It is easy to think about power as a top-down, dominance concept, particularly in the western world. The prevailing conception of power has been promoted by the male-dominated field of business. Even historically, when reflecting on the founding of America, the idea of aggressive male power is pervasive as we use the language “founding fathers”, “pioneering”, and “the conquest of native lands and peoples”. The political use of power especially brings to mind manipulation of others for one’s own purposes, the unequal distribution of resources, and the conflict that arises from that context. Power as a concept seems to be rooted in concepts of masculine aggression that influences through force. Even commercials promoting success refer to conquering the day and being the strongest.
However, Fenner (2002) posits that the lived experiences of women in leadership reflect a poststructural concept of power. The poststructural concept of power is the idea of “power with” others in relationship. It seems women in leadership positions, particularly in the context of school administration, make use of their power in ways that engender trust, use emotions, nurture growth, reciprocity and collaboration (Fenner, 2002). Women in leadership tend to use power in non-traditional ways, although we hardly see these actions as use of legitimate power. We rarely see those concepts as positive examples to be emulated.
In this current era of empowering women, the view of empowerment seems to be the more aggressive idea of power associated with masculinity. Drive, boldness, and assertiveness are elevated. Even young girls are encouraged to exert their personal power in these ways. But I wonder if framing power in this context will exclude yet other girls, and even boys and men, from recognizing their power as legitimate if it is not expressed in these traditional ways. I think we need to use caution in limiting what power looks like while we seek to progress beyond traditional male-dominated leadership stereotypes. We are still modeling ourselves after the very image we say has been damaging to our society. It is time to discover a different model for power that makes room for all the ways power is expressed regardless of gender.
Fennell, H. (2002). Letting go while holding on: Women principals’ lived experiences with power. Journal of Educational Administration, 40(2), 95-117. Retrieved from http://proxy.library.vcu.edu/loginurl=https:// search-proquest-com.proxy.library.vcu.edu/docview/220453370? accountid=14780