Where do girls who aren’t acknowledged fall on the empowerment spectrum?

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Last week’s readings have me examining feminism and what female/girl empowerment means. Specifically, in terms of those pockets of our society that do not fit into the normative conversation: be it racial, geographical, socioeconomic, or any other factor that creates an “other.” When we think of “girl power,” or young women self-actualizing, building self-confidence, and embracing a powerful femininity, it is often in the context of a white female. Why is this? (Or, really: why is this still, because we of course know by now to point to historical acts of colonialism and suppression, yet they have lingered… and now what?) And how is this limiting CYC practitioners in providing care for the whole of their community’s population? For those women and girls who do not have the same basic expectations of and from society, what does the conversation of female empowerment mean? Could it be that they are, in fact, hurt by it, because they are even further “ghosted” out of the common discourse?


For those women and girls who do not have the same basic expectations of and from society, what does the conversation of female empowerment mean?


Indigenous girls growing up in Canada are an example of this “other.” Because of their otherness, they are excluded from the typical conversations of girlhood (de Finney, 170). De Finney lays a case for how narratives/stereotypes of indigenous girls and women, “wilful ignorance,” and “playing Indian” have all led to this concreting of native girls as less-than and something separate from the “typical” conversation of girlhood. There are no strong indigenous female figures in media, no role models for these girls to emulate or see as representations of themselves in mainstream society.

Another way to look at this is to turn to the discourse of power. Power is implicitly and explicitly a part of this conversation, it must be. Power is part of the framework of a society – if you are operating within the framework, you are operating in the context of that power (Zinga, 259). What strikes me is how the convergence of power, capitalism, and the normative conversation of female “self-actualization” can create a space of complete use and disposability of the lived experiences and cultural histories of an entire population of girls. Stores stock items that are emblazoned with “Indian” symbols and artwork, and popular culture icons use headdresses and attire to play the part of “sexy Indian.” Girls – white girls? – are encouraged to consume this media, buy these products, and claim their own identity… at the cost of indigenous girls who, now, are experiencing both an excluded “otherness” as well as cultural appropriation.

I don’t have answers to the questions I raised as I began this post. Right now, it seems like what we need are more questions. Questions about power and rights and equality and fairness. Questions that go beyond how we got here, and begin to ask where do we go from here. From what to so what.

One thing seems clear, though. If we as practitioners want to focus on empowering girls, our work will not be complete until it is an empowerment that reaches all girls. (And then, why stop there: we can open the box of what is gender, what does it mean to be a girl, or a boy? If there were to be a “female empowerment” program, who would that necessarily be excluding, if there are those that do not fit even into that binary?) Questions. Let’s keep asking them.

de Finney, S. (2015). Playing Indian and other settler stories: disrupting Western narratives of Indigenous girlhood.Continuum, 29(2), 169-181.

Zinga, D. (2012). Journeying With Youth: Re-Centering Indigeneity in Child and Youth Care. Child & Youth Services,33(3-4), 258-280.

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2 thoughts on “Where do girls who aren’t acknowledged fall on the empowerment spectrum?

  1. For me, empowerment has meant a way of creating space for girls (or third graders, or early readers, or new employees, or whomever is the audience) to recognize a natural power, voice, or agency – to define themselves and their autonomy in this world they find themselves. It has been, in my mind, a largely positive thing. I have not always assumed that empowerment always and necessarily assumes a disempowered body. At the same time, I can see how it can be (and has been) used as a tool that creates and perpetuates Otherness. In Shauna Pomerantz’s article “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Un/Defining the “Girl,” I stepped into the pole of “Girl” as Object, and saw the danger of assuming the girl to be an object of worry and concern.. it would be easy to adopt the “Ophelia” complex as rule, and treat girls as this object that needs saving. Hence: empowerment, this fancy tool by which we will save them. How trite, and how dangerous.

    At the same time, there is the lived experience of real adolescent girls that does need examining – it not, there wouldn’t be all this research and academic mind-power devoted to these studies. The reality is that there are so many girls and young women who do not feel part of the conversation about them, and who are looking for ways to express themselves and to just Be. As Pomerantz ends her piece, she calls for critical girls’ studies to focus not on “creating a unified notion of girlhood, but on blowing apart the fictions through which girls have been defined.” So, if it is determined that that isn’t through empowerment, what is the better approach and corresponding words/vocabulary?

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