Power is the capacity to influence others which–notwithstanding systemic privilege–fluctuates, sometimes on a daily basis according to self esteem, personality, age, maturity and in every unique relationship dynamic. How can power be measured or compared, when there is no absolute, and perception of power is also a form of power?
I can understand of course, why that always has to be the line in our culture of legal, illegal. Ethical, unethical. But language both drives and is driven by, humanity and culture. Defining polar opposites of ‘yes and no’ means simply by their definitions these opposites are reinforced. Of course they do exist but as with everything else… they exist on a spectrum. Our positions of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are only two binary values in a world full of grey.
Yet emotional abuse is incredibly damaging, perhaps in part because it cannot be recognised and dealt with in the same way. Emotional abuse gets swept under the carpet because it is supported and perpetuated by society as a whole.
These are the piercing secrets we whisper to one another in our late night conversations, in those moments of vulnerability, before putting our metaphorical masks on again. Life is a game. A game driven by our kinks, our fascination with power and objectification.
We are programmed as human beings with a biological reaction called ‘disgust’ and as a society, have reinforced this through any number of mechanisms to be able to live together. It’s part of the reason why so many stories of abuse remain untold and why many abusers can go on abusing, sometimes over decades. Abusees become disgusting by their association to abuse. Their stories are often doubted, shunned or dismissed as inconsequential.
‘Couples can communicate without words,’ you said and you were right. I knew for instance that a raise of your eyebrow meant I had overstepped the fine line of being generously open and embarrassing myself… and you. A curl of your lip set me on edge wondering what I had done and where I had gone wrong. Our non-verbal communication grew until that night I didn’t understand that my refusal to participate in a foursome you’d organized without telling me, would mean that you would punch me.
I write not to vilify her. I write because I own my story. I write to assert my existence. I write because silence around abuse, even emotional abuse, gives it the authority and space to continue.
We undermine our children’s powers of consent because we know better the repercussions of their desires. Which mother might not consider a threat or worse, to prevent something which we could conceivably justify as ‘for their own good’? Where is the line?