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.