) Get out into the world. Become socially multilingual. Seek a diversity of perspectives. Work and collaborate with rivals. Live on your “ragged edge” so that you are constantly expanding your comfort zone.

26. DO have a vision for yourself and others that excites and compels you. DO communicate that vision to others, especially if it’s altruistic in nature – people will come forward to help you.

27. DO support the sisterhood (even if you think it sounds corny or have issues with the word ‘sisterhood’). We are not the squabbling backbiting creatures from reality TV or the mean girls from high school. We are stronger together. No one gets anywhere alone. Men know this – and we should too. Pass it forward.

May 21, 2012
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42 comments · Add Yours

damn! I wish there was an image on this post so I could pin it. I want every woman I know to read!!!

Thank you!

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I’d add “be aware of double standards and double binds.” Remember that women often get stuck between being powerful and being perceived as likable, and between perceptions of being beautiful / sexy and being intelligent and capable. Let these things make you mad – hopping mad. Make your colleagues, female and male, aware of these things. We all need to work together to take the power out of these misogynistic traps.

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These are all great advice, but my favorite is number 15, regarding money. Learning to talk about money/finance is extremely important. (And personally, I think it’s very interesting. Though I realize I may be in the minority here!)

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I really like #8 & #14. I’m a stay at home mom right now & my grad school career was put on hold. Right now my children are my purpose, but as they get older & don’t need me as much then I’ll be able to redefine my purposes. The beauty of being a woman is that our purposes & accomplishments seem to evolve as we age & evolve. My MIL is the perfect example, she started a whole new career at 50 & is extremely successful at it. My own mother has done the same thing.

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What a great list! Thank you for putting that together. I think? I do all of that, but I’m so sleep deprived these weeks/months, that I’ll wait for a better frame of mind to make a more accurate assessment. And surely one can be the person on your list, or at least be inspired to follow that list, without chronic sleep deprivation?

About your wish to find pics of empowered women.

Perhaps it’s telling that my Google search on:
‘women geek scientists business transformative’

didn’t turn up who I thought it might show, but the search did lead
me to a couple of web pages of inspiring women, anyway:

http://listorious.com/anitaborg_org/tech-women2follow
http://thenextwomen.com/articles/female-heroes

Amara

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Oh, thank you. For #8, especially. I’m learning to just do my thing and not worry about feeling new or inexperienced, or–worst of all–too late. But it’s so good to see in writing.

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Dude, just use your own pic – the ‘sexy, I know my shit’ pic just under the Rorschach butterfly.

Loved this post, btw. And hope you don’t mind I just called you ‘dude’, but that’s what popped into my head. Heh.

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@Amy Thanks, dude!

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Love this so much. I think this is the first time I’ve commented on your blog, but I’m in love with your mega badass writing/approach.
I love anyone who tells is like it is, and that’s you!

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Justine, this rocks. Really, I love it. Powerful stuff for a young career woman like meself. Keep on doing what you’re doing, Clare.

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This post is just too awesome. Retweeting.

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I’ve the hardest time focusing (WANNA DO IT ALL) but I’ve found that in my rare moments of creative focus, I’m at my most badass. So glad that this was emphasized here… passion is so, so important.

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I was bad ass before I knew what it was. When I tried to compromise, not follow my intuition, fall in love for all the wrong reasons with the wrong person, my world fell into someone else universe.
You have to listen, listen, listen to that inner voice! The chatter on the outside is too loud, there our too many talkers, too many messengers, and not enough messages.
I love myself and my life because, I listened to me, I built a business doing something I truly love, and its in that universe that my bad ass orbits.

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momnciti, so true. I’ve always paid DEARLY when I haven’t followed my intuition.

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I am so sure you just opened my mind to some very powerful ideas and to a beautiful big wooden door that I have been to scared to walk through.

Thankyou for this.

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Hey Justine, you probably already know this, but flickr has a whole section for creative commons licenses that only require attribution, so you use the image, and as long as you say whose it is on flickr, you’re safe from suit. I used to use public-domain-image.com, but now I use publicdomainreview.org and flickr: much more interesting images & I like the idea of leading people to other people’s art on flickr. Here’s a search for stong woman on Flickr’s creative commons section: http://www.flickr.com/search/?l=4&w=all&q=strong+woman&m=text

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Hi. All thoughtful advice. Would it differ significantly if you had aimed it at your male readership?

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Women have a different history with power and a different relationship to it. When a man is powerful, he’s just being manly; when a woman is powerful, it cuts against the culture’s sense of how a woman ‘should’ be, and so powerful women get treated differently. This matters, because so much of “reality” is perception. And because women as a gender are still new to power, there’s no real sense of what it means or how to be womanly and powerful, what that should look like, if you should “act like a man” or not (and because you’re not a man, and you’re not treated like a man, “acting like a man” backfires at some point. A man, for example, is allowed to get angry in public. If a woman gets angry, on the other hand, she’s crazy, unstable. So that’s not an option for her. She would have to take the same situation and handle it differently.)

Even the way we talk about power — we’re using male words, male definitions. What I’m discovering is that women want to be badass, but they (generally) don’t want to be tagged as “ambitious and powerful” (even though it’s basically the same thing) because, as women, and for women, those words are problematic.

So to answer your question — yes. Not because the advice in this post isn’t sound when applied to both genders. There are just some things that men don’t need to hear — “don’t ask for permission” “don’t wait to be chosen”. Men grow up learning very different lessons than women do, and they have social networks that perpetuate and reinforce those lessons, and they’re surrounded by examples and role models of male leadership, and they also have this whole other gender to support them and cheerlead for them and expect them to conquer. What’s happening with men, I think, is a shift toward a more collaborative style of leadership and power as the world becomes more transparant and interconnected. So they might have to redesign their power paradigms — but women are still constructing that paradigm in the first place.

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Wonderful post – especially since I just made the decision to retire. I’m afraid that “life” will just swallow me up when I don’t have a career to attend to. I am looking forward to re-creating myself and life. Thanks for the incredible ideas!

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Hi Justine. After reading your bio, I am very sorry for the loss of your son. Also for your marriage. Women don’t need an empowerment prog. When Jesus Christ died on the cross we all became equal through him. Even though man is the head of the home, Christ made it an equal partnership. It take courage , integrity, honesty to make us who we are. We do not judge ourselves by other peoples standards. We are all unique individuals because God made us so . Unlike people who endeavor to gain something outside of what Christ intended. Because He is real and a person can gain the whole world but in the end it means nothing. Because we belong to Him and He owns the whole world

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I wish that the last point was true :( I have a difficulty in finding such strong women around me, and I end forced up as the bigger person and the women I know backbite and let me down!

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I need to print this out and carry it around with me at all times. Thank you so much for sharing.

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“DO support the sisterhood (even if you think it sounds corny or have issues with the word ‘sisterhood’). We are not the squabbling backbiting creatures from reality TV or the mean girls from high school. We are stronger together. No one gets anywhere alone. Men know this – and we should too. Pass it forward.

I esp love this. Even if I had bad experience dealing with female editors who actually belittled me/didn’t help me. Interestingly, it’s the male editors who helped me a lot in my careers. But I continue to hope *and try to make it work with women editors. I’m in fact working with women mentors, and is always happy to give advice to younger women journalists

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@Priya @Prime Yeah, I certainly don’t meant to say that we’re all rainbows and unicorns to each other. We’ve been cultured to view each other as competitors, whether it’s for men or for a piece of the sliver of the pie that we’ve been “allowed”. Even when we talk about being “empowered” (another tricky word) it’s usually just in the context of the individual, of the person and her life and her relationships and her achievements. We need to think higher and bigger than that, in a way that includes all women — including women abroad — and, by the way, men too, since you can’t talk about one gender without implicitly discussing the other. I also think we need to be authentic — honest about what we’re thinking, what we’re feeling, instead of covering it up nice-girl style, because it’s when anger goes underground that it causes a lot of damage (the kind of catty mean-girl politics the culture loves to tag us with).

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I just posted link on my FB wall…..I wanted to share this with my gal pals.

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YES x 27! ALL of these resonated with me, although I’m particularly fond of #8. :-)

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I would add:

DO: Take care of yourself. It’s easier to be badass when your batteries are fully charged.

That’s different for everybody, but a good place to start is to eat mostly healthy foods that you enjoy, get some fun movement on a regular basis, find constructive ways to deal with stress, get enough sleep, and pay attention to your mental health.

But DON’T interpret that to mean that you have to look or behave in a certain way.

DO become aware of the pervasive messages telling you that you do, and of how you may have internalized them.

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#7 stopped me cold (if I could *just* sell my screenplay, everything would change) gratefully #8 made me feel hopeful again

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I didn’t know something like this could be written so terribly. What’s even worse is that women are eating up this garbage. Where are the examples? Way too much ambiguity here. It’s actually a shame so many women think this is profound. All I could ask myself is “What are you talking about?”

Far too general to be useful. Poorly written. A waste of my time.

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Happily for both of us it wasn’t written for people like you, Greg. Be well.

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@Natalie Great advice and I agree with Natalie here. Money is the hardest part for me, even though once I started working as a freelancer and realized that no-one was going to pay me unless I asked, I got much better to it. And I did charge ridiculously low fees for my writing at first, but I slowly felt my confidence growing and it’s getting better :) So yes, it’s scary and not much fun, but claiming what you deserve can be extremely empowering.

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22. DON’T wait for permission.

Well, you certainly didn’t ask me for my permission to use my photo. Which is clearly under a Creative Commons license:
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/deed.en

Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).

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I got your photo where I get all my photos — from photopin.com — and I assumed that so long as the photo linked back to its source, attribution was made. My bad. I was hardly trying to violate your rights as an artist + I will remove it right now.

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@Greg Agreed. Example: “Embrace your womaninity. Do feel and act like a woman.”

What does that even mean, these days? Feminism has destroyed what it means to be a woman and told us that it means to just be whatever the heck we want. So HOW can we be feminine when no one seems to have any idea WHAT it means to be feminine? I’m actually asking this sincerely, because I want to know!

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Happy to answer, if you wouldn’t mind explaining how feminism has destroyed what it means to be a woman (or even how it’s possible to destroy it in the first place). Obviously we’re going to have different opinions on this, but I would sincerely like to hear more of yours.

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Really needed to read a “pep talk”. Was loving this. Til I get to the part about..”do decide that, come what may, you’ll never become part of this group”. Referring to a momentarily, or worse permanently, out of work group of people. This completely crushed my spirit to read, I have a chronic pain disorder and had to go on disability. The unpredictability of my health won’t let me work. But I thought up until I read those words, I was still capable, if not on the road back to becoming my badass self. I understand what you mean, but maybe by just adding the words, “if physically capable” do not let yourself become part if this group. I wouldn’t have felt so excluded as well as not reminding me the commonly felt sentiment of – if you’re not working, your not whole.

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“DON’T secretly nurture a “rescue fantasy”: that the perfect job/man/lottery ticket is going to come along and take you away from all this. Give away your power to anyone or for any reason, and it will come back to bite you in the ass. Always. DO believe this.”

When I get really stressed out, I sometimes do this. Which has subsequently made me buy a few lotto tickets. Not many, thank goodness. And I’m also guilty of dreaming of that man. But it never feels right. Being alone, that’s some scary business. It scares me to the very bone having nothing to fall back on, no one to turn to. But oddly enough, my very fantasies involve me taking off on my own. Living my own life apart from everyone else, doing things my own way. But I think I will do it because staying where I’m at now isn’t changing anything and I hate it. I have no room to grow here.

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About embracing the “sisterhood”. I don’t see why I should embrace women more than men or be partial to some sort of imagined ladies’ club.

I should support people based on who they are as individuals. I see no reason to be partial to people of my own sex.

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Because what happens to women happens to you, on some level — we’re all on the same spectrum — and it’s good to stand for something bigger than yourself (like the rights of girls/women the world over). Because men know that the whole is stronger than the sum of the parts, have created teams and networks that help them advance, and women are often too busy fighting over slivers of the pie to work together to make the pie bigger. Because “embracing the sisterhood’ hardly precludes you working with and supporting men (if anything, you would have more to offer with the power and insight of the sisterhood behind you). But if you can’t see that, that’s fine. Sad, maybe, and a bit deluded, but fine. Be well.

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so many imperatives. i wish i could do all of that. but i can’t and i feel very bad and frustrated about it.

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