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Power Imbalances: Types, Signs, and Ways to Subvert it

Power imbalances in romantic relationships are very well known. Women inherently know that every date, new prospect, and ultimately marriage is a navigation of power.  Women also know that each move and even compassion has to be questioned. Even compliments or withholding compliments can be insidious. As a society, we have neglected to teach women about power and manipulation. Instead, we expect women to learn from society; learn from their mistakes, or learn from their parents who are often misguided. One of the reasons why it is hard to thwart power imbalances in hetero relationships is due to social pressures. Women are verbally abused, physically abused, and emotionally abused but the community around them will tell them it is their worth that determines this behavior. Her community will encourage her to stay and ensure it is the norm. Even if this woman decides to leave, or challenge the relationship dynamic to ensure she is happy, she will be blamed if it all falls apart. She will be blamed for emasculating him. She will be blamed for ruining the family. She will be accused of asking for too much. She will be accused of being difficult and her harshest critics will be the woman she once thought of as a sister [1] Women are stuck in a loop, where hetero men are protected and encouraged to exploit women. While women are encouraged to suffer in silence because this is how it is supposed to go.[2] One space where this conversation is examined, elevated, and questioned is in sex work. Sex work, for the most part, has been examined through the lens of deviance or oppression; however, it is also a site for liberatory politics and some of the best thinkers and theories regarding power and boundaries stem from current and former sex workers. In other words, let’s look at sex work in a polymorphous paradigm, where there is, “a constellation of occupational arrangements, power relations, and worker experiences.”[3]In the following paragraph, I will outline tools from these power relations to help women who are not sex workers better navigate. What I want women to know is that there are other paradigms outside of exploitation within romantic, sexual, and non-sexual relations with men. While my wish is for patriarchy to be demolished and the hierarchy that relegates women to the bottom destroyed, it has yet to be destroyed so I will teach women how to subvert power in unique and creative ways. I've outlined four categories: The types of power imbalances, Signs that demonstrate that imbalance, Power imbalances for sex workers, and navigating, destroying, and subverting power in sex work and romantic relationships.

Types of power Imbalances             Below I’ve outlined some common relationship archetypes that demonstrate power imbalances.

  1. Enmeshed couples

    1. Coined by Salvador Minuchin, it is a psychological term that describes a blurring of boundaries between people,[4] What it looks like having no identity outside of your partner or the relationship The opposite of enmeshment is choosing to be together but belonging to ourselves. [5]

  1. Couples that abide by strict gender roles

    1. While there are relationships that enjoy this dynamic, some do not. For those who do not abide by strict gender roles below is what that power imbalance looks like in those relationships. It looks like the undervaluing of labor that women do. Unequal labor distribution. Cleaning the house. Managing the household. Managing the emotions of the children and the husband.Faking incompetence to get out of doing a choir. Silencing tactics. Using money to dictate the family

  1. Couples that are riddled with abuse

    1. Power is the foundation on which abuse is built. The exploitation of power where two parties have not agreed to the terms will always result in physical, mental, emotional, and financial abuse.

Signs that you aren’t respected

  • Consistent Criticism

  • Manipulation to get their way

  • Name-calling

  • Lack of trust

  • Gaslighting-Convincing you it’s no big deal or that you are making a big deal out of i

  • Uncomfortable speaking up for yourself

    • "A big reason you don't speak up for yourself is that you fear your partner will reject that part of you, or that they'll retaliate against you in some way,"[6]

  • ME vs YOU mentality

    • Everything is a competition

  • Expression of contempt for you

  • Putting you down as a way to build themselves up

  • Physically trying to intimidate you

  • Requiring you to meet their needs, but won’t meet yours

  • Regularly requiring you to take ownership of their issues

  • You are regularly disappointed, while they are content

  • If peace is dependent upon your silence, then you are in trouble.

  • If your friends start to disappear slowly and your partner is constantly telling you how horrible they are, know that he is purposefully alienating you.

Power imbalance for Sex workers

  • Negotiating your rate

  • Don’t/won’t honor their word

  • Trying to ascertain free services

    • Provoking you to try to humiliate them

    • Trying to have a romantic or girlfriend experience online with no intention of paying

    • Excuses as to why they can’t pay

  • Unwilling to build trust

    • Withhold information from vetting

    • Won’t provide any information to verify identity

  • Don’t feel safe

    • Not creating the conditions to ensure you feel space`

  • Not gaining any pleasure

    • Physical, mental, or monetary pleasure

  • Disrespects boundaries

How to thwart power imbalances

  • For sex workers, money first.

  • Be vocal

  • Violence in any form is grounds for leaving.

  • Seek out services that may help you with seed money to uproot you and your family.

    • Many states and churches have funds moving funds

  • Cultivate a community that encourages you to speak up

  • Cultivate a community with like-minded women

  • Do not seek out advice from women who think subservience is womanly, feminine, or your duty.

  • Keep your friends

  • Say no or disappear. No is a complete sentence and disappearing is a statement. 

  • Watch for the red flags (review signs you aren’t respected)

  • Pay attention to their community. Are they friends with abusers? Do they excuse bad behavior? Do they hate other women? Do they talk badly about sex workers?

  • Have a secret savings account to leave if need be

  • Buy a weapon and know the law.

  • Outline  on paper the type of labor you are willing to do and what you need from your partner

    • Review this after every life event, marriage, children, sickness, and financial instability.

  • Do not allow incompetence to be a valid excuse. If they have no disabilities, then they can do it.

  • Don’t allow your partner to weaponize his mental health or his childhood.

  • Do not allow your children to monitor their dad as if they are his guardian.

  • Watch how they discuss your choices. If they do it with disdain, know that they do not respect your autonomy.

Though this is not an extensive list, I hope that you will gain some knowledge from this post and utilize it in your life.


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