Sean Moncrieff: Every song, tweet, naked selfie is about empowerment

There isn’t a celeb on the planet who hasn’t deployed the E-word at some point

In 2016, the singer Fergie released a song, MILF$, that she declared was about “empowering women who did it all”.

Has anyone empowered you lately? If the answer is No, then where the hell have you been? I don’t want to be harsh, but if you’re not empowered by now, it’s your own fault.

Come on people: let’s raise awareness about empowerment.

There's just so much of it being given away by generous people. I could name names. Celebrities, for instance, both foreign and domestic. But the list would be far too long: I could fill the rest of this column with them; the rest of this magazine. A much shorter list would be celebrities who don't empower. I've done some research, (I googled), and I couldn't find any. As far as I can tell, there isn't a celeb on the planet who hasn't deployed the E-word at some point. Every time they release a new song/tweet/movie/blog entry/beauty product/recipe/naked selfie, the sole aim is to ramp up the empowerment.

And this is just the showbiz end. Banks, dry cleaners, coffee shops, cable providers; they’re all zapping out megawatts of high-voltage empowerment too.


Which does beg the question: if there is no much of it, if our planet is crackling with the stuff, then why isn’t it having more of an effect? How come there is still prejudice and injustice and poverty?

It's one of those words or phrases – like 'Raising Awareness' – that sound serious and messianic but don't mean anything

Mathematically, it makes no sense. An example: in 2016 the singer Fergie released a song that she declared was about “empowering women who did it all”.

That song was called MILF$: obviously, a paean to motherhood, though the video largely featured women pursuing various careers, despite the impediment of having mislaid most of their clothes. They also poured milk over themselves. But that's not the point: with just one song, Fergie was probably empowering millions. One song. Multiply that by Fergie's entire empowering oeuvre. Then multiply that by the number of empowering celebs on the planet and their output – you get the idea.

Something is desperately wrong. Many things, actually. Firstly, why hasn’t Fergie and her cadre of fellow empowerers noticed that their empowering has had hardly any effect? Is this news being kept from them? Is their celebrity bubble so thick and impermeable that they don’t know what the world is actually like?

Secondly, what’s happening to all this empowerment? Is it being stored somewhere? How was it diverted away from its intended recipients? And whom is it going to? Is this the old capitalist story of the empowered getting empoweredier?

Go on, scoff

Go on, scoff. I can hear you doing it already. I can hear you pointing out that the term empowerment first appeared in 1960s and 1970s, initially used by feminists and social scientists, then by people in development aid, and then by everyone. Some of you may be pointing out that the more it was used, the less meaning it had – until now when it has virtually no meaning at all. It sounds good. It sounds vaguely inspirational and a bit changey, but it is actually the opposite. It's one of those words or phrases – like 'Raising Awareness' – that sound serious and messianic but don't mean anything. (Type the words 'Our Mission is to Raise Awareness' into Google. You get 288 million hits).

You may feel that use of the word empowerment actually serves to maintain the status quo while making middle-class vaguely leftish people feel good about themselves. You may feel it’s yet another example of how capitalism can incorporate and adapt an idea, even one that was originally about redistributing power. Now, like everything else, it’s simply about selling stuff.

But if you think that, then that’s your problem. I can’t save you from your chronic cynicism. Perhaps if you got empowered, you might feel different.