Stand Back- I Am About To Empower You

(I admit that I picked this picture because I knew you would want to see it.  It showed up when I was looking for pictures about power.  Just proof- I love my readers!)
So- I hear this sentiment all the time among natural type women who are trying to support natural type birth:

"I want to 'empower' women to have a great birth."

"I want to 'empower' women to make good birth choices for themselves and their babies."

Oh no.  BACK THE TRUCK UP.  'Cause I am getting off right now.

The Free Online Dictionary defines empower thus:

em·pow·er  (m-pour)tr.v. em·pow·ered, em·pow·er·ing, em·pow·ers
1. To invest with power, especially legal power or official authority. See Synonyms at authorize.
2. To equip or supply with an ability; enable:

Why, you might ask, is this neurotic mama worried about the use of this word in this way?  Well, great question.  Let me tell you.

Nobody can EMPOWER me.  That implies that they had my power.

Umm, no.  They didn't.

If they had it then it was THEIR power.  That makes them pretty nice and patriarchal or motherly or helpful or awesome that they wanted to stoop to GIVE it to me, doesn't it?

It also implies that it was somebody else's to give to me.  How is that MY power if I had to have it GIVEN to me.

Empowerment doesn't come from outside of you.  I can't give it or take it from you and you can't do that for me either.  I can't educate you, you have to educate yourself.  I can't make you eat well, you have to do it yourself.  And I can't empower you.  You have to do that yourself. 

If you want to be empowered, you just need to look within.  It is YOURS to take.  Your power is yours to own.  It is yours to use.  Your power can not be given to you.  It could only be given to you if it never was yours to begin with.

Let's stop all the talk on the part of doulas, midwives, and other women about how we are going to give people their own power.  We don't do this.  We can't do this.  The fact that we talk about doing this all the time only shows that WE as natural birth advocates have actually bought into the system that believes that women are incompetent.  Do we really think they need their power given, their choices made, and their responsibility co-opted?  I hope not, because those are staples of what is WRONG with obstetrics. 

It might feel nice to say that we 'empowered women' but in actuality, we are only showing how much we like our own feelings of power when we talk like that.

You are already powerful.  If you act on that or not is up to you. 

Let's own our power ladies.  Our choices.  Our consequences.  Our power. 


SgtPepper'sWife said…
Very good point. Thank you.
Tina said…
Thank you!

I'm a doula and I steer clear of this word like the plague. It's not once used on my website or in the material I give to parents. I think it's quite possibly the most overused, and wrongly used word amongst those who attend birthing women.

To say that you want to empower someone else is to say that they can't do that for themselves. I'm not the one birthing your baby - I'm there for the long haul but ultimately, you're the one doing the emotional and physical work. And THAT is where "empowerment" comes from.
Unknown said…
great one! will be sharing
Karli K. said…
wow. Well I agree - but I also think that to come down so harshly on one word is a little much ;-) I think birth can be empowering! I don't give people power, I don't empower people, but I do hope that they find their birth experience empowering. The moms AND the dads!
Cyber Doulas
Joy@WDDCH said…
I think "encourage" should be the word we use. A woman has her own power and I can encourage her to hone in on that.

Great post - I definitely see the point! The power of life and death are in the tongue; words are POWERFUL!
Jessi said…
I love it. Empowerment does not come from without. You are right it's from within yet we don't talk that way. Thank you.
Anonymous said…
Point taken.
Anonymous said…
I find this interesting.

First I want to say I hear you. I really hear you. Empowerment is like healing --the choice of the individual. No one can do your personal work for you.

But I will say that it is extremely empowering to be held in a safe container in which I can choose to hold my power. Doula's are like guardians. I've watched women get torn into and harassed by medical staff for choosing their power.

Some women are not even connected to their power, through some trauma or whatever they may need help ---someone there to assist them in carving out a pathway so they can move in and grab it.

That is empowering. I've been empowered in this way. I have watched women take their power in this way.

Maybe it's the definition and not the word that needs amending.

I welcome women to gather for the purpose of upliftment and empowerment. Knowing that power resides within each of us, waiting for its potential to release.

Many women are not in their power, and try to cut down the women that are attempting to walk with theirs. That is a very difficult issue in our culture that is taking much courage to even begin to address.

But if we educate women with the information they need to empower themselves --would that work not be under the umbrella of "women's empowerment"

My point being, the attack on the word empowerment seems to be entirely counterproductive to the women's movement on the planet right now.
Unknown said…
It is so interesting - I like the word empowered because I want exactly that - for women to be empowered from within. When I say I help women with that - that is exactly what I mean - to help them find that within themselves. It isn't anything anyone can do for, with, or to you. It is something that happens within each individual person according to their desire. I just help facilitate or give it a nudge sometimes and remind women that it is there for their taking.

So, even though I like that word - I wholeheartedly agree with point of your post!