Friday, June 3, 2016

Pouvoir

by Jean Roberta

As is often the case, a catchy phrase in one language doesn’t translate well (or with the same music) into another.

In French, they say: Vouloir (to want to) est (is) Pouvoir (power or to be able to). In English we say: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

We could also say: Where there’s a saying, there’s a reckless assumption.

If wanting something hard enough enabled us all to get it, most human beings would be living in mansions, and the resulting destruction of the earth’s climate and its physical resources would have destroyed our planet already (much as we might want to save the earth without making any sacrifices).
-----------

Smug-looking woman shows audience how a woman can get what she wants by cooking bacon for the man (husband) in her life, or the men, plural (including sons). Then the men, like trained apes, will build the wife/mother a bookcase, gazebo, or whatever she wants.

Feh.

This type of commercial (for bacon, of course) suggests what men have been complaining about since long before women gained any actual legal rights: women have too much power to seduce men into doing things for them.
This is not my idea of power.

VROOM, VROOM! That’s the sound of a car with no muffler, or any number of power tools. This comes closer to the sound of real power, because vehicles can transport people, which is useful, and electrical gadgets can make things. Being able to make things is satisfying, but it’s not usually what is meant by “power.”

Strangely enough, people in “backward” regions, who know how to make most of the things they need (prepared food, clothing, houses, furniture, musical instruments) are usually considered relatively powerless by wage-earners in urban industrial society whose lives could be shattered by the loss of a job.

Power is sometimes described as “social capital.” If I walk into a room, and the other people there treat me with respect because I am white and old, I have social capital. If students do their best to gain my approval because they need a passing grade in my class, I could be said to have professional capital. On the other hand, if someone treats me with contempt because I’m female, or for a quirkier, more apparently personal reason, I have no capital in that situation.

Power in the form of social capital is traditionally associated with credibility. To this day, there are men who claim (as did my late ex-husband) that their former girlfriends or wives are insane nympho sluts, who constantly hook up with random men and who violently attack (or “bash”) men for no logical reason. These men have credibility because the women under discussion usually can’t prove beyond a doubt that none of this is true.

Women who claim to have been assaulted in any way by men usually have no credibility because, seriously, how believable is that story? To gain credibility, women in large numbers (20 seems to be the minimum) need to give similar accounts of being assaulted by the same man.

So is power the same thing as credibility? If so, it depends completely on what an audience of other people believes. If my power depends on what other people choose to do in the moment, I can lose it at any time.

Louis XVI (the sixteenth) of France lost power along with his head on the guillotine. So even extreme political power can be overthrown.

Maybe power can be seized by working against the system, by becoming an outlaw. The endurance of myths about Robin Hood show the appeal of that idea. Queer sexual outlaws seem especially appealing. Here is part of a fantasy story I wrote many years ago, about a sassy babe named Felina by the author/narrator, and a mini-gang of leather-jacketed dykes named Spike, Mike and Toni:

Spike and Mike have hoisted Felina to their shoulders, where she poses for cars swishing past on the nearest street. Spike firmly grasps one ass-cheek while Mike’s fingers dig into the other thigh. She is proud to be held aloft like a flag or a lamp, and they enjoy sharing her weight. They sing an improvised rap song, Mike’s contralto seeming to carry Spike’s tenor:

“Woman, we need you,/Your heart and your snatch./You’re the wild critter/We most want to catch.”

The passing drivers and pedestrians ignore this anthem; they seem to be in another dimension or state of consciousness. They represent the State of Civilization or the Corporate Hetero-Patriarchy or the People on Opiates - alarming by any name.


Something tells me to look up. I see the Power Building, a fifty-story monument in steel, glass and artificial light that almost blocks out the night sky. I have never been able to get past the entrance lobby because I’ve never had the relevant pass.

But there is still free air and hope. I lower my gaze, easing the strain on my neck. Watching Felina, I find it interesting that cats seem to stretch across the line between wild and domestic animals. As long as the three blades don’t convince themselves that they can really own her, everyone should be reasonably happy. . .
Toni has been pushing all her buddies to join her in holding up a bank where she has an inside contact. She is also a cyberpunk who has hacked a path through the computer jungle to convert some corporate profits into hers. She hasn’t killed anyone yet because her conscience has a stronger grip than her left hand when it comes to certain things, but the temptation might prove irresistible.


Mike and Spike make Felina kneel on the rough ground while Toni flourishes a bottle of champagne and pops it open. “To our next job, babies,” she purrs. Felina opens her mouth and her lover pours a shining, bubbly stream into it. The liquid spills over her breasts, down her stomach and wets her pubic hair. Spike crouches down to get a taste. Felina squirms and squeals. . .

[After Toni swears undying love to Felina, Mike and Spike are so excited by their planned assault on a fortress of macho capitalism that they tear each other’s jackets off. Shirts are pulled up, pants are unzipped and roughly pulled down far enough to allow hands to push in between thighs. An orgy ensues.]

They all rock together like a band, making music in the dissonant city night. They are as undisturbed as though a guardian angel hovered nearby, as though fantasies could be made real, as though wild women were a protected species.
Each woman rushes to the point of an explosion as though rushing to the vanishing point on the horizon in a painting that mimics the three-dimensional world. And although they burn like flames, Dear Reader, they will stay where they are until you join them.

Well, that was fun to write, but unconvincing even as I was writing it. Public sex is likely to attract unwanted attention. Breaking the law is likely to attract unwanted prison terms, if not death. (Financial finagling on Wall Street in New York or Bay Street in Toronto might be an unpunished pleasure, but even then, I’m not sure I’d be willing to risk it even if I had a firm grasp of terms like “insider trading.”)

Maybe the greatest power we have is the ability to write fantasies and seduce other people into reading them. And if we enjoy the process, we’re not completely dependent on the reactions of an audience.

I just hope the guillotine is never brought back as an agent of change.
-------------

7 comments:

  1. What a free-wheeling exploration of the topic, Jean!

    One definition of power is "agency" - the ability to take action toward a goal. In that sense your characters are very powerful.

    But perhaps power is always relative.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It seems to me that if women can only get what they want by seducing men, that's because the men hold all they actual power. A good argument for more equality, except that the men want all the seduction they can get. Those women in Lysistrata were the ones who really knew how to use their sexual power for a noble cause.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for commenting, LIsabet and Sacchi. Oh yes , "agency" is a useful word, esp as applied to imaginary characters. If all the characters in work are acted on & make no decisions of their own, that is a problem. In real life, every women who gets out of bed in the morning has some agency. Iloved teaching Lysistrata, but students sometimes said the sex strike wasn't realistic - even if noble - because the men would just rape the women. Probably withholding other services or resources would work better.

    ReplyDelete
  4. The kind of power that women have over men only works while the woman is young and thin. So I guess only young, thin women have power? Sexual power, anyway.

    I've said before that now that I've let my hair go grey, I've never felt more invisible. I guess I've lost all of the "woman-power" I ever had. When I'm in public situations where I'm being totally overlooked, as opposed to the often unwelcome attention I used to get from horny men, I sometimes amuse myself thinking about how I could still blow their minds with my fellatio skills, honed over many years of devoted practice. Or how the muscle tone achieved by many years of kegel exercises would make them rethink what makes a woman "unfuckable" due to her age, as Amy Schumer coined it in her video. So then I smirk a secret smile, like Mona Lisa.

    ReplyDelete
  5. "Maybe the greatest power we have is the ability to write fantasies and seduce other people into reading them."

    That certainly seems to be the power we've chosen to try to have! I think what your wide-ranging exploration shows is that there are plenty of ways to come at this, and all of them can be reversed in a moment of bad luck.

    By the way, your bracketed aside (where you describe the orgy) has to be the greatest aside ever. Where can I find that story? Believable or not, it sounds exuberant.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Interesting that there's no comments from men. Probably no guy wants to touch this. Can't say that now! :>)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Heh. But many guys have ideas about power, or at least an interest in power tools. Annabeth, I don't think "Mindscape" is in print any more, but I can send you a copy.

    ReplyDelete