When we talk about the work we do, the phrase “girls’ empowerment” is thrown around a lot. According to Wikipedia: Empowerment refers to increasing the spiritual, political, social, educational, gender, or economic strength of individuals and communities. I like this definition. You feel more empowered just reading it, don’t you? In a social/political context, it is no secret that some of us have a lot more power than others. Historical systems of oppression have been created to raise some up and keep others down. Activists do the work of telling this truth – calling out these systems and showing just how unjust they are – and then working with the folks to do the radical work of re-creating these systems. Activists are in the empowerment business.
However, when we talk about the work we do, empowerment is a tricky phrase. It evokes for me an image of girls walking into a classroom or a theater or a cafetorium with absolutely no power, lifeless, just waiting for a superhero teaching artist like me to fly in and bestow power upon them with my magical lesson plans. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary: Power is the “ability to act or produce an effect.” Although we live in a world where power is unevenly and unfairly distributed at the societal level, we also live in a world where all of us, as at the personal/social/emotional level, possess massive amounts of power. Both worlds exist at the same time. One is external and the other is internal.
When we talk about the work we do, there is no need for discussion about whether or not our girls have power. Whenever girls dance or yell or sing or exclude each other or solve a problem or gossip or make art or whine or invent something new, they are using their power. When we talk about the work we do, we are proud to say that we are teaching artists. Teaching Artists do the work of imagining new possibilities for how you might you use your power. We help you practice telling your truth. We provide you with the tools you need to strengthen your internal capacities so that you can re-create the world that you want to live in. When we talk about the work we do, we are talking about girls using the power they already have in ways that make a positive impact on their lives and, ultimately, on the world around them.
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