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Masum Momaya, Curator
Masum Momaya, Curator
United States

What Does Power Look Like?

In April, the Women, Power and Politics exhibition asks the question: What Does Power Look Like? We explore everything from media coverage to fashion to leadership styles.

Some people say that in order to be effective leaders, women have to be authoritative... but not too “bitchy.” They have to be feminine... but not too "girly." And they certainly cannot "mannish!"

We want to hear your thoughts! Do you think having the right combination is important? Do you think there is room in the highest offices for women leaders who don’t fit this mold?

IMOW Team
IMOW Team
United States

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Nancy, Lived Learning
United States

I Live with Questions of Authority and Power

Having grown up in the US, in a family of Italian and German first generation immigrants, there was a lot of violence and loud arguing.

Even aftrer years of study and exploration, I find myself becomimg MORE sensitive and I struggle to be kind, to not resort to the kind of authoritarian power I grew up with and see world wide and widely accepted as POWER.

I now feel and understand POWER AS PRESENCE. That is, I am awed by anyone, myself included, who can stay present with grace and speak from heart and knowing grown out of deep reflection on life and experience.

I also now feel the POWER is subtle in its most beautfiul form. Art and beauty of expression are real power for me now. Women have the power in these realms even if we do not have financial power. We have the POWER OF INFLUENCE perhaps.

Wisteria in Bloom; My Hair Growing Back! (Richard Peden, St. Helena, cA)
Thasneem Hoey
United States

Real Power

Power....as it is exercised in today's world is an issue of the ego. For me it is the individual's capacity to influence, by being a role model, and influence need not be loud, high sounding, controling or advising.

Power comes in beautiful ways, sometimes silence can be more powerful, a few words coming from the right kind of person can be life changing. And this kind of power i have seen from people who made me who i am tody, My grandmother and aunt, both illiterate, spoke very little in their lives, but had a big impact on the lives of people who met them.

Power of this kind is everlasting, one feels like passing it on to the next generation because you live that power with in you because it really influenced me the way i saw life. This kind of power becomes enternal, as it flows within you so much that it expresses itself in your work, your relationships, your ethics and in communication. You just become that light, and people just want more of you.

I call this real power. If we have influenced a few that it self can be a big change in the world. Just one seed can germinate into a big tree that can give shade to all.

Masum Momaya, Curator
Masum Momaya, Curator
United States

Many Definitions of Power

Thank you Nancy and Thasneem for your comments! Your words remind us that our definitions of power are varied and constantly changing depending on our current situations. Some forms of power we can feel are:

  • POWER OVER people, ideas, or resources.
  • POWER WITH a group of like-minded individuals.
  • POWER TO change our lives.
  • POWER WITHIN ourselves and our ability to imagine a better future.

Civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. defined power as “the ability to achieve a purpose.” Eighteenth Century Feminist Mary Wollstonecraft said "I do not wish [women] to have power over men; but over themselves."

What are your definitions of power? How do you feel powerful in your life? Is there a kind of power you don't wish to have?

Power Within

I'm glad you included POWER WITHIN. This is a form of power I have only recently been thinking about. I think the power within means the power of possibility. We all know that voice in our head that tells us we can't do things. We begin imagining a better world and we say, "yeah that sounds great, but it will never happen." Or sometimes we can't even stretch our imagination to imagine new possibilities. In my last few months of experimentation of the power of imagination, I've never felt so liberated from that voice in my head or the voices in society telling me to stop dreaming.

IMOW Team
IMOW Team
United States

The Latest Poll Numbers!

In April's poll, we're asking you if a woman has to act like a man to be a successful leader. So far 42% of respondents have said there's no such thing as "acting like a man."

What do you think? If you haven't taken our poll yet, click here.

cynthia
United States

we are...

power is being redefined for me...I didn't think I had any, was told by others and believed inside myself that I had none...but I kept getting up every morning, doing those things I had to do, never giving up on my creative dreams and continuing to be love, even in the times that I didn't know it was the power in me that enabled me to continue each day... As women we're made to believe that what we do and who and how we are deep inside, has no value...but it is our intrinsic KNOWING and our abilities to nurture that will restore...and THAT'S power. Centuries of history have tried to stomp down our spirits, but to try to harness our spirits would be like trying to harness the power of the sun. I believe there isn't a look to power, it just is...and we ARE.

image
Deleted User

Our Sexist Selves

Food for thought:

I was just reading last Sunday's New York Times and an opinion piece titled "Our Racist, Sexist Selves" by Nicholas D. Kristof caught my eye. The columnist cites research done at Harvard and University of Chicago, among many universities, and explains:

"The challenge of women competing in politics or business is less misogyny than unconscious sexism: Americans don't hate women, but they do frequently stereotype them as warm and friendly, creating a mismatch with the stereotype we hold of leaders as tough and strong. So voters (women as well as men, although a bit less so) may feel that a female candidate is not the right person for the job because of biases they're not even aware of."

Another interesting paragraph:

"Women now hold 55 percent of top jobs in American foundations but are still vastly underrepresented among political and corporate leaders--and one factor may be that those are seen as jobs requiring particular toughness. Our unconscious may feel more of a mismatch when a woman competes to be a president or a C.E.O. than when she aims to lead a foundation or a university."

Masum Momaya, Curator
Masum Momaya, Curator
United States

Uprooting Unconscious Bias

Sanja raises a good point: it's unconscious biases that often hurt women much more than overt discrimination. In one of our April stories, Erika Falk implies that many people can actually name these biases and are STILL privy to them. So how can we begin to name AND uproot these biases so they are not "at work" and amuck?

Owen BV
Owen BV
Philippines, the

The Perception of Power

Nancy, your comment on power as presence struck me most. The world underestimates the power of women who have come to terms with their strengths, and is able to stand tall, not with an aggressive stance but from a place of grace.

Grace Kadzere
Grace Kadzere
South Africa

What does power look like?... My thoughts

I feel that power has no look. If we give power a look based on who is currently in power, suppose it is a woman, that automatically means we sort of expect her predecessor to not only dress the same way but sort of have the same school of though as well. Which is only unfair to the individualness within each one of us.

I do not think famales in power have to force themselves to look feminine if they do feel it or force themselves to be manly. I think it is our role as the supporting cast( those not in power) to accept whatever these people bring to the table and accept them for who they are. I do think that there is so much space in the highest offices for women who do not conform to what they are not. Women who stick to who they are and what they believe in.

The only problem is stereotyping, women tend to create the image of the other women that they would want to see in power hence we hold back and do not apply for these posts, even if we know we can cut it because we feel we are less good.

I like the fact that Condoleeza Rice wore knee high boots in a place where no-one had ever done that. If we have more women like her,or like the wife of the French president, who are not ashamed to share their individuality then most women would not care much about their looks and just run for high offices. And all they had to do was dress for success, the same way they did before they ran for office.

Karen Offen
Karen Offen
United States

Power and appearance

I just read in Segolene Royal's biography that she is very particular about her public personae and about being photographed. She ran for president of France last year, lost by a small margin. See my blog for more.

I've been following the various threads in different forum topics, about what power looks like, about presence, about biases, about opportunities and possibility. It's all fascinating, and my response is simply another perspective: On one level I understand fully why we turn to the tangible to try to quantify and hence more easily "grasp" what women can, must, do to assume "power", leadership roles, "authority". On another level I feel that all these tangibles mean nothing if there is no inner coherence, no inner sense of strong identity.

I have spent the past year working on a Museum project in Qatar. There I have watched women draped in black, only their faces showing, display full command over high-status international meetings and indeed over entire institutions. Women with eight children, pregnant women, women who in ways still must conform to the cultural "norms" that they are tied to. Women who must still get their husbands' permission to travel because of the archaic bureaucracy that is intertwined with the patriarchal hierarchy. Women whose husbands prefer them not to drive, women who in some cases are in their 20s. Yet these are women whose sense of self, of identity, is so strong, it radiates through the black garments that cast them all in similar silhouettes; through the social structure they are tied to; and through the expectations of them in their domestic roles. And that is something that they have given themselves, and I think it speaks to what is so prevalent around the globe: Women who give up their own inner power, which we all do have. Power, I believe, is most often something we give away, it is not taken from us. And we give it away out of conditioning, and it is fear that keeps us from taking it back.

If there is a true inner coherence and connectedness to the self and real belief and focus in that, then there is real strength. And with that a woman can stand before the world in a shapeless robe, or with her own eclectic fashion mix, and command attention and lead a nation.

To borrow from something in my cultural heritage, if I may, there is also another facet to explore: The reality that to everything there is the visible versus the hidden (the invisible). Women's power, and indeed the "change" they can make, is not always visible to the foreign eye (and by foreign that can even mean myself, as an Egyptian, as an outsider to a subculture within my own country).

Several years ago during my time as the Middle East correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, I spent extensive time in Kuwait. A progressive country in many ways, but the role of women was hidden to the visiting observing eye. Through reporting I uncovered just what a prominent, and growing, and important role women are playing in the society, and how empowering it is to them, and how much "power" it gives them within even the patriarchal hierarchy of the arab family system. The markets were booming with rising oil prices, and women, who had more "free" time since many did not work, were the ones learning about, and investing in, and driving the fast-rising stock markets. After initial resilience to this on the parts of husbands and brothers, the men were now actually giving the women the family money to invest.... and several years later, we know that thousands of families in Kuwait, and across the Gulf, made millions off the stock markets during that time. And what had started as an activity women engaged in private over the internet (the invisible/hidden), became something public -- the stock market opened an entire section ("floor") for women. It changed families and lives and the interaction of men and women in the society. It wasn't merely about the power money gave them, but rather it became about the knowledge they had, and a new lens society was given to view them through.

So I think we have to step outside our own constructs of "measurement" and try to find the new, the underlying, the hidden perspectives. I think it is up to us, as women, to empower and find power not in the way that we "see" or are "told" is "right", "effective", but rather in the way that allows us to retain the inner coherence that is also reflected in our actions, and that brings about tangible change for us. I think in uncovering these many hidden layers in communities around the world, we can each find our own truth, and with that the ripples of change will definitely come together as a powerful force.


maha saedaway
maha saedaway
United States

what does power look like ?

Is power silence ? agree
Is power dedecation ? agree
Is power high tolarence ? agree
Is power faliure ? disagree

Susan Paquin
Susan Paquin
United States

Power of Self

Self realization is one of the many ways any person can feel the power we are capable of and can exhibit through knowing who we are; what we like, what we don't, what we believe in, what angers us and makes us laugh.

It's not about having power over anyone else, but simply recognizing what makes us--us and never compromising that. Power is self-awareness...

Tags: power , Self em"power"ment


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