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The Image I Reflect: Recognizing Power Differentials

The Image I Reflect: Recognizing Power Differentials

hand mirror.April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Throughout the month, Cedarville University’s Title IX office would like to challenge the campus community to examine the ways in which we are sometimes less than loving as we focus on this theme:

“The Image I Reflect: Conversations About Respect, Consent, Power, and Healing”

This theme is meant to challenge us to look in the mirror and consider our beliefs and behaviors, to reflect on the ways that we are tempted to act toward another that could diminish their sexual dignity or objectify them.

Our focus this week is on power differentials.

Today’s post is written by Cedarville’s Confidential Advocate, Celeste Hurley. Celeste is a graduate of Cedarville and currently serves as Sexual Assault Response Coordinator at the Family Violence Prevention Center. 

Power differentials have a significant impact on relationships. The question is not whether or not there are power dynamics at play in your relationship, but how they are at play. Do both people hold influence in the relationship or does one person’s voice or position matter more than the other person? Power dynamics themselves are not necessarily negative, but the danger comes in the misuse of the power. One person having an advantage in knowledge, position, resources, or status over another person creates a power differential.

The intention behind this post is not to say “You are doing this wrong” or to shame people for the positions and opportunities they have, but to encourage people to look at their significant other with the mentality of, “I would never want you to feel like your voice matters less than mine.”

Some commonly seen power differentials are: Older – Younger, Professor – Student, Doctor – Patient, Boss/Manager – Employee.

Along with those more obvious positions of power, I encourage you to consider other potential ways you may hold power or be disadvantaged in your relationship. This could be through:

  • Status/Popularity: “Majority will support one side/story.” Significant other may be afraid of their reputation being disparaged if the couple breaks up.
  • Social Support: If someone has a lack of supportive people, they may be more reliant on that relationship for connection.
  • Knowledge/Experience: One person may feel unable to voice their own opinion because the significant other is “the smart one” or “I haven’t been in a real relationship before this one, so I’m still figuring it out.” This discrediting oneself and automatic compliance to the other can place someone in a vulnerable position.
  • Financially: This could play out in a few ways when one person is in a better financial state. One way is if the person’s job may be at risk if they report or break up with someone.
  • Passive vs. assertive personalities: In a relationship, it is important to recognize personality types and create space for each other. If you’re able to articulate your feelings or unapologetically “speak your mind,” it is important to reflect how that comes across in your relationship. Healthy assertive communication allows us to respectfully share what we’re feeling and then respectfully and quietly hear how the other person is feeling.

While each person is responsible for speaking up for themselves, it is also important for us to recognize what may make it difficult for someone to speak up. If we consider our significant other as made in God’s image and want a mutually beneficial relationship, we should want our significant other to be able to voice his or her needs or concerns. This requires open and honest communication from both people. At times that will be hard but, if done well, is so rewarding for the relationship.

One of my favorite conversations that came out of my work with high school students was when a student shared what he had learned in his relationship. He realized that his height made him seem intimidating to others when he was frustrated. He very literally leveled the playing field by sitting down whenever he was in an argument or disagreement. This not only helped to keep him calm but made the room more comfortable for the other person to share their thoughts. Was he wrong for simply standing and talking? No, not at all. But when we have a heart for the people around us, we strive to understand each other better, not win the argument.

When relationships are in a healthy state and there is equal power, you should see:

  • No fear of retaliation or violence
  • Open and regular communication of feelings and needs
  • Trust and respect
  • Equal decision-making power
  • Honesty
  • Reciprocity

Conversation starters for your relationship?

“I hope you know that I value your opinion.”

“If you disagree with me, I hope you feel able to tell me.”

Learn about healthy communication styles. Learn about personality types or how your significant other’s brain works. These can be fun conversations!

Good communication takes practice and may not come naturally at first. The important thing is being with someone willing to work on it with us and whose end goal is a relationship with mutual support and spurring each other on to love and good deeds.

Family Violence Prevention Center 
24/7 Crisis Hotline: 937-372-4552 or 937-426-2334
Celeste Hurley, LSW, On-Campus Advocate

Opinions and beliefs expressed are that of Celeste Hurley, a domestic and sexual violence advocate, and do not represent the views, opinions, and beliefs of the Family Violence Prevention Center.

Please watch the video below for more information on the Cedarville University Title IX office.

Posted in Title IX

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