Dealing to Power-plays

To be honest with you, I have thought about writing a post to this effect on and off for a very long time. The thoughts that have prevented me from posting on this topic have roots in fear. Fear of the impression I will make on people, fear of people thinking that I’m just a talker not a doer. Fear of people taking me the wrong way.

And then Iris Classon posted about 2 horrible men who disgraced themselves beyond belief, making a wonderful person feel uncomfortable and revolting. She took a very bold step and made her experiences public. She wasn’t afraid to speak up and show everyone this kind of behaviour is not to be tolerated . In every way this is the appropriate course of action. If these men knew what they were doing – these men deserved to be disgraced. These men deserve their reputation to be spoilt. If they are disturbed individuals, then they need our help.

Disclaimer: If you are a man, I have one thing to say to you. You DO NOT deserve to feel disgraced or embarrassed to be a man in light of to what happened to Iris. You do not need to feel shame in any way. These are actions by individuals who truly are not of a safe mental capacity to be taking part in any community. You should not shoulder any feelings of shame. You are awesome.

What happened to Iris, is an example of ‘Power Play’ behaviours. At the core, power plays  have a net effect of making one person feel strong, powerful and dominant  at the expense of another feeling weak, powerless and even fearful. They are about bolstering one ego, while tearing down another.

Groping a woman at a conference says very plainly ‘ I am entitled to you, and you are not entitled to say no’. This is a power play. Humiliating a peer about their lack of knowledge in a particular subject is a power play, its says  ’ your contribution is meaningless because I know more than you’. Consistently talking about colleagues/friends breasts is a power play of the most obnoxious kind – it says ‘ I am more important and powerful than all the woman here’.

I think in general, power play behaviour can be divided into two broad categories – those that are conscious, and those that are not. These should be dealt with in different ways.

What Iris has had to endure is an example of a conscious power play. These ‘men’ feel threatened by Iris, a woman who is strong, clever and well liked. These ‘men’ felt so threatened by this that they felt the need to launch a personal attack. To ‘put her in her place’. To assert their dominance. To assert to themselves that they are important, and somehow relevant. What they did was designed to make Iris feel frightened and unsure about her position - luckily Iris is as strong as she is and told them where to go. Not all would be strong enough to do this. This kind of calculated power play is extremely dangerous. Outwardly hostile and threatening power plays need to be reported to the police.

There is a second kind of power play – the unconscious kind. These are usually subtle, off the cuff comments and actions. Putting someone down in front of your peers. Assuming that the only woman in the meeting should take notes. Relentlessly questioning a woman about why she wore a dress and make up ‘ who are you going out with?’. In all of these cases someone is unconsciously putting another ‘in their place’ in the pecking order.

Most of the time, off the cuff comments like this are easily rectified with a quick apology. Sometimes though a comment is made without the person being aware of the impact it had on another person. Most people out there mean well, so we should give people the benefit of the doubt in these cases.  By this is defiantly don’t mean ‘let it slide’ I just mean, don’t assume the person is a nut case (unless of course, they are)

We shouldn’t let these unconscious power plays slide. Making people aware of the hurtful and uncomfortable things they said or did, is the only way forward. I’m not talking rage induced table flips. Just a quiet word or two which makes the person think about the reasons why the said that statement.

  • I don’t get it? Whats so funny about ….
  • Can you please explain what you mean?
  • Of what concern is it to you if I wear a dress?
  • Do you realise you sound incredibly sexist? I’m sure your not, so just wondering if you ment that?

It’s not the words, it’s the effect of the words, gently guide the person to realise that what they said was embarrassing to their character. Make them understand that you know that they are not a ‘douche bag’ but in that moment, they really sounded like one.

Now – easier said than done right? I know so many strong woman, all with stories to tell around sexist comments or actions. Almost none of these stories end with the woman standing up for her self. The ones that do? Not many of these end pretty. ‘Lighten Up’, “It was a joke sweetheart’ ‘ Your mental’ ‘But all I was saying is I like your tits’.

When challenging someone on a comment, generally most people will be so embarrassed, will be unwilling to admit their failing and instead of apologising  they will attempt to ensure that they remain on top – essentially a continuation of the original power play.

This is where we all need to pitch in. We need to ALL start recognising these behaviours, and help those in need, in their time of need. If you see someone shrinking unnecessarily as a result of someones words or actions. Step up! Gently make them understand that they currently look like a worse person than they actually are. It takes two seconds, and doesn’t have to cause any confrontation. If the person gets worked up over it? Who cares. Let them stew on it. Eventually your words will sink in.

These days most of us agree that treating each other with respect, is the only way to live. Yet sometimes we stand by, and stay quiet when we see others not living by this code. Iris said in her post that so many woman keep quiet. It’s because they don’t realise the support they would have if they spoke up. If we start standing up for sexism in the moment, all of these issues will follow suit. Woman, transgender, or in fact any minority will start to feel supported and listened to, and people will generally learn to be even more excellent to each other!


Copyright © 2015 Amy Palamountain