What is oppression?

Women’s oppression seems to be explicitly tied to women’s status as child bearers and society’s attempt to control female reproduction. This is abundantly clear both in the readings and the documentaries that we have seen throughout this course.
A common thread in our readings and documentaries that I see more generally is society’s intense pressure on women to reproduce in general. This is indicative of women’s firm status as child bearers. As a woman who plans to remain childless, I am under intense pressure from my family, even at 20 years old, to commit to reproduction.
Women are told by the society that they’ll never quite be happy without children—a myth that pressures women into having and keeping children they may not be ready for. And women who decide to remain childless by choice are vilified as a result. In 2009, a woman named Anne Kingston wrote an article entitled “The Case Against Having Kids”. As a result, she received hate-mail from readers calling her “selfish” and “anti-child”.
Even when women decide to reproduce, the society continually attempts to control that reproduction. A good example is Angela Davis’ piece “Racism, Birth Control, and Reproductive Rights”. There is a rich discussion of how women realized that to achieve empowerment it was necessary for them to be able to control their level of reproduction because woman who has more children than she desires is anchored into a system where that is her worth. On the other side of that, the sterilization of women is an example of society’s attempt to control female reproduction so that “undesirable traits” couldn’t be passed down. And as Angela Davis points out, that has racist and classist implications.
In women’s case, the “cult of motherhood” is damaging and is a particularly painful hammer of sexist oppression.
The Case Against Having Kids: http://www2.macleans.ca/2009/07/24/no-kids-no-grief/
The Response to “The Case Against Having Kids”: http://www2.macleans.ca/2009/08/13/the-no-kids-debate-continues/

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2 Responses to What is oppression?

  1. manuelal25 says:

    I agree with your main arguments on the post. My boyfriend is Palestinian born and raised in Saudi Arabia. Since I have spent a lot of time with his family I have heard many stories of the hardships of women in the Middle East. The idea that the womanly duties in society are essentially viewed simply as being the child bearer is very accurate there. The woman must be chauffeured around, never being allowed to sit in the driver seat of a car. From head to toe the skin of a woman whether she is Christian or Muslim must be covered in black clothing. My boyfriend’s mother talked about walking to the local bazaar in 110-degree heat in her burqa. With the sun blazing down she was perspiring and looks over at her male escort, he is in a tee shirt and shorts drinking lemonade. I think this is very unfair and I know that if I was treated this way I would be outraged. Millions of women are treated this way, with no say for themselves.

    In certain families, monogamy is not a legitimate idea. The man will date and search for a new wife while the original wife stays home taking care of the children. If a woman even thought about being with another man she would be called a whore and killed in front of the entire city. Women are treated like property; their only purpose is to carry on the man’s name with a male child. The saddest part of it all, when the women are freed or brought to a free country, they end up falling into the same mold. This is usually because this is all they know. The elder women in their community and family want them to follow the tradition of acting like they did back in the old country. This further demonstrates how oppressed women are not only in the United States but around the world, in some countries more than others.

  2. nickvolpe1 says:

    I agree completely I feel like this is a theme that we’ve seen throughout the course. In addition to the good points made by Davis, Ehrenreich and English’s “The Sexual Politics of Sickness” also really demonstrate the domestic oppression faced by women at the hands of society. Essentially, women dissatisfied with being sexually subjugated into just birthing/raising children are treated as “sick” and forced to endure some pretty brutal “cures”. It’s hard to imagine that just a hundred years ago, women were being locked in solitude for weeks on end and having their clitorises removed just so they’d want to be domestic. There was even plentiful “science” to prove that women were totally dimorphic from men and should want to be in the home. The be-a-mother narrative is powerful and hard to avoid for sure. Even my little sisters were chided my mom when they said they didn’t want to deal with the hassle of having kids after coming home from “stressful” babysitting. I don’t consider my mom sexist, but it definitely stuck out to me. Aunts and cousins in the family without a family/children are regarded as spinsters and are somewhat stigmatized as such. This is just one of the many moments where the stuff we’ve looked at in class has made its way into my own life.

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