The word empowerment has lost almost all sense of meaning, and it's now more important than ever that we remind ourselves, as females, exactly what it stands for.
To me, 'empowerment' is just not an accurate description of what Lena Dunham is embracing when she portrays a group of over-privileged white Girls leading exceptionally average lives. Nor is it encapsulated by the restrictive concept of the 'girl squad' or many other faux-feminist tropes championed by hordes of Western women. Is this really what we should be using our power to achieve?
Don't get me wrong - 2016 was a positive year for us, in many ways. We stood up against #EverydaySexism, continued to dispute the Pay Gap, saw abolitionist Harriet Tubman's face replace that of some dead white guy on the $20 bill and witnessed a handful of women rise to political power, whether in congress or through culture. But 2016 was also the year that male sexual aggression became totally socially acceptable. Just look at the President Elect.
Still, feminism has not failed us. Instead of lamenting that "the feminist bubble" (Goldberg) has burst, we should focus on celebrating and acknowledging real female empowerment, over the distractions *cough* growing out and dyeing our armpit hair *cough* arbitrarily labelled as such. This is the ultimate clap back.
Let's just take a moment to remind ourselves what female empowerment actually looks like. Of course, the most timely example of a woman using her position for positive change is Meryl Streep's dignified cry against violence and disrespect at the Golden Globes this week, but there are so many more opportunities to reflect on what we are able to achieve, if we truly understand the power we hold.
In her lifetime, Maya Angelou published an almost immeasurable number of autobiographies, plays, poems and essays, and is still celebrated for challenging the medium of fiction itself to defend black womanhood. More recently, civil rights advocate Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw formally introduced the concept of intersectionality to feminism, inviting the law to acknowledge that race and gender discrimination are not mutually exclusive.
Shortly after her 15th birthday, Malala Yousafzai experienced an attempted assassination by the Taliban in response to her public advocacy for female education. Since then, this incredible teenager has addressed the UN and requested worldwide access to education, opened a school for girls near the Syrian border and became the youngest ever recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize.
Within the mainstream media, Ellen DeGeneres has been celebrated for challenging widespread assumptions about the LGBT community, having come out publicly on the cover of Time magazine in 1997 and recently banning a singer from her talk show for making homophobic comments in church. Like Yousafzai, actor turned activist Emma Watson has campaigned for worldwide education for girls, as well as speaking out about the need for female representation in politics.
Of course, these instances are merely a drop in the ocean. The women I have chosen to mention are a somewhat random and small selection of figures from the last century and, because of that, fail to represent the thousands of us making informed choices to better our lives on a daily basis.
While it may seem reductive to compare the 'empowering' action of posting a photo of some nipples on Instagram to all of the above, it's simply important to remember that we have so much more to offer than just that. It's time that we all realised our true and varied capabilities in inciting genuine positive change. Only then, will we be empowered.