I was asked to give a talk at a Jewish women’s group in Augusta, Georgia. The topic chosen was “The Power of Women.” I felt confident that I easily could address the theme, so I agreed to attend the engagement. After all, I am a woman and am not exactly a shrinking violet. And, as many family and friends can attest, I can talk incessantly about anything. I put it out of my mind, figuring I had plenty of time to prepare my thoughts and remarks.
The event is on Sunday and panic crept into my consciousness this week. Suddenly I was not feeling clear or sure about the subject. What does “the power of women” even mean?
I pulled up my web browser and typed in the words “powerful women.” As soon as I hit the enter key, up popped the “25 Most Powerful Women – Forbes.” Okay, I thought, a list of twenty-five is easy to comb through. Let’s see what makes women powerful. I clicked on the link and went to the page.
Disappointment immediately set in. The women featured certainly can be described as powerful; they are wealthy, run major companies or countries, and have penetrated a variety of fields from business to finance, and politics to entertainment. Now, not to take anything away from their legitimate successes, the reality is that Jewish women typically aren’t CEOs…not even in the Jewish non-profit world. (Read a recent article, Now is Not the Time for Respect, written by a colleague, Rabbi Lou Feldstein.) So why did I feel let down? Because the list – at least on the surface – does not come close to capturing what I believe and have learned about the power of the women I know.
First, let’s acknowledge up front the fact that many women I know do not leverage or exploit their power. The majority are not rich. Many cannot speak up to ask for (or demand) what they deserve. Many do not position themselves for higher levels of leadership or advancement. Many stay in situations that pigeonhole or hold them back. Many do things for others at the expense of themselves. And, even if they hold higher management positions, many still cannot find their own voices.
“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” —Madeleine Albright
Once a woman finds her voice though – her calling or her passion – there is no limit to what she can achieve. This I personally know to be true. (I myself have come a long way from the girl who could not speak in front of the class!)
The women I know – the ones who have confidence, smarts, compassion, and a bit of chutzpah – get stuff done. They take chances. They don’t wait to be asked and don’t seek approval. They make and raise money. They solve problems. They motivate and rally teams. They are resilient and creative. They don’t take no for an answer. They learn from adversity. They take on challenges. They strive to make a difference. They do things that achieve real impact. They accomplish things on a shoestring budget. They negotiate, adapt rules, and push the envelope. And, they do all this – and more – while juggling morning carpool, navigating afternoon pickups from soccer practice, and buying birthday presents. They do all this with charm, grace, and a sense of humor…with little thanks and hardly any recognition.
But there’s so much more. When they come together, especially for the common good, women make extraordinary things happen. (Even if the beneficiaries of their efforts are unaware of their actions.) And they do so with no thought or fear of failure. These are the times during which they excel and shine. This is when they are beautiful, inside and out. This is when you can see, hear, and feel the true power of women. This is when you know you are in the presence of greatness.
To all the powerful – and empowered – women in my life (and you know who you are), may you continue to go from strength to strength as you do what you do to make our world a better place.
“The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who’s going to stop me.” —Ayn Rand