Growing up, people around me often told myself and other female friends, “Be sure to marry someone who can take care of you.” My first thought was,
“Why wouldn't I be able to take care of myself?”
Upon watching childhood movies and cartoons, a lesson was taught that the women solved her problems through the men in her life. She was rescued not by her own efforts but by the efforts of another. She was saved from the monster, endless sleep, poison apple,, etc. with the prince. The damsel in the distress thing did not stop there either.
I picked up magazines such as ones that told me that a guy liked it when you asked for his help. How do you get the guy? Makeup, exercise, clothing…all aspects of a life overemphasized and for the intention to attract the opposite sex.
My dad owned his own car lot. I would then look at car magazines. Often, the car magazine had a woman half naked beside a car. It tailored to a stereotype of one gender: a male who objectified women.
That said, myself and most females are not given a head start towards independence in our culture. Not encouraged and not reinforced except if you are the exception.
You have a problem? Throw the boyfriend at it.
How does these simple philosophical ideas about the hetero-normative relations between males and females pose a threat to female empowerment? Inherently, the female is considered the weaker, less dominant sex. This is by default even in our linguistics. “Mailman, congressmen,, etc.” and even the “him and her” or “his and her” ordering remains consistent. Therefore, we see aspects of the patriarchy in many instances. Messages, linguistics and even religion. Most philosophies undervalue the woman's role in a patriarchal society.
So, what did I learn as a way to fight against this for personal empowerment?
DON'T LEAN. LEARN.
LEARN! Knowledge is power.
Women are taught to lean on a male's resources. The male in a traditional patriarchal househouse is considered the head of the house. He is considered the breadwinner. He is the provider. Not all families follow this stereotypical family life. This mere idea extends beyond the family to other relations. When the male does simple things like buy dinner, etc. It is a misguided message of romance. Even in the hit tv show, Millionaire Matchmaker, one of the male millionaires was told to bring a gift of jewelry to the first date. Jewelry used to also be seen as the way that the male would have invested in the female in a romantic relationship, hence why women tend to be the one with the engagement rings.
However, we need to send a message of empowerment rather than misguided romantic messages that reinforce the patriarchy and disempower women's financial independence.
That brings us to– Don't lean, LEARN. Rather than lean on anybody (male OR female), find out how they did it. Learn from them instead. How did they become so connected, so financially stable, so professional or so healthy and happy in other areas.
Many may have grown up watching a woman rely on a male. Many may not have healthy feminist male or female rolemodels. Therefore, my suggestion is not to change everyone around you to becoming a feminist (I have tried that). Rather, be responsible for yourself. Instead of asking for support, ask for advice to how to become stable yourself. Knowledge is power.
Beyond romantic messages and attempting not to allow the reinforce of patriarchal power struggles, in everyday relations, you must also come to see every person you meet as a resource. Let me rephrase that – a knowledge resource. If they can do it, you can do it! The only difference is knowledge and experience. Sometimes, that knowledge even comes from experience. You may not be able to rely on their financial resources, but you can certainly pick their brains! Valuing intelligence is the first step towards empowerment and being responsible for what you know. No one else can solve your problems.
LearnVest for example was started by Alexa von Tobel and can help you to budget. She wants to empower women, and you can watch her speak about the issue further from her TED Talk called One Life Changing Class You Never Took:
As a recent graduate of my undergraduate college, I am well aware of the fact that there are people out there who prey on females without financial security. These types of people have many names. At times, they use harassment and threats to get what they want. This sets up a vulnerability for human trafficking. Where finances are exchanged between female and male relations, there becomes a risk. There is always a risk to safety beyond security.
There is a correlation between young girls who are educated becoming independent and girls who are uneducated who, say in other countries, get married off in their teenage years. This is a worldwide issue for female empowerment. Malala Yousafzai the young girl shot by the Taliban for expressing a desire for education is the reason that we must work harder to ensure that these inherent messages in society are overturned. It is up to us.