Culture in Mind

Mental health, culture, and ethnicity

The Power of Perception and the Perception of Power

A Feminist Talks Power

Growing up I learned early on that boys had power that I didn't. So being the tomboy that I was I sought power through 'male' ways of being. And was quite successful at it.

Power and Patriarchy

But as I grew older I realized that women have lots of power but due to patriarchal ways of thinking we have given less value to our ways of being and more value to male ways of behaving. It still frustrates me that women who are successful are seen as being male-oriented as if the personality traits that have fueled women's survival over millenia were not enough to make us Speaker of the House or CEO.

The Power of Reproduction

If we decide to recognize the ability to incubate a human being and keep it alive solely from our bodies for months as power, then men could not come close to having the power we have. If we decided that power was nurturing the world from birth to death, whether as care givres, teachers, nurses, social workers and so many other female-dominated professions, we would not think that we have no power. However, if we decide that these are realms of power then we can demand the salaries that males demand because of the 'power' they perceive it to have.

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Power From the Home

Being in charge of the home sphere means deciding how families spend money, where children go to school, what families eat etc etc. How is that not powerful? Our behavior decides fertility rates and what happens to old people as well as children. We push the world forward and decide demographic trends. How is that not power?

It is because we are powerful that some men want to subjugate and oppress us through rape or violence. And it is because we are powerful that we survive rape, violence and war and keep going long after men have died or deserted. 

Being CEO of a company requires some abandonment of home and the family that may reside there. Is that a 'male' way of being? Or is it a way of being that women prefer not to pursue? Or is it what is demanded of business and thus neither male nor female? And if women do not pursue this realm does this mean they surrender power? Women may not head lots of Fortune 500 companies but they start more small businesses than men do. They are as much an economic engine as the big companies that got bailed out. Should we see capitalism as a male domain and thus penetrating it is our way to equal access to power? 

The measures of female success in the workplace has been to measure our percentages in the top ranks. Women have choices and perhaps a better measure is how many women want those jobs and how many get them. Because if few women want them and we chose to pursue other lives, does that not reflect our power?

Defining Power

I propose to look at power as it is generally defined (Websters): the ability to act or produce an effect; possession of control, authority or influence over others; physical might; mental or moral efficacy. We may lose on the physical might aspect but purely because of biology. The other domains we are doing just fine.

Gendered Power

The power debate is not about competition but about our roles in society and how they are perceived and thus how people are treated. Men are different than women but we are equal. Because we are different in essential ways, including the influence of the hormones that make us male and female, is it 'fair' to expect us to be THE SAME in all things or can we not be different and have those differences be equally respected? Do we need to do the same things as men to be perceived as equal? Or is it that they need to be more like us in order to be truly powerful?

The Power of Nature and Nurture

The realities of power are both socialized and biologically derived; both nature and nurture. And it is through the latter that women are taught that it's a man's world, even though it is theirs once they decide to claim it. Celebrating our womanhood is a powerful way of being in the world. Much more powerful than seeing ourselves as subjugated and oppressed. And this thinking does not deny that men try to subjugate and oppress us but it negates the deficit model of thinking and celebrates our resistance and survival despite these efforts and redefines our position in the world as one of power.

Ruth C. White, Ph.D., M.S.W., and M.P.H., is the author of Bipolar 101 and is an associate clinical professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California. 

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