What is Oppression?

Oppression: imposing power over others in unjust, discriminatory ways.  Oppression: forcing compliance with certain societal standards, or otherwise imposing unfair treatment, judgments, and limitations.  Oppression: being forced to identify as female or male.  According to marriage or drivers’ licenses, even on restroom doors, an individual is one sex or gender.  Dean Spade’s article notes that many perceive sexual minorities, such as being transgender or intersex, as disabilities or outside the norm.  One might think, given this perception, that sexual minorities are few in number. However, approximately one per 1,500 infants is born intersex. (http://www.isna.org/faq/frequency) “Corrective genital surgery” is often immediately performed on intersex infants so their appearance “fits” dichotomous gender expectations. Yet, given the pervasiveness of sexual differences, believing in only two mutually exclusive sexes is a limited perspective.  Being forced into a specific gender category, based on superficial appearances, can oppress the individual. One transgender person, describing the constant challenge of balancing what is felt with what others expect, said:  “to be deemed real I need to want to pass as male all the time, and not feel ambivalent” (21).  Unfortunately, some feel children will only fit in, or be “deemed real,” if they identify with and act as one sex.

Gender is not black or white, and only allowing two options is oppression.  Spade argues that sexuality is not “innate” and that it is possible to “transgress sexual and gender norms” (20). Some are oppressed when we limit individuals to two genders.  I envision a future that thrives on differences rather than forced similarities and accepts individuals on any gender or sex spectrum. For now, however, I hope for a world where one can autonomously choose or refuse surgery.  I hope for a world where oppressive societal norms and expectations do not drive decisions about gender identity.


Spade, Dean. “Resisting Medicine, Re/modeling Gender.” Berkeley Women’s Law Journal. (2003): 15-37. Web. 26 Nov. 2012.

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