On walls and their bricks

Antonio Dias recently published some reflections about power, within the context of the will to control. He observes that “Investment in power directly corrodes one’s strength.” He’s essentially unpacking the reasoning behind Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. (“I’m glad they’re getting something, ‘cos they have a hell of a time” Life of Brian)

You can do all sorts of things with words like power and strength and control – it’s all down to context. As character traits or personal positions they can be considered positive or negative, and that will depend largely on a person’s circumstances and values.

My own thoughts – when I see the words power and strength and control – lead to the politics around gender, and where power sits in our social relations.

I find myself battering against the brick wall of gender inequality a lot these days, because it continually presents itself to me in my life’s experiences and I haven’t yet worked out a resolution within myself that brings me to peace with it. Or should I say, a way to break the wall without getting hurt by the tonne of bricks landing on me as a result.

In my own life, in order to meet the demands of femininity, I’ve swallowed my own power and voice until I’ve become sick at heart. I’m ever the little sister trailing along behind the big boys, the youngest daughter being scolded to behave. I’m ever holding back, and residing in my ‘strength to endure.’  This doesn’t reconcile with the independent life I chose over a traditional one.

Or does it? In a cafe yesterday I met Guy Standing, the author of The Precariat. When he obliged me by giving a brief summary of the book’s premise, he described my own predicament. I am part of a

new dangerous class…comprising the growing number of people facing lives of insecurity, doing work without a past or future. Their lack of belonging and identity means inadequate access to social and economic rights

There’s so much in that wee book blurb alone that I want to address – work without a past or future, lack of belonging or identity – but those tangents will lead me astray here; best left to subsequent posts.

What I’m concentrating on just now is that as a woman – and in particular as a lone parent – I am more likely to be a member of this dangerous new class. It’s not that new, though, is it? Aren’t social and economic rights what the international women’s movement has been seeking for a century now?  

Just a couple days ago the UK budget for 2011 was presented. Various critics pointed out its impact on women. Here are a few of them:

I like this definition of power, from Carolyn Heilbrun‘s Writing a Woman’s Life:

Power is the ability to take one’s place in whatever discourse is essential to action and the right to have one’s part matter.

It’s that last bit I get snagged on: the right to have one’s part matter – the difference between lip service and genuine participation in the decision-making that will impact on oneself. For all the changes that the last century has seen, the evidence remains that the part of women still doesn’t matter.

And this brings me back to Tony’s post. I understand full well that by taking the discussion of power into one of its most familiar battle grounds I am acting out his very point:

we look to any excuse to ascribe power to ourselves, or our nation, our society, our culture – anything we can identify with and use that identification to build up a division between Us and the Other

Here’s a wall far more fierce, with tumbling bricks far more painful. I feel hobbled, and humbled by its challenge. Is the desire for justice the same as a desire for power?

As to finding that resolution within myself, the one which will stop me flinging myself against brick walls

only those… who reach the stage where it is possible for them to combat a second tragedy within themselves, and not the first over again, are worthy of being called mature (Jane Bowles – yes, I’m a bit obsessed)

I think I’m not worthy of this – and yet I’m certain that I can be.

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