Stand in your power and walk with intention.
Those words of advice—a call to action—from Gloria Feldt, in her book No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, resonated deeply with me. They describe exactly what I have been learning to do since beginning this blog.
Throughout her book, Ms. Feldt emphasizes power-to (the ability, determination, and persistence to accomplish an ambition), distinguishing it from power-over (the current way most of us conceive of power—a paradigm of dominance). She also gives women the following power tools to help us step up to the plate of our own power and follow through with our intentions:
- Know your history.
- Define your terms—first.
- What you need is there if you see it and have the courage to use it.
- Embrace controversy.
- Carpe the chaos.
- Wear the shirt.
- Create a movement.
- Employ every medium.
- Tell your story.
I love these power tools. I think every woman should have them in her tool belt and swing them around during casual conversation.
While the power tools are all wonderful, some of them are easier to follow than others, and they all take a high level of consciousness, persistence, and dedication to realize. Ms. Feldt knows that, and gives us an honest assessment of what it would take to use these tools, individually and collectively, to finally push women through the remaining barriers to equality.
I especially love two of her points:
- Women need to embrace leadership. Throughout the book, Ms. Feldt gives examples of women, often en masse, who are on the verge of taking action but instead merely discuss a problem. I have often expressed frustration with the American tendency to discuss perspectives without taking necessary bold action, and I love it that Ms. Feldt calls women out for this tendency. When we meet to solve a problem, we need to identify the solution and take swift action to implement it. As the author puts it, “In rejecting domination, we mustn’t also reject effective and definitive action; we must have the intention necessary to get the results we want.” (p. 354)
- We need to take action even if some ducks aren’t in the row. The author emphasizes our need to simply act, using the Nike slogan of “Just do it.” In my own life, I’ve had to learn this lesson a few times—and each time I do, I am richly rewarded. I love these words from page 242 of the book: “Intention is not an either/or construct, but a continuum. Barriers to our ability to walk with intention through our lives range from those totally imposed from external sources to barriers fully embraced by women themselves. There are many points along the continuum, and the places in the middle cause the confusion, approach-avoidance of power, and cognitive dissonance. We could analyze this to death, but in the end, if women “just do it,” a new social reality will be constructed and that will change everything.”
I also love the examples the author gives along the way—she profiles women who have taken their power-to and accomplished great things, both long ago and in the present. These women are all people of power and intention, and they are all inspiring.
Although I agree with much of what Ms. Feldt says, I often found myself challenged by her ideas. As I was reading, I would think, “Yes, but…” or “What about…” Eventually, with an inward smile, I realized I was offering excuses. And the author let me know right away that excuses are not an option.
That doesn’t mean the difficulties are fabricated, however. The one that presented itself most starkly to me is a chicken and egg dilemma: It is difficult to get a grip on your own power-to when you are struggling with the mess of a half-finished revolution. As Anne-Marie Slaughter recently highlighted, too many mothers are stretched beyond their limits as it is. And too many women of all ages are suffering from unconscious co-option, a problem Ms. Feldt discusses in detail. So we must find the strength—the power-to—overcome these dilemmas in the everyday dance of too much responsibility, too much patriarchy, and too little time.
And yet it is exactly because we are in the middle of this half-finished revolution that we cannot leave the work undone. Those of us who are further along the path—as a consequence of good fortune, hard work, or a combination of the two—must blaze the trail forward. It is our right, our privilege, and our duty to do so. And reading No Excuses will give us the tools we need to finish the job.
I highly recommend this book—read it, take its lessons to heart, and walk forward with me into controversy.