1. to give power or authority to; authorize, especially by legal or official means
2. to enable or permit
This is a running theme in my writing.
I’m a relatively young female geoscientist, officially becoming an assistant professor this fall. I’m not the tenured white male in an ivory tower. I encounter sexism frequently. I see even more online, in the media, in other professions where women are the minority. I watch women put in more hours to “prove” that they’re good enough to play with “the boys” even as they’re paid less than their male counterparts. (Women, if you get a chance to negotiate your salary when offered a job, DO IT. Make every effort you can to close that damn wage gap.)
Women can be smart, driven, innovative, strong. I want them to know that. I want them to know they can use their brains for anything they want. In fact, I want to infuse my future students — regardless of gender or skin color — with the idea that their minds matter. That they’re capable of using those minds to achieve great things.
I want to empower them.
The same is true of my writing. I don’t want the color of my characters’ skin to matter (even though I know it does). I don’t want their sexuality or gender to define them (even though it will in the minds of many readers).
These characters are people. People like you and me. Sure, some of them are in a setting that allows for “powers” or other abilities abnormal in the real world. But that doesn’t change their personhood, their humanity. The relationship struggles they face are real. The crushing insecurity, the self-doubt, the guilt. The victories, the rushes of adrenaline, the tears and the laughter. They’re people.
I write to empower. I learn about myself by writing (and reading far more than I write). I learn about the world around me. I delve into the lives of my characters, of characters others have created, and see their situations through their eyes. They surprise me. They do things I wouldn’t. (I do things they wouldn’t.)
By learning, by getting to know more people from increasingly diverse backgrounds, by writing such people, I intend to show real, flawed individuals getting opportunities, meeting others, and fostering relationships that allow them to step forward. To do things they wouldn’t do otherwise. I provide chances for them to make hard decisions regardless of whether or not they do make those decisions.
In short, I work hard at my job and my writing to empower my characters. My colleagues. My readers. My students. In empowering them, I empower myself.