Thursday, 28 October 2010

on 'powerlessness'

i used the word 'powerless' in my last post, and then wrote a massive footnote, which i think should be a post in itself!
* i hope it's clear that i don't mean to say that survivors of abuse, or mums whose children have been removed , or women who've been criminalised (or two of these things or all three) are powerless. i don't want to speak for anyone. and i am so full of respect for all the ways in which people in these situations find and use their own powers, and reclaim their powers. i want to find ways to talk about 'powerlessness', while recognising it is never total.

is there a word for power-squished-ness? as in - a way to say that someone has tried to eliminate or drastically reduce another's power - and that this has not been total (unless the person is killed*) but squashed, reduced, hurt...? i like the word squashed as it suggests the ability to bounce/grow/unfurl back. does this make sense? please comment if you can think of a word that means having had your power reduced, but not permanently.

serious power-squashed-ness has to be one of the worst feelings it's possible to experience. maybe it's the worst form of psychological pain. to the extent that generally, no matter what they have been through, people will not admit to having felt it. and - this is hard to talk about - i see this resulting in some women who've been through abuse, kind of denying that their partner ultimately had control. women say 'i gave as good as i got' because this is less painful than dwelling on how squashed their power may have been, even while he sustained injuries, or was poisoned, or was deeply unhappy, or said he felt afraid, or sometimes did as he was told, or negotiated in certain instances.

of course it's not up to me what women who've been through abuse want to talk about, and how anyone understands and describes their own experiences! but in terms of understanding domestic abuse as a pattern, understanding why and how it happens in order to minimise it, i think it is so important to find ways to talk about the intricacies of the power, and how where a woman is experiencing control and violence from a partner and taking control and perpetrating violence against him: of the stories i have heard this is very rarely a case of 'she gives as good as she gets', given the context of, for example, how men are generally able to be financially and housing-wise independent of their ex/partner and child/ren, while the reverse is generally not true. or the context of how men are more likely to make realistic threats to kill a partner, and (on some level) know they are more likely to get away with doing so, while the reverse is not true. and connected to both of these things, the context of how women are likely to be living in a much higher level of fear - of serious injury, death, homelessness, being sectioned, losing contact with their children by being deemed an unfit mother and so on - than men. to me, these kinds of factors bestow so much more power to men, that it is only in exceptional circumstances that women can give as good as they get. i certainly don't believe that it's impossible, i'm just itchy for real, clear, ways to talk about this stuff. i want to find ways of talking about and honouring how people surviving abuse can be powerful, and powersquashed, at the same time.

hmm. any ideas?

* footnote to the footnote: and i don't believe that people who haven't survived, people who've died as a result of abuse were powerless, of course not.

* another footnote: by tagging this 'collusion' and 'myths and excuses' i don't mean to imply that survivors are guilty of collusion, or stupidly taken in by, or propagating, myths and excuses by talking about their powerfulness! i use the tags to find my own way around my thoughts on here. what i mean is more that we all in this culture collude with abuse when we drift along not questioning the myths and excuses about abuse that are provided by the culture, which is an abusive culture.

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