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ex and Power

An Opinion
by Eva Way Konigsberg

 


Baptism by Technology by Troy Bennett 1995

 

Some years ago PEOPLE, a US-based celebrity gossip magazine, did a cover story on the 10 sexiest, eligible men in the world. At the time, bespectacled Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State and international diplomat, was included in their number. "Power," he is often quoted as having said, "is the greatest aphrodesiac."

In the society pages, for years, the world saw Jackie O, elegance epitomized, and Aristotle Onasis, powerful, dumpy, filthy rich. They were a very strange pair who even had a clause in their wedding agreement specifying how frequently she was expected to have sex with him!

This is certainly by no means a uniquely American model: All over the world powerful men command the affection of beautiful women. More often than many people admit, the pairing is not equal at yet another level: The powerful MAN will be paired with beautiful WOMEN. Before Western influence becomes too strong in a society, polygamy is often quite open and societally accepted. After western influence has been introduced, the "one to many" ratio frequently exists, but it is hidden. There is one wife and beautiful OTHER women, kept women, mistresses, paramours, concubines or whathaveyou.

The theme is frequently the same: Beauty paired with power. The woman's currency is sex. Her rate of exchange is her beauty, confidence, prestige. What is she buying with all these attributes? The STATUS of the male she gets.

All over the world exceptionally beautiful women are considered a prestige-enhancing asset to males. But why? We know that all through the animal world beauty attracts mates, so perhaps the answer is no deeper than "it's natural."

But in the animal world it is also sometimes the norm for the male to sport his plumage to attract the female. Why is it almost always that the plumage equates to male power throughout the human species?

And, really: what is power and why is it attractive? Is it the same for both men and women?

To begin with, there are two broad contexts of power: power over others and power over oneself. We can easily understand why some women are attracted to powerful men in a situation in which men exert power over others.

If someone holds the keys to life or death, privilege or poverty, leisure or drudgery, pleasure or pain, it is only natural to want to secure favorable treatment from the person in power and exert a strong influence on that person in favor of yourself and your own interests.

In the realm of power over oneself, power takes on a slightly different flavor. Personal power has more to do with competence, talent, accomplishments, creativity, poise, charm, intelligence, direction, thrust, drive. It is often based on an ineffable connection between the individual's lifestyle and their soul's yearnings, values, and dreams.

A woman with these traits is powerful indeed. But why are these qualities often more cultivated in men and taken into account in the rating of their overall attractiveness than in the case of women? Is it that romantic or sexual relationships are colored by a father/daughter mentality, in which men tend to prefer women who are cute and weak, like adorable four-year-old girls?

Is it that men are so threatened by powerful women, particularly intelligent or highly charged women, that they seek the weaker, less power-wielding women? Maybe it's that men see strength and intelligence as an act, as a role played on a competitive stage. Therefore, being with a empowered peer requires competitive armor which most men don't want to put on in their home or personal life. Perhaps it is simply that men ENJOY living in a hierarchy. An indigenous Eskimo once described it as "bosses bossing bosses."

Is it as Frederick Engels and Karl Marx stated 100 years ago? In a competitive society, because the man is a powerless cog in a pecking order, in the home he must play the role of the capitalist boss and the wife and children must play the role of the disenfranchised, ill-treated workforce.

This brings into the equation the third factor: Economics.

In all societies where the man works and the women doesn't have her own source of cash (whether through work, inheritance, savings or investment), she is at the mercy of the man. Whoever pays the piper calls the tune.

When it comes to personal power, economics are also an issue. I don't know a single woman whose self-confidence and overall attractiveness is not enhanced when her cash comes as a result of satisfying work or through assets she controls herself. The ability to take care of yourself economically is definitely an aspect of personal power. Economic self-sufficiency seems to be a key factor in cultivating personal power.

But here's the rub: men, even when they're not rich and don't command power over others, demand to mate with women who are prettier than they are handsome. When a man with this old world view evaluates a woman as a potential partner, her true power (competence, talent, accomplishments, creativity, poise, charm, intelligence, direction, thrust, drive, soul's yearnings, values, and dreams) don't get significantly taken into account.

While her above-average personal power isn't going to be a deal maker, her average looks will far more likely be a deal breaker. This psychology is very common amongst men. I believe it is the product of history, of aeons of pairing female beauty with male power.

My mind drifts back to the need for a paradigm shift. What is a woman's true power? The ability to turn heads? To accomplish?

It is a game. Don't get me wrong.. I'm not outside the game - and games are fun. That's why we play them. Two years ago I got accepted into a highly respected grad school and decided to take advantage of my fortunate circumstance by earning an MBA. A friend of mine laughed and said, "I know you, Eva. You want to be a high powered executive sitting in the board room making multimillion dollar deals, with your black leather and your 'I can do anything I goddam well like' attitude." And he was dead right.

But, I also want to balance the power curve. I don't want sexual power to be the only power arena I get to play in. I have dreams and goals and every woman should. In the literature of every culture we find the myth of the hero's journey. The hero is the archetype who leaves home, goes out into the world, seeks the treasure, finds the answer and returns with it to help the people, facing personal tests and cultivating inner strength in the process.

Some have insisted that every man had this destiny, this need to actualize the hero's journey. It is futher suggested that the woman's role is to support her man in his need for accomplishment.

My need for accomplishment has been construed as evidence that I was overly male.

That is last year's movie. The old paradigm. Personal power is about your hero's journey and mine. It's about each of us going out into the world, leaving the familiar, meeting the challenge, finding the strength, doing more than we ever realized before, and finally, wearing our accomplishments with proud humility.

We must identify our own achievements to strive for and derive self-esteem from the effort, regardless of how our efforts fare. Striving itself is a vital source of inner strength. Over time, we will notice that in a world where so many of us have been conditioned to value the physical, we have cultivated our inner beauty. Inner beauty does not diminish with age.

Will men come to find personal power as attractive in women as women find it in men? I do think so. There are men out there who get off on powerful women, women with dreams, women with brains, women with strength. I know it because my life is a testament to it.

Just as I have a place in my heart for nerdy smart guys who aren't that great looking but have other qualities, there are divinely gorgeous men out there who feel the same way about women. They look at the whole person when it comes to a woman and they value women with dreams who manifest the means to attain them.

Not that you should cultivate your personal power because you'll end up with sexier guys (and/or women). That's merely a byproduct, the icing on the cake.

You should cultivate your personal power because there's no feeling more exhilarating than self-esteem. As trite as it may sound, it's a fundamental, irreducible truth. When you look in the mirror, YOU have to love the person you see, not just because you like the package, but because of what's inside it. That's what personal power is all about: conquering self-doubt and becoming the person you truly love, respect and admire, regardless of the perceptions of others within a given culture.


Eva Way is a computer industry executive and playwright. She currently serves Simpler Software, LLC, an Internet software company, as Chief Financial and Operating Officer. Previously, she co-founded the Mariah social laboratory, an experimental, global village based on feminist, egalitarian, group living. She is the founder and former co-owner of Abacus, a women-owned, large scale systems integation/multimedia development and training company which was acquired by CIBER, Inc. in 1993. She holds an MBA in finance and international business from the University of San Francisco, executive graduate program, 1995. She serves on the Advisory Board of the McClaren Graduate School of Business, University of San Francisco. Eva is a contributing journalist to CEE (Central and Eastern European) Networking News and the SofTECH Newsletter.
evaway@simplersw.com


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