Overcoming the Misuse of Male Privilege and Power
Not all men exploit women—but those who do may be facing a reckoning.
Posted Nov 29, 2017
We are witnessing the powerful influence of women as they speak out about sexual assaults and harassment in the workplace and elsewhere. These voices heard in the media give permission for other women to be heard. And the public statements now hold the perpetrators accountable.
This movement highlights the patriarchal influence of our culture that contributes to so many women being victimized while so many victimizers remain unseen and protected. It’s a condition that’s systemic and pervasive. Not all men exploit women, but for those who do, they might be facing a reckoning.
Are Men More Entitled?
In 2015, a significant study on narcissism and gender differences emerged. Scientists concluded from published data spanning 31 years that men of all ages showed more narcissistic tendencies than women in particular areas. This study might explain but does not excuse the hurtful behaviors. The feeling of entitlement is one aspect of narcissism that showed up as the greatest difference between women and men. This belief of seeing themselves as deserving and privileged causes men to be more apt to exploit others to get what they want.
Misuse of Power Over Others
Another aspect of narcissism measured by this study is another culturally related phenomenon: leadership and authority. These characteristics have the second biggest difference between women and men.
Men are more likely to be assertive, motivated to lead, and desire more power over others. This doesn’t mean there aren’t women who aspire to this as well, but clearly, our culture is influenced by and supports men in leadership positions. Once in a position of power, exploiting and using others becomes widely possible and too often tolerated.
From Home to Workplace to Home…
In my recovery group for women with controlling partners, participants often ask the question, “Are we all talking about the same man?”
I examined 1,000 intimate relationships of women with controlling partners and recognized the same narcissistic characteristics at play by the men who seek power over their intimate partner. The controlling partner brings his entitlement and sense of authority into his intimate relationship. By using his male privilege, he creates an inequality of power in the relationship that leads to abuse of that power. The controlling partner becomes the perpetrator in the home.
Coercive control in an intimate relationship can take many forms including emotional, sexual, economic, and physical. A controlling partner can subtly coerce and intimidate, preventing his partner from doing what she wants or forcing her to do something she doesn’t want to do. This behavior causes harm and fear to his partner. It also extends to any children living in the home. It often happens behind closed doors without others knowing since the controlling partner seeks to isolate his partner, keeping his actions unseen and protected.
Speaking Up Heals and Empowers
It’s exciting to see courageous women speaking up about sexual harassment and assault in the workplace that in turn helps women everywhere, including women with controlling partners.
By voicing concerns, only then can women recognize the commonality with others, feel less alone, and begin making sense of their experience. When this occurs, the shame from these hurtful behaviors that keeps many women from speaking up at first diminishes. Healing begins. Women realize they’re gaining more influence over their life. From a place of strength, who knows what women might choose to do that will help create long-lasting changes in our culture.
Grijalva, Emily, Newman, Daniel A., Tay, Louis, Donnellan, M. Brent, Harms, P. D.,Robins, Richard W.,Yan, Taiyi. Gender differences in narcissism: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, Vol 141(2), Mar 2015, 261-310