I don’t think there can be many women who, if they watched Kamala Harris as she spoke on her mobile phone exclaiming to Joe Biden “we did it”, didn’t feel the elation of her victory for womankind as she became the first ever female vice-president elect in American history. Of course there have been female vice presidential nominees in previous years, but none who, in her words, actually did it! For Kamala Harris – it’s a phenomenal political triumph. For working women across the world it’s a triumph of affirmation – we may lose a few battles along the way, but we are, yet again, winning recognition as to just how powerful women can be.
But – why is it that we still have to highlight this feat of victory for a woman? When we attach the word ‘powerful’ to men, it goes virtually unnoticed as an acceptable norm. When we talk about powerful women, they stand out, with their achievements so much more marked because they are – well – women. The Oxford Dictionary definition of the word ‘powerful’ is: ‘having great power or strength’. That works, but it then goes on to clarify this characterisation with a list synonyms like ‘strong, muscular, sturdy, strapping and mighty’. All male words. If you attach these words to women – with our ability to be just as powerful – they sit uncomfortably. They are not our definition of what being a powerful woman means.
When you consider we are a generation who grew up with an ill-judged Disney narrative where the heroine always needed saving, who stayed quietly misunderstood and whose strength lay in her compassion and kindness to win the day and, ultimately, the prince, the story in society has become ingrained. It is men who are meant to be powerful, not women. When we challenge, we are considered difficult. If we speak up for ourselves, we are argumentative, and if we stand our ground we are seen as obstinate. A strapping Snow White, shunning all housework with her head buried in a mound of tax returns, flicking an irritating bluebird off her shoulder and bellowing at Sleepy to do the dishes and put the rubbish out would not have sold the film.
The knowledge that we are powerful isn’t a revelation to us. We know our strength and we endlessly fight to achieve our standing in what is still, essentially, a man’s world. If you go back over the centuries, there are a significant number of outstandingly successful, powerful women who challenged the political landscape as leaders, or whose achievements shaped the course of history with their strength, determination and passion. It continues with each generation. Today’s young women are emerging as leaders and the list is endless. The problem we face is that, despite all of these examples of prominent women throughout the years, it’s still not considered the norm.
Women have an incredibly strong work ethic. As natural carers our brains work overtime to ascertain and balance the many needs of those who rely on us. With determination we work diligently to put in place our own ambitions and success. We are constantly alert to change and the demands that brings with it. Over the years we have honed our inherent ability to multitask to such a high degree of proficiency that we know how to make things happen. We are used to negotiation, with diplomacy and tact, on a daily basis. Tapping into our empathy and compassion, we recognise who needs us, when they need us and why. Finally, and significantly, we understand the importance of solidarity. Women supporting women to empower each other by coming together collectively. Forget the Oxford Dictionary Definition - it is this that makes us powerful women.