Saturday, June 09, 2012

Hierarchy: what is it good for?

The following is my contribution to Rachel Held Evans' Week of Mutuality.

Longtime readers of this infrequently-updated blog know I’m working toward a doctoral degree in counselor education. This summer, rather than hanging out at the beach reading trashy novels, I’m taking a counseling supervision class. Part of what that means is that I (and each of my fellow students) get assigned an MA-level student to supervise through their first semester of clinical work.

To put it another way, each newbie counselor is assigned a newbie supervisor.

(If that makes you nervous, rest assured: we're not left alone to flounder. We have professors helping us all walk through the process. You can exhale now.)

During the first week of my supervision class, the instructor repeated two themes over and over, beating them like a drum. The first one was "You're the supervisor. You're responsible." And only slightly less-repeated was "It's a hierarchical relationship."

And I struggle with that idea, because I work hard to establish egalitarian relationships.

After reading Rachel’s post yesterday I started to think about that clinical supervisor role and other similar roles where one person is above and is responsible for the other: parent/child and teacher/student are relationship pairings that come readily to mind.

In all cases like that, the person who is at the top of the hierarchy is working to develop strengths in the other person; and in all cases, the top person knows that if they do their job well, the other person will one day be their peer. The hierarchy is necessary for the person's development, but it is temporary.

But the patriarchal ideal makes the authority/submission formula a permanent one. Husband is permanently over wife (and any unmarried daughters). The similarities to other forms of subjugation cannot be ignored: one group declares its superiority to be ordained by God, and insists its authority is permanent and unquestionable.

It seems to me that isn't about developing peers. It's about developing slaves.