Power: the most valued and desired commodity in the world. It guides civilisations, grants privileges and pushes humanity to do anything to attain it. The concept itself surrounds us in practically everything we do. The hierarchy of our schools, families and friends are dependent on that balance and dynamic of power. The dangerous nature of power is that although it exists for everyone, only a certain group of people have it, meaning our politics or societies have been dictated in a certain way for the vast majority of our existence on earth. And while you may argue that power should be given to those who “earn” it, you can’t earn power that’s already been taken away from you.
The obstacles that women and other marginalized communities face when attempting to reclaim this power prove to be arduous, making gender equality absurdly difficult to achieve. I could probably spend 20 years going on a tangent about the plethora of things that the patriarchy has ruined, restricted or violated; instead, I’d like to talk about its role in setting up practically unbreakable power dynamics that work against over 50% of the human population.
The central issue is, our patriarchal society doesn’t tend to view women as “powerful”. And when a society as a whole doesn’t view a subset of itself as equally capable of holding and managing power, equality cannot be attained. The cold hard truth is, even the most axe-wielding-feminists like myself are guilty of underestimating women’s capacities for power, and even violence. And while most of modern Western society may not necessarily view girls as 1950s meatloaf baking housewives, we’re still often portrayed as the more kinder, humanitarian, and emotional beings. These traits aren’t necessarily bad; the issue is that we view those traits as less capable of being utilised in tandem with power. Which means that the disparities between those in power and those who are subservient to that power is heavily related to gender. When looking at which majority remains in power in our politics and military, it’s easy to see that there’s a direct disconnect between gender oppression and the mitigation of that oppression.
When you have people in power who don’t understand the struggles of those not in power, you're going to end up with ineffective solutions. Take, for example, the case of Sarah Everard—a young woman walking home in South London kidnapped by a police officer under the pretence that she was violating COVID laws. He then raped and murdered her, and her horrific story was used as a catalyst for massive protests and to bring awareness of the thousands of female rapes, murders and kidnappings that go unnoticed (especially those of persons of colour).
Sarah Everard’s death was particularly impactful because it is a prime example of a man in a position of power abusing his role as a trustworthy protector. The case demonstrated the lack of accountability and disciplinary action along with the massive flaws in handling allegations of violence against women within the Metropolitan Police department. It further illustrated that even when women do everything in their limited power to simply stay alive, they are still victimised. You might be thinking, “surely the Met police came up with an effective and prompt response including vetting reform, training and increasing the female hires for the police force!” Just kidding—I know you're not assuming that, but I’ll still inform you that instead, they released a statement with what I wouldn’t even dignify as advice, saying that women who feel in danger because of an officer should, “shout out to a passerby, run into a house, or wave a bus down.”
While the current commissioner of the Met police, Dame Cressida Rose Dick, is a woman, clearly her position is not enough to create support and understanding within the department when concerning gender-based violence.This statement made it very clear that the majority is still men in power with badges, and they could not and would not ever understand the fear or oppression that women face every day. While this case displayed the dumpster fire flaws of the British police, it should be known that the occupation with the highest rate of domestic abuse is a police officer. I won’t even begin to unpack how alarming that fact is; I’ll simply add that this statistic omits the entire other militaristic professions which have their own wife-beater prerequisites.
Again and again, society pushes the responsibility of safety on women, as if it is not enough for us to have to contend with the risk of being spiked, stalked, raped and killed. Political leaders tell women that it’s their duty to protect themselves. There’s a certain irony in this beautifully ignorant message—even though women are kept out of those positions of power, we are still expected to protect ourselves. From a young age, girls are taught the cardinal rules of safety: don’t walk alone, cover yourself up, trust no one—not even law enforcement. It’s become normalized, as if it should be normal to be afraid simply because of the gender you identify with. So we cover our drinks. And walk home with keys wedged between our fingers. We travel in packs, and set plans in place for what we should do if we find ourselves in a dangerous situation. And when harassment, stalking, and spiking aren’t enough to deter women from the nightlife, people turn to injecting women with drugs or even HIV to scare them off. Even in our own home of St Andrews, there’s been a clear shift in tone when it comes to going out because girls are scared of being spiked. Women don’t want to be vulnerable—who would ever want to be subservient to those in power?
We don’t “deserve” equality and inclusion in power—we are owed it. I can declare with absolute certainty that every single woman on this earth has felt the shame, fear, and frustration that accompanies our gender. If you don’t believe me, ask your mum. Or your sister, or daughter, or friend, or girlfriend. Ask any woman walking on the street—notice the flash of fear when you interrupt their walking, and maybe you can understand why it’s a necessity to have diversity in our “wielders of power”. We need people who have felt the fear of cat-calling, or have survived any form of sexual assault or harrasment, to be leading our military, politics, and police. Their unique perspective isn’t necessarily the solution to solving gender disparity but it is an essential first step.
Our own biases often prevent women, our own selves, from seeking out positions in power. We often believe that men can be more “experienced” or naturally inclined, for ruling or managing the gruesome violence that our reality is riddled with. It’s somewhat of a natural thought process, because a majority of those in power have been men and change isn’t always easy to face. But how can women be afraid of power or violence or when we face it every day? When walking on the street, or going out or even at home women are automatically faced with power dynamics that are unbalanced, and that can often turn violent. The solution to solving this is actually painfully simple: representation. Representation will naturally provide better perspectives and solutions, but it will also demonstrate to younger girls today that leadership and power is available for everyone.
It’s not too late to balance the scales of gender power dynamics. Everyday people make micro-decisions that can impact the way women and power are perceived. Whether it be minding your words, voting, or protesting. The way we think about women is directly correlated to the way we treat and speak about our women. Even making a joke about female politicians “belonging in the kitchen” or girls “whining about harassment” can have a big impact on the mindset of all genders.
Encourage your daughters and sisters to take interest in wars, or to run for class president. While saying this may seem like I’m pitching the next ad for American Girl Doll, I can ascertain with certainty that exposure can make a real difference. Progress is being made in much of the world when it comes to female politicians being elected. While this is monumental, it’s a slow progression and isn’t as visible in other male dominated fields such as the military, police or STEM. And as women, we shouldn’t back down just because progress has happened. Power won’t simply be given; we’ll have to take it ourselves. More importantly, we must remember that femininity and power are not mutually exclusive: girls can press nuclear buttons too.
Illustration: Marios Diakourtis