Analyzing young women’s experiences of hidden gendered power in heterosexual relationships

Madeline Breeze

Research output: Other contribution


Based on qualitative analysis of data from 18 semi-structured interviews with young women between the ages of 18 and 27, the aims of this research were threefold. The project undertook, firstly, to identify and explore mechanisms of hidden gendered power in young people’s intimate heterosexual relationships. Secondly, it endeavoured to illustrate and analyse how young women experienced and contested the operation of such power. Thirdly, the project aimed to demonstrate the epistemological complexities involved in operationalizing ‘power’ for empirical social research in the sphere of intimacy, by questioning whether findings vary according to the theoretical conceptualization of power adopted. Lukes (2005) and Hirschman (1970) formed the main theoretical background to the project. Two types of power were identified from data analysis and related to Benjamin (1998) and Komter’s (1989) findings: the inhibition of ‘Use of Voice’ and the legitimizing effects of ‘Traditional Gender Ideology’. The extent to which these types of power could be considered hidden and gendered was assessed. Respondents’ practice of ‘Infantalizing’ partners, which contested traditional understandings of heterosexuality and power, was identified and explored. The application of two theoretically sound measures of power demonstrated how empirical results varied depending upon how power was conceptualised. As such the epistemological complexity of identifying power in intimate relationships was illustrated throughout the project report. The significance of this project lies not only in its vivid illustration of young women’s reported experiences but also in the implications of the finding that two, theoretically based, empirical measures of power produce contradictory results when applied in the context of intimate relationships.
Original languageEnglish
TypeWorking paper
Number of pages43
ISBN (Electronic)1-900522-43-8
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • power
  • intimate relationships
  • gender


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