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  • Writer's pictureRuth Tilley

What is 'Power' and Why Feminist 'Empowerment' Often Misses the Mark..

This is taken from my online course 'Where are your Boundaries?' and edited to talk about how feminist empowerment often misses the mark. You can find the course here Where Are Your Boundaries? | Ruth Cato (

Scrolling through Pintrest to get inspiration while editing my online course on Boundaries, I realised that all of these memes about 'empowerment' and 'strong women' were still working from the root system of the Patriarchy. 'Strong women empower women' - lovely - and then your realise it's simply telling you that you're only 'good' if you're looking after someone else.. Blurgh. What about the self? What about 'in-sourcing' rather than encouraging out-sourcing? And then scrolling some more I see it's all based on being better than the other and having power over someone else 'be the woman you would look up to' (i'm not looking 'up' to anyone! Look up to yourself!). 'Up your game', bleurgh - no, accept and honour where you're at, then you shift naturally into the next phase.. it's all so masculine and linear. Still. Even in this supposedly feminist camp.

Empowerment should not be based on the Patriarchal world view of one-up-manship! It's an internally found thing - you have the power - it's right there within you... Here's an extract from 'Where are your boundaries?', where we go into what is 'power'..

"One of the biggest issues we have asserting and communicating our boundaries is that our basic understanding (be that what we cognitively understand or what we have been shown is true by society and thus have absorbed our whole lives) of power is distorted.

For generations 'power' has been expressed as 'power over' something or someone else: another person, another business, another country, a tree, the universe. To have power has meant to be in control of a situation where you must then stay in control of it or you would fall from your high up position and fail. Being in control of something or someone else means it/ they can't shine or exist without your say so. It takes away a big element of it's/ their humanity or uniqueness.

Have a think about what you believe power is.

Who do you see as having power, and how do they make you feel?

Because this has been the inbuilt belief system of what power is for so long many people now choose to shy away from it or shun it as a bad thing, and yes this version of it is problematic. It also leads to us being afraid of another person having power because they would dominate us and take our own power away by being powerful. This is the basics of how Patriarchy works and why we are in such a mess in so many aspects of life.

When we believe (even subliminally) that power is 'power over' another, we don't want to hold power when we are being conscious, because we do not wish to dominate another. When we are in an unconscious moment, maybe we have been triggered or maybe in the middle of an argument, we will fall back on that historical view that we must re-gain power over this other person or their thoughts, in order to feel safe again. In these moments we will be stepping into the drama triangle and we will be damaging our relationships further.

So what is power really, when it's not distorted by Patriarchy ?

Power is our own, it does not come from an external source, it is not gained by being better than someone else, or right where the other person is wrong, life is not black and white. True power is totally internal and internally sourced. I can be powerful and you can be powerful in the same moment and that is a very beautiful moment to be both present in.

In this work I see power as being fully connected to our core purpose; grounded in that knowing of what we need, to be true to ourselves and at the same time feeling sure that you are sovereign, you are worthy and you are love. You have complete power over yourself. You can choose how you respond. You are powerful in you, in your actions, in your body, in your care and love.

Dictionary definitions of power range from the Patriarchal view of 'power over' another person or country (Cambridge dictionary) to the more widespread view that it is 'an ability to act or produce an effect' (Miriam Webster).

If 'power' is about 'doing' and having the ability to create or change something it is the yang to the more feminine, yin. The yang is action where the yin is receptive. Only in balance can they work well together.

Notice how you view power. See if you want to change your ideas of what it is and how you can embody it.

In order to step out of this behaviour pattern we must first cognitively understand what power actually is. Once we've understood it, we then need to feel if it is true and after that we need to start practicing it.

  1. understand

  2. feel

  3. practise "

Ruth x

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