When speaking to the world of women’s issues, one of my least favorite words in the entire world is empowerment. Not only do I find it entirely overused, but I believe our gender already has within us an enormous amount of innate power. However, I don’t think we always understand what that means, and I certainly don’t think we draw from it as often as we should.
When discussing the second movie installment in the Fifty Shades trilogy, Dakota Johnson (the actress playing the role of Ana Steele), was asked by Entertainment Tonight what she did to prepare for the sex scenes. Her reply, “[a] shot of whiskey… mints.” She also said, “He does pushups and I just like lay there and drink whiskey.”
As an actress, she’s not alone in her anxiety about what is expected of her while doing her job. Last year in a roundtable with the Hollywood Reporter, Jennifer Lawrence was asked what her toughest moment as an actress was thus far. Her quick response was, “my first real sex scene,” which was in the movie Passengers, released in 2016. She referred to it as “a bizarre experience” and clarified that “it was done right” on the set (meaning her colleagues were professional), yet she was still so uncomfortable that her preparation for the scene was drinking. “You drink. You get really, really drunk,” she said. But that drinking only “led to more anxiety.” She also added that this was the first time ever kissing a married man. “I knew it was my job, but I couldn’t tell my stomach that,” she said.
Is empowerment pushed upon us by our culture?
Oftentimes our culture, whether it’s through film, television, or women’s publications, tells us we are empowered by our freedom to do whatever we would like. Are we equally empowered to say no to what we don’t like? Can we say no to the things that make us uncomfortable? Are we empowered enough to turn down a job that asks us to surrender ourselves to the expectations of others—whether it be a script, a director, a boss? I have enough confidence in my gender to believe we absolutely are. Here’s what real empowerment is: don’t do anything that requires you to take a shot of whiskey in order to execute.
Our truest strength (which I think is far more desirable than power) is found in the discovery of ourselves. When we establish our worth, when we discover our talents, and when we create our goals we become strong, confident, and unwilling to compromise to another’s expectations. Especially expectations that aren’t true to who we are, true to whom we are meant to be.
Yes, our gender compromises every single day.
We compromise in our relationships in order to build healthy ones, we compromise with coworkers for the betterment of our career and work environment, and we compromise with our children to show that we listen to them. But we never compromise on anything that diminishes our character or undermines our worth.
This is not to say that refusing to compromise will not come at a cost. It often does. As an actress, your opportunities in the industry are limited if you refuse roles that include certain scenes. If you refuse to compromise with an inappropriate boss, you may lose your job. If you refuse to compromise with a boyfriend asking things of you that you are unwilling to give, you may very well lose that boyfriend. But if you don’t hold to the truth of your self-worth, clinging to the principles you have established, you lose so very much more.
Be the woman you know you were meant to be.
Returning to the world of fiction, the television show Nashville has some great characters. I probably have an affinity to this show and city because I lived there and worked there for a large part of my career life. But there is one character I like a lot, Scarlett.
In one episode of the current season, her band, The Exes, were on set filming a music video. She expressed opposition to her overly revealing wardrobe, commenting that she felt “not herself” in the role she was set to play. This was the dialogue that ensued:
Director: I’m asking you to seduce this man with your eyes, your lips, your hands, your pelvis. What’s holding you back?
Scarlett: It’s not me.
Scarlett: I don’t do the things you’re asking me to do. I don’t move the way you’re asking me to move. At least not in public.
Director: And why is that?
Scarlett: It’s degrading.
Director: You think that if you behave in a certain way, people will value you less. They’ll call you names. You’ll be diminished. But in fact, there have been female artists from Isadora Duncan to Madonna who have claimed power and pleasure by embracing their sexuality on their own terms. So what I need you to do is to quiet the voice in your head that says shame and just own it.
Scarlett: What if I don’t want to?
She walked off the set and this scene ended with the director calling a wrap for the day. The next scene was a conversation between her and Gunner, her bandmate who is also her boyfriend:
Gunnar: Maybe it’s OK to push the envelope, cut loose.
Scarlett: Why? So I can be like one of the girls in your fantasies?
Gunnar: No. So you can feel more free.
Scarlett: If you’re so concerned about my freedom, why would you push me to be someone I’m not? I’m OK with who I am.
You’ve got to love a Southern girl like Scarlett (even if she is fictional and is actually from Australia). In this scene she has shown strength; she felt empowered to be the woman she is. Unfortunately, she returned the following day to submit to the directors’ vision. That can happen to the best of us.
But it’s not just the strong girls who fare from the South; it’s girls from the North, East, and West. It’s any girl who chooses to use her power to hold onto the principles she established when she determined her worth, when she discovered her talents, and when she created her goals. It’s any girl who can walk away and state, even if just to herself, “In case anyone wondered, that’s what an empowered woman really looks like.”
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