I've been following the various threads in different forum topics, about what power looks like, about presence, about biases, about opportunities and possibility. It's all fascinating, and my response is simply another perspective: On one level I understand fully why we turn to the tangible to try to quantify and hence more easily "grasp" what women can, must, do to assume "power", leadership roles, "authority". On another level I feel that all these tangibles mean nothing if there is no inner coherence, no inner sense of strong identity.
I have spent the past year working on a Museum project in Qatar. There I have watched women draped in black, only their faces showing, display full command over high-status international meetings and indeed over entire institutions. Women with eight children, pregnant women, women who in ways still must conform to the cultural "norms" that they are tied to. Women who must still get their husbands' permission to travel because of the archaic bureaucracy that is intertwined with the patriarchal hierarchy. Women whose husbands prefer them not to drive, women who in some cases are in their 20s. Yet these are women whose sense of self, of identity, is so strong, it radiates through the black garments that cast them all in similar silhouettes; through the social structure they are tied to; and through the expectations of them in their domestic roles. And that is something that they have given themselves, and I think it speaks to what is so prevalent around the globe: Women who give up their own inner power, which we all do have. Power, I believe, is most often something we give away, it is not taken from us. And we give it away out of conditioning, and it is fear that keeps us from taking it back.
If there is a true inner coherence and connectedness to the self and real belief and focus in that, then there is real strength. And with that a woman can stand before the world in a shapeless robe, or with her own eclectic fashion mix, and command attention and lead a nation.
To borrow from something in my cultural heritage, if I may, there is also another facet to explore: The reality that to everything there is the visible versus the hidden (the invisible). Women's power, and indeed the "change" they can make, is not always visible to the foreign eye (and by foreign that can even mean myself, as an Egyptian, as an outsider to a subculture within my own country).
Several years ago during my time as the Middle East correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, I spent extensive time in Kuwait. A progressive country in many ways, but the role of women was hidden to the visiting observing eye. Through reporting I uncovered just what a prominent, and growing, and important role women are playing in the society, and how empowering it is to them, and how much "power" it gives them within even the patriarchal hierarchy of the arab family system. The markets were booming with rising oil prices, and women, who had more "free" time since many did not work, were the ones learning about, and investing in, and driving the fast-rising stock markets. After initial resilience to this on the parts of husbands and brothers, the men were now actually giving the women the family money to invest.... and several years later, we know that thousands of families in Kuwait, and across the Gulf, made millions off the stock markets during that time. And what had started as an activity women engaged in private over the internet (the invisible/hidden), became something public -- the stock market opened an entire section ("floor") for women. It changed families and lives and the interaction of men and women in the society. It wasn't merely about the power money gave them, but rather it became about the knowledge they had, and a new lens society was given to view them through.
So I think we have to step outside our own constructs of "measurement" and try to find the new, the underlying, the hidden perspectives. I think it is up to us, as women, to empower and find power not in the way that we "see" or are "told" is "right", "effective", but rather in the way that allows us to retain the inner coherence that is also reflected in our actions, and that brings about tangible change for us. I think in uncovering these many hidden layers in communities around the world, we can each find our own truth, and with that the ripples of change will definitely come together as a powerful force.