Words by Delilah Kealy-Roberts
Art By DAisy Macari
CW: sexual AssAult
Power dynamics. That’s what it’s all about isn’t it? Whether it be a political struggle or negotiating early stages of a relationship, the concept of ‘power’ seems to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Who has it? Is it in the right hands? How do I get it? How can this game be warped to give me the upper hand, put me in the driving seat; give me the power? It is no new revelation that power, and its complex dynamics, are at the centre of gender politics. Why does the patriarchy exist? In the most over-simplified terms we can muster: Because heteronormative, heterosexual men are in the positions of power. And has this power been used for good? Well…
It may seem a generalised statement, but it is one that is at the crux of our society. Recent cases including the scandal surrounding Harvey Weinstein and incidents of sexual harassment within Westminster have brought such discrepancies and abuses of power into the public eye. In both cases we see a power play involving men exercising and abusing authority over women- particularly older men, over younger women; women who are often in subservient positions to that of their abusers. In the aforementioned cases we also see the creation of a professional environment in which the structure of power has been so warped that abuses and their unwanted sexual advances have become commonplace and essentially normalised. In reference to environments such as the film industry and Westminster, Radio 4’s woman’s hour describes them as places “in which some men are enabled and encouraged to behave in abhorrent ways”. Thus, our understanding of power structures is broadened: not just a dynamic between two people, but instead dynamics that can be exaggerated, abused and redefined within certain micro-societies.
So, can these rules of power be rewritten? So far only through fiction. Naomi Alderman’s 2016 novel (you’ve guessed it) The Power works to subvert the dynamics between men and women in a utopian (soon spiralling into dystopian) society. And how is this fictional world shaken up and flipped suddenly into a matriarchal state? That’s right- women get the power. Within the novel, women are suddenly granted the ability to harness electrostatic power through their fingertips and use it (and abuse it) as they wish. Of course, everything changes. Not only is the upheaval of gender politics as we know it within this novel caused by violence, but also- more interestingly- it is caused by the mere capacity for violence. There are multiple scenarios within the novel in which a woman considers a man through a whole new light- with the knowledge that they could quite easily cause him harm, or even death. Whether a character goes on to commit an act after this point is almost irrelevant; the way of thinking has already altered, and the power- whether put into practice or not- has changed hands.
Of course, the world that Alderman creates is no Utopia. Power, while used valiantly by some characters, is abused by others. Whether this be for the purpose of a long-awaited revenge against the patriarchy or as a result of any other motivation, enough is clear- violent power is fundamentally used because it can be with little or no consequence.
An extreme comparison perhaps? No one is suggesting that abusers such as Weinstein have the capacity for violence and abuse threaded through them like volts of electricity. The society in which we currently live in however, does seem to allow an obscene amount of room for male violence, and many specific environments/ work places have shocking tolerance for it. In abuse and rape cases for example, the power has traditionally been swayed towards the accused- while the victim is doubted on grounds of insufficient ‘solid’ evidence? Furthermore, in cases such as the Weinstein affair it took a multitude of people stepping forward (echoed shortly after with the ‘#Metoo’ campaign) and noticeably, some high profile backing before any claims began to be taken seriously.
When we combine these factors: 1. Be a man, 2. Be in a position of authority, and 3. Be in that position within a workplace or environment in which sexual harassment is tragically tolerated, we see something akin to the electrostatic power harnessed in Alderman’s novel. We see a horrific potential for actions without consequences and arguably, people who may come to abuse simply because well, they can. Of course, we cannot say that these are actions of zero consequence. In fact, there has been a sea of (largely male) rebuttal to the ‘#Metoo’ campaign, accusing people of setting out on a ‘witch hunt’ and wanting to demonise ‘all men’. Many claim, with outrage, that a false allegation could ruin a career. But this argument chooses, conveniently, to turn a blind eye to the shocking amount of high profile male abusers who have come out the other end all-but unscathed (looking at you, Donald Trump) This further solidifies the seemingly invincible and obscenely powerful nature of some famous and privileged male abusers.