I’ve got the power…

The measure of a man (or woman) is what he (or she) does with power. (Plato)

In 1959, French and Raven described five bases of power:

  1. Legitimate – This comes from the belief that a person has the formal right to make demands, and to expect others to be compliant and obedient.
  2. Reward – This results from one person’s ability to compensate another for compliance.
  3. Expert – This is based on a person’s high levels of skill and knowledge.
  4. Referent – This is the result of a person’s perceived attractiveness, worthiness and right to others’ respect.
  5. Coercive – This comes from the belief that a person can punish others for noncompliance.

Six years later, Raven added an extra power base:

  1. Informational – This results from a person’s ability to control the information that others need to accomplish something.

I think this one interesting way to examine sources of power within schools. Having been on the receiving end of a particularly patronising whole staff bollocking about deadlines this morning, it reminded me that ideas about power and hierarchies within school have been floating round my head for quite some time, without necessarily really crystallising, except in in the occasional sharp expletive, expressing frustration rather than any well thought out analysis of the places power resides in schools, and how legitimate we consider the power base to be. Teachers wield power in the classroom (well hopefully) in order to ensure students learn, and beyond that, teachers wield power over other teachers in various ways and for various reasons. The SLT power base comes from its legitimacy. In psychology we study reasons for obedience and how much more like we are to obey when authority is legitimate. To increase legitimacy you can dress for it, and SLT certainly do suit it up. Admittedly I look more like I picked up clothes from the floor in the dark and then forced myself through a hedge backwards (as the saying goes). But I don’t do what SLT asks because of fancy suiting. I do it (usually) because their authority is legitimate. But there are limits to this. Because I also have power. I have the power of the expert. Oh yes I do. I am an experienced, knowledgeable teacher. I know more about my subjects than any member of SLT, and I’d hazard a guess that I know as much as, if not more, about pedagogy- certainly the psychology of learning and memory. So SLT do not have the power to tell me how to teach, nor how to plan my lessons. We can discuss pedagogy and teaching strategies, but there is no legitimate authority here; we discuss as equals, or in some cases the power structure is reversed because I am the expert, not SLT. This is where the problem often lies in the assumption of power. From the position of power, the position of expert is often assumed, even when clearly undeserved. And this creates problems in how professionals within a school relate to each other. Assuming that you power remains legitimate independent of context is foolish. I understand that the legitimacy of my power over students diminishes rapidly as they leave the school grounds because it is partly conferred by my location and the role I play within it. The power of a member of the police force to tell me what to do is usually legitimised by uniform; out of it and it is just some stranger shouting at me. SLT must recognise that the legitimacy of their power becomes questionable dependent on context; if not then they forge relationships of resentment or learned helplessness- neither of which are good things.

There is of course one way that SLT can maintain a sense of legitimate power according to the above definitions- they can have referent power. They can engender respect and be considered worthy of it; they can also maintain their expertise. It’s a sad thing to say that referent power is sadly lacking when you stand up and shout at your colleagues, at experts in their field, and expect that your authority remains legitimate without recognising you lack any kind of referent power.


Everyday Sexism

I posted something on my facebook page. I thought it was fairly innocuous- two quotes from two women about what they think feminism is, essentially equality for women. I posted it because it is important to me to demonstrate that feminism is not how it is often portrayed. I identify as a feminist because I think women all over the world deserve equality that they do not have.

The first response from a male friend was to say that one of the women was hot. The second response from the same man was something along the lines of I bet she’s a goer. I found these comments upsetting, although sadly predictable. I replied asking him not to make such comments, I didn’t find them funny or clever. I had tried to be polite, but telling someone they are not funny or clever really isn’t very polite. But then neither is trying to dismiss someone’s argument by diminishing them through overtly sexual comments.

The response was another man saying he did find it funny, and then dismissing the views expressed in the quotes by saying we all know feminism isn’t about equality anymore and women are leaving it in droves. Someone else asked for evidence of this. I am not sure there is evidence of this, but I doubt I would be able to provide evidence that women are joining feminist movements either. There is immense difficulty in measuring either of these positions in a valid or reliable way. So I asked him not to bother. He said he was merely responding to a request for evidence. I don’t think that is what was really happening. Consciously or unconsciously he was dismissing the views of two women based on conjecture. Even if other women, people, believe that feminism is something else, to argue that “we all know” dismisses the views of these two women, dismisses their experience. It’s a form of suppression. I understand that it might seem like I am taking this too seriously, but when this forms many of your experiences, it starts to become tedious when they are consistently dismissed, by people who will never experience this.

The next morning I woke up to a response from the original man accusing me of lacking a sense of humour, posting incessantly about feminism, posting on a public forum and so I should expect ridicule. The point of his post was to introduce some light hearted banter to the issue. My response in asking him not to post in such a was disappointingly reminiscent of militant feminism.

I am not sure either of these men really thought about what they were doing, or the implications of their behaviour or language. I don’t think they were necessarily consciously behaving like privileged pricks with an over developed sense of entitlement, but that is how it came across.

I deleted my original post.

I am feeling slightly disgusted with myself for doing so, but I was starting to feel anxious about looking at my own facebook page. That’s not right.

I could have explained that I don’t think posting something on my facebook means I should expect ridicule- actually I don’t think anybody who posts on their facebook wall is asking their friends and family to ridicule them. It might be something that invites debate, but to simply post comments that I could be expected to find offensive isn’t offering any debate. It’s just mean.

I could have engaged with the debate, tried to explain why I found those comments offensive. But having tried to explain similar things to this guy before, I felt like I would be wasting my time; I wondered whether I would just be feeding the troll. So I didn’t.

The response indicated I was behaving like a militant, as though this is a bad thing when you are arguing for equal rights. I don’t think it is, but militant feminist was intended as an insult. Maybe I should just be quiet and look at kittens and flowers or something.

My incessant posting? If you don’t like reading what I post then you have several options- block me or unfollow me. You don’t have to try and silence me by being offensive and then exacerbating that offence by telling me I should be finding your comments funny. This argument seems to simply underline the fact he wants me to shut up, to stop posting things about feminism. I can’t say exactly why, but I can’t stop myself making the assumption that it is because these postings make him uncomfortable in some way.

This has really got under my skin. I think it is because it was such a stereotypical example of efforts to silence a view without engaging with it. And it came from a friend.

And he has shut me up. For now.


Post-script: A few days later the original guy tagged me in a post in which a woman described her fear of arriving home in her car to find a strange man outside her house with a ladder. She reversed away from the house and called her husband. He laughed and said there were workmen arriving to clean the gutters and she burst into tears because she was scared; because her husband didn’t understand that this would be a scary situation. She didn’t know how to approach a strange man without knowing whether she would be under attack. The original guy explained he hadn’t realised that women feel like this about all men they don’t know, that they have to, that because individual men see themselves as nice guys it is really hard to understand when women don’t understand how nice they are.

I see this is progress. But there is a sense of entitlement that comes with being able to dismiss others’ experience because you don’t experience it. I don’t want to fear all men, but I know that I certainly can’t trust all the men and so the safest bet is not to trust any. Many insidious arguments are used to dismiss the experiences of people, many were used in this exchange. Maybe it is one person at a time who changes.