Power is the ability to reward and punish.

In most cases, power is a matter of degree - people have more or less of it depending on the situation. 

Having more power makes it easier to lie, cheat, steal, inflict pain, or otherwise engage in bad behavior.

Having less power means being at the mercy of someone more powerful.

Being at the mercy of another person means feeling one cannot get away from them, because they have something one wants badly and that something is not readily available elsewhere.

There are a couple ways to deal with being on the short end of the power stick. One is to change what one wants and the other is to have alternative ways to get what one wants.

Some men beat up women, who put up with it because they think the alternative is worse, namely being unbearably lonely, growing old alone, or ending up on the streets. But when these women no longer depend on the men for love and life, well…the balance of power changes.

Like in Vietnam, where in some regions women “now earn more than men, and the balance of power between them and their husbands has shifted. Divorces have become more common and reported rates of domestic violence have fallen”.

And thus it is that domestic violence declines when women don’t need men so much - when they have the power to leave. The power to leave empowers.

The power to leave is not the same thing as the “strength” to leave. The latter implies power dynamics can be reduced to psychology. I see power dynamics as an interaction between psychology and the world. Having alternatives to a bad situation is not just a matter of the right mindset (“Yes, I can!”). Having alternatives is also a matter of opportunity. We create opportunities and the world presents opportunities.

For instance, employers have more power over workers in a depressed labor market and less power over workers in a tight labor market. Workers increase their power to the extent they have in-demand skills. Having in-demand skills carries an implicit threat: treat me well or I will leave.


“Vietnam has one of the highest shares of women in work in the world” The Economist June 8, 2019  https://www.economist.com/asia/2019/06/08/vietnam-has-one-of-the-highest-shares-of-women-in-work-in-the-world