Through the swarm of images that showed up on Pinterest as I was rummaging for a compelling visual to illustrate a column I was writing on the wage gap in the art world, one pin popped out at me. "Empowered women empower other women," it read. Such a deceptively simple message, delivered in just five words, and yet how it resonates! Women's empowerment is a term that's bandied about a lot, usually forming the title of ministries or the taglines of women's-centric NGOs, but we rarely isolate it to look at what it implies. There's an implicit power dynamic coded into it: Who is empowering whom and how? Who deems the empowering agent fit to empower an other person? I thought about this when I hobbled to board my flight back to Delhi after a month's sojourn in Mumbai, including a fortnight of convalescence. I was walking like a pregnant woman, except I was nursing the hollow that had been left by a lasered-out fibroid. My hands would instantly form a shield around my nothingness whenever it seemed like someone might whack their bag onto my stitches or elbow into my sore skin.
Imagine if we could enhance a chain of empowerment through the choices we make, for the sake of our feminist future? Representation Pic/Thinkstock
It hasn't been easy to acknowledge my current weakness, and despite how elated I am to be back in my apartment in Delhi, reunited with my books and my art and my kitchen, I have to also admit how helpless I occasionally feel because I am still not fit, how I must rely on other people for small things. It also makes me miss my parents, especially my mother, who, as a retired nurse, took the best care of me. When I seated myself in the extra legroom-offering 1B, it struck me that I had been privileged to have had a good doctor, a great support system, and insurance. It still amazes me to think how most doctors tell women who've undergone this procedure that it involves just an overnight hospital stay, and that four days later you can return to work. I could barely walk four days later. I'm still struggling to 'return' to work, which is funny, considering I am gainfully unemployed. But it's difficult to write when sitting is hard to do. And it's difficult to eat a fully balanced meal when you have to cook it yourself from scratch as you waddle through the kitchen like a penguin and struggle to reach the vegetable tray in the fridge. Still, I am not in denial about my privilege.
"Your privilege should humble you," I typed on my phone after the flight took off. There's a connection to be made between privilege and empowerment. It has to do with sharing, allowing others access to whatever you have the luxury of claiming either as possession or as talent, so that others may be able to receive some of the advantages you have earned because of your fortuitous upbringing. The goal behind women's empowerment is facilitating women to be independent and helping them build their preferred networks of dependencies; a task best performed by someone who is empowered and woke. It shouldn't even be something that is expected of you but something you do as an unintentional consequence of your privilege. That's what those five words suggest, that empowered women do not look at other women as threats, as competition, as sources of insecurity or as liabilities. Empowered women see other women as their counterparts and choose to help them out, because there is no point in having any kind of power if it cannot be distributed. This is what the feminist sisterhood is all about.
Sometimes the best way to empower other women is to lead by example, daring to not conform to societal expectations, having the audacity to pave your own path by living your truth. I suspect this is one of the reasons I surround myself with highly accomplished women who have chosen and earned their solitude, who live alone, have other women as reference points, and find new ways, every single day, to embrace the world without compromising their values and ethics. I find myself empowered through association. I do the same with the writers I read, seek out the women who defy literary conventions, who create cannons of female authorship through their brilliant essays, and continually dialogue with their feminist counterparts. It's become so organic to my reading mission that I have to sometimes remind myself to also read books by men.
Imagine if we could, at the level of the everyday, and through subconscious gestures, enhance a chain of unintentional empowerment, where we define the choices we make and own whatever their consequences as a radical endeavour, for the sake of the women who are yet to come into being, for the sake of our feminist
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org