What I Learned from A Women's Empowerment Class Based On Josephine Baker

Suzannah Weiss

When I learned about “Bring Out Your Inner Josephine,” an online women’s empowerment course based on the life and philosophy of Josephine Baker, it seemed like exactly what I needed. While I’d accomplished most of the goals I’d wanted to accomplish by that point — a fulfilling job, financial success, good friends, a great boyfriend — there was a certain spark missing from my life. I craved more excitement, more joy, and more pleasure in my day-to-day life. Fortunately, that’s exactly what the course aims to provide.

The class’s teacher Maryann Reid, founder of the online women’s community Alphanista, former editor of Black Enterprise, and the author of several romance novels, believes in the power of women’s sexuality, but not in the way we’re usually taught. Her course teaches women how to go through their day-to-day activities with a sense of playfulness, awareness of their bodies, and strategic use of their charm. These are skills we may not think of as sexual, but they flourish when we embrace our sexuality — just like Josephine Baker did.

Many women who take this course "are in the corporate environment working the office 9-5 and feel completely dead inside," Reid tells Bustle. "They've tried everything else: They've tried yoga, they've tried eating differently, they've tried exercising. What they haven't done is put the focus on themselves and on their own pleasure and on the power of their sexuality."

That description sounded a lot like me. I may not work a 9-5 office job, but I am a workaholic. And not only do I not follow my desires; I usually don’t even know what they are. So, something designed to help women “create freedom and rich, satisfying new experiences with their body, careers, and relationships without discarding the power of their femininity and sexuality” sounded like it was for me. The class had three parts: “Cultivating Freedom With Your Body,” “Cultivating Freedom In Your Career,” and “Cultivating Freedom In Your Relationships.” Each had its own call with an expert on the topic, exercises to practice the skills, and worksheets explaining them.

After taking the course, I’m still a workaholic who’s pretty dead inside, but I have a better idea of what I might want my life to look like instead, and I feel just a little bit closer to that getting that. Here are a few things I learned.

1. Negative Affirmations Can Be As Powerful As Positive Ones

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When I learned about the exercise for the first module, I initially thought it defeated the whole purpose of the class. I’m not supposed to give it away, because you’ve got to take the class, but it involves saying negative thoughts you’ve had about yourself, even if they’re not true, like “you’re so lazy.”

This seemed to me like it could potentially damage someone’s self-esteem, but it made more sense when Reid explained its intended purpose: It’s so nobody can tell you anything you don’t already know. We all have a bit of laziness, unkindness, and pretty much every negative trait in us, so saying these things isn’t putting ourselves down — it’s just acknowledging this fact. And when we do, nobody can offend us, because we’ll already know whatever they’re telling us about ourselves.

When you deny your so-called flaws, you’re not really loving yourself. You’re loving a version of yourself that, deep down, you know you can’t live up to. You can only fully love yourself once you’re completely honest about who you are — all of it.

2. The Person You Think You’re Not Is Part Of Who You Are

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A theme that came up several times during the course was doing things people wouldn’t expect you to do. Going off the same idea that every single trait is present at least partially in all of us, one exercise Reid suggested was to make a collage of women we don’t think of ourselves as and try to find commonalities with these women. Many women, she said, will pick women who are very sexually open, since they’ve been taught not to be “slutty.” I don’t have any reservations about embracing my sexuality, though, so I couldn’t think of what this would look like for me.

After we discussed the different female archetypes, though, it became clear: It’s the mother archetype that I completely disavow. I can’t stand children, and the thought of taking care of anyone makes me extremely uncomfortable. According to Reid’s theory, though, there is a nurturing side of me, and I do see it sometimes (mostly directed toward cats).

Once I realized I had this aversion to anything and everything motherly, I began to challenge it, because hello internalized misogyny. I started doing little things like asking my boyfriend how his day was while stroking his hair so he felt supported. It turns out I do have a bit of mother archetype in me after all, and contrary to what I feared, that doesn’t diminish the career-woman archetype in me.

3. Charm Is An Important Skill At Work & Everywhere

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One archetype we spent a lot of time on — probably because it describes Baker herself — is the courtesan. This archetype doesn’t have to literally be a sex worker, but it’s a woman who gets what she wants by using her feminine wiles. At work and really anywhere, it can mean complimenting people or just having a bright energy that’s pleasant to be around. In a subtle way, this’ll make people depend on you. If you’re not around, they’ll miss how you make them feel, and they’ll do what it takes to keep you around. This gives you leverage when you need something from them.

Since I work remotely, wielding charm isn’t something I tend to think about at work. But I’ve realized it is possible to do remotely, and it goes a very long way. When you’re pleasant to work with, people will keep offering you work, and they’ll be pleasant, too. It can be as simple as telling a co-worker “have a good weekend” when you sign off for the day or making a joke to establish rapport. I used to believe succeeding at work was all about focusing on the work and remaining undistracted by social things, but now, I see all that social stuff is a big part of the work itself.

4. If Something Bothers You In A Relationship, Do Something

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During the “Cultivating Freedom in Your Relationships” call, another student made an excellent point. Women are often accused of getting irrationally angry in relationships, she said, but maybe that’s because we don’t speak up initially. For example, if something our partner says bothers us at first but we don’t say anything, then we finally bring it up months later when we’re super angry about it, it’s understandable that our partners might be confused about our ostensible change of heart.

Another point that the guest speaker, Lisa Velasquez, brought up is that women don’t always believe people when they show them who they are. Then, further down the line, they get upset that they’re dating the very person they decided to date. Moral of the story: If something your partner is doing bothers you, do something, whether that’s talking about it or leaving them.

If you want to learn more about how to be freer in your career, relationships, and life, you can get more info on the course here.