Why Murphy Brown Hates the Word Empower

The other day I turned on the TV while I ate my lunch. I don’t usually watch daytime television. I’m afraid if I sit on the lounge I’ll stay there. Working from home can be a challenge, especially when you live in a two-bedroom apartment. A change of scenery helps break the monotony, even if it’s just 10 steps into the next room. My biggest challenge though is the pantry — and the fridge. My arse would agree with that.

I see the cast of Murphy Brown being interviewed, as they are today. I loved that sitcom back in the late ‘80s. I never missed an episode, not in 10 years. Candice Bergen was my idol. Murphy Brown was the woman I aspired to be – strong, independent and really funny — but little did I know back then that she was everything I would have to be to survive. I was 24 years old and I thought the worst was behind me. Not even close.

The interviewer asks Candice what she thinks made the show such a success. Candice replies “Well, I hate the word ‘empower’ but I think Murphy Brown empowered women… ” I stopped listening — I was stuck on that comment. Why does Candice hate the word empower? It’s such a strong word. It carries a lot of weight, holds a lot of promise, doesn’t it?

I’ve been thinking about that. We all have pet hate words. I hate the word ‘blessed’. Unless I’m watching an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, that word annoys me. I roll my eyes and pretend to gag. It’s not like I’ve never used the word. I’m sure I’ve hash-tagged it on social media in the past, but I think the problem these days is the over-use of some words. They lose their meaning and have less impact.

But empower? I’ve been counting on that word — wanting to own it my whole life, never quite feeling worthy of it. When you come from where I’ve been, words like empower don’t come easy.

By the time I was a teenager I’d already endured enough shit to last me three lifetimes. I couldn’t wait to grow up, to be an adult. I imagined it would solve all my problems. That didn’t happen. I often wondered what I’d done to deserve all the shitty things that kept happening to me. I must have been a real arsehole in another life. I believed my present life was about punishment, because I had no other way to rationalise it.

In 2007 my 19-year marriage came to a sudden halt. In 24 hours, it was over. I didn’t see it coming. I was oblivious to what should have been obvious. Rock bottom is an understatement for where I was then. It was a new kind of hell, even for me. I would gladly have checked out if it hadn’t been for my daughter. And a few words from my brother turned my life around. You can read about that in the first chapter of my book.

Every Shitty Thing is a celebration of all the ways I’ve survived. It’s my story of betrayal, deception, heartbreak and endurance, with humour between the threads. It’s about hope, of never giving up on love and learning to trust again too.

When I started writing my memoir back in 2016, I never imagined it could help anyone else. I didn’t write it expecting any impact. I wasn’t even sure I could write it, let alone finish it. But I did finish it. It took me 18 months – well let’s get real, 50 years and 18 months.

I wrote Every Shitty Thing as a kind of legacy – I was here — all this shit happened to me and it didn’t kill me. I survived… I wrote it to make sense of my life. As I revisited all the betrayals and pain, I began to feel differently. I began to own my story, even though I was a bona fide victim for most of it. I had to return to the scene of the crimes against my body and spirit, but somehow, by some miracle, I have been able to meet my abusers with compassion and – dare I say – even forgiveness.

I hope my readers feel the same as they reflect on their own traumas and pain. I hope they realise, as I do now, that the shitty chapters of their lives don’t define who they are. And maybe even laugh at some of it. Trust me, you can only do that in hindsight. Maybe they’ll look at my life and think: If she can survive that, so can I.

And so, I had hoped ‘empower’ might be used to describe my book, but there goes my marketing strategy – shot to shit – thanks, Candice Bergen.

“We are truly blessed,” my second husband says on bad days. His glass is perpetually half full. Mine is the opposite. He’s right of course, but I still want to slap him.

Marcia Abboud