The power of words

Last night I was talking to a friend when I suddenly realized what I wanted. What my ultimate goal was in all my endeavors—whether I was skinning my knuckles in krav maga (Israeli contact combat), writing a column or a blog post, debating feminism or working in a neuroscience lab. All of these apparently incongruent activities were means to a common goal.

I want power.

I want the power that comes with knowing that I can walk alone at night, that if someone threatens me, I can destroy that threat in under five minutes without breaking a sweat. I want the power to shape people’s ideas with my words, to get them to think in new ways, because if you are not a different person after you read something—a poem, a novel, a humble editorial—you are wasting your time. I want the social power that feminism seeks to achieve for women: the powers to choose whether or not to carry a baby to term, to be paid equal wages for equal work, to be represented in government and to make sexual decisions without fear of being villainized. Some day, I want the power to help those with mental illness live a normal life.

For the first time, I thought I understood what Nietzsche meant by a “will to power.” It was triggered by a summer full of stifling boredom, when I was stuck at home without a car and the only escape I had was through blogging and practicing krav. I do not think anyone can truly understand what it is to want power until they have experienced powerlessness. Power is, at its very root, the ability to effect change. Physical power allows you to effect physical changes, and social power, social changes. If you have the finances available to move to another city or go on vacation, you have power. If you have a voice in the student government and can influence policy changes, you have power. If you compose a song, direct a film or create a piece of art that makes your audience feel something new, you have power.

Power is not necessarily sitting in the Oval Office, or commanding troops, or standing at a podium in front of thousands of people. It is also power over your personal life and your own decisions, and having the ability to steer your own craft as you are propelled into the future. I don’t know anyone who would be content to sit back and have their story written and narrated for them by someone else. I find that people who say they don’t want power or aren’t interested in power already have it, and what they really don’t want and are indifferent to, is change.

Wherever you go, whatever company you work for or whatever you want to do, you will find people who tell you, “that’s just the way things are,” or “it is what it is,” and “there’s nothing you can do about it.” People who don’t care about the status quo are people who, 100 percent of the time, benefit from the status quo. These are things they will say to you when they want to keep things as they are and make you accept their privilege. It is indubitably exhausting for oppressors to constantly stamp out rebellion and keep the people they mistreat in line. The easiest thing would be if the oppressed would become the sources of their own subjugation. Why bother with ropes and chains if you can just convince someone they don’t really want to stand up? That’s why they teach patience, satisfaction, gratitude, acceptance and complacency. These are not virtues that will make you happy. They want to make you complicit in your own oppression.

Once you have experienced injustice, you know what power is. You want to obtain it and use it to change what you see. People who are ill do not lie down and accept their disease without complaint. They seek a treatment, a cure, and they will fight for their health even if a doctor tells them, as one once told me, “This is just something you are going to have to live with for the rest of your life.” When you cannot get married in your home state, or when you are called a slut and a prostitute for demanding birth control, or when people of your race are constantly stereotyped and fetishized, you cannot sit down and be silent, or ignore these things in blissful ignorance. You cannot shrug your shoulders and turn to the next page in your newspaper and forget the things you’ve seen. People will lay the blame on you for being offended. They will call you uptight, say you have no sense of humor, mock you for being “politically correct.” They will want to call themselves edgy and rebellious for daring to make sexist and racist jokes or jokes about rape. Do not believe them. They are part of the status quo, which is sexist, racist, classist and homophobic. They will tell you some things are “just words,” and we know this is a lie because only the most privileged can deny the power of language. When you stand up against these things, when you call people out for their bigotry, when you fail to accept society the way it is, you are the rebel. You are the hero and the protagonist who helps dismantle this rotting patriarchy, stone by stone, word by word.

Danica Liu is a Trinity junior.


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