Women and Power
6 Things I Learned About Power as a Young Girl
Power. It’s such an interesting concept for women. Men keep their power. It grows with them. Women tend to lose it along the way. And then spend their lives trying to regain it.
I know the exact moment I gave all of my power away.
I was a confident, tom-boyish six-grader. Smart, good in sports, well, kickball and backyard tag football, the types of games we played back then. I felt power in those things and good about myself, strong, confident.
My teacher, Mr. Ferraro, a recent Vietnam War Veteran, worked hard at making us feel confident. Stick to your guns, he would say emphatically. When he asked us a thought-provoking question, he would convincingly try and talk us out of an answer often times engaging the class in believing he was right as well. He would make us explain why we gave the answer we did and then challenge that answer in every way.
I frequently got challenged. At the time I answered a lot of questions, hoisting my hand up in the air freely. If I waffled, or changed my mind to agree with him, he would tsk, tsk and say, what have I been telling you Dyanne, stick to your guns! You were right! He believed in me and my abilities.
I learned not to back down when I thought I had the answer. I learned to fight for what I thought was right. There were times I was wrong, of course. That didn’t matter to Mr. Ferraro. What mattered was defending my beliefs, even if no one agreed with me. What mattered was being able to stand up, even to an intimidating authority figure like himself.
There was a boy in the class I really, really liked. I wanted him to like me back. He was not a stellar student and got into trouble frequently. One day we were playing in the school yard after class, some sort of tag or catch and release. I remember laughing and chasing him, and while I don’t remember the conversation, I, as clear as day remember him turning around and saying, “You’re so conceited!” Smack. Down.
I didn’t even know what conceited meant. I had to go home and look it up, vain, too proud. I was crushed. This confidence I felt, had now been reframed into vanity. That quick. That easily. A whole internal shift took place. I needed to act less than to get this boy to like me. I needed to not be as smart, to raise my hand less. Luckily it was near the end of the school year, and my changes were less noticeable.
I became self-deprecating instead. I chose to put myself down. Even Mr. Ferraro’s influence didn’t help me at this point. I shudder to think what he would have said had I told him of my plan to be less than.
I lost my sense of self and became demurring around boys and in general. My personality shifted. To be liked, to be included, to be part of a group was so much more important at the time. I bet you have a similar story. Somewhere in a woman’s journey, she does what she thinks she must do to be in and hold onto relationships, from adolescence to adulthood.
When I work with female clients, we inevitably get to the discussion about giving our power away, retrieving it and owning it once again. It doesn’t mean relationships become less important. It does mean we don’t lose ourselves in relationships. It means we value ourselves and what we bring into the relationship whether it’s with a partner, a friend or even with our own families.
While I got off track at a young age, I eventually found the winding way back to my own power. I truly believe my teacher’s confidence in me was a factor in my on-going resilience, my ability to recognize what I had done to emotionally stunt my power and to regain my authentic voice.
Here’s what I learned from Mr. Ferraro about personal power:
- Use your voice assertively, calmly with proof backing your words.
- Trust in yourself and your abilities.
- Stand up for what you believe in with heart-felt conviction.
- Have the courage to take risks against the odds.
- Build emotional resilience against the naysayers.
- And, never let someone in authority have the power to silence you.
A life code learned in one year in 6th grade. I’m sure I learned a little something about math and English that year too. Maybe a history lesson or two. I really don’t remember any of that.
But damn, Mr. Ferraro. You taught me some pretty good life skills.
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