By ANTONIA WILLIAMS-GARY
I just watched the live broadcast of the official portrait unveiling of the Obama’s! Powerful is the one word that comes to mind. Not only were the images powerful and impactful, but the entire display was full of symbolism: having African American artists (the firsts) to paint the legacy of the first African American President and his black wife; the speeches; the tributes to, and from, the artists, the portraits themselves.
There is a lot of talk about whether the artists captured the photographic ‘likenesses’ of the subjects. To which I say “inconsequential.” These paintings are art in its highest form.
Not lost on me was the display of Michele Obama’s strong and beautiful arms, splendidly displayed for the world to forever see.
Powerful! And that brought me to further think about all the discussion swirling around about power, i.e., powerful men abusing their positions of authority, various national and international movements to empower girls and women, how power is leveraged (the art of the deal in making new laws and policies), and, the apparent diminution of this country’s power around the globe.
I also thought about just how much of my own muscle I should show and flex. You know, the ones I have built up in the gym, and the ones I have built up in my brain.
Once, many years ago, while greeting a male friend, he grabbed my upper arm in a friendly gesture and promptly pronounced, “Ouch.” I blushed, a little, but I filed that away.
I realized that I had built my bicep into a loaded ‘gun’ that most women don’t have. I loved to expose my biceps, showing off the benefits of regular weight training.
I realized that, in many ways I was imitating a man’s behavior pattern, and it was not attractive to some, but I felt powerful.
You see, I am strong; I know it. I even demonstrated my ability to break a few boards after receiving my blue belt in Korean karate. It felt good.
But I could not go around breaking things, or hitting people to show my strength. It just didn’t fit well with my carefully chosen business suits, wearing makeup, pearls and heels. I have since found an easier, softer way to knock you out.
Not a new discovery, but in addition to my physical training, I began to hone my practice of using the power of the word: spoken and written. The tongue is, indeed, mightier than the sword.
Having said that, the news of the hour is about empowering girls with #Girlpower. And just what does that look like?
We are cultivating Wonder Women, with accompanying costumes, slogans, curricula, and support groups, images, hair styles, etc.
That’s all good. We are also training and re-educating the males of the species. In some cases it is taking well.
#Timesup and #Metoo campaigns have brought attention to how the abuse of power, control, and other behaviors that men have been using to keep females victimized. Just this week, the White House has been drawn into the conversation around domestic violence and how this, sometimes hidden scourge, is set aside as unimportant in a man’s career trajectory, and/or simply not spoken about out loud in polite society.
As horrible as it is, the impact of physical violence often pales against the invisible scars borne of emotional abuse, which, too often, remains underground.
We are teaching our girls about having enough self-esteem to help them avoid anyone male/female/spouse/teacher /coach/minister/police, and other figures of so-called authority- from lording it over them.
Here’s a question: will they ever have to get physical?
I talked with several women over the past month about their gun-owning and shooting prowess. Scary to me that many women feel they have to arm themselves. It’s difficult for me to reconcile my philosophy with any justification to use weapons, especially guns. But in this country we have so many stalwart second amendments proponents (women and men).
I think we should get busy arming our girls with an arsenal of other weapons: an abundance of self-worth; abilities and outlets to earn their own living; universal access to birth control; absolute authority to make decisions about how to use healthcare for their greater good; safe spaces to live, love and form communities of mutual support.