The oppression of women as women PHIL 202 – Assignment 1 26/01/2012 The patriarchal society in which we live has systematically oppressed women for centuries. It is not until extremely recent history, with the Women’s Liberation Movement, that women have been able to take meaningful strides towards a more equal and just society. We have come a long way since that time, women can now vote, work, practice politics and live independently of men: it seems as though we have come very close to the equality that we have worked so hard to achieve. However that statement has proven to be incredibly false.
If we examine Marilyn Frye’s metaphor of the bird cage and apply it to the changes that have been brought upon our society we can see how the oppression of women not only still exists, but has gained new dimensions. By inspecting the progress women have made to integrate into patriarchal society we can see that we have succeeded to remove some of the wires that have held us back from escaping the cage, however the removal of these wires has added new responsibilities for the female gender and it is these new responsibilities that have added completely new wires to our cages.
By examining Marilyn Frye’s article Oppression we will examine why she believes that “women are oppressed as women” (Frye, p. 16) and why it is that, even though men face barriers and difficulties, she believes that they are not “oppressed as men” (Frye, p. 16) Whilst reading Frye’s article I was truly disagreeing with the points she was making. How can she state that men are not also oppressed in some way: they have the burden of supporting their families, they cannot express any emotions without seeming weak, and they don’t have the choice of spending as much time with their children?
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These facts made me certain that men too were oppressed, however in a different way than women. As I neared the end of the article I came to a sudden realization: the opinions I had formed were a product of my microscopic view of the situation and I was not able to see that the burdens men faced were only barriers held in place in order to preserve the patriarchal society that has been created and they were not faced with systematic oppression. In order to illustrate this point we can take a look at an example from the side of two opposing genders. The workplace seems to be following the path f equality, even though certain issues remain (men earning more than women on average, men holding higher positions etc…) they seem to be miniscule problems compared to the ones faced by the women decades before us. The wire on the cage that we would have named “ability to pursue a career” seems to be a rusty weak wire that is falling apart, no longer capable of holding women back. It may seem as if this is a victory, however, the oppressing society we live in has ensured that the destruction of that single wire has been acknowledged and replaced by a new strong and sturdy set of wires in order to ensure systematic oppression.
Now that women are able to work they are perceived as lazy and old-fashioned if they don’t, however if they do work they are perceived as being intimidating, bad mothers and sometimes masculine. Therefore it seems as if the situation where a women is perceived as hard-working, intelligent, ambitious and modern as well as feminine and an excellent mother and homemaker does not exist, yet it is actively expected of them; if any of the aforementioned characteristics are not present she will be given a dreadful label by society.
It is clear that the advancements we have made have lead to an entirely new dimension of oppression. If we now continue on to examine the role of a man in the workplace we can see that they do face barriers but they are in absolutely no way systematically oppressed. If we examine a single barrier they face, for example, the burden of having to support their family, as this is the norm with regards to sex roles. The man must go to work and must earn money to pay the mortgage, to feed their children and to buy his wife the dishwasher she has been nagging him to get.
This is a responsibility that he is expected to fulfill, however he is no way oppressed. In order to obtain an adequate job a man may go to school, earn a degree and find a stable and well-paying job. He will find this job with much more ease than a woman with the same qualifications and will get payed more than the aforesaid women. Being a man will be an advantage to his search and will in no way place any obstacles in his way, as opposed to woman whose gender is “significantly attached to whatever disadvantages and deprivations she suffers, be they great or small. ”(Frye, p. 6) By obtaining a job, he has now earned the labels of intelligent, ambitious, and hard-working; of course, in our age and time a woman might be able to acquire all of these labels as well. However the labels describing her femininity and home-life might not be as pleasant.
What about a man? He is now supporting his family therefore he is now masculine and worthy, he is also seen as a good father as he is supporting his children (the fact that he might not spend an adequate amount of time with them is of no importance as in our society financial support takes precedent of emotional support. Therefore our society has given him the burden of supporting his family but we can see that this is only a barrier put in place in order to for men to be able to exclude women from political and economic life and therefore control it. It may be a disadvantage in some ways, however it is important to recognize that it is a necessary disadvantage in order to maintain control and can in no way be labelled as oppression.
The simple term “oppression” must be understood because without understanding its rightful meaning it is “much misused, and sometimes not innocently” (Frye, p. 0) We must come to the understanding that men do face obstacles and barriers however they do not face the systematic oppression that women do as a result of their gender. Of course there are oppressed men living all around the world, but this oppression does not stem from the simple fact of their sex but many other factors such as socio-economic situation, sexual orientation, political situations etc… Simply put, there are thousands, maybe millions of men around the world who are in no way oppressed, but not one single woman because her gender is the defining characteristic for her oppression.
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