What Does a Woman of Power Look Like?

I’m thrilled to feature one of the most powerful women I know, Cherry Woodburn, as my guest blogger today. Cherry is founder of Borderless Thinking®, a business created to help women grow in various aspects of their life in order to do what they really want and be their authentic selves. It entails taming their inner shrew, leaving insecurities behind and learning new patterns of behavior. This occurs through on and off-line workshops, retreats, the written word and keynote presentations chocked full of stories, info’ and humor. Check out the powerful conversations Cherry’s having on her blog!

Guest post by Cherry Woodburn

Is Stopping A Bully A Sign Of Power?

Eddie T’s mom. I still remember her moniker and the day she told me that my older son was being bullied by some of the neighbor kids. Seth was in middle-school at the time.

When he came home that day I asked him about it. He said it was true, a few kids had pushed him around and were threatening to beat him up, causing him to take different routes to and from school.

“What kept you from telling me?”

From the look on his face and, his hesitation I knew the answer, “You were worried I’d drive the van through the front door of John’s house and pummel him in the face right?”

He nodded yes.

Seth knew I wouldn’t have really driven my van through the door or pummeled the kid’s face and he also knew I would never sit still for him or his brother being abused. They knew I took on the bully baseball coach. Although Seth would have liked help but didn’t want to be razzed about his mom intervening, figuring the bulling would just get worse.

So does the fact that I’ll confront the bully (really for anybody, not just my sons) make me a woman with power? I don’t think so, not in my definition of power but – and this may sound like word-games – I know I’m a powerful woman.

Is Taking A Stand And Asking For What I Want A Sign Of Power?

Clay Shirky wrote A Rant About Women which raised the hackles of many and was written about in a myriad of blogs and the Bloomberg Business Week (can see his post there, it’s no longer on original site). Essentially he said that women don’t speak up enough for themselves, and that’s the primary reason why they don’t get promoted etc. like men do. He told women that they need to raise their hands and ask for what they want. So I did. I called him out in a post and then emailed him my post telling him I was raising my hand and I wanted him to respond to my post and tweet about it. He did. We debated over emails. I landed on BBC World news as a commenter when the BBC interviewed him. All that made me feel powerful. And I guess that was a show of my power. But here’s my problem with saying I hold power. And it’s not about being a woman.

I equate power with position and scale – President of USA and other countries, CEO of large companies, celebrities like Bono or Oprah who use there celebrity to influence change. I don’t have that kind of power. Therefore, I don’t think of myself as a woman of power.

Another Definition Of Power

Lara Galloway, The Mom Biz Coach, has called me out on occasion saying I don’t own my power – that I don’t recognize the presence I have or honor my ability to speak up and to take risks. She’s right. I’m not sure what to say about it. I don’t want to play small but I’m uncomfortable being big…or at least with saying I’m big. That feels like bragging and “nice people” (hearing my mom’s voice) don’t brag. I want to be nice, I don’t enjoy being around braggarts. So how do I own my power, embrace it and not brag?

I think a person can be powerful without saying they’re powerful. Is that a cop-out? What do you think?

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18 comments

  1. Love this post. Absolutely, positively real people of power (both genders) HAVE IT, they don’t LABEL it and don’t BROADCAST it.

    I suppose one could say I’m a powerful woman, but frankly I’m too busy being myself, doing what I do, and don’t fret much on the term of power. In fact I’d argue the only people who are really into saying they’re powerful are actually really insecure and NOT powerful!

  2. Elizabeth, I really like that you’re busy being yourself. I also agree that both women and men of real power don’t have to broadcast it, but we know some (Hitler comes to mind) that need to make a show of their power. Cherry

  3. I think it depends on what you’re envisioning in the back of your mind when you’re determining the amount of power that you have. I always believe in the power of one person to make a huge difference. I think the most important power we have in our lives was referenced in your opening- when it comes to the things that matter most. Sometimes we choose to not unleash our full throttle when there are other things in our lives that matter more- our families, and even taking care of ourselves so we can be present for those things that truly matter! Yes, you are a woman of power because you’re not a passive player in life!

  4. Seems like you crawled right into my head on every story and stole my thoughts! That’s a writing skill to be proud of for sure! Funny I was just discussing with some other women about people (men & women) that “seem” to always be “puffing” themselves up, and while it seems like bragging, it also seems to help them achieve what they want, which includes a type of power. I’ll definitely agree with Elizabeth that there are those who “HAVE IT, they don’t LABEL it and don’t BROADCAST it” — Definitely striving for the later, and puzzled by the “power” of the former, if that makes any sense. A fabulous post, and great food for thought and discussion.

  5. Hi Cherry,
    I want to address the topic of bullying. I think our children need to figure out on their own how to deal with other children. If we help them they feel powerless – someone that needs help.
    Does that make you powerless? In a way it does because it is not your battle! Does that mean that we as parents can’t do a thing. Of course not. We can try to keep the lines of communication open with our children and make sure that they know that they can always come and talk about a problem, and not fear that we are going to intervene on their behalf. I am not talking about young children, that can not on their own handle difficult situations without help, but I believe it is better to help them by supporting them emotionally that talking on their behalf. We are powerful mothers when we help our children grow emotionally!
    Truly Irene

  6. Irene, all-in-all I agree with your points about bullying. When I intervened with the bully coach my son was way too young to do it on his own and needed to see someone say it outloud and say the guy’s behavior was wrong. With the other kids, I think it’s a mixed bag. Kids do need to figure it out on their own and they need to feel their own power. I also think there’s times, and we’ve all heard some horror stories, where kids need extra support without us/me becoming a helicopter parent.
    Thanks for stopping by and adding value to the post and discussion. Cherry

  7. Thanks Pam. I appreciate the compliment . What I have not reconciled for myself is: why is simply saying you’re good at something, when you are, have to be seen as bragging. What’s different about that than saying I’m 5’6″ – just a fact. If someone’s going on and on about it or saying it in a condescending manner than I think it’s negative and bragging, but are both manner of speaking bragging? Cherry

  8. TAmmy,
    You look exactly like Lara. 🙂

    THanks for commenting and I like the point that I (or anyone) can be a person of power by not being a passive player in life. Cherry

  9. OMG, both Tammy AND you look exactly like Lara. (her pic came up rather than yours)

    Dawn,
    I’m particularly glad that my post made you think because your points elucidate the issue even more. I like the distinction between power-granted by others and feeling powerful – comes from within.
    “Personal power is a kind of ephemeral thing that we’re sure of one day and are uncertain about on others, until something hits the fan and we discover that our inner power is right there to be tapped.” That is SO true, at least for me. Cherry

  10. Hi there – This post evinced a number of thoughts & feelings in me. Too many to sort out here. But one main one is that do we all really need to be dancing to the male version of what power looks like? I believe people can develop as they mature and move towards self actualization, and self-actualization does not necessarily look like society’s version of personal power. There are many ppl out there, living their lives. working hard, not needing to be in that man’s version of what he thinks is powerful. The USA is powerful, yet we lag behind ALL industrialized countries in healthcare and family leave. We are not powerful in this profound way.

  11. I agree with you Kathy. Personally I don’t want my power to be the same as the stereotypical male definition. In my last blog post on my site http://www.borderlessthinking.com I talk about getting more women into leadership positions (positions with power) because, for 1 thing, most women see healthcare and family leave through a different lens then most men. THanks for stopping by and commenting. Cherry

  12. When I was a kid, 5th grade, I had a girl bullying me on the play ground and stopping me on my way home from school threatening to beat me up. I didn’t tell my parents and am not sure why. In fact,when I got a black eye I lied and said a bookshelf fell on me (or something equally ridiculous). However, without my knowing it, my 5th grade teacher got wind of what was going on and took the girl to task. The bullying stopped and I had no idea why until my parents confronted me and told me that Mrs. K had called and told them what she had done.

    I was embarrassed that my parents found out and thrilled that my teacher stood up for me. I don’t know what that says about my psyche, but it is a concrete memory I have that kids can not handle every situation alone. What really concerns me is that although I got a black eye and knocked around a little, that same girl was arrested two years later for stabbing someone on the bus.

    How do you decide when it’s time to step in and when it’s a good learning experience for your kids? That’s the part I struggle with…

    As for woman of power: I think that power comes when you have the power to influence someone’s quality of life. To the staff that I have the power to fire, I am a powerful woman. To my children who I have the power to decide their activities and food choices, I am a powerful woman. To Presidence Obama? Who am I again?

    It is all a matter of perspective, but the defining difference (to me) is have the courage to speak up and stand up for what you believe in. That is powerful. If you believe, but don’t act, you will never be a powerful person.

  13. Daria,

    Thanks for sharing your experience. As a mom, hearing your story really hits
    hard. How awful to have gone through that and not felt you could even ask
    for help.

    One thing I notice about your definition of power: it seems that you feel
    that the power you have is related to how you are perceived by others. In
    other words, that others have to believe you’re powerful in order for you to
    be powerful. I believe that being powerful starts and ends with you. No one
    bestows it upon you; no one can take it away. Whether Obama knows who you
    are or not, you are powerful. Whether you have children to lord over or not,
    you are powerful.

  14. Devil’s advocate here, but powerful over what? Yes I control my destiny. Yes, I am a strong, opinionated woman. But does that mean I’m powerful? Doesn’t power imply influence over others? If not, what is your definition of powerful?

  15. Devil’s advocate is certainly welcome, Daria…

    I don’t really think of power as something I have or don’t have “over
    someone else”… I am powerful because I own my choices rather than blaming
    “someone else” for how my life goes. The more responsible I can be for my
    own choices, the more powerful I am. Rather than expecting someone else to
    make me happy, I see that my job is to figure out what I want and then take
    the steps to get it. It’s an idea I’m trying hard to teach my three kids.

    This philosophy goes a long way to making my life look the way I want it to.
    That, in turn, makes me a lot happier. And funny enough, powerful people
    tend to have a sort of magnetism to them that causes other people to want to
    be around them.

    So for me, being powerful means owning the fact that you control your
    destiny, knowing that you are worthy of it, and doing what you can to help
    others. It’s about personal responsibility, not domination.

    I appreciate your inquiry, Daria. Helps me think things through.