“Hidden” Gender Power

By Veronica Tichenor

In the April 2016 issue of Gender and Society, Jennifer Randles presents her research on “marriage education” programs, which were enacted through welfare reform in the 1990s to support the marriages of couples living in poverty. Randles reports that, while some of these programs seem to encourage equality between husbands and wives, men still enjoy advantages that remain largely hidden.

I was drawn to this article because Randles discusses two ideas that I have used in my research. First is the concept of three-dimensional power (from the work of Aafke Komter and Steven Lukes). The idea here is that power can play out on one level when spouses are in open conflict over a particular issue, such as how to divide household chores, but could also exist on a second level which is more “covert,” such as when the fight over the chores has ended, but one spouse isn’t happy with the result and is thus resentful under the surface. The third level refers to “hidden” power; in this case, if a wife does all (or most) of the housework and childcare—even if she works outside the home, and may not mind doing it because she thinks it’s her job—we would say that her husband has enjoyed the “hidden power” embedded in the idea that housework is “woman’s work.” Continue reading ““Hidden” Gender Power”