If you’re a woman seeking to empower herself, things can get confusing. On the one hand, you’re told to look and act sexy. On the other, you’re taught to reserve your sexuality for those who deserve it. Our culture is confused about what women’s empowerment means, creating the idea that if you don’t do specific things, you’re not empowered. Empowerment, however, means different things to different people. And as long as you feel free to do what you want, it doesn’t matter so much what you do.
Part of the problem is that one version of "empowerment" we're often sold is really just objectification in disguise. "When you're objectified, you can start to confuse your value with your sexuality," Susan Edelman, a psychiatrist and author of Be Your Own Brand of Sexy: A New Sexual Revolution for Women, tells Bustle. "When you see so many beautiful faces and bodies in media, you often wonder 'what’s wrong with me that I don’t look like that?' It can be hard to see the value in your inner beauty when the pressure is on. Not only are you shamed for how you look — as in fat-shaming — but your culture also profits from your insecurities. We're trying so hard to meet impossible beauty ideals that now 90 percent of women aren't happy with how they look. Unhappiness is not empowerment. Trying to meet others' ideals of beauty is more like people-pleasing. People-pleasing often doesn't work out, because you can never make everyone happy."
Real empowerment means being true to yourself, even when society teaches you to be someone else. Here are some things a woman does not have to do to be empowered.
1Have Lots Of Sex
Sex positivity is very needed: Women should have the right to have sex as often and as casually as they want without judgment. But this doesn't mean we're less empowered if we don't like casual sex. Some people prefer to have less sex or wait until they're in committed relationships for plenty of reasons that have nothing to do with empowerment. What's empowering is going after the kind of relationship you want.
2Turn Down Sex
While we're being fed the idea that the more sex we have, the more empowered we are, there's also this idea that we need to turn down sex to show we value ourselves. But how many people you've had sex with is no more telling than how people people you've eaten lunch with. Sure, you don't want to eat lunch with unpleasant people. But how many people you dine with says nothing about your self-respect.
If freeing the nipple or taking a nude selfie makes you feel empowered, be my guest. But the idea that you have to look sexy to be empowered is nothing more than a marketing tactic.
Same deal here: You don't have to guard your body to show that you have self-respect. Your body is not an object to give or deny others. It's yours to enjoy, and whatever anyone else gets out of it is secondary to your own enjoyment.
5Love Your Body
Body positivity has taught us to embrace our bodies at any size, and that’s a great goal, but it’s not always realistic. For some of us, just feeling neutral about our bodies is an accomplishment. Even if you don’t love your body, you can still love yourself. We’re more than our bodies, and we can be empowered by embracing our minds.
7Sacrifice Her Family
No woman should feel pressure to be an involved parent, but if that's what she wants, she should get just as much praise and respect as a dad would. One woman's choice to be a mother doesn't take away from any other woman's choice not to. In fact, it just supports our ability to all make choices.
8Be A Mom
The idea that you have to be a mom to experience all that womanhood has to offer is also wrong. There's nothing inherently female about nurturing or homemaking; these things simply appeal to some of us but not others. You can have a full life without being a parent.
In short, there's nothing a woman has to do to be empowered — because if she feels empowered, she already is.