Women’s Day 2018: Empowering women and those without power

By Brett Milam - Editor

Women’s Day 2018 was held on Oct. 3 at Norlyn Manor in Batavia, featuring a rousing talk from the keynote speaker about female empowerment and uplifting other women.

A day filled with speed mentoring, networking and numerous vendors selling jewelry, health and beauty tips, clothes and an assortment of other products and services, was started by Rebecca Butler, who serves as the senior vice president of enrollment management and student services at Columbus State Community College, giving the keynote address.

Amazed, inspired and a “tiny bit” intimidated, Butler started off her remarks by talking about how great it was to be standing in front of such powerful and intelligent women.

“Do you realize that just by being here this morning, you have made a commitment to be something bigger and be part of something more than just yourself?” she said.

Even though the day is imbued with empowerment and molding leadership, Butler didn’t want to make a speech about leadership or how to be a leader. Rather, she said womanhood intrinsically is leadership.

“Because womanhood is about service; womanhood is about preparation; being a woman is about empathy and compassion and being a woman every single day is about teaching and learning,” she said. “And when you take those characteristics, we don’t have to learn about leadership. What we have to do as women is give voice to women’s leadership.”

Butler said she’s a woman of privilege, bolstered by living in the middle-class suburbs and having hard-working parents who paid for her college. Not to mention the benefits of an extended family structure to act as a safety net, which helped her to navigate “new and challenging situations.”

“It’s given me choice in how I make decision-making and choice in how I live my life,” Butler said.

In other words, the ability to make choices rather than be imprisoned by circumstances is itself a product of the privilege she enjoyed growing up.

She also talked about the inspiration she derived from her grandmother, Nadine, and Cathy, her aunt or, as she called them, her soul sisters. Both had huge personalities and seemed larger-than-life to her because they were smart, politically opinionated and fiercely independent.

“They spoke their mind, often colorfully. And were many times characterized as, ‘Oh, she’s not your typical woman,’” she said.

In fact, they were often admonished for being “a little too much,” Butler said. A phrase she said many women in the room could relate to.

Butler said her soul sisters taught her “eulogy virtues.” That life isn’t about resume-building or listing things we’ve accomplished in our lives; it’s about “cultivating and curating a life that when we are gone, those virtues and who we are, is carried in our families and our communities,” she said.

“Our time is now and it is long overdue,” Butler said.

And “now” is about uplifting young women, who are poised and ready to be more than women in a man’s world, she said.

Butler also mentioned three guideposts she lives by: 1.) Don’t settle for a life less than the one you’re capable of living, to paraphrase Nelson Mandela. For example, she doesn’t try to have a “career,” but rather, Butler tries to cultivate a calling and exercise her values; 2.) A full life is two parts intention (meaning, being intentional about personal and work wellness, as well as intellectual wellness) and one part complete chaos (where joy can be found in asking others for help and it leads to honest conversations), which chaos for her meant allowing life to unfold rather than trying to control every aspect of it; and 3.) Don’t accept the things you don’t think you can change because you can change them.

To the third point, oddly enough, Butler’s best career advice she said came from a man, who said, “Rebecca, have a man as a mentor, you know, it’s just better that way.”

“Because it was then that I knew the score at that time; it was then that I knew the landscape that I was in, how it was going to be there,” she said.

But it’s not about empowering women to then have power over men, Butler said, it’s about women empowerment itself being the point.

“Power over ourselves, think about that for a moment. What does it mean?” she said.

Choice and the ability to vote and determine their lives are good answers, but Butler said it means even more than those things. She said it means reaching beyond comfort and privilege to give power to those who don’t have access to it.

Butler then told a story about Jennifer (a pseudonym), a single mom with two young children who was working and attending Columbus State. Jennifer could barely afford rent and when the landlord doubled the rent, she immediately became homeless with her children.

Eventually, that led to reaching out to Butler, who only had to make one phone call to set up Jennifer and her children with housing.

“I am not the hero in this story, Jennifer is the hero. It was her determination and her vulnerability to find safe, affordable housing,” she said.

It’s not about charity or mentorship, as that only reinforces inequity, but about challenging the inequity itself.

“As long as some women remain powerless in circumstance, we are all powerless in reality,” she said.