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Week 4, Session 1: Power, Control, & the Patriarchy

Hello and welcome to Week 4, Session 1 of Bloom.

If this is the first time you’re reading this, welcome! We’re so happy to have you here. However, if you’re just starting out please do head back to the first session. We build on material throughout the weeks, and we don’t want you to miss anything!

You’ll need your thought diary for the homework so take a moment to find it if you haven’t already.

We are halfway through this course  - or we will be at the end of the week. We keep saying that this is a “journey” we’re going through together, as we untangle and wrestle with the concepts of domestic abuse and rebuild our power. And that journey takes work - steps, sweat, and sometimes tears as we process past experiences, learn new concepts, and take on our homework.

But that’s not to say that the time doesn’t fly, too. Now, onto today’s content!

This week, our goal for this session is:

  • To explain the 4 aspects of a “patriarchal society” and how power in the world relates to control in the home
    → We already know that it isn’t our fault that we were abused! If you weren’t the target, your abusers would hurt someone else - but why? In this session, we’ll begin to unravel the question of why abusers do what they do.

    Just what is abuse really about?

Let’s start with a grounding exercise… Spell your full name, and the names of two or three other people, but backwards! Letter by letter!

Fun question: We are expanding off our grounding exercise. Now that you’ve done the letters, pronounce your new name! It might be wonderfully funny or maybe you’ll feel like some sort of fantastical story character!

We started this session by saying we are halfway through the course, so do you remember what we said in Session 1? The first lesson we wanted our survivors to take with them?

What’s the list of four? (You can pause your reading if you want to give yourself a little pop quiz - if not, we’ll remind you).

  1. You are not to blame for your abuse
  2. Anyone can be abused
  3. It is not your fault when you stay
  4. The ways you feel or behave are all adaptations you’ve made to be safe

-- You are already resilient, have been resilient, and can only continue to be so.

However, today we have another list of four for you. This time, it’s about our global patriarchal society and systems of power.

Power and Fear
When it comes to discussion of assault and abuse, we must understand that our social communities are:

  1. Male-dominated

Most people in positions of power are men. They make the rules.

  1. Male-identified

Masculinity and its standards of whiteness, heterosexuality - and the concept of being cis-gendered, able-bodied, rational, autonomous, and strong - are all set as the benchmarks for personal success. These neutral qualities are somehow considered “male” or “belonging to men”, as defined by the men who have historically always been powerful.

  1. “Male-centred”

We focus on the exploits of men in our textbooks and stories.  Stories of women or anyone non-binary people are not the standard. In the past, their stories were silent.

  1. Set up around masculine-coded ideals of power and control, according to which all men may be measured and rewarded.

We are doing a few callbacks this session as we package our knowledge together, but you will also remember that we discussed common profiles of perpetrators - these “red flags” common to abusers. At the forefront, we mentioned that they are entitled. That is ultimately what abuse is really about: Power, Control, and Entitlement. What those words mean, and what that behaviour looks like in our social and personal homes.

In motive, gendered violence is not only about the anger of our abusers, but, rather, a desire to exert control, a belief they are entitled to that control, and a way to banish fear and personal shame when abusers feel themselves fall short of these patriarchal norms.

In hurting us, violent men are either maintaining or performing their authority in order to re-establish a sense of their own self-worth. This is all according to ingrained values. If they act like a “man” in private, they get to feel important. And, although we widely lack the research about abusers who are not men, any gender who abuses is ultimately corresponding to these societal beliefs about what “strength” and “power” looks like with these supposedly “masculine” qualities, which should not be what define men to begin with. As human beings, we have a right to decide who we are - and we should not have to determine our worth against principles of violence.

Yet, whether our abusers are conscious of the choices they’re making, this is what our culture has taught us is valuable.

While anyone can commit abuse, there is a level of blame that must be placed on the male-dominated, patriarchal society we all live in.

Power and Fear
What’s ironic, when we really put the pieces together, is that all of these actions are rooted in our abusers’ inability to feel shame. Or to feel bad about themselves. They’re afraid they don’t measure up. They can’t sit with it. So they put all of their anger, sadness, and guilt onto us. They don’t know how to feel big without making someone else small.

If an abusive person doesn’t have a level of power to which they feel owed or else need to be safe, they lash out where they can. This is often why abuse happens in the home, where it’s private, where no one else can judge. Or why abusers need to wear down our self-esteem, because they can’t handle criticism. They also hurt those the most likely to forgive, the people who love them the most.

They control us because they can’t control themselves.

It is a grand act of cowardice. In this way, we could even say that power and control is really about fear. Unlike our fear or the real fear we feel in the face of danger, however - when our bodies and minds react - their fear is all about ego. Whatever our abusers are feeling, they CHOOSE to mistreat another human life, over and over again, to protect their own self-image and worth.

There is no excuse for it. Although, we personally think there is a beauty for us as survivors to know that we - in our shame, anxieties, and self-doubt - even though these feelings are exhausting and difficult - are actually stronger than our abusers. Every day, we handle the feelings and fears they cannot.

When we encounter things that are outside our control - such as the social conditions from our session, or the actions of our abusers - it very reasonably makes us angry, overwhelmed, and upset.

As a practice, it's important to remind ourselves of what we can control. Unlike our abusers, we don’t need control to feel safe, but we do need to remind ourselves of our own agency and to empower ourselves to enact change where and when we can.

For homework, we want you to make two lists!

For the first part of the homework, make a list of things you can control to make your life happier and safer. (For those living with abusers, you already know their habits! It can be as simple as knowing your abuser is not a morning person, so you can wake up and make yourself a nice cup of tea without them there.)

Second, make a list of things you can control to make the life of your friends and family happier and safer.

Circle the ones you’ll do this week.

When we are dealing with abusive people, it makes sense that we’re spending the time and energy monitoring their actions and moods - because it keeps us safe! We’re amazing! However, there are still things we can do for ourselves that do not involve them, and communities we can seek out to be loved.

We’ve got this.

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