Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Why I am oppressed

So, I really should be writing an essay right now but seeing as I'm clearly not doing that, I thought I might as well do something mildly useful with my time. At a discussion group last night about oppression, someone raised the (perfectly valid) point, that as a woman they had never felt oppressed because of their gender, and asked me why I feel that I am oppressed. I did a very bad job of answering, partly because oppression of women (sometimes including me and sometimes not), is so clear to me every day, but I'm going to try to answer now.

As we discussed last night, oppression is about power, and one group having a lack of power on a systematic basis. So, here are a few examples of things that I experience, or am aware of, as a result of my lack of power in society that contribute to why I feel I'm oppressed:

- when I'm out late at night, I don't feel safe walking home alone, I'm afraid of being attacked, raped or mugged to an extent that men do not feel. Indeed, in the past I have felt the need to ask a man to accompany me (not that one man could help me much in an attack, but you're much safer when someone with power is with you), unaware of course, that I was much more at risk from this man than any stranger in a bush.

- I am aware that one in four women in this country will experience sexual violence in their lives, and so there is a high chance that it will be me. Never mind that, it has happened, happens to women I love and care about, all because of their gender.

- when I graduate and go into the workplace, the chances are that I will be paid less than any men in my life as women in full time work are paid on average 17% less than men ( If I ever become an executive of a business (hightly unlikely!), I will be faced with the fact that 96% of executives are men, the same is true for most high powered jobs. Thats quite a powerful place to be don't you think?

- I feel oppressed because within the church there are many groups that will not allow me to teach or lead (two things that I'm fairly capable at) BECAUSE I am a woman. No other reason. This limits the potential for me and for women who are called into these roles to both fulfill their potential and bring in the kingdom of God.

- I feel oppressed because I, and all the women I know are held to impossible standards of beauty, and suffer from low self esteem because we cannot reach them. I feel oppressed because when I choose not to engage in beauty rituals like make up and hair removal, I am judged and not considered to be attractive. I am oppressed because my self worth comes from my beauty and not what I am capable of achieving.

- I feel oppressed because I am surrounded every day by women being treated as objects, existing only for the pleasure of men. I see it in lads mags (and of course hard core porn, I just don't see that), music vidoes, countless adverts, TV shows films, womens magazines ('do X to please the man in your life') and so much more. It seeps into our conciousness and sends us a message about what our lives are about.

- I feel oppressed because, like every other woman in this country (I think), I have at some point had a man feel able to comment on my breasts/legs/ass/smile/face as I walk past. After all, since women exist to please men its only natural that they should tell us when we are doing well and when we are failing right?

- I feel oppressed, because whether they meant to or not, I have been taught by, and talked with people who are more willing to accept the opinions of the men in the group and not mine.

- I feel oppressed because people often don't believe me when I say I don't really want to have children, as though I am going against what is natural for me.

And all this is just what applies to me. Never mind that female foetuses are aborted every day in Asia (and here though less so) because a girl baby is less desirable, girl children are killed or die from neglect at high rates. Girls are more likely to die from malnutrition related diseases, because if there is a lack of food it will go to the boys, who are worth more. Girls are less likely to get an education globally as it is less useful to them. As we grow up, it doesn't get better, we are at higher risk of sexual and domestic violence, poverty (majority of the worlds poor are women), female genital mutilation, prostitution, honour killing, trafficking, HIV, and so much more.

And why all this risk? Because we are women. The power in our society, lies, for the most part (and this is changing, slowly, very slowly) in the hands of men. The big word is 'patriarchy' and the reality is all I have said from my life, and so much more that I have never known.


Rebecca xxx said...

Ah Rachel, I'm a bit in love with you. What a fabulous post. I hope that whoever you were having that conversation with (that asked you why you felt oppressed) has read it!

Wonderful, wonderful.

Saboteur Cherie said...


I read your post and empathise with you on your argument.

On one hand it is unfortunate that there are women out there who simply don't understand the concept of patriarchy and the implications this has for women like us. It's these implications, these effects that we become feminists in the first place. On the other hand, perhaps I am a little envious of these oblivious women, because I guess in many ways, they don't have the same issues I have. It must be easy not to have to argue, reason, fight for what you believe in.

I'm sure like me you have also experience bad days when you wish the world would open up and swallow you, because having this awareness is not easy. The inability to ignore the opression gets me so down some days, I feel I have lost my fight, and I wonder what's the point.

Another point is, women that are oblivious probably in some way contribute whilst conforming to patriarchal standards. How do you make an average joe who has never starved feel and epathise with famine & poverty? You can't. You can maybe tell them about it, educate them, but at the end of the day they will only really truly care if they have to some extent been in some form of close contact with the issue in question.

Either way, Ignorance is Bliss my dear.

We need to remember that we as feminists have this awareness, because we are special. Embrace the pain you feel from the oppression and use it to fuel your inner fire, there is much work to do!

Christian Feminist said...

Thanks for your comments!! I remember one of the things I said in this discussion (which was actually really good, and about all forms of opression not just gender-based), was that noticing how women are oppressed ruins your life. I didn't really totally mean it, but it does change a lot of how you see the world, which is useful but also tiring.

Cycleboy said...

"when I'm out late at night, I don't feel safe walking home alone, I'm afraid of being attacked, raped or mugged to an extent that men do not feel."

While I feel for your sense of vulnerability when out at night, I have to question the above statement. I'm a man, yet when I'm out at night I'm always on the lookout to possible danger and am in fear of being attacked, mugged etc. Whether I feel this fear more or less than you do, I cannot say.

I did find a comment from a female "bouncer" rather revealing. She said that, when there's a fight in the club, a male bouncer is likely to get lamped, no matter how diplomatic he is, whereas she is likely to be able to diffuse the situation simply because most men are reluctant to strike a woman. I think the statistics on random violence show that it is men who are more likely to be victims of this than women.

Rape, of course, is quite another matter.

Saboteur Cherie said...


I will argue that nightclub security politics is completely irrelevant. I am pleased that the female bouncer in question is able to successfully diffuse the situation because of her gender. Aggressive punters who are becoming troublesome do lash out on security staff, due to the fact that they areunder the influence of alcahol they suddenly have an overwhelming urge to puff their bellys and act macho, etc. In a public situation such as a nightclub or bar, these people would seem far from macho if witnessed hitting a woman.

Rape, mugging, and violence towards women goes on in dark alley ways and behind closed doors. By cowards.

Christian Feminist said...

Thank you for your comment cycleboy. I should probably highlight that the fear I feel when out at night is not really based on reality, as Sabotour Cherie said, the real risk of rape and violence is in our homes, workplaces, schools etc.

Of course, I fully understand that you feel a similar sense of danger of mugging etc. Its impossible to know exactly 'who is the most scared' and probably it would be sily to try and work it out. I think that the fear that I (and most women) feel, does have a lot to do with our position in society, and our general powerlessness in many ways.

I would like to highlight the catcalling and yelled abuse that many women experience when out at night. Comments about our bodies etc are a regular occurance. And this does, undeniably happen more to women. This, in itself creates a level of fear. You worry that the guy that just yelled at you isn't going to stop there and is actually going to follow you and try and hurt you.