I want to talk about power, the great enabler of so much negative so-called ‘asshole’ behavior.
We are more aware than ever that power by domination through degradation is experienced negatively by those who are oppressed by it.
But is it even possible to avoid individually having any power at all? Professionally, structurally, or interpersonally, given the structuring of labor and education, as well as just plain structural inequality?
And is this ableist, racist, cis, hetero, patriarchal model of power the only kind of power, or power dynamic, that exists?
The vast majority of people, particularly people reading this, have some power, in some context, over some people, while also being subordinate in other situations and to other structures.
If we arrive at “power is always bad” without “power is unavoidable”, power is an inherent negative, rather than an ambivalent constant in our present context.
This makes it easier for those in power to pretend that their power does not exist, since they are good people, and only bad people have (and acknowledge having) power.
Who pays the price when institutional, structural, and personal power dynamics are obfuscated by those with the upper hand?
I don’t think it is possible to mitigate a power imbalance (or any harm that may come from it) without first acknowledging that it exists.
Those at a disadvantage are keenly aware of their circumstances, and not acknowledging what they know places the onus on them to navigate a dynamic where they have more to lose.
When we decide that being in any power position, no matter the context, is a negative, rather than a fact, having any power implicitly suggests wrongdoing.
This disguises and normalizes specific negative uses and abuses of power.
Structural power, at least in a direct sense, is never consensual for those who are oppressed by it, and it is important to account for the structural power we have in our relationships.
But interpersonal power dynamics, both personal and sometimes professional, depending on context, can be consensual. They require boundaries and explicit work, but there are possibilities.
The only way to move toward a healthier understanding of power is by talking about it and owning the ways in which we have power over others.
We can and should build worlds around other constructs, but we also have to figure out how to resist, care, and mitigate harm in this one, for now.
Examine and own your shit. Where and how do you have power over others? How can you name these dynamics and make them explicit? To yourself and others with whom you are in these dynamics?
How can you use your power to tear down the constructs of patriarchal power? Can your power be respectful, caring, principled? What will you do to disrupt power as hegemony today?
Words and image by Kiona H Niehaus
Kiona H Niehaus is a lesbian multimedia artist, writer, and PhD student making creative technology. She grew up in rural Washington state, and is based between Berlin and London. She enjoys meeting your cats, eating citrus fruits, and floating alone in salt water. Collaborating with Coven Berlin brings her great joy.
She recommends “The possibilities of radical consent” .