Narcissists Use Traditional Gender Roles As a Structure for Abuse

Walter Rhein

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Nostalgia often colors the way we look at the past. It’s easy to reflect on the carefree days of our youth and come to the conclusion that life was better decades ago. However, the reality is that many of the traditions we remember with fondness set the framework for oppression.

It’s amazing how much the structure of an abusive relationship aligns with that of traditional marriage. Gender roles that put the man in the position of the breadwinner and condemn the woman to a homemaker role strip women of power and make abuse possible.

Traditional gender roles make women completely beholden to the authority of a man. Sometimes people cite lower divorce rates from the 50s and 60s as an indication that those were better times. However, the reality is that marriages in those decades represented traps from which women couldn’t escape.

Narcissists use a variety of tactics to control their partners. They resort to both emotional and physical abuse. Individuals who show a commitment to a philosophy of abuse must first strip their victims of the power to escape.

It can be confusing to maintain a relationship with a narcissist because they disguise that you are living in a prison. Rarely do narcissists descend to the level of actually locking you in a room. The bars they use to contain you are invisible, but they are very difficult to escape.

In the American slave era, slave owners did not keep their slaves constantly in chains. If you read slave narratives about escape, you’ll find that most slaves found that deciding to escape was the hardest part.

Slaves had no money, no way to support themselves, and they lived within a community that showed a commitment to their imprisonment. This scenario parallels the experience of a person trapped in a relationship with a narcissist.

Narcissists limit an individual’s authority. The easiest way to do this is to limit a person’s access to money. If a person in a relationship can't have a job or maintain a personal bank account, they will not have the authority to leave if the relationship becomes abusive.

In some ways, American society has a structure that makes it easier for narcissists to control their victims. Currently, the minimum wage is so low that nobody can support themselves on a minimum wage job. If a woman wants to break away from an abusive relationship, she can't support herself by working for minimum wage.

Limiting access to money is one of the most effective ways to maintain a relationship based on control. Narcissists create an illusion that getting a job is nearly impossible so they can present themselves as a benefactor.

A victim trapped in a traditional relationship is repeatedly told that her labors have no monetary value. This prevents her from even attempting to leave the relationship because she feels she lacks the skills to support herself.

Traditional gender roles effectively transform women into powerless housekeepers. They turn all the power and control over to the man and condemn women to a position of an unpaid laborer. With no access to money, it’s very difficult to escape these abusive relationships.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI
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