Unless we include a job as part of every citizen's right to autonomy and personal fulfillment, women will continue to be vulnerable to someone else's idea of what need is.
–Gloria SteinemIn October, I attended University of Idaho’s Women’s Leadership Conference, where Gloria Steinem was keynote speaker. Steinem spoke about the strides women have made for equality during the past forty years, and the work that is still needed in order to achieve true gender parity. She also spoke about how women’s personal power and the opportunities available for them are inextricably linked. Her definition of personal power is a person's fundamental sense of influence, fulfillment, and autonomy, the source of which resides inside the person instead of being vested by the position or status she holds within society
Gloria Steinem wrote the above statement in the 1970s, during a time of great changes for American society. Previously, many women, particularly white women, were not able to continue working after they married a husband. However, many women, including poor women, African-American women, and women of other races and ethnicities had always worked in our country, because economically they had no choice. They raised the children of middle and upper class white women, they cleaned homes, and they worked in fields. The 1970s were a time when women began fighting for their rights to work outside the home, and African Americans and other groups continued to fight for their civil rights. Discrepancies in “appropriate” work by gender and race continue into 2012, in part because of societal expectations for what girls of color can achieve.
I would take Steinem’s quote one step farther: Unless we include the opportunity to do personally meaningful work as part of every citizen’s right to autonomy and personal fulfillment, women will continue to be vulnerable to someone else’s idea of what need is. Powerful Voices is in the business of helping girls find and access their personal power. PV provides employment programming to Seattle girls. In these programs, girls have the opportunity to learn empowerment skills and express themselves through workshops at the annual Girlvolution Conference and poems in a literary magazine. The employment programs also provide the girls with stipends, meant to compensate them for their time and take the place of an after-school job.
One of my favorite posters in PV’s office is the banner from last year’s Girlvolution Conference. It reads, “A Girlvolution looks like girls becoming not who men tell them to be, not who parents tell them to be, not who partners, peers, or friends tell them to be, but
who they CHOOSE to be themselves.”
This is personal power, expressed with a powerful voice.