Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Empowered Woman: Less Pretty, More Fierce

I have considered myself to be a feminist since my pre-teen days. I grew up in a rural setting where an independent, strong, career-minded woman was not considered to be the most attractive thing. There were plenty of times the label "lesbian" was thrown at me because I valued studying over dating. Once, my opponent in high school debate class (who incidentally was the son of a local minister) ordered me to "go home and make his lunch." I'm not sure I'll ever forget that moment.

Feminists love to discuss "empowerment." By this they usually mean being financially self-sufficient; earning an income that is equal to or greater than that of their significant other's. It can mean valuing yourself as a person and not an object, as being more than a pretty face (although we usually objectify ourselves more than men ever could). Empowerment can also mean prioritizing career or education, or simply having the freedom now to make choices that our mothers and grandmothers did not have.

These are all valid, but I think it's time to discuss a new variety of empowerment. From time immemorial, women have been the keepers of the hearth and the protectors of the home. Pioneer women knew how to shoot marauding coyotes in between putting the harvest by and mending the family clothes. Japanese women historically were as versed in self-protection as their samurai husbands. My own mother has the ability to shoot without hesitation or remorse anyone who threatens the safety of any one of her family. (Knowing her, she'd probably have a bit of swagger afterwards. "All seven rounds, center mass!!!") They have all known that you cannot always count on the husband to be around when a threat materializes.

I'm not minimizing the mens' contribution to the home; their role in the family is irreplaceable. But the entire responsibility cannot fall on their shoulders. I'd like to see women quit pouting about their cellulite and idolizing Manolo Blahniks and get serious about their role as the defender of the family. The money they spend collecting all six (seven? who gives a shit?) seasons of Sex and the City on DVD would be better spent at the firing range.

Women ought to take seriously their responsibility to defend their homes and children from anyone who does not have their best interests at heart - physically, and lethally if necessary.

They should take responsibility for ensuring their families are fed, clothed, and sheltered no matter what our nation's economic future holds.

They should be interested in learning how to care for and comfort their families when no doctor is around and no medicine is available.

They should be wise stewards of the family finances, directing the money towards lasting safety and security, or towards alleviating the suffering of others, rather than towards status items or indulgences.

And lastly, they should be proactive, alongside their spouses, in instilling in their children spiritual faith and discipline that will lead them to become responsible, self-sufficient, contributing members of society as adults.

That, I think, is worth a hell of a lot more than a bitchin' Fendi bag and some Botox injections. And, just my opinion, it's sexier too.

Image: Hangaku Gozen (aka Itagaki), Genpei War-era female samurai, circa 1200. From the Library of Congress Prints Collection.

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