Dear daughter, here's what it really means to be empowered

Editor's note: The following column originally appeared on

Dear Daughter,

There’s something I need to tell you about the term “empowerment.” On its own, it’s a great word. Unfortunately, it has been butchered by the culture.

You know how Dad just lost 30 pounds? That’s empowerment. When I force myself to exercise when I don’t feel like it, I’m empowered. When you study six hours for a test and get an A, you’re empowered. When I choose to save more than I spend, I’m empowered. When I don’t have that third drink, the next day I feel empowered.

Empowerment comes from having done a hard thing or having made a decision that emboldens you in some way. Technically, the definition of empowerment looks like this: a: to provide with the means or opportunity b: to make possible, practical, or easy c : to cause to operate.

Sadly, our culture has co-opted this fine word so it’s strictly associated with choice and independence for womenYou’re “empowered” if you don’t need a man. You’re “empowered” as long as you consistently bring home the bacon. You’re “empowered” when you have the right to do as you please with your body.

It is true that if you lived in a Third World country, choice would be empowering. But you don’t. You live in a country with vast opportunities and countless freedoms. In fact, here in America the choices before you are so vast and overwhelming they’re debilitating! That’s the opposite of empowerment. There really is such a thing as too much choice.

As for independence, it’s true that being self-sufficient is important—particularly when you’re single. But to carry on with it by suggesting women don’t need anyone, least of all a man, is debilitating as well.

That’s why the most empowering thing you will ever do is to reject the culture.

True empowerment comes from knowing what you want and creating a life that will get you there. And to do that, you need to arm yourself with facts that may be unpopular but are nevertheless true. Such as:

  • Our culture is so clueless about men. Not only are men not the enemy (at work or at home), they can be your greatest asset in life. And they’re a cinch to love if you know how to let them in. Fortunately you don’t doubt this because, well, Dad.

Fortunately, you know most of this since you’ve been listening to me talk about it for years. But I wanted to emphasize that word: empowerment. A great word, indeed, but there’s no getting it back to its original meaning. Remember that when you head off to college and get walloped with the bogus version.