Why Are Some Women Still So Afraid Of Personal Power?

It’s time to stop asking for it nicely. Just seize it, dammit. And stop voting for The Patriarchy.


Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash



I typed this and paused for the subtitle. The gentle throaty throbbing of pigeons reached my ears and I hurried out to the balcony to chase off any poopmonsters. The morning was early October-cool rather than put-on-a-damn-coat-it’s-November and I stopped to admire the sun rising behind a condo.

A red-tailed hawk soared into view a few floors higher than I. With a flurry of wings several pigeons took flight en masse and chased the predator. I’ve observed this behavior many times. Before the daycare in my backyard removed the tall pole on the roof last year, I sometimes watched a hawk perch, ducking as the locals dive-bombed his head. Not just the larger pigeons, his favorite meal, but smaller songbirds too. Creatures one-tenth his size, all working together to eliminate the threat.

No one likes a Hell’s Angel in the ‘hood.

It seemed the perfect visual metaphor for an article on the pervasive female fear of personal power. There’s strength in numbers. Did you know that, ladies?

Er, no you don’t.

Pigeons and songbirds are smaller and weaker than a mighty hawk but banded together, they can chase his ass halfway across Ontario.

When there’s a threat to another woman, too often we react by telling her to back down because ‘You could get hurt!’

Standing up to a larger and more powerful enemy is something best left to men, it seems. How supremely Patriarchal, mesdames.


I’m toying with the idea of calling myself a feminist again, for the second time in twenty-five years. The first time was a couple of years ago, when I decided feminism wasn’t just for whiny victims. I thought it was time to put the power back in empowerment, but it just felt weird. Calling myself a ‘feminist’ still feels embarrassing, even though, as Caitlin Moran puts it, “Do you have a vagina? Do you think you should be in control of it? Then you’re a feminist!”

Well, YES.

But to say the F-word out loud, as a noun to describe me — it’s still cringe-inducing. I feel like I should add, “But I don’t hate men!”

Maybe it’s time to Take Back My Power and reclaim feminism from what too often feels like a bunch of misandrist little girls in grown-up bodies playing dress-up. They’re feminist and empowered when they want to be but run back to the security of victimhood when it’s inconvenient.

I struggle with it myself. The relentless North American culture of victimhood encourages us not to reflect too much, not to analyze ourselves, not to question the veracity of our feelings, lest we be led to uncomfortable self-truths we prefer not to acknowledge.

The ‘dressup’ mentality is why I don’t do feminist rallies or protest marches and Goddess help me, you will never see me wearing a pink ‘pussy hat’. It doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have the labia to affect a change. I suppose it’s all good for ‘sisterhood’ but if you then go home and vote for a guy like Trump, or don’t vote at all, or don’t pay attention to the people politicians appoint with power over us all, then frankly, you’re not doing shit.

It looks good, it sounds good, but how comfortable are any of us, really, in exercising our much-vaunted power?

Pigeons get eaten around here but when there’s a predator in the neighborhood they band together and chase the mofo off. Can you imagine a bunch of women at a bar standing up for a woman getting harassed? Forcing the guy to back off with a pack o’ p**sy way scarier than a few hundred thousand women in a park wearing adorable little caps?


If pigeons were people, this is what would happen. This is *my* idea of empowerment. Are pigeons too far removed from your DNA to consider them a metaphor for one possible feminist future?

Then ponder our much closer cousins, the bonobos, a/k/a ‘pygmy chimpanzees’.

They and the chimps diverged from us about two million years ago. Human and chimp females evolved to accept passivity and victimhood from a patriarchal structure of male dominance either formed or formed out of women’s passivity. Bonobo females, on the other hand, evolved to band together against and therefore limit male aggression.

Male bonobos are stronger than females, but they’re no match for a girl posse. What a bonobo female wants, she gets. Bonobos are horny little devils and the females do as they please, and whom they please. Their mates have learned to deal.

It includes wild les-bonobo action as well as multiple males. Female bonobos are the retro-misogynist male’s very worst nightmare — females in complete control of their sexuality, without a damn thing the boys can do about it.

Once in awhile some asshole acts up and tries to push around a female bonobo. It almost never works out well for him.

Female bonobos band together like the women in the Pat Benatar video and chase the predator off. They will assault any males with the notion in their silly little heads that they should dominate females and when The Girls bring down a forest antelope guess who eats first? Not the males, that’s for damn sure. (Take note, Indian men!) They throw temper tantrums in the trees while the girls feast first.

Scientists assumed that patriarchy was only natural. Bonobos proved them wrong

I don’t believe switching from patriarchy to matriarchy is the answer for humans, but I offer these examples of safety in numbers to point out that if women bond together and take a few risks, how much could we move society forward instead of backward?

After watching the way the American election went down last week, it feels like one step forward, two steps back.

When over 50% of American white women voted for an accused rapist and established sexual predator again, don’t tell me I’m ‘blaming the victim’ to suggest not enough women want violence against women to stop. It will stop when women want it to stop, and legitimating the rule of a sexual predator is a clear signal to The Boys it’s business as usual.

This ain’t your bonobo United States.

I’ll also point out Trump only suffered a slight decline in support from white men. He received a tad increased support from every other racial demographic, and women overall. They may have voted far more for Biden as a bloc, but we have non-white voters, including women, to thank for the edge-of-your-seat fingernail-biting cliffhanger.

How exit polls shifted in 2016 and 2020

So I wonder.

It doesn’t say much for women’s sense of personal responsibility. Why are so many women still afraid of personal power?

Too many pay lip service and then turn around and vote or work against their own interests. Or re-arrange deck chairs on the Titanic. Guaranteed next week’s big Twitter pile-on will be over some guy referring to a woman’s ‘rack’ or fat-shaming Melissa McCarthy, when the big story for the new decade (virii aside) is Women Who Aid And Abet The Patriarchy.

Not just women on the right.


I have a few theories as to why female power-phobia persists, why many women leave power on the table rather than seize the day.

  • It may challenge their identity if they relate more to victimhood than power. Recognizing their complicity in their own oppression could be psychologically damaging and reveal an intolerable possibility: Were they wrong all along? Following a weaker path than they might? Propping up The Patriarchy?

  • If other women take charge and seize their power, taking more risks and progressing more, will the fearful ones be left behind? Watching other women accomplish what they themselves don’t have the courage to reach for could force the reticent to confront the ways they hold themselves back, rather than a male power structure.

  • They may be in denial of how in thrall to ‘The Patriarchy’ they are. When women believe they must keep asking The Patriarchy to stop violence against women, they accept powerlessness and keep it where it’s resided for centuries, with men. Looking for sexism and misogyny in all the wrong places, or making minor annoyances with males into giant kerfuffles, is another example of feminism re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Girlfriend, the new president-elect you couldn’t support because he was sometimes a little handsy with women doesn’t compare to the unqualified woman from a creepy Christian cult now sitting on the Supreme Court thanks to a sexual predator The Sisters keep voting for. Challenging ‘The Patriarchy’ between female ears may prove a far bigger task than challenging toxic masculinity.

  • If they acknowledge they can change, then they’ll beat themselves up over why they didn’t do it sooner. I’m convinced it lies behind a lot of the subconscious female resistance to power. It’s not female-specific. Achieving one’s full potential is one few ever pull off, and recognizing what we’ve done (or not) can send us spiralling into an endless cycle of self-blame and self-abuse. “Why didn’t I do/learn/realize this sooner?”

White women have a lot to answer for, but we can’t let off women of color, either. The numbers for women voting for Trump in 2020 should have gone down, rather than up. Maybe conservatives aren’t the only ones with a deep suspicion of qualified candidates. It’s time for some serious soul-searching, girlfriends.


What are you really afraid of? Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash



This originally appeared on Medium in November 2020.

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info@nicolechardenet.com

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