Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Power Minus Status Equals Abuse

It feels like an equation: Power minus status equals abuse.

Several recent studies have shown that individuals who have power over others but who do not receive the respect that status confers are more likely to be rude and abusive.

An individual who has both power and status tends to be more respectful toward others.

If abuse and rudeness are problems, one could diminish them would be to rectify the relationship between power and status.

Researchers point out the example of the prison guards at Abu Ghraib. These individuals had power over the inmate population, but within the military hierarchy they themselves were low status individuals.

They took it out on the prisoners, demeaning and humiliating them.

Researchers believe that the guards resented their low status and were showing their true feelings. Alternately, I suggest that they might be trying to rectify the disconnect, by increasing their feelings of status.

If they cannot have true status they can do what is necessary to feel as though they have it. Humiliating others enhances feelings of status.

Something similar happens when you are trying to speed up your exit from the store, thus granting power to the cashier, only to find that he or she is taking a perverse delight in slowing you down.

Obviously, this does not happen all the time. Yet, it happens often enough to be a problem.

Look at the equation in a different context.

Imagine a relationship where a woman has higher status than a man. Let’s us posit that the man is more powerful, in the sense of being physically stronger.

I recognize that it does happen occasionally that a woman is stronger than a man, but when it comes to brute force, men are largely stronger than women.

Status, whether social or job related, is more fluid.

If the equation is correct, a man who has more power and less status would be more likely to be rude and abusive, or to demean or humiliate his partner. 

By standard feminist thinking a woman who gains more status in the workplace, for having a better career, will be loved and respected as a person and not merely as a sexual object.

If the most recent studies are correct, the same woman, attached to a man who has lower status, will more likely to suffer abuse.

When a successful woman wants to find a man who is more successful than she is, perhaps she is revealing her understanding that getting involved with a lower status male spells danger. 

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