Power: the capacity or freedom to influence the behaviour of others or the course of events.
I once knew an older woman who had been married since she was fourteen years old. The couple had migrated to Australia in the 1960s and had two sons. The wife said her husband lived by the old ways, which meant she needed to ask his permission to spend money, justify the amount she needed to take to the shops and provide receipts and exact change on her return. She bought milk, bread, fruit, vegetables and fabric to sew the family’s clothing. Only her husband wore clothes from a shop. I could go on describing the different types of power he had over the family, but there’s no point. He had power over everybody in the house and they felt it was the natural order of family life. They all seemed very happy.
The husband firmly believed that, if not for men, women would not be able to budget, pay bills or restrain themselves from illicit behaviours. Examples of his argument were seen through the appointment of men in politics, big business and school headmasters. Examples of his argument that women were weak was his note that, globally, women were only good to serve the men who build and contain a good society.
In my late teens I resented this man’s rule and wanted to argue with him but, honestly – his reality was exactly how my society presented itself. He was right. Women stayed home and had babies – maybe going to a part time job when the children were at school. Men did all the serious business. My problem was in figuring out whether society was wrong for assigning power by gender or whether women really were the weaker sex. Why were men in those roles and why was the answer that it’s natural?
Years passed and lady’s sons grew up. The husband eventually retired and, much to the wife’s horror, he spent even more time in her company.
Five years into his retirement the husband had a heart attack and died before his body even hit the ground. The wife washed his body, packed his best suit for his funeral and arranged a respectable service.
Twelve months after she buried her husband the widow announced she was going to attend university. She spent six years in part time study and went to work earning a substantial wage.
The widow’s sons married and moved away, so she bought an apartment and spent year after year in blissful, financial, spatial, social and emotional freedom. She laughed louder, stayed out later, invited friends to her home, spent money on frivolous items and traveled the world.
The power of the husband over his wife was viewed as natural – until she was free.