10 quick thoughts regarding love + power + badass women



“Power is a kind of love, and love is a kind of power.” — Harriet Rubin

1. The phrase ‘raw feminine power’ surfaced in my thoughts today. I like it, and not just because it makes me think, for whatever reason, of rock sugar crystals, or raw diamonds (responsibly sourced, of course).

2. I’ve been thinking about power in an off-and-on kind of way ever since my therapist told me several years ago that I have an “ambivalent relationship” with power: I was fascinated by it even as I shied away from “claiming” my own. I thought she was making a particular observation about me – what I didn’t realize is how that same statement could be true, in a sweeping generalization kind of way, about women in general. (Gloria Feldt writes deeply about this in her great book NO EXCUSES: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power and teaches the 9 “power tools” in her course on women’s leadership which you can find here. I took the course and can vouch that it is awesome.)

3. I once tweeted a link to a blog post of mine called something like how to be a powerful woman. It got hardly any hits. I tried again, replacing ‘powerful woman’ with ‘female badass’ and the hits went through the roof. (This was, keep in mind, before the word ‘badass’ became so horribly overused.)

As Gloria Feldt discusses in her book, many women don’t like the word power. Feel uncomfortable around it. And yet: we want autonomy, we want to create impact, we want to change the world, we want to self-actualize.

We want to be badasses.

How can any of that happen if we don’t have the power?

And how can we have power if we don’t name it and claim it?

4. We associate power with tyranny, dominance, male dominance, which so many of us have experienced to various degrees on various levels. We think that’s what power looks like. Ergo: in order to claim power, a woman has to act like a man.

But we know on a deep and visceral level that ultimately this doesn’t work, because – big shocker here – a woman isn’t a man. (A great book on this subject is WHAT WORKS FOR WOMEN AT WORK: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know.) What people will accept in a man – an outburst of anger, for instance – they will condemn in a woman, dismissing her as crazy, shrill, a ballbreaker, whatever. This is not exactly productive.

5. I like the idea of power-over vs power-to (again, see Gloria Feldt). Power-over is the power of force, position, authority, intimidation, bullying. (Just writing these words turns my stomach a little.)

It’s my-way-or-the-highway kind of power.

For those of us who have issues with authority, or rebel against ultimatums on point of principle, it’s maybe not the best way to go.

Power-to is the power to reach other people through various forms of partnership: getting on the same wavelength, figuring out how to sync up.

It’s collaboration and inspiration and stepping into a reality where the sum is greater than the parts, where 1 + 1 equals 3.

It’s the power to reach people emotionally as well as intellectually: to access a common dream, to shape a shared vision. It’s the power to reframe. It’s the power to bake a bigger pie. It’s the power to bring out the best and highest selves of others – and, not least, of yourself. It’s the power to light up a room with your presence alone, and not because you’re an A-lister with fabulous hair. It’s the power to make other people feel good.

6. Power can be used for good or evil, but in and of itself, it is neutral. Just because some people use power to commit acts of genocide, doesn’t mean that others can’t use it to feed a starving village, to educate the female population of a third-world country, to take down human traffickers.

Power corrupts, but it can also lift up.

7. Traditionally, women have been ‘allowed’ two kinds of power: the power of sexuality – a.k.a. “pussy power” – and the power of shopping. If women seek power in other ways – in the corporate world, in politics, in the military, or even certain kinds or relationships with certain kinds of men – the culture finds ways to, quote-unquote, “put them in their place”, possibly by accusing her of being “power-hungry”.

No one to my knowledge has ever accused a woman of being “power-hungry” when she puts on heels and a Herve Leger minidress. A sexy appearance will make a woman feel powerful, but let’s face it: being superhot isn’t enough to change the world. Otherwise a Dick Cheney would be busting his ass in the gym and undergoing plastic surgery to bring out his inner Brad Pitt.

8. What does a powerful woman look like, sound like? Do we know? It’s okay for men to be powerful because we expect that of them; it is, in many ways, and deeply unfair ways, the measure of their manhood.

We expect women to be warm.

As John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut observe in their book COMPELLING PEOPLE: The Hidden Qualities that Make Us Influential, the problem with power is that it cuts against warmth. We love people or we fear them. To love and fear someone is unusual.

Men who can combine great power with great warmth are not just respected, but revered: Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi. Women who can combine power and warmth are also revered: Oprah. But whereas men can lead on power alone, women must combine power and warmth, at least to some degree, just to stay in the game. Hillary Clinton did not become the powerhouse she is today until she learned to give out chocolate chip cookie recipes, show tears on camera, stand by her man’s infidelity.

9. Perhaps the big lesson here, the silver lining, is this: you don’t have to choose between power and love. Because I think what holds us back, in so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways (and this is true for both genders) is the fear of not being loved – even, or especially, if we can barely recognize the love in our lives in the first place.

Men learn that they won’t be loved if they’re not powerful.

Women learn that they won’t be loved if they are powerful.

Except some women — as Harriet Rubin observes in her book THE PRINCESSA — fail to learn this.

They are the women who go down in history.

10. I like the term ‘raw feminine power’ because we’re still unearthing it, mining it, holding it up to the light. We’ re still cutting and shaping and polishing it: our sense for it, our ideas of it.

We feel it in our bones, our womanly bones.

It isn’t what they told us it would be. It has nothing to do with fabulous footwear (although a pair of Jimmy Choos is never a bad thing). It is not the man on the horse – or in the Porsche – who arrives (or doesn’t) to take us away from it all.

It is bigger, and bolder, and so much more sacred.

It is light and fire, yes, but it is also soul and shadow, and our willingness to let ourselves get big, to sink our roots into the earth as we reach into the sky.

It is our ability to bridge the distance, to bring opposites together, to fight for love, to be warriors of spirit. We are raw and unrefined, we are mighty, and our voice is as big as our heart.

We are awakening.

We are just getting started.

Jul 4, 2014

18 comments · Add Yours

I LOVE this one!!! I LIVE this one!!! Not sure if Cheney can ever bring himself to the point of even finding an “inner Brad Pitt” – loved that thought though! Just attended a trial tactic training where the biggest message that I brought back was “Be Yourself”. I could be in a position of power every day, but it means nothing to me if I fail to be myself when attempting to use that power to help both sides in court. It is not the simple power that brings justice, but the warmth that you so eloquently mentioned that accompanies such power that brings results. Those that believe that power is a masculine trait and is negative for a woman are simply ignorant and fail to acknowledge its true meaning. Thank you AGAIN Justine for your inspiring blog post.


For the clearest concept of understanding women’s sense of self, I suggest Vagina by Naomi Wolfe. Every woman should read it. And every woman should study the first woman who ran for President of the Unites States. Mrs. Satan was how she was labeled. BadAss doesn’t kick it up enough. Feminist is the mantel women should don. We screwed up in the 60’s thinking we had accomplished something. Nothing will be resolved until an ERA Amendment is passed. The Civil Rights Act was a bandaid. We need an ERA Amendment. That will cement women and minorities on an equal footing. Thanks. Love your writing style. :-)


Damn! That was good.


Great power and great warmth. So right.


Yes. Thank you. Yes.


This is it; the ticket we’ve fought and paid for. Get on the train and let the journey begin.


Power-to vs power-over. Total game changer. Loved this post


Hey, Justine, I appreciate that you are channeling me (and in your gorgeous prose which I adore), but I sure would appreciate credit for concepts you share in this post: power over v power to, women’s ambivalence about power and why we have it, the neutrality of power, and more.

I’ll be teaching my course (which you took last year) “9 Practical Leadership Power Tools for Women to Advance Your Career” https://ce.asu.edu/continuing-education/courses/business-communication-media-nonprofit-management/women-leadership-power-tools-july-2014 again starting July 16. If folks here are interested, you can still register.

My book No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power also explains more of the historical, psychological, and cultural context of gender and power.

And keep on being a badass.


I find it interesting to see a comment demonstrating ( in my oppinion) force, shame, and solicitation all while asking for credit.
Is it an oxymoron to find this comment here where I come to find empowerment?
I wonder why force / shame was used in place of power by making comments public?
I am genuinely curious to see if/ how the unfold meant will happen… As I find true leadership/ power comes in the less than ideal moments and how we handle them.
As always Justine, thank you for you. I am inspired by you.


Hi Gloria — I love your course, I love your book, I think you’re awesome. Scholars have presented, analyzed the power to/ power over/ power with in other places (Anne Marie Slaughter also references the distinctions between the different types of power), so I thought that concept was in the public domain — I read deeply and obsessively and draw from my own experience as well (and extensive conversations with my therapist, who is also immersed in these issues). So whatever I did not credit to you, I apologize. It was certainly not intentional. I’ll put a link to your course + book in the blog post. Respect.


“Raw feminine power.” Yes. And this is the most scary kind of all, isn’t it? Power not restricted by fear plus love is is a mythical force. You did not mention this one, but it is another acknowledged feminine power–the angry mother protecting her young. Granted, this is still limited, still puts women in specifics roles and boxes and such (except Kali. *Nobody* puts Kali in a corner). It is sacred and profane, forbidden and necessary. The really juicy stuff, the edge. Thanks for the shove forward :)


All I can think to say is…more power to you.


HELL Yes. LOVE this.


Indeed, we are just getting started. Thank you for the shout out, Justine. I can’t tell you how many of your brilliant posts I have bookmarked for my next class!


Loved this post! Sometimes it feels like ‘power’ is a dirty word… especially as so many people use it for wrong. This post is so inspiring and shows us to release that belief! Thank you. xox


great post. thanks


Number 3 had me thinking! I can relate to feeling uncomfortable with the phrase “powerful woman” as it has connotations of an “aggressive, cold, mean, insecure” woman, which is not the sort of woman I want to be, or be around. (I don’t even like using the word “woman” to describe myself, strangely). I think women are okay with the word “power” when it’s used in the context of “girl power”…but try using it without visualising the Spice Girls in platforms :)

Someone who I think has an ideal combination of attributes is the writer Elizabeth Gilbert. I met her earlier this year at one of her talks (well worth seeing) where she had a full theatre of people eating out of the palm of her hand. I embarrassingly blurted out, “You’re like, a goddess!”. Because she radiated all these qualities one doesn’t see very often – power, influence, intelligence, confidence, warmth, femininity, gratitude, happiness, witty humour. Of course, I don’t know what she’s like in everyday life, but I was inspired.


Perhaps, you might find it strange, a man responding to your writing, in this case about women. I find the subject of power and love, together, to be quite compelling. So much so, as a poet I write about it..a lot. Thank you for this excellent modrrn description of this oft maligned and misunderstood quality and mixture of aspects of our very evolving spirit sociologically and individually.


Add your comment