It’s a loaded and potent word.
You can’t live in the world without acknowledging it’s all around us. As women, we’re particularly affected and vulnerable to it. We live in a society where patriarchy exits and thrives, none more so than in the relationships found in households across the nation.
Women are at their most powerful yet most vulnerable place possible when pregnant, giving birth, caring for their children or when infirmed. It is even a crime for women to choose what happens to their own bodies in deciding if or if not to terminate a pregnancy. In terms of the differences between genders, this presents a unique set of circumstances for women.
For the average woman, the ability to provide for herself and her children becomes compromised simply due to the practicalities of life. She is reliant on her partner to help her, love her, and support her, emotionally and financially. This is how we are built. It’s humanity at its core.
We are built for relationships, to be able to rely on others and then for others to rely on us. This makes all of us vulnerable to the use of power within the roles that each person plays within their relationships, in particular women and children.
It is repugnant when hearing stories of violence against women and children at any time. Particularly at stages of life when most vulnerable. I feel sick to my stomach when I hear of men beating women when they are pregnant. It happens. It happens a lot.
It’s about the misuse of power.
Power and relationships
In any relationship, the more reliant a person is on it, the less power they have. When someone is thought to have more power over them, the less likely they are to speak up or not criticise for fear of upset. It can feel the other person doesn’t care for them. At its extreme, there is the feeling of abandonment, at its worst, abuse. The one with less power can feel helpless and alone.
If women in abusive relationships begin to, and they do, believe the violence is their fault, how much more does a child feel it? Children are particularly vulnerable because they need relationships for sheer survival. Violence distorts their perception of personal power and how it used, which can be often against them.
The added vulnerability of women, due to their financial dependence on their partners to survive, places us at a disadvantage. This is where living in a patriarchy works against us. Women are paid less than men, have less superannuation, lose employment opportunities due to maternity leave, and deal with constant scrutiny within the workplace.
Therefore, financial dependence on a partner can leave her bound, especially if that partner is an abuser. A message of powerlessness by virtue of circumstance can be enforced.
Women can learn to tap into the power they possess. Knowing what and how to place ourselves in a position of power has a transforming effect. It starts by recognising the choices you have and weighing up the consequences. It can start by saying no.
No! No longer will I be in a relationship where my voice and my needs are not recognised and heard
Power is the ability you have to influence someone else. That’s it in a nutshell. Research has found that people resort to violence when they don’t have the skills to communicate what they need in a relationship. When a man abuses a woman in anyway, be it physical, verbal, emotional, sexual or financially, he is demonstrating the limit of his abilities and complete lack of skills. He is in fact a powerless and hopeless man who only knows violence.
Voice + Skills = Power
According to Joseph DeVito, an expert in interpersonal communication, there are three types of power in relationships.
1. Power in the relationship
2. Power in the person
3. Power in the message
If in a relationship where the balance of power is tipped in a position against you, you still have two options to use to balance it back. You can learn how to increase your personal power so that your message is powerful.
Power in the person
Knowing and believing in yourself is the place to start realising your personal power. Identifying your strengths, weaknesses, values and passions helps direct you in where you want to go and what you want to do. When you build up this self-knowledge, believing in what you are capable of becomes a tap of power you can access at any time.
Personal power strengths according to DeVito include being fair, empathic to others, consistency in how you treat others, with ‘a glass half full’ attitude and enthusiasm. These qualities draw people to you rather than pushing them away.
Power in the message
How you communicate can be powerful or powerless. Powerful communication will include what you say, body language and your ability to listen.
What you say: being specific about what you’re asking for is powerful communication. However, giving an opinion then asking if that’s ok, statements that are self-critical, or being hesitating in what you say is not.
Body language: make sure your words match your body, maintain an acceptable physical distance between you and another person, too close and it’s aggressive, too far away is too passive. Match your facial expressions with the person you’re talking to.
Powerful listening: avoid interrupting, don’t finish a sentence for someone, and let them to complete their thought. Actively respond to what they say, especially when asking for something they need. Ensure you maintain eye contact, an open posture and nod your head which sends a message you’re listening.
This isn’t natural
If these are things feel difficult or even scary, that’s not surprising. Culturally as women, we’re simply not socialised this way. However, these are skills and knowledge that can be learned in a non-judgemental and supportive environment like counselling, or your local women’s centre.
You are powerful
The bottom line is that every woman is powerful. Sometimes, we may need help to access it.