ON WOMEN EMPOWERMENT
LISA DE LA CRUZ
A few weeks ago, someone messaged me and said, “I have an idea for a podcast guest.” Immediately, I braced myself. I’m very open to suggestions since I know that I don’t know everyone in my city. A lot of times, people suggest great podcast guests. But for some reason, I just knew the suggestion was going to be… well, I knew it was going to be some bullshit.
I should backtrack a little and tell you why someone would be suggesting guests to me in the first place. I host one of the first podcasts hosted by people of color here in Reading called the Wonder of Ivy. Founded two years ago, TWOI podcast has been many things, but mostly it is a platform for stories. Sometimes these stories are my own, other times they are not. They are the stories of my peers, business owners, mentors, and people that have a message I want to share. Aside from the podcast, I’m also a “Jill of all trades.” I run TWOI blog, I host events, I’m on the board for S.O.I.L., a local co-working space, and I have become a public figure in my little corner in Reading.
Quickly after responding to the message, I received what I assumed to be a copy and paste message with who the guest was. Instead, it included what I can only describe as a “manifesto” outlining the sender’s plan on how I could use the guest and create a “women’s empowerment” panel for Women’s History Month.
I remember feeling my blood pressure rising, quickly changing apps, and messaging my mentor a strongly worded paragraph with some key phrases such as “how dare they” and “who do they think they are.”
A few people I recalled this exchange to understood my annoyance but said that I should feel proud that my platform is at a level where I’m being sought out. But proud was nowhere near what I felt. I was annoyed, angry, and most of all offended. I didn’t immediately understand why I felt that way, I just knew that I felt it. The days and weeks would eventually pass and I wouldn’t understand why this exchange affected me so deeply, until a few days ago, it finally hit me.
I have always identified as a feminist, long before I knew what the word meant.
I have always supported women. I didn’t just say that, I lived it. On a larger level, I supported women by supporting organizations locally and nationally that support all women, like Planned Parenthood. I have supported women through becoming informed and educating others about issues that affect women such as equal pay, domestic violence, sexual assault, reproductive rights, and more. On a smaller scale, I have supported women locally by doing what I do with The Wonder of Ivy. I share stories of women I admire and I highlight women who are entrepreneurs, moguls, small business owners, and inspirational. I create events and opportunities for women to share their stories. Once this creative hat comes off, I work a 9-5 that aligns with my same values. I believe ALL women. And I have never been afraid to stand up for women. Whether online or in person, I have always defended women and called out sexism and misogyny when I needed to.
In doing all the things I do, I have never branded myself as someone who is “empowering women.” I don’t take out this list of things and read them off whenever I’m challenged. I don’t find it necessary to tell people these things because it is nothing new. I also don’t do these things for applause. I do them because I believe in them. I do them because they matter to me.
While others may feel that I empower women, I have not and will not give myself that title. I don’t believe that a title is needed when I don’t just talk the talk, I walk it. My work, the things I believe, and my actions speak for themselves on all levels. I often think that when we assign ourselves titles, or we create little captions for ourselves we miss the mark completely. People who inspire us don’t call themselves inspirational. Those who motivate us don’t need to tell us that they will, they just do.
Which is why I was offended that someone would suggest to me to do something to empower women. Why would I need to create an event to do something that I have been doing? I believe that “women empowerment” is a new buzz word. “Ooo, add "women empowerment" here to let them know that we truly care about women.” But do you really? Do you care about all women or just the ones you need to help you meet your end goal? Do you care about the poor women, the black women, the lesbian, bi, or trans women? Do you care about undocumented women? Do you care about the drug addicted women? The sex-worker women? Do you care about the homeless women?
As a woman and a feminist, I find that it is too easy to use “women empowerment” to get what you want. You can throw that phrase in there and suddenly you are for women.
But I just don’t believe that unless you are for all women, including the ones who don’t support the things you do, that you are for women. I don’t believe that if you are for women, you need to say that. Your actions would speak for themselves.
I was angry that someone would take something as precious as being a woman and turn it into a marketing ploy. “Let’s reach out to the woman podcaster, she’d be on board because we’re doing this women empowerment thing.” I don’t care if we both identify as women, I will not support someone just because of that. “Women empowerment” is the easy wave to ride because that’s a commonality someone will share with at least 50% of the population. It’s easy to say “Let us all come together because we are women.” And if you don’t support them, then it is just as easy to say that you don’t support them because you are against the empowerment of women.
My womanhood and the womanhood of the poor, black, colored, bi, lesbian, trans, uneducated, undocumented, drug addicted women is not a title. Our womanhood is not dependent on whether we support someone on the basis that we identify the same. Our empowerment doesn’t exist as a title used to reel in supporters. Our empowerment lies in the work that has been done, is currently being done, and still needs to be to ensure that all of us are set free. And until that is done, you can keep your “women empowerment” because it is not for me.
Lisa De La Cruz hosts the podcast and publishes the blog "The Wonder of Ivy." She also hosts events, serves on the Board of Directors for S.O.I.L., and much more.