Power imbalances: types, signs, and ways to subvert it.
Power imbalances in romantic relationships are very well known. Cisheterosexual women inherently know that every date, new prospect, and ultimately marriage is a navigation of power. From the beginning, each move, each yes, and even having compassion has to be questioned with “is this a power move?” or is it not? Even withholding compliments, or providing compliments laced with insidious critiques are power moves that for the most part, we neglect to teach cishetero women.
Patriarchy teaches cishetero women to steadily relinquish their power in romantic relationships. As a result, we see power imbalances occur where, “someone disproportionately uses his or her leverage to make decisions, control resources, or control expressions of affection.” One of the reasons why it is hard to thwart power imbalances in cishetero relationships is due to social pressures. Women are verbally abused, physically abused, and emotionally abused but the community around her will tell her it is worth it or that is how marriages and relationships work. Even if this woman decides to leave, or challenge the relationship dynamic to ensure she is happy, she will be blamed if it falls apart. She will be blamed for emasculating him. She will be blamed for ruining the family. She will be accused of asking for too much. She will also be accused of being difficult. Not only will she be blamed, but also her harshest critics will be the women who she once thought of as sisters. So, women are stuck in a loop where they are punished by their partners and their community for wanting equality and equity.
One space where this conversation is elevated and examines, destroys, and negotiates patriarchy is sex work. Sex work for the most part has been examined through the lens deviance or oppression; however, it is also a site for liberatory politics and some of the best thinkers and theories regarding power and boundaries stem from current and former sex workers. In other words, let’s look at sex work in a polymorphous paradigm, where there is a, “a constellation of occupational arrangements, power relations, and worker experiences,” and pull from those power relations tools that can help cishetero women not in sex work better navigate romantic, sexual, and non-sexual relations so that they can manage these power imbalances. While my wish is for patriarchy to be demolished and the hierarchy that relegates women to invisible, or visible only when sexy, it has yet to be destroyed so we will subvert power in our unique and creative ways. Below I’ve created several categories to review and digest: The types of power imbalances, Signs that demonstrate that imbalance, Power imbalances for sex workers, and navigating, destroying, and subverting power in sex work and romantic relationships.
Types of power Imbalances:
Below I’ve outlined some common relationship archetypes that demonstrate power imbalances.
1. Couples that are Enmeshed
a. Coined by Salvador Minuchin, it is a psychological term that describes a blurring of boundaries between people,
b. What it looks like: having no identity outside of your partner or the relationship
c. Opposite of enmeshment: Choosing to be together but belonging to ourselves.
2. Couples that abide by strict gender roles
a. While there are relationships that enjoy this dynamic, some do not. For those who do not abide by strict gender roles below is what that power imbalance looks like.
b. Undervaluing of labor that women do.
i. Unequal labor distribution. Cleaning the house
ii. Managing the household
iii. Managing the emotions of the children and the husband.
c. Faking incompetence to get out of doing a choir
d. Silencing tactics
3. Couples that are riddled with abuse
a. Power is the foundation for which abuse is built on. An exploitation of power where two parties have not agreed to the terms will always result in physical, mental, emotional, and financial abuse.
Signs that you aren’t respected:
• Consistent Criticism
• Manipulation to get their way
• Name calling
• Lack of trust
• Convincing you it’s no big deal or that you are making a big deal out of it.
• Uncomfortable speaking up for yourself "A big reason you don’t speak up for yourself is because you fear your partner will reject that part of you, or that they’ll retaliate against you in some way,"
• ME vs YOU mentality
• Everything is a competition
• Expression of contempt for you
• Putting you down as a way to build themselves up
• Physically trying to intimidate you
• Requiring you to meet their needs, but won’t meet yours
• Regularly requiring you to take ownership of their issues
• You are regularly disappointed, while they are content
• If peace is dependent upon your silence, then you are in trouble.
Power imbalance for Sex worker:
• Negotiating your rate
• Don’t/won’t honor their word
• Trying to ascertain free services
• Provoking you to try to humiliate them
• Trying to have a romantic or girlfriend experience online with no intent of paying
• Excuses as to why they can’t pay
• Unwilling to build trust
• Withhold information from vetting
• Won’t provide any information to verify identity
• Don’t feel safe
• Not creating the conditions to ensure you feel space`
• Not gaining any pleasure
• Physical, mental, or monetary pleasure
• Disrespects boundaries
How to thwart power imbalances:
• Money first.
• Be vocal
• Disrespect in any form is grounds for leaving.
• Cultivate a community that encourages you to speak up
• Do not seek out advice from women who think subservience is womanly, feminine, or your duty.
• Say no or disappear. No is a complete sentence and disappearing is a statement.
• Watch for the red flags (review signs you aren’t respected)
• Pay attention to their community. Are they friends with abusers? Do they excuse bad behavior? Do they hate other women? Do they talk badly about sex workers?
• Outline the type of labor you are willing to do and what you need from your partner
• Review this after every life event, marriage, children, sickness, and financial instability.