The subliminal message of Women’s Empowerment Week

From March 21-25, the Panhellenic Association of Butler University hosted Women’s Empowerment Week. Graphic by Haley Morkert.


As women in Greek life, we so often throw around the phrase “empowered women empower women”. Fancy shirts, banners, and recruiting week mantras all reinforce the motto we’ve accepted as our own, but it seems to be thrown around with no real thought or intent.

Even if we are quick to say it, do we really know what it means? I’m not sure we do. On the surface? Yes. Performatively? Sure. But beyond that, there is work to be done.

The Panhellenic Butler Association held Women’s Empowerment Week from March 21-25. According to the Women’s Empowerment Week Instagram bio, the week was meant to be “a week of empowering ALL women and celebrating panhel love.”

Our understanding of empowerment is flawed, not just because of the society that is structurally built to maintain male power, but because of the Greek system upon which our “sororities” are built.

While these structures promote competition and division among women, empowerment is defined as “the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights” by the Oxford Dictionary.

The events held over the past week have benefited women in the Indianapolis community and abroad. The week also accounted for the majority of programming offered at Butler on the occasion of Women’s History Month.

$2,904 was raised for sisterhood circlea non-profit organization that, according to their website, strives to use “the collective influence of sorority women” to help”[remove] barriers to education for girls and women facing poverty and oppression. Panhel also collected 900 objects for the Wheeler Mission Center for women and children.

Clearly, some tangible positives have come out of this week, but subliminally – whether you choose to see it or not – this week’s events have reinforced negative stereotypes, objectified women, and obviously encouraged women. women to compete. Whatever the cause, fostering competition among already exclusive groups is literally the opposite of empowerment.

These negative results are not necessarily the fault of Panhel, but rather of our society and a general desensitization to these socially accepted narratives. That being said, I wish more thought had been given to the implications of some of these events. In order to continue to progress as a society, we must challenge the ideals that society has taught and lift all women up with us.

However, we must first recognize our misjudgment, so that we can learn from it.


Women’s Empowerment Week followed a similar style to other Greek philanthropy weeks. But here’s the rub: other philanthropy weeks and the models they follow aren’t about empowering women. Of sexualized dances at sporting events, philanthropy weeks rely on using competition to raise funds.

Claiming to empower women and using a format designed for competition does not create an environment that encourages women to support women. Instead, it promotes the already established competition between sororities.

If competition really is the only way to raise money – watch BUDM, I promise it’s not – why not create teams by combining houses like Yell Like Hell or create random groups similar to recruiting ?

Having a week built on “empowerment” while encouraging head-to-head competition between women and sorority houses, in particular, is simply counter-intuitive and not in our best interest.

In the end, the problem is not competition. The problem is taking competition, labeling it and selling it as something that empowers and uplifts women, when competitions are designed to do the opposite.

In society, women are already placed in positions of high competition among themselves, so why would Panhel encourage this further in the name of empowerment?

As if creating competition among women wasn’t enough, a points system was used to determine the “winner” of Women’s Empowerment Week. I don’t know about you, but no matter how many times I read that sentence, it makes no sense.

I hope I don’t need to explain the misjudgment of having an empowerment ‘winner’, but the use of points implies that some forms of ’empowerment’ are more valuable than others.

Let it sink in.

If you want to know how much empowerment is really worth, look no further than the contest queen. Panhel rated first place at 100 points, second at 75 and third at 50. Oh, and the other four Greek houses, according to Instagram, got zero points.

For context, goods donated to the Wheeler Mission were valued at one point per item or 1% of the “Queen”.

contest queen

Historically, queen pageants and competitions have objectified and encouraged more direct competition between women. Panhel’s competition was no different.

Each sorority nominated a woman to compete in the queen pageant. These women were asked to make videos that were posted on the Women’s Empowerment Week Instagram page. According to Instagramthe post with the most likes at the end of the week would be named the “winner”.

While videos featuring each queen candidate have been removed from Women’s Empowerment Week Instagram, Panhel can’t erase the fact that it happened.

If the direct competition between the houses was not enough, Panhel actively promoted and encouraged participation in a popularity contest. Competitions based on social media likes not only objectified the queens as messages circulated, but also encouraged judgment inside and outside of Panhel.


Under the umbrella of the competitions surrounding Women’s Empowerment Week, Panhel chose to reference the flag football competition held last Wednesday like “Powderpuff”.

Although it may sound like I’m nitpicking, the phrase subliminally conveys male dominance and female fragility. This choice, during Women’s Empowerment Week, is particularly deaf.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines puffing as “of, relating to, or being a traditionally male activity or event done or performed by women”.

Not only does the use of the puff name undermine and downplay the athletic accomplishments of

women, but it reinforces the idea that women’s sports are inferior to their male counterparts. Women face higher rates of gender marking in their potential sports, compared to the men, but Panhel’s use of the term chosen to describe their Empowerment Week flag football goes even further.

As a secondary definition, the puff is defined as “a small, fluffy device (such as a tampon) for applying cosmetic powder”.

How am I supposed to feel empowered playing a football game named after a cosmetic brush?

Action speaks louder than words

While I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, I find it hard to believe that Panhel didn’t recognize the misjudgment behind many of the events of this week.

If Panhel didn’t realize the queen competition was flawed, why are the videos no longer visible on the Women’s Empowerment Week Instagram page?

If Panhel didn’t realize the competition issues, why was a disclaimer included on Powderpuff’s post stating, “This is a PANHELLENIC competition, empowered women cannot empower women if they are not willing to take ALL the women.” ?

And if Panhel didn’t realize the problems of the week as a whole, why did his explanation take up an entire paragraph in their official conclusion message?

As women, we must continue to move forward together towards our own empowerment, holding others and ourselves accountable.

Being self-sufficient isn’t something anyone can just tell you to be, and if you don’t feel it, you’re not alone.

The following sorority women on the Collegian Editorial Board stand in solidarity with this message:

Katie Freeman

Ellie Allen

Emma Bevins

Caitlin Segrave

Mara R. Wilmoth