Empowerment can be painful. But no pain no gain, am I right?
I have previously commented on the twisted use of the word “empowerment” in our new post-feminism culture (i.e. liberal feminism, the belief that systemic analysis of gender issues is no longer valid or desirable). It’s all about personal feelings, not facts. “Empowerment,” in this sense, is about the individual woman (because it is mostly about women) dealing with the ways in which she is constrained. Being subject to the male gaze, she “empowers” herself by taking control of the way her sexuality is seen by others. But this has nothing to do with actual power.
This entry by Meghan Murphy received a heap of comments from ignorant “polers” (which is apparently what pole dancers call themselves now) complaining about how pole dancing has “empowered” them. I thought this would be a good occasion to try to get to the bottom of this belief. So I asked them:
“You say you are “empowered.” What ACTUAL power do you have? Physical, financial, political, ideological, or what? What power are you talking about? Can you actually name the specific ways in which you are actually “empowered”?”
I expected many responses, but I only got two. It seems like the “empowerment” dogma is not as solid as I thought it was. Here is the first response:
It’s empowering in the way we are pushing our body to new limits. Like any athletes. Before I started pole dance, I was so so bad at sport, my cardio was bad, etc. Now I am fit, more confident about myself because I used to think I was a lost cause with sports, but here I am today doing flags for fun, always pushing my limits further. So yeah i find it pretty empowering.
There’s nothing wrong with a woman becoming fit, but this is not “empowering.” It feels empowering because you’re able to do more with your own body, but the fact that you feel better and that you’re able to do more is not, in itself, power. In our Western societies, physical strength is no longer the source of power it used to be, mainly due to guns and other mechanized weapons, and to technology making labor less physically demanding. I daresay that very few people, if any, are powerful individuals because they are strong individuals.
I know this is different from what these people are talking about. They are not talking about power, they are talking about their feelings. But feelings of being powerful do not give you actual power, the kind of power that actually matters in reality. That is where the danger lies. People who don’t have power and have to deal with the consequences (like women dealing with objectification, black people dealing with racist violence, poor people dealing with capitalist exploitation) have to fight for their rights. That requires the ability to look at the dynamics of power in reality: who has it, how does it work, and how it can be seized. Equating power with feelings deprives you of the ability to criticize hierarchies, and that ironically prevents you from seeing how to gain real power.
The power elite always wants people to introvert, because it prevents them from coming under examination. Christianity has been such a perfect tool of control because it puts the blame on individual sin and demands that the individual looks within oneself to eradicate sin. Likewise, the post-feminist worldview keeps women busy by having them constantly tend to their feelings, and equating feelings with reality. Women are too busy to look at the ideological and social structures that keep them exploited and oppressed.
This is why I believe that this “empowerment” talk needs to be deeply examined and debunked. Post-feminism is a dangerous path that can only lead to complete disaster for all women everywhere. The only end point of this sort of global introversion of the oppressed is voluntary and cheerful slavery (as we’ve seen with democracy and the power elite’s interests).
The second comment (from someone else) is pretty long, so I’m going to break it up.
I was hesitating to answer because many people have already mentioned it in many different ways and it has been rudely dismissed and ignored. But here it is: Through pole fitness I rediscovered the strength in a body that is not the “standard” of beauty and I gained love and power over my own body by accepting my body as it is and by nurturing it. The ability to learn tricks and gain strength through training gave me more confidence in all areas of my life, I gained power to stop caring about what men (or women) thought or didnt thought of me or my looks, I gained power to speak up in situations where I wasnt being treated fairly and where before I didnt have the confidence to speak up about, this gained confidence helped me at my work when I decided to pick up new challenges that moved my career forward because I learned by experience that I was capable of doing more than I previously imagined, I gained power by having the physical strength to do many more things by myself without needing help from someone stronger (i.e. A man). I gained a lot of respect from being independent and strong, I gained power by expanding my support system within the community and we all have gained power by teaching more people that our bodies our ours and can be beautiful and do marvelous things without the approval or for the entertainment of anyone other than ourselves.
I have to repeat myself here because the argument is basically the same. There’s nothing wrong with a woman gaining confidence in her life. Actually, I think that’s a great thing. Everyone, especially women, should have the confidence to speak up for themselves, loving their own bodies, and not caring so much about what other people think. Here’s the thing, though: whether you care what other people think or not, it still influences their actions. Can you just ignore it? Sure. But that doesn’t change reality.
Does it benefit her to gain respect from her peers and having a support system? Of course. So there are actual tangible benefits there beyond personal feelings, which is great. But you can get those from a lot of different activities and hobbies, none of which give you actual power. I used to talk about ethical and political issues from a more mainstream perspective, just divergent enough to be different, and I got a lot of respect for it. So what? It wasn’t the way to a real understanding or the way to understand how to gain more power, individually or collectively. The only ideologies which lead to power are those that help you understand how power is gained and kept.
The power elite feeds the masses airy words like “democracy,” “freedom” and “human rights,” but in their internal documents and in their actions they seek only domination and obedience, and if you believe the airy words you are a gullible fool. To a large extent this is true of other hierarchies as well. Anti-feminism serves genderism: it preaches “happiness” and “choice” to the faithful but produces only voluntary, cheerful servitude to oppressive gender roles. Are there secondary benefits to obedience? There have always been, otherwise obedience would be much harder to enforce. It is always a big fallacy from those purveyors of post-whatever to equate the presence of some benefit, any benefit, with the belief that there cannot be any exploitation going on (men are nice and open doors for you, therefore rape is not a big deal). I am not saying that this is what the commentator is doing: I believe she is writing in good faith, but she falls into the same traps.
I get it that you won’t care about this and that your idea of feminism is different than mine, that’s fine. When someone says they are feminists I think they would be open to hear other women’s thoughts so I am respectfully sharing them in the spirit of creating conversation and learning so we can all improve our views on what women need to do or not to do to further our cause. We work hard to disassociate this thing that has given us so much from negative connotations that come from fear, prejudism, and yes, the patriarchy that you hate so much.
This is not an issue of what your idea of feminism is. While our beliefs about feminism may cloud our judgment on factual issues, the facts remain what they are. Something being empowering or not is a statement of fact, not a statement of belief, ethics or feelings. The radical feminist questioning of pole dancing does not come from a position of fear, prejudice, or from supporting the patriarchy. Insofar as the question I asked her was concerned, and insofar as this entry is concerned, I am simply stating that the “empowerment” they use as their main argument is, factually, a dangerous delusion which is counter-productive to feminism (i.e. the interests of women as a class and the elimination of the patriarchy). The fact that it gives some women more confidence or more ability to deal with life, while important, does not cancel this out.
It seems the commenter may have thought I was a woman (or perhaps she thought I was Meghan Murphy, or someone else in the conversation), but I will answer for myself. As a man, my responsibility is to be informed on the topics I write, and to present a dissenting (pro-women) viewpoint as a man and to other men. I know that what I write is always under scrutiny from feminist women, with good reason, so I’ve always been very careful in what I put forward as “feminist.” I have to exercise due diligence at all times. I say this not to elicit sympathy or support, but to point out that I cannot, as some have suggested, “listen to what all women say,” because there are plenty of women who are not pro-women, even women who call themselves feminists. “Conversation and learning” implies that the commenter and I have common premises and common goals. This does not seem to be the case, at least on the issue of “empowerment.”
No one is harassing you, we are doing our part in sharing our experiences and keeping the conversation open until women who want to take this as a hobbie are not labeled in negative ways and to make sure whoever wants to, has a safe space to learn and experience it. We are not expecting or wanting it to be everywhere all the time, we are just asking for people to be respectful of those who chose to do it.
We come back once again to the confusion of systemic criticism with a personal attack. To criticize pole dancing as not being “empowering” does not mean that we dislike “polers.” I’m sure most of them are really nice people. I know that there are very nice and kind and good people who believe and act on all the ideologies I criticize on this blog (religion, natalism, statism, whatever), and I respect those people. The fact that I respect them does not mean they are right. Whether a person is respected or not has no bearing on the truth of what they are saying. Many people get respect when they say the worse kind of nonsense, and many people who dare to speak with clarity against hallowed beliefs don’t get nearly as much respect as they should. Respect and truth have no clear relation of cause and effect.
It’s easy for people supporting “empowering” practices to think of themselves as trailblazers who are helping women. And I don’t have any objections about that. My objection is when this translates into an ideological battle, where the possibility of actual empowerment (expressed by a systemic feminist analysis of what they’re doing) is being stifled in the name of fake “empowerment.” The goal of most of the “poler” commenters on Murphy’s entry was to try to silence her analysis, to tell her to shut up because her analysis goes counter to their beliefs.