Heterosexual relationships inherently have a power imbalance; since cisgender men have always been seen as more powerful than others, and must assert their power to prevent someone else from being seen as more powerful. This not only creates a culture of men expecting women to bend to their will, this also causes men to compete with each other in order to be seen as the strongest. Men can’t be soft or sensitive, because that’s seen as a sign of weakness.
In our society, asking for something can be seen as a sign of “weakness” or “submission”; considering that many people believe that one should pull themselves up by their bootstraps and be independent. Asking for something shows that you are relying on someone else, which is seen as weak. Combining this with the notion that men are meant to be strong and independent, you end up with a society of men who are afraid to ask and rely on others for satisfaction. To put it simply, men aren’t meant to be “weak”, they are meant to always be self-sufficient and asking others for help in some way shows weakness. “LMLYP” by the band Ween is a perfect example of the subversion of this idea. The entire song is about a man asking his partner for sex; in the eyes of society, this could be seen as the man showing “weakness” by asking another person for sexual satisfaction. A strong, independent man wouldn’t have to ask for sex, he would just get it. He wouldn’t need to rely on others for satisfaction. But in “LMLYP”, the act of asking is framed as something romantic and sensual. In this song, there is no weakness in asking. One verse in the song begins with “Talk to me, lover. Come on, tell me what you taste”, showing the narrator asking his partner what they want, asking them to communicate. Communication isn’t framed as weakness, it isn’t framed as something men do when they are unsure, it’s framed as something romantic. “Let me show you how to please me, baby.” the narrator says. He is giving up his perceived societal role of the one in power, and allowing his partner to take over and decide whether or not they want to engage sexually. Communication with one’s partner equalizes the power imbalance inherent to heterosexual relationships.
Cisgender men have traditionally held power over others in society, which culminates into a culture where cis men are told from a young age that they must hide their sensitive side and always have power over others, in order to continue the tradition of men having power over others. A consequence of this, unintended or not, is that men who subscribe to the idea of having power over women tend to sexualise the imbalance of power. It’s something erotic to them. Moises Velasquez-Manoff writes about this sexualized imbalance in his article “Real Men Get Rejected, Too.” “For these men, it is precisely the power imbalance that’s erotic. And to fix that, you have to change male sexuality. I think of this as eroticizing reciprocity, and it goes beyond enthusiastic consent. Men need to be aroused by the fact that women are aroused. They need to like the fact that women are into whatever they’re doing.” This section implies that once again, society sees asking another person for sex as something that gives up power. And because of power over others being sexualised, you get many instances of sexual abuse happening because of that power imbalance. This also ties into the ideas portrayed in “LMLYP”, where interest from both parties is framed as romantic. It’s eroticizing reciprocity, as stated in the article. These ideas of both parties needing to be interested and willing to communicate are shared, and offer a subversion of the traditional role of men in heterosexual relationships. The idea of male sexuality being changed is brought up in the article, and the idea is executed in “LMLYP”.
The power that cisgender men hold over women not only manifests itself in men sexualising the imbalance of power, it also manifests in women willingly placing themselves under men and giving up any power they might have, in order to receive affection from those men. This can even happen unknowingly, as a woman with a fragile mind may begin to rely on her relationships with men to feel wanted, unintentionally giving the man power over her mental state. In Hideaki Anno’s 1995 masterpiece, Neon Genesis Evangelion, one of the protagonists, Asuka, believes that she is worthless, and that the only thing that makes her valuable to others is her skill at her job. She uses her relationship with Kaji, a much older coworker, to feel as if she is wanted by others. Asuka’s relationship with men is fragile; she expects attention from Kaji even after he rejects her advances, and in episode 15, after discovering that Kaji is no longer single, she realizes that Kaji truly has no interest in her, making her feel as if there is no one in the world who pays her any thought. This leads her to begin her downward spiral, culminating in her running away and waiting to die. Asuka’s fragile mind is dependent on the attention she gets from others; although she wishes she had power over others, she inadvertently gives the others power over her because of how desperate for affection she is. In episode 22, she rips open her shirt and begs Kaji to look at her, once again giving Kaji power over her by asking for something. Asuka is so desperate for affection that she willingly gives up what little power she believes she has, just to feel wanted in the one-sided relationship between her and Kaji. Without realizing it, Asuka gives Kaji the ability to control her mental state. Only one of the parties in this relationship is interested in the other, and the only time communication happens is when Kaji is once again rejecting Asuka’s advances, or when Asuka begs Kaji to look at her. The power imbalance between these two creates an unhealthy environment for both of them, no one is happy in this relationship.
Absolute power over others dooms relationships. The relationship between Asuka and Kaji shows this happening with someone giving all the power to another person, but there is also one side of a relationship taking advantage of their absolute power and ruining the relationship beyond salvation. In a healthy relationship, the power between both parties would be equal, allowing free communication and both parties to get their needs met; when there is absolute power over another though, communication is stifled and the one with power dominates over the other in terms of decision-making, conversation, and other aspects of life, preventing the other person from reaching their true potential. Weezer’s “Butterfly” is a great example of this, the lyrics present a story about someone capturing a butterfly, placing it in a jar, and accidentally killing it. These lyrics are obviously a metaphor for an unhealthy relationship, the narrator being the one with absolute power over the other in a relationship, and the butterfly representing the repressed party. “Yesterday, I went outside/With my momma's mason jar/Caught a lovely butterfly. When I woke up today/Looked in on my fairy pet/She had withered all away” The butterfly withered away as a result of the narrator holding absolute power over her, keeping her in a jar and not allowing her to freely exist. The relationship between the narrator and the butterfly ends in tragedy, due to the unequal power between both of them. The line “I’m sorry for what I did/I did what my body told me to” implies that the narrator sexually assaulted the other person, doing what his body told him to, and not what the other person agreed to do. As opposed to “LMLYP”, where sexual interaction is insisted upon mutually, “Butterfly” shows what happens when absolute power over another is given. The narrator trapped the other person in the relationship and then sexually assaulted them after their power was certain. Communication was impossible between the two. The relationship was doomed from the start with the butterfly being trapped in the jar.
Throughout all types of media, we see many varying messages about love and relationships. Although the messages may be different, there is one common thread that binds all of them together; communication balances the power difference between two parties in a relationship. Some media portray healthy relationships where communication is used freely, while others portray relationships doomed to be toxic because of the lack of communication. The media that we consume tells us that absolute power over another person in a relationship isn’t healthy, and that the only way to equalize this power is to communicate with one another.
“At Least, Be Human.” Anno, Hideaki, director. Neon Genesis Evangelion, season 1, episode 22, 28 Feb. 1996.
“Lies and Silence.” Anno, Hideaki, director. Neon Genesis Evangelion, season 1, episode 15, 10 Jan. 1996.
Velasquez-Manoff, Moises. “Real Men Get Rejected, Too-NYT.” Moises Velasquez-Manoff, 18 Apr. 2018,.
Ween. “LMLYP.” GodWeenSatan: The Oneness, Andrew Weiss, Zion House of Flesh, 1989.
Weezer. “Butterfly.” Pinkerton, Weezer, 1996.