Sisterhood Agenda

The Power of Self-Definition for Women

Angela D. Coleman
Latest posts by Angela D. Coleman (see all)

Self-definition is empowering. When I was in my third year at Princeton University, I wrote a independent research titled, “Black Women & Self-Definition.” When I started Sisterhood Agenda at age 23, one of the first things that I did was integrate the concept of self-definition into our A Journey Toward Womanhood curriculum for teenage girls.

Self-definition is one of the most important things that we, as women and girls,  can do for ourselves:

“Self-definition is the process of knowing, understanding, appreciating, accepting and loving who you are as a unique, special individual along with a posture of resistance against those forces that threaten your identity.”

Self-love and self-acceptance are necessary for healthy self-esteem and positive self-concept.  Resisting threats to your identity is critical to maintain a commitment your uniqueness.  This is what leads us to mental and emotional well-being and positive relationships with each other-SISTERHOOD.


Your identity is important!  How you identify yourself in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and spirituality, for example, are often hard-fought battles between social constructs of what society says you “should be” versus who you really are.

With self-definition, we understand this simple truth:  what you are is not the same as who you are. In fact, refusing to identify yourself by the “what” is an act of defiance in itself.  Some people, myself included, would argue that many of these labels are fabricated tools of oppression and marginalization that do more harm than good.

What does your spirit tell you? Self-definition transcends the superficial.  The possibilities are limitless.

“It takes courage to defy traditional customs and the urge to conform.”

Copying what everyone else does like sheep on a farm is easy.   Forging your own path can be difficult, frustrating and lonely.

Yet, the rewards of self-definition are great.  Instead of wearing your hair long, wearing it short makes you stand out.  Wearing a tutu to class instead of the latest fashion label showcases your individuality. Loving your brown skin in an environment that promotes white beauty is an act of self-love.


Because there will always be someone who does not like who you are or who you are becoming, a “posture of resistance” is necessary to stay true to your authentic self.   It requires a heightened sense of self-awareness that the average person does not usually have.

The resistance is what makes you individually defiant and collectively, part of a movement (for example, the natural hair movement for women and girls of African descent and women in Iran showing their hair).  The “little things” that you do to assert your true, authentic self are actually not little at all.

Iranian women showing their hair

If we teach little girls the process of self-definition when they are young, it is a natural, easy, and utterly fulfilling experience.  It just flows.  With self-definition, people who are historically marginalized can be free.  All of society will benefit from this special type of personal, collective and diverse empowerment.

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