Tuesday, January 1, 2008

What's Important?



Is it important to be powerful?

I've been asking around, because I know I used to think being powerful was supremely important. Maybe it's a baby boomer phenomena.

During the early days of the feminist movement in the 1970's, when women felt completely powerless, the concept of empowerment got planted in our heads. Without sufficient umphh, we felt we would fail to overthrow the oppression of our post 1950's American culture. Down with Doris Day! Up with Angela Davis! The idea was to get power first, then focus on healing injustices. We had consciousness-raising circles in which we expressed anger, clenched our fists and raised them to the sky. It was intoxicating. After a lifetime of being told we had to stuff our desires and be polite, we allowed ourselves to feel blood in our mouths - all in service to the urgent need for justice and fairness and peace, mind you. What a delicious sensation.

Everything in early feminism had to be extreme, in order to explode through the old paradigm. As the movement matured, feminist tactics became much more refined. After awhile, most of us went back to shaving our legs, wearing bras and make-up. I changed behaviors, but held on to the old, extreme thought forms. Why did I believe that kindness and receptivity, lady-like behavior, was a sign of weakness? It's a leftover fragment from the 70's. But, maybe I'm finally letting go.

These days I think it's important to be kind, to practice compassion, aim towards balance, actively avoid the drama that always accompanies the pursuit of power. Human beings are so powerful already. It's like cultivating weeds while ignoring the roses.

Unfortunately we have a long road to travel if we want to become a more gentle, thoughtful species. Trying to cultivate personal power without refining our instinctual behavior will not bring us closer to thoughtfulness and compassion. At least it certainly didn't bring me closer to being a decent person.

Maybe Doris Day wasn't so bad. She almost always played a career "gal" in her movies. She was boy crazy, of course, but she also had her pride. She had strong boundaries around her sexual behavior, was clearly in control of her own destiny, and in the end, she always triumphed Wow.. Doris was powerful after all. As powerful as Angela Davis? I'm starting to think so.

Any thoughts? Is it important to be powerful?

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

well, as a Doris Day lover (she and I share a birthday with Marlon Brando) I think she was powerful in some ways, weak in others. But I think younger generations face the same dilemmas she faced--trying to please people (her husbands and bosses) until one day she probably said "enough" and gained more personal power.
xxxoooched

Barbara said...

If you have self-esteem, you don't need to worry about being powerful. Power is simply a way to compensate for insecurity. At least that's my 2 cents!

Reya Mellicker said...

Barbara as you know, I think that's brilliant. You, too, Ched. My ex girlfriend was totally in love with Doris Day. I like thinking about her being so close to Rock Hudson, keeping his big secret until he got so sick with AIDS that no one could deny the truth. She was cool.

Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

I don't know if a man can weigh in on this, but I think some times power and strength get confused. The problem with power is that it too often involves taking away power away from others. Further, it seems power is hard to share, but strength does work well in groups. Further I think of power as being loud and strident, strength often be quiet, subtle and easily confused for weakness.

Jane said...

Power and aggression go hand in hand in the world. "Personal" power, to me, is a kind of strength, self-ness, or attitude. Did mine grow out of the Women's Movement? Perhaps, but Doris Day had it (or many of her characters did). Very interesting question, Reya!

Reya Mellicker said...

Thank you! I am blown away by the intelligence and thoughtfulness of my blog kin. THANK YOU!!

Steve said...

I've never consciously pursued power. But maybe that's because I've been able to enjoy some measure of it by social default. (A disturbing thought!) I think the commenter who distinguished between power and strength is right on -- power isn't power until it's inflicted on others, while strength is more of an inner phenomenon. Doris Day, as you point out, was (is) quite strong in her way. (I'm a big Angela Davis fan, though, so don't make me choose! :) )

Reya Mellicker said...

Angela Davis was my uber-heroine, still is ... but these days I'm expanding my ideas about what it means to be powerful. You don't always have to be pissed off.

And I agree that there's no such thing as what we called in Reclaiming: "power with." There is only "power over" or "power under."

Thanks ya'all, for making me think!

Lynne said...

I don't feel the need to have power. I'd rather have inner strength. You can have power and wield it, but if you don't have the strength to back it up your power will crumble. Without inner strength you become a puppet of someone else. A powerful puppet, maybe, but still a puppet!

IntangibleArts said...

Outstanding post. And I'll agree with all this linguistic nitpicking. It's what tiggers do best.

There's "power" and there's "strength", and many ways to interpret each. I figure "strength of character" would be my favorite way to go. You get it all: confidence without arrogance, power without agression, etc. Being centered in the self but without excluding the world. It could easily take a lifetime to achieve.

Good example would be Louise Brooks. She was strong, confident, maybe even aloof when necessary, but unashamed.... and did I mention unspeakably gorgeous? That would also be a byproduct of this "strength-of-character" stuff. ... just a thought.

lettuce said...

too late and weary to be profound - tho its interesting most of you here interpret "power" negatively and prefer "strength". I was going to say that gentleness and self-giving can be the most powerful things...


off to bed now
:o)

Reya Mellicker said...

Wow! So glad I posted my thoughts. Thank you, all of you. I love people who make me think!

kimy said...

stimulating post! and collection of comments. on the personal level, I admit I did have a crush on doris day as a wee girl - only because she was in all those silly movies which had people breaking into song which I adored. later my doris thing switched over to julie andrews.

however by high school my 'girl power' singing heroines morphed completely - my new sirens included joni, janis, joan, and even grace. and non-singers joined my 'girl power' pantheon and took over! so much women wisdom there was to plug into - of course angela was there big time, along with emma (whom I named my daughter in honor of!!), rosa (both of them), simone, margaret, and on and on.

'girl power' or 'women's power' I do believe the fundamental difference between this type of power and the dominant paradigm of patriarchal power is feminist wisdom and theory instructs that real power being with and not over and the feminist theory isn't alone here....aboriginal wisdom, buddhist wisdom, etc. etc would also all weigh in 'in the with camp over the over camp.

thanks for the brain food! much fun pondering this issue of power.

Reya Mellicker said...

Within Reclaiming, feminist girl and woman power was completely patriarchal, though the people on the top of the allegedly non-hierarchical pyramid were mostly women.

I'm cautious about assigning qualities according to gender. Put "power" into anyone's hands and things go downhill fast. Maybe it's just too much responsibility. Who knows?

Hammer said...

In the immortal words of Will Rogers, "If you get to thinking you're a person of some influence, try ordering somebody else's dog around."

Squirrel said...

If you've ever heard a 16 year old Doris Day singing with the Les Brown band, --she is a powerful siren like Joni Mitchell and janis Ian -- I think when a woman sings a song she WROTE herself, esp music and lyrics--- well then, add more good power in there--she is exposing herself with a song she fully created -- much more than someone singing a song presented to her.

Reya Mellicker said...

I watched a Doris Day movie tonight. She was really powerful. Bad hats in the movie I watched, but otherwise she was fabulous.

bohemiangirl said...

I think kindness is the most powerful act around. And I think that photo (reflection on the car window) is absolutely STUNNING.

jen said...

i've always found it important to use your power to be kind. great post.