I started writing about mentoring. It's one of my most primary beliefs that we must impart our knowledge to others to help them and ourselves grow. It's a goal to figure out how we can successfully transcend age and generational gaps to create opportunities for girls to learn. Mentoring, good mentoring, can be transformative to both the mentor and the mentee. So how best to proceed? I asked Ann Muno of Powerful Voices, a Seattle, Washington based non-profit organization that fosters healthy emotional growth, leadership training and critical thinking for adolescent girls. I asked about mentoring; she taught me about power. Power for girls, power for women. I realized in speaking with her that much of what I have always perceived as women not stepping up or speaking out was about their lack of power, of their understanding of power, of embracing and owning their power.
My conversation with Ann was for me, transformative. She has an absolute understanding of what power means and how it effects the way we, (girls and women) communicate, how we feel about ourselves, our ability to ask for what we need, our capacity to feel secure in creating boundaries, our ability to embrace who we are with positive acceptance, and how to create loving and healthy relationships. Here is what she taught me:
• Power is about changing the status quo each girl at a time. It's the knowledge that every girl's power is tied to the girl who sits next to her or the girl who lives on the other side of the world. Power is about creating a healthy culture among girls. Power is about understanding that a girl's empowerment, singular, is tied to girls' empowerment, plural.
• Power is about raising the bar for her relationships. It's about expecting more from friends, intimate partners, parents, teachers and eventually co-workers. It is her ability to engage in healthy conflict, expect give-and-take, get her emotional needs met, negotiate, show vulnerability, and share passion for what matters most to her with others around her.
• Power is about knowing she has the right and ability to make choices, decisions, and speak up for herself and others. Power is her belief that her actions make a difference.
• Power is having pride in how she identifies -- in being a girl, in her racial or sexual identity, among others. It's about knowing what stereotypes limit her and how to reject these, and choosing experiences that help her grow her true identity.
• Power is connecting her emotions to decisions she makes about her body so she is better equipped to deal with body image issues and practice self-care. It is her recognition that her emotions are real and valid, and understanding how those affect her view of her own worthiness.
• And finally, power is about understanding what access to opportunity means. It's about understanding who has access, who does not and the history behind it. It's about understanding privilege -- where she has it and where she does not. (Privilege here means a person or group that has access to, or rights that naturally dis-include or exclude everyone else, coupled with a lack of understanding about the effects).
It is personal power that many girls are socialized out of believing they have, and that all girls need to be educated about and encouraged to embrace. And, it is the intersection of personal power and social justice where major societal transformation occurs.
What Can You Do?
Our challenge and opportunity is to deepen these power conversations with girls (and women). Learn how to be a mentor, a guide. Learn what power means in the context of a healthy girl culture. Understand more about your own power. Learn how your own definition of power helps or hinders your accomplishments, your view of the world in which you live. Understand how your own level of comfort with power shades how you view people.
Have non-judgmental conversations with girls about their definition of power. Listen, really listen, to those answers you receive. When you listen carefully to how a girl defines power (in reality defining themselves) you will understand where to take the conversation. Help them define what personal power means to them. Help them understand the power that comes from embracing and believing in their own self-value and worth, their ability to make decisions and choices.
Teaching women to embrace and use their power will change our lives today. Teaching girls about power will change their present, and our future. Together we will create a shared reality of truly empowered girls who will change our society and our world, for the better.