Women and power are two words that are often not seen together. In many countries women have little or no power in the traditional understand of the word.
Most often the word power brings to mind images of domination or control; images of one group of people oppressing another; images of political bureaucracy; images of men over women; images of tyrannical armies or governments. Such images make us believe that power is finite and the only way to gain power is to take it from another person, group or government. This is often exactly what happens within nations, school boards, local governments, churches, even families.
But the definition of power as found in Webster’s College Dictionary is: “the ability to do or act; capability of doing or accomplishing something.” The word comes from a Latin word meaning “to be able.” Women can thus reclaim the word “power” as descriptive of themselves, but they must do so in a manner that brings a feminine understanding of the word into focus.
Kathleen Hurty in a 1983 paper wrote that women should think of power in terms of energy, coactivity, mutuality, trust, participation and cooperation. She stated: “Power is a capacity to do rather than a property to have. . . The feminine understanding of power is shaped by Jesus’ relationship with women and women’s understanding of God at work in the world.”
Again, even in the 1980’s Ranjini Rebera of Asia wrote: “When women bond together they can prove a powerful force in challenging structures and changing unjust systems. Women need to claim such collective energy as their own unique form of power.” She too connects this understanding of power to the group of women, many times unnamed, who were with Jesus, supportive of his work and supportive of each other.
With this understanding, power becomes limitless. It is enabling not restrictive; it is inclusive not exclusive; it is a tool for building relationships instead of destroying them; and it creates confidence and group understanding instead of the sense of powerlessness. Have we forgotten the power of women working together, under the power of the Holy Spirit, to assist in bringing about God’s reign of righteousness and justice? Are we willing to join with our sisters of faith in this country and around the world, to use our power to make our world a better place for all God’s children? It is time to organize, pray, plan, protest and share the power that our collective energy can bring to the troubles of today!
Joyce D. Sohl has been Laywoman-in-Residence since 2009 as a full-time volunteer. She retired as CEO of United Methodist Women in 2004. She is the author of 4 books, a teacher, retreat leader, writer and non-professional musician. Here at the Center her work is in the area of Spirituality & the Arts with such programs as Tuesdays in the Chapel, Vespers & All That Jazz, Poet’s Corner, quarterly retreats, and art exhibits.