What is oppression?

I’ve always thought of oppression as powerful people taking advantage of those “beneath” them.  However, this isn’t the case.  As Beauvoir says in The Second Sex, “…Man can think of himself without woman.  She cannot think of herself without man.”(Beauvoir, 33).  Oppression is the abuse of one’s power over another, but also the inferior’s acceptance of this abuse. Women have always accepted their inferiority to men.  In my traditional Guatemalan family my father has always been head of the household.  When I was younger, anything that involved making a decision concerning me was my father’s job.  When I asked Mom for permission to go anywhere, she would respond, “Ask your father.”  Oppression is a mental pressure, but it doesn’t only come from an outside source.  At home for example, my mom’s unacknowledged input was normal and never questioned it.

Conformity is also seen in homosexuals who torment themselves with presenting their sexual orientation in public because they fear not being accepting.  By hiding, they are allowing “normal” people to oppress them.  Ricky Martin’s, The Best Thing About Me Is You , depicts the mentality of a strong person who realizes that “fitting in” isn’t as essential to happiness as accepting themselves.


Simone de Beauvoir, “Introduction” to The Second Sex (1949)

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2 Responses to What is oppression?

  1. bkraff says:

    In society, as much as we would like to blame the oppressors for the oppression that humans face on a daily basis, I would have to agree completely that the oppressed share the blame. However, this is not to appear as if the “victim” should be held responsible for his or her adversities. Specifically with the man/woman, oppressor/ oppressed relationship, I concur that woman must work to defend her individuality and independence in order to break the stereotypical hold from man. The woman must demonstrate on a daily basis that she is man’s equal, or even superior in certain fields. In my household, I am privileged enough to view a completely equal relationship between man and woman. My mother is a physician, and my father a businessman. Both are highly respected in their fields, and the respect carries on through my household as well. With my father being the only man in the house aside my mother sister and I, he is often outnumbered and women’s power is greatly emphasized. For other situations where this type of equality is not constantly accentuated, like in your household, or in the relationships between many homosexuals in the eyes of society, I share your emphasis on the importance of forming a united front to consciously put in the effort to eradicate the oppressed feelings’ of fear.

    In reference to the previous comment, I see your point of view as well. However, in those cases relating to slavery, or in a much simpler sense, the iguana, I believe that the most critical route to improving is awareness and education to express that what the oppressed view as normal is in reality far from it.

  2. sabinas10 says:

    My response to your post is twofold: I both agree and disagree. I agree in the sense that yes, oppression is very much a mental pressure within oneself and also within the oppressor. However, I don’t believe that oppression exists simply because those that are being treated as inferiors are simply “accepting” that position. If you relate this topic of oppression back to the civil rights movement, then with your comments on the mental state of it all, the slaves had the ability to rise above their masters all along. And, while this is true, it also isn’t. This is where my answer gets complicated. You see, the slaves had the drive inside of them to overcome their masters, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they had the resources and manpower to overcome their superiors. Also, the situation is much like that of the ‘iguana in a cage’ theory that we discussed in class. One who has never known another life than the one that he/she has been living in, won’t necessarily feel oppressed or obligated to break out of the ‘chains’ because he/she has only seen one life for his/her kind of people. This way of thinking can be related to how women have sort of accepted being the inferior one in certain countries where women’s rights aren’t as prominent as they are in America. For instance, in Saudia Arabia women weren’t allowed to drive for the longest time. It was only until this past year when the uprisings in the Middle East shed light onto the Saudi Arabian women that the way they were being treated was not normal. They decided to join together and fight. They have yet to win this battle, but they haven’t stopped working towards their goal. I don’t think that oppressed women walk around every day thinking about the fact that they are being treated poorly or the fact that life could be better elsewhere. I’m sure the thought crosses their mind every so often, however, I think that they are only used to the life that they have been living. So, to say that being oppressed is in part a women’s fault is unfair in my opinion.

    My answer works in the same manner for your comments on homosexuality. It is not a sign of conformity that those who are secretly homosexual won’t come out of the closet. To come out would be a difficult task even if it was more widely accepted in the public. It’s a proclamation of being different from those around you. You are opening yourself up for judgement that you know you probably won’t be able to escape. It is human nature to not want to be judged and to want to live a life of just being yourself; however, this is hard to do when you have been raised in a society where people are judged merely for going to the grocery store in pajamas and messy hair. In turn, it is human nature to want to be accepted. To come out to your friends is almost harder than to come out to the public because your friends are the ones whom you want to accept you for who you are. So, hiding isn’t a matter of homosexuality vs. heterosexuality. It is a matter of being accepted for who you are. A person with a mental disability is more likely to hide it until it becomes to prominent to mask, not because of the way “normal” people oppress said person, but because of the fact that being accepted and being loved is probably the number one things we subconsciously seek to have in our lives.

    I see your angle of this matter, don’t get me wrong. I just look at it differently 🙂

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