Men and women have very different perceptions of empowerment and freedom. Women are taught that they are something we are granted by those with power. We are taught that men have always had them. I saw this view expressed in a comment by a young woman who wrote “White men have never had to fight for their freedom.”
I posted a reply, “Yes they did. It was called the Revolutionary War.”
We often forget how very different life was prior to the mid-18th century when the vast majority of people were oppressed and struggled just to survive. The American and French revolution were the historic milestones when common white men rejected and rebelled against the tyranny, power and control of monarchies and the church. They fought for liberty, individual freedom and their right to self-determination.
Liberty and personal freedom emerged as guiding principles for societies.
In the United States we see the importance of liberty and self-determination portrayed in The Bill of Rights that guarantees citizens certain freedoms and limits the power (control) of the federal government. The Tenth Amendment specifically states:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
The U.S. Constitution elevates personal liberty above the overwhelming power that was historically held by a governing entity. In doing so it gave men a new self-image where they were free and empowered to act based upon what they believe is best.
Men applied this same concept in their workplace. When the captains of industry acted like kings and treated men as serfs, men rebelled. The labor movement and unionization began the procession to give men more liberty and self-determination in the workplace.
Men don’t aspire to have power over others.
Men aspire to prevent others from having power over them.
This is why I always push back when someone says the male-dominated workplace is all about power and the only way women can have power is by women tearing down men and claiming power on behalf of women. It demonstrates a lack of understanding as to what drives men. It also fails to recognize the critical role women played in fighting oppression even before we had formal rights.
Men value liberty, autonomy, independence and self-determination. They want the freedom to use their own judgement to do what they want, when they want, how they want. Since they rebel against power and control, they understand that if they try to control other men, those men will also rebel. Therefore, most men don’t even try to control other men.
Women, slaves and people of color have a different history with liberty that changes our perceptions.
In 1870 the 15th Amendment to the Constitution granted African American men the right to vote by stating that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
Women had to wait until the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920 to have voting rights.
The 15th and 19th Amendments and the subsequent Voting Rights Act of 1965 weren’t achieved by revolution. They were achieved by convincing men with power to grant others the same rights as them. This distinction had a profound effect.
Women and people of color don’t see themselves with liberty. They see themselves as being granted license.
License is very different from liberty.
License says there are entities who have the power to control and restrict the actions of other people. People only have as much self-determination as these entities grant them – which is what happened with the 15th and 19th Amendments. To have more self-determination, it must be granted – which is why the Voting Rights Act was necessary.
License reinforces in women that we need to ask permission, find acceptance and receive validation. It says there are pre-qualifiers and we have to prove ourselves worthy before we can assert or advance ourselves. If we are fortunate, the entities who hold power will write more rules, policies and laws to grant us more authority over our own lives.
Men define Empowerment as Liberty
Women define Empowerment as License
Out of all the lessons I learned from working with men the most important was to believe in my inherent right to liberty. Not license, liberty.
“The most common way people give up power is by believing they don’t have any” – Alice Walker
I believed that I had the same right to pursue the same jobs and opportunities as my male colleagues. If someone told me I couldn’t because I was a woman, I did what my male colleagues would do – I challenged them.
“Who are you to deny me my right to self-determination and to decide for myself what I want to do?”
It is amazing how many men respected me when I said this. I was speaking their language. I not only understood their values, I voiced them and stood up for them.
During the course of my career I’ve seen pretty much all of the career restrictions against women get removed. Today there is no reason why women (and people of color) shouldn’t see ourselves with the same right to liberty and self-determination as (white) men. If someone questions why we are living our life as we are and making the choices we make our answer should be “Because it’s what I want to do.”
Unfortunately, there are still many people and organizations that are entrenched in the belief that the male-dominated workplace is all about power and women need to be granted power by men, laws and policies. They remind us that the reason we don’t advance is because men won’t let us. Even worse some tell us that they want power so they can fight on our behalf and give us power. This should be a warning to us.
We should question, “Why don’t you recognize my inherent right to liberty and self-determination? Why don’t you believe that I have the personal power and fortitude to exercise my liberty? Why don’t you believe in my inherent equality?”
Women have a choice. We can continue to see ourselves as requiring and being only worthy of license. Or, we can do what men did in 1776 and stand up for in our inherent right to liberty, self-determination and equality.
Empowered Women Exercise Their Liberty
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