True power is not distance or arrogance. True power, true leadership, is kindness says Giovanna Basso
Don’t be alarmed. This blog is not a step-by-step guide on how you can become a dictator.
On the contrary, it is a tribute, a homage, to true power.
But first, storytime!
From a very young age, perhaps at the age of seven or eight, I knew I wanted to have power — an unusual ambition for a young girl. But the twelve-year-old me definitely did not have power. What little power a teenager could have died in a hospital. I was just a weak, rebellious, ungrateful, selfish, naughty, know-it-all girl who refused to attend her cousin’s birth, they said.
My aunt had given birth to a boy! The only young man in the family. Powerful by birth and entitled to be pampered because of his — and I quote — “big penis”. He couldn’t have anything that was “feminine”. Drink from a pink cup? Never! Brush his teeth with a Barbie toothpaste? Unimaginable!
But among these moments that we experience consciously, there are also the hidden ones that imperceptibly give our life its shape, its colour, and, in my case, its injustice.
My father locked my sister up in a room when she disobeyed him. I was bossy for taking the lead; my grandfather belittled my grandmother’s intelligence; a friend of mine was sexually assaulted in her room a week ago; my mother was raped and had two unsafe abortions before she had me.
I want to scream. I want to tell everyone in the room that they were unhappy, shortsighted, dumb creatures that do not deserve to be alive. Feeling powerless makes my mouth tremble, my fist clench, my heart speeds up, and my body paralyzes with impotence. After all, what can I do?
In search of power.
For most of my life, I sought attention. I published a book because if my family wouldn’t hear me out, then the whole world would. I wanted it all — the attention, the dominance, the reputation, the advantage, the credibility, and — oh— the POWER!
I went on a power spree. I participated in organizations, learned different languages, read millions of books, went to a fancy school, studied hard, learned how to speak in public, bossed people around, looked down upon those that haven’t read feminist theories from the 18th century.
I was embodying the shallow masculine power of arrogance, disruptiveness, boldness, hunger, insensitivity, and aggressiveness.
Was I powerful?
Now that I am isolated in a room waiting to see if a certain virus has infected my body, I can reflect on how powerless I have been all this time.
Yes, I was true to my beliefs. I knew what was right and what was wrong. But I wasn’t there for the women that needed me the most. I was too preoccupied looking at distant women and girls that I overlooked my sister struggling to fight her demons. I was too preoccupied seeking a shallow success that I overlooked my mother who had barely anything to eat because she was unemployed. I was too preoccupied with building palaces out of paragraphs with lavish words for organizations that I overlooked a friend that had been sexually abused.
I was preying on them so that I could take the upper hand and be where I am now. I was not creating anything, nor listening to those that I care for the most. I was disrupting the system they created to protect themselves in the name of the moral high ground I so highly preached.
And that is when I realize that true power is not distance or arrogance.
True power, true leadership, is kindness.
It is being brave enough to realize that if you want to lead, you need to understand those around you. Power is subtle, empathetic, and loving. It is believing in those around you in the hope that you all will create something greater than yourselves.
I wrote this blog post because I am looking for power. My life’s mission is to find power. But I can’t spend my entire life looking for something unworthy. The power I was seeking was with me all along. It is in my mom calling me to see if I am ok, it is my friends calling me to see if I am ok, it is sticking together when we just want to crawl into a ball and cry.
And for these reasons, I am in the process of becoming powerful.
Giovanna Basso is a 19-year-old gender activist and author of the book "Adolê Sente” [Adolescent]. In 2021. She is a member of the Restless Development Youth Power Panel. Her Girl Up Club campaigned for the government to distribute menstrual products to girls in public schools in Brazil. She is a founding member of Global Fund For Women’s Adolescent Girls Advisory Council, fostering a teenage viewpoint on participatory grantmaking and feminist philanthropy and granting over 300,000 USD to girl-led organizations in the Global South. Giovanna wants to fall in love with the stories of girls and women around her.