The myth of male power? Glass ceilings and glass cellars

Who has what kind of power in your relationship?

In 1993 the author Warren Farrell published “The Myth of Male Power” a book that Camille Paglia called “a bombshell… forces us to see our everyday world from a new perspective”. Farrell was (is?) the only man to have been elected three times to the board of NOW: the American National Organisation for Women. He is not so well known in the U.K. though, not well enough known to provoke the kinds of protests against him such as this on YouTube in 2012:

So, what the big deal here?

Well, in a nutshell, Farrell challenged the stereotypes around male and female discourses of power, both acknowledging the age-old and disabling power of the glass ceiling that prevents women from rising higher in the workplace, yet empowers men to rise to stellar heights, but also using the term “glass cellar” to describe how men are encouraged to fall into dangerous and life-threatening work yet women are prevented from the same.

Farrell’s own words from the book above: “Both sexes contribute to the invisible barriers that both sexes experience. Just as the “glass ceiling” describes the invisible barrier that keeps women out of jobs with the most pay, the “glass cellar” describes the invisible barrier that keeps men in jobs with the most hazards. Members of the glass cellar are all around us. But because they are our second-choice men, we make them invisible”.

The relationship therapists Dallos and Dallos in their book “Couples, Sex And Power” describe very different discourses of power in couple relationships. These include:

  • Economic/financial power.
  • Ascribed power (given roles, rules by society).
  • Informational power (who is the expert?)
  • Language power (who is more articulate, better at persuading the other, better at putting over their point of view?)
  • Invalidational power (ability to dismiss or discount the other’s opinions, put the other down, or have knowledge of the other’s weak spots).
  • Physical power.
  • Contractual power (the power to leave).
  • Relational power (links with friends and family; gender alliances, relationship with children).
  • Affective power (emotional power; who loves the most, who needs the other the least).
  • Sexual power.
  • Legal power.
  • Social power (including who is the most socially confident).
  • Coping power (who will be better alone?)

The point about these different discourses of power is that some are held more by men, some are held more by women.

Is it time we had a different conversation about power in relationships?

What might that look like?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Newcastle Upon Tyne NE2 & NE3
Written by Graeme Armstrong, MBACP
Newcastle Upon Tyne NE2 & NE3

BACK TO WORKING FACE TO FACE Unsure about the next step in your life? Feeling depressed, alone or stuck in a relationship that's seems to be going nowhere? Step family issues? Need some support getting through? Hi. I'm Graeme Armstrong, and I offer counselling in a confidential, nonjudgmental, sa...

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