Gender Inequality – Two Paradigms of Power

By Paul Dunion | March 24, 2019

Gender inequality is written and spoken about as a disparity of power.  What is meant by power? An ancient definition of the word power is “able to”.  We live in a significantly extroverted culture and therefore the idea of being “able to”, will likely refer to several external conditions: education, occupation and finances. When we are “able to” access these conditions we are engendering socio-economic and political power. This is the paradigm of power that is typically referred to in conversations about power and writings about power. 

However, our extroverted bias has us either diminishing or completely ignoring personal power, the second paradigm of power. The energies that ”able us to” access personal power are being self-examining and exercising compassion toward others and ourselves. Both of these forces can be labeled conscious living. Unfortunately, these are not energies valued by our culture. Long before the advent of Feminism, women were able to access personal power.  From a lens of personal power, I can see my grandmother, several aunts, and a neighbor living authentically and in integrity, as well as a steadfast devotion not to harm and took their spiritual lives quite seriously.

These women, like so many, were relegated to a domestic role, caring for the home, children and the elderly. They were certainly deprived of socio-economic & political power, and it would be naïve to suggest that they deprived themselves of personal power. It certainly had its limits since personal power could not act in concert with socio-economic and political power. Unfortunately, personal power not only travels under the radar, but also goes dismissed. Unless a person’s story of personal power is somehow translated into a semi-heroic act, we pretend it simple doesn’t exist. 

The lives of Marianne Williamson, Helen Keller, Anne Frank, Nelson Mandela and Victor Frankl are examples of people living with great personal power gaining notoriety. However, I’ve experienced a large number of women raising children alone, working and educating themselves, and whose personal power will not be popularized. The emotional resiliency created by personal power enables them to bridge the synapse separating personal power from socio-economic & political power. 

A well-lived life is infused with both paradigms of power.  There can be severe losses when we live with only one form of power. We are currently witnessing the appalling consequences of being completely obsessed with socio-economic & political power. A government unable to put an end to our obsession with guns, which are responsible for nearly 2,000 mass shootings and get honest about the role of carbon emissions upon the environment, as well as investors absconding with the life savings of their customers. Similarly, a life can be severely restricted without educational and occupational mobility, as well as a political voice, which has had an injurious impact by gerrymandering.

Let’s look more closely at these two different expressions of power, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Rather, their points of focus and emphasis are diverse


Personal Power

Socio-Economic & Political Power

Internal Focus

External Focus

Living a self-examined life

Leading a life examining

economic and political conditions

Tracking the pulse of one’s

emotional life

Tracking social and economic opportunity

Valuing feeling vulnerable

Valuing ego strength leading to greater efficacy

Prioritizing collaboration

Prioritizing competition

Welcoming personal

wounds and gifts

Welcoming personal

strengths and gifts

Valuing living authentically

Valuing an ability to adapt to external expectations and norms

Valuing living in integrity

Valuing an ability to network

Emphasis upon healing and personal growth

Emphasis upon achievement and success

Accessing trainings and workshops for personal growth and spiritual development

Accessing formal education

Women & The Powers

The hope is that women continue to make advances with socio-economic & political power.  However, it is also the hope that women remember to continue to hold personal power. If they don’t, then our social institutions and our politics will continue to be plagued by a lack of heartfelt stewardship. There will simply continue to be a lack of integrity and accountability perpetuated with a feminine touch. I believe that the ability to interrupt the divisiveness of xenophobia, sexism, heterosexism, classism, racism, ableism and ageism is now in the hands of women.  Women must be willing to carry both of the powers in order for meaningful change to take place.

Men & The Powers

Feminism mostly happened because women were willing to feel the pain of the loss of socio-economic & political power and do something about it. For the most part, men do not feel the pain of the loss of personal power. However, because that paradigm of power has culturally been denied for men, they have greatly overcompensated with an extravagant investment in socio-economic & political power. They not only get overly invested, they desperately covet such power. On some level, men seem to know it’s the only power available to them.

Certainly, white, straight men are responsible for the perpetration of so many of the ills suffered by our society. However, they don’t realize that attempting to effectively manage socio-economic & political power without the emotional intelligence provided by personal power is doomed to be both non-sustainable and divisive. As we seek gender equality, we are asking men to take personal power seriously, while the culture sees it as a waste of time. Women may need to take the lead, demonstrating that personal power is not about gender, but rather about being fully human.

Men who have committed to accessing both powers are also a resource for other men.  Such modeling was very available to me through the Men’s Movement in the 90’s. That movement was all about personal power and service. The initial meetings such as the one in Austin, Texas were about the losses men experienced, inviting men to welcome their grief. The movement came and went with most men either not knowing about it or perceiving it as an aberration of the human condition. The actual aberration of our humanity is men attempting to bypass personal power. 

The hope is that the “Me Too” Movement, the growth of White Supremacy, violence in our schools, a government run by chaos, racial and ethnic divisiveness are heralding a strong wake-up call to the primacy of personal power.  We need to be telling young men by word and deed that they don’t sacrifice their manhood by committing to personal power.

I find it most curious that I have not heard of anyone who wants to be remembered for how they lived socio-economic & political power.  That is, it seems rather strange that eulogies would cite academic degrees achieved, Swiss bank accounts, promotions and awards granted or successfully networking with a lobbyist. It appears that as much as we revere socio-economic & political power, when it comes to taking a serious life inventory, we turn to referencing what is featured under the paradigm of personal power.


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