“’You have power when so many women are powerless!’ said a sexual-assault survivor as she confronted senator Jeff Flake. The woman who spoke these words was, at that moment, pinning him into the corner of an elevator. He looked stricken and ashamed, like a boy caught with one foot out the bedroom window. Maria Gallagher’s fury dominated the space as she commanded Senator Jeff Flake, “Look at me when I am talking to you!” And when the story gets told, she, and not Flake, will be remembered more as the hero who never wavered and who might have diverted the course of history. So, judging from the videotape alone, who in that situation has power?
I bring this up not to deny the general thesis that men have power and many women are powerless. If you doubt it, consult the lectures of the spectacularly florid feminist-classicist Mary Beard, who has helpfully chronicled how, from the start of recorded history, silencing females was a critical rite of passage for men (Jupiter turns Io into a cow; Echo can only echo; when Philomela is raped, her tongue is cut out to keep her quiet). I bring up the confrontation with Flake to show that even in isolated moments when women do wield power, they have a hard time seeing it, because it’s so unfamiliar and uncomfortable. There is some irony in this political moment that when women have the collective power to fell titans of the patriarchy by the week, they are using that power to insist on their own powerlessness. When it comes to power, they — we — are chronically ambivalent.”