How Oppression Works

We talk about sexism, racism, heterosexism (homophobia), ageism, cissexism, and other systems of oppression a lot around these parts. However, there is occasionally some confusion about what oppression is and how it works in the context of social justice. Oppression is a complex topic. This blog will serve as a basic overview, or a starting point, to related conversations.

Oppression typically operates as a system. This means that there are multiple forces taking away someone’s power based on a part of their identity (their sex, sexual orientation, skin color, etc). All of these forces work together to marginalize, subordinate, dehumanize, or otherwise devalue groups of people.

Major forces that make up a system of oppression are:
*Diminished legal rights/status of the oppressed group
*Negative attitudes and heightened violence toward the group
*Decreased social investment (money, resources) in the group
*Interpersonal prejudice
*Employment, educational, institutional discrimination/exclusion
*Oppressed group’s identity reduced to stereotypes
*Loss of power and freedom within the group
*Oppressed groups adopting destructive beliefs about their own group (internalized oppression)
*Perpetuation of the oppressor’s power
*Privileges afforded to the oppressor

Throughout most of the world, the most privileged groups are: light skin, male, heterosexual, cisgender, conventionally attractive, Christian/Gentile, healthy/able bodied, wealthy/financially comfortable. These various groups have historically been, and currently are, some of the major groups that contribute to oppression. But, that doesn’t mean they have to be! :)

Most people experience some form of oppression based on their identity. However, because our identities are complex, we all experience oppression differently. For instance, oppression based on skin color does not work the same way as oppression based on your gender, and oppression based on skin color AND gender does not operate the same way as oppression based on gender alone (this concept is also known as intersectionality). Oppressions should not be compared or put into a hierarchy; each system has different mechanisms and different realities.

Although most of us experience varying degrees of oppression, we simultaneously participate in oppression.

From their historical roots, a system of oppression continues as humans learn oppressive attitudes from a very young age. This happens through all of the major forces of oppression, and is reinforced through media, religious belief, comedy/humor, and every other form of social information that you consume. Oppressive attitudes, like a virus, are embedded in our cultural landscape and thus in our minds. Because of this fact, being non-racist, non-sexist, etc takes an active mind and intentional action. In order to truly be anti-oppressive, we must each take the time to unlearn oppressive attitudes/thoughts/ideas. This intentional action changes not only our personal social landscape, but paves the way for passing on egalitarian and humanistic information to future generations.

What Role Do You Play?
Oppression continues when there aren’t enough intentional forces to stop it. Oppressions have been stopped in the past, but some oppressions live on and on. If we are to end a system of oppression, it is vital that we all ask ourselves: what role do I play in supporting or confronting oppression?

Both major support and apathy contribute to the cycle of oppression.

Actively Participating In Oppression
Putting down target groups, perpetuating verbal/physical violence, discriminating against target groups, harassing target groups, working toward taking rights away from others, working to ensure privileges are only afforded to oppressors.

Ignoring/Denying Oppression
Enabling oppression by denying that it is happening. Denial is often an expression of a person’s privilege.

Recognizing, but not acting
Aware of oppression, but does not act to end the oppression. Often a place of confusion. May not have enough information to understand their own role, may be unsure of what to do, or too scared to act.

Recognizing, acting
Aware of oppression, recognizes it within self and others, acts to end the oppression.

Educating self
Taking action to learn more about target groups. May include increasing cultural awareness, learning about history, talking to members of the group about their experiences, attending workshops/seminars, watching documentaries, reading books, reading websites.

Educating others
Moving educational action beyond the self and engaging others in dialogue, dispersing informational material, speaking out against oppression.

Supporting anti-oppression
Supporting those who speak out, joining action and ally groups, joining coalitions, working toward change with others.

Initiating change, preventing regression
Working with people and organizations to become more inclusive of targeted groups. Raising awareness of anti-oppression goals in powerful spheres. Protesting. Taking social/political action. Kicking some oppressive ass.

Here, have some related .jpgs:

25 thoughts on “How Oppression Works

  1. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/19/jim-crow-museum-racist-memorabilia-ferris-state-michigan_n_1436879.html

    Speaking of social justice and oppression, this museum recently reopened its doors on my campus. It was very interesting to walk through, and if you’re ever in Michigan, Laci, I highly recommend it. Looking at some of the racist memorabilia literally had me in tears. It even showed some of the depictions of African Americans in popular culture like Merrie Melodies and other cartoons. It disgusts me how A LOT of this stuff was thought to be “funny” and how it was “just a joke”, but really gave people privilege over the opressed. On a side note, the museum is also working on building sections devoted to sexist memorabilia against women, and memorabilia against Native Americans. Being able to put all these objects together really helps to illustrate how wrong these are rather than having everything be separated and “out of mind”.

  2. The biggest problem I’ve noticed, is that for oppression to end, people need to actively work to stop it. But, on an individual level, fighting for the rights of every single oppressed person becomes overwhelming.
    There is only so much one person can do – I try not to contribute to oppression, and actively counter it when given an opportunity (even if just through small things like lecturing people about why what they did/said was inappropriate).
    But to actually fight against every oppressive force is really a staggering task… there is so damn much that needs to be dealt with, that on a person-to-person basis, we need to choose our battles in order to actually have any opportunity to do pretty much anything. Even if your entire life is built around countering oppression, fighting for one oppressed group, typically means you will have sacrifice time for another, because the forces involved in racial oppression aren’t all going to mix with the forces oppression trans folk.

    Even small steps help chip away at oppression, but even taking small steps most people only have the time and energy to fight for a small fraction of oppressed peoples.

    It really seems like an uphill battle.. I still consider it worth fighting, but it’s very intimidating.

  3. To be honest, and I don’t think I can articulate why very well, but to be honest I found that when I read the list of groups with privilege I was annoyed that the rich were listed last.

    In my opinion, they should be first, because they are the prime privilege group and they create/enforce/propagate most of the other groups because it protects and benefits them. (If the rich are white, then pro-white racism benefits them, etc. and they are the only “privilege group” that actually wields naked power to afford others privilege.)

    (I also find myself unconvinced of male privilege, but that is a discussion on its own and I fear I have opened a can of beans simply by mentioning it all.)

    I think I do agree with the idea that injustice primarily occurs because there are numerous forces propagating it for selfish greed and/or with malicious intent, and that conscious action is required to end it.

    This makes me think of that old saying, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That’s always rung false in my ears since the first time I heard it as a child. I don’t see myself becoming corrupt. Nothing is stopping me from robbing you, I thought. Not god, not the law, nor your own strength. If I will it, I could strike you down and take whatever I wished. Perhaps the law would catch me one day and perhaps god would punish me, but it was only my conscience the stopped me from doing it to begin with. It was the fact that my will was to serve justice.

    I think that may sound very arrogant, but I think this isn’t the time for false modesty. I think there are humans that won’t be corrupt by power. The reason I thought of this, and how I think this ties into the subject at hand, is that the issue is of evil individuals naturally seeking power to serve their interests at the expense of others while the good lack ambitions, do not guard themselves, and do not seek power.

    Further, the good lack cunning. A good man guards his front, but not his back because he waits for an honest challenge.

    In one of many discussions on the topic of justice with my brother, we spoke on designs for a system which guards against corruption. (In my opinion, every problem, without fail, is due to corruption. There are no “unfortunate events”, simply well veiled moves on the board.)

    He proposed an idea which I immediately fell in love with. In fact, I have since adopted it. He proposed to be a head of state (or insert here other public servant of great power) one must swear a vow of poverty.

    We discussed the details at length, both agreeing that matters of health should be afforded to them by the government should they ever require it and other things of a similar nature so that they are not grievously harmed, but that accepting the mantle of responsibility and power should come with great sacrifice to weed out those with selfish ambitions.

    I find that most people who I have discussed it with loath the idea, but I think this comes from the fact that they have been indoctrinated since birth to kiss the feet of those that harm them in the name of the patriotic disease.

    And lastly, I think I’d like to comment on two of the pictures. I don’t really like the quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. I would on its own, but I think it falls too much into a common trend of considering it unforgivable to protest in any manner which is not peaceful (i.e. use of the word demand rather than fight) which I think mixes in with the do nothing protests of zero effort and zero effect.

    I think more accurately that evil will oppress you to the extent which you allow it. And I say this because I think it’s important to be distinct and clear.

    The other image I want to comment on is the cartoon which says, “The people don’t know their true power.” Not the quote but the image itself. It implies that the people are in no danger and only an illusion holds them in place. There is a great danger is rising up against a system of injustice.

    I do not think that one should give up for fear, but I think that it is wise to concern one’s self with that which is in accordance with reality. The dangers of fighting against injustice are many (of course they are, the evil would have it no other way) and one cannot overcome these obstacles if one’s eyes are closed to them.

    Having said that: I love that the message is a respond to evil with naked force rather than asking them to walk back onto the cliff.

    I think perhaps I over-analyzed these images, but oh well.

    • To comment on male privilege:

      At this point in time, men and women are nearly equal in legal rights, though there is still a lot of wage discrimination against women and the on-going abortion debate. But women still face a lot of discriminatory beliefs and stereotypes that men don’t. For example:

      1. Women aren’t good at math
      2. Women are more nurturing than men, that’s why they should be the ones taking care of the kids.
      3. Women shouldn’t have to get paid the same as men because they’ll probably just get pregnant and have to take time off.
      4. The infamous Double Standard: Women who enjoy/have a lot of sex are sluts.
      5. Women aren’t as dependable as men.
      6. Women are gossip mongers.
      7. Women shouldn’t be in the military/police force/fire fighters/politics/etc. because they’re too emotionally and physically fragile for those jobs, they can’t handle the stress.
      8. Women should always be pretty, thin, have no body hair, and smell nice. Women who wear no make up, are not perfectly in shape, have body hair, don’t always smell like sunshine and rainbows are gross.

      And many more. These are just a few of the things that our society commonly believes about women, and things that have been stated to/about me directly. Now here are common beliefs about men:

      1. Men are dependable and determined, they can get the job done.
      2. Men just work harder, that’s why they get paid more.
      3. Men who have a lot of sex are desirable/macho/generally awesome.
      4. Men aren’t good with kids/aren’t nurturing, that’s why they shouldn’t have to take care of them. Men are the bread winners.
      5. Men handle stress better.
      6. Men are better at settling arguments/disagreements, they don’t hold grudges.
      7. Men should always be strong/independent/in charge, they are better leaders than women.
      8. Men can generally look and smell however they want and still be considered okay.

      The general idea is that masculinity= strong, dependable, independent= good. While femininity= weak, flighty, dependent= bad. This is why women acting more “masculine” is fine and generally accepted, while men who act more “feminine” are ridiculed; because why would any man, who was supposedly born with all of the “good” traits, want to trade those in for the “bad” traits of femininity?

      It all boils down to men > women. That’s how our society has been thinking for centuries.

      I will say that this dynamic has been changing. Now we see things like women acting as the bread winners while men play the part of the stay at home dad becoming more common, as well as a greater pressure on men to be muscular, remove body hair, and be stylish. Society still has a big issue with “feminine” men, but maybe we’ll start to see changes in that as well.

      What I find odd is that people still believe that there are huge personality/behavioral differences between the sexes and that those differences are entirely based on biology. Hormones and the brain really have very little to do with anything. The information that says that the sexes are hugely different because of our biological make up is incredibly out dated. New studies show that there is actually very few differences between men and women’s brains, and that those differences really wouldn’t cause us to behave so dramatically different from each other. Truthfully, the “differences” that we perceive are all socially constructed ones that have been perpetuated in our society as a way of keeping men in charge and women subjugated. This is something that started happening in full force back in the 1800′s when Separate Spheres Ideology and the Cult of True Womanhood emerged. “Masculinity” and “femininity” are outdated ideas born from sexism, we really aren’t different from each other at the core of things.

      So if society would let up on these beliefs, and people became more educated and started thinking without all the stereotypes, they would find that men and women are actually….

      *cue dramatic music*

      The Same.

      • Now I have many friends who title themselves as feminists and say things like, “A penis is the ugliest thing in the world” and “The world is better off without men” and “They are just men, they have no right to involve themselves in women rights.

        People constantly post Facebook statuses like “All men suck!” or jokes about a woman’s environment as solely the kitchen.

        I also have male friends who are totally opposed. They yell at anyone who uses the world privileged. Even as Western privilege and white privilege. This February was a constant debate about how we need White History Month, and Heterosexual Pride Parades.

        But all mild judgments aside, I disagree with the idea of male privilege. In other countries, men certainly have more rights. But at least in America this is not the case. This is the problem.

        Humans over history notoriously commit crimes against others for being different. People owning others, slaughtering others, just for being different. Different skin meant enslavement, different beliefs caused many wars. And now it is happening with a difference in genitals.

        From the media oversexualizing in advertising and in content, and we live in a heteronormative and cisgender privilege world, gender is a huge money make. Romance being a huge seller in fiction does not help either. It is going to always me a man an a women. But then, this relationship has to be fake and seemingly perfect, because people only care for a fantasy escape. So they will take the girls and select their body proportions and have gentle and soft hair and be so passive, making them the little doll of a perfect girl. Now they take the male, and what do they do? You guessed it. They define his bulging muscle and make him strong and jealous and aggressive and always ready for sex. He is the Alpha male. So from these messages that we get from the information widespread and connections with others consuming, we learn at a young age that our genitals determine everything about us. It is not only women being oppressed in this country, but all people by social norms being put as the standard. Again, in history, people take the right to oppress because of differences.

        We should not fight nor blame people. All we can try and do is work together to unite as a species. Not as Male or Female. So this way, we eliminate this awful situation and that can mark one thing off of this unfortunately long list.

        Now to Sarah, not to offend but you can sometimes find the flipside of things:
        1. Real men can do math, whether or not it is a strength or weakness of theirs.
        2. Women are the only people suited to care for children. Men are meant to just dish out money and sit on the sidelines.
        3. Men do not need as much vacation time as women because they worry about children less
        4. Men who are virgins, asexual, homosexual or only have one partner are weak and deserving of ridicule. Real men are always horny and can never turn down sex. Only with women, too.
        5. Men should not have feelings. Day or night, health or sickness, you should expect them the exact same way because they can tough through anything.
        6. Men are dumb, and only care about beer, sports, and sex.
        7. Men should not be hair stylists or fashion designers because they can’t have good taste like women do. And these professions reveal to a stranger your sexual orientation, your personality, and self expression.
        8. Men need to look sexy to get sex. They have to be an Abercrombie model with Justin Bieber’s hair and Ryan Gossling’s abs. He needs to be charming and outgoing and very direct. Men who wear makeup or feminine clothes are a disgrace, and probably can keep them from finding an occupation or partner.

        As well as:
        1. Women are capable of emotions and deserve best treatment.
        2. Women have to take care of all the kids the evil father left, she needs more time off.
        3. It is the ideal that women are virginal and innocent. Waiting for sex in a girl makes her strong, morally right, smart, and so much more attractive to be inexperienced.
        4. Women can take care of kids. Men could never do that right. We can only trust that to women.
        5. Women can feel stress and deserves help. Men are work robots.
        6. Women settle things like an adult with their minds and talking, but men are animalistic and always turn to violence
        7. A women in charge of her life is a role model, divorcing her husband and keeping her home and kids is expected, but men wanting independence, couldn’t keep it in his pants and hates his children.
        8. Women can wear skirts and dresses and tight clothes and jewelry and makeup whenever wear ever, but god forbid a man enjoys those items.

        I am not claiming a female privilege, nor that females are mistreated. I am saying that this oppression goes both ways. I am for gender equality.

        PS Yes I am a women, no I am not a misogynist self hating pig. I just have a unique opinion. Thank you.

        • This is basically what I wanted to say, but I elected to remain silent because, generally, not conforming to the mainstream gets one mobbed and I didn’t feel like going into it.

          I don’t see how women having problems means that men don’t have problems or that men as a sex somehow benefit from those problems just because they have different problems. I also don’t see how men in power somehow benefit men as a sex.

          It seems to me that it isn’t a patriarchy that exists, but an aristocracy, and they have a much stronger position by creating an imagined battle of the sexes. That doesn’t mean that “the war on women is imaginary”, rather that this war on women, or battle of the sexes as I see it, is artificially created by the aristocracy with a purpose.

          Honestly, if anyone believes that George Bush and his ilk are stupid, I think they are underestimating those in power. I think that it seems far more likely that the powerful don’t care about faith, race, sex, or anything else including showing their true faces.

          They’re playing a game for power. If it benefits them for people to fight each other about sex, race, religion, and whatever else, instead of fighting against the actual source of their oppression, then they will propagate these things.

  4. I think iv’e gotten to the educating others area, whenever my friends call someone a slut I say to them something like “I’d avoid associating someones worth with the amount of skin they show, but that’s just me.” At first they reacted offended, but after a while of listening to my rants they get why calling someone a slut is only promoting a double standard. Slut shaming bothers me so much, as well as the variety of sexism that occurs in my school.

    Although I am definetly not perfect, I try my best to not let myself think less of someone for what they are wearing, or for hooking up with a lot of people, etc. I often have to correct myself in my head, I figure if I do this enough then eventually I won’t be judging people at all.

    For example the principal was walking from class to class checking the length of girls shorts (it must be to the fingertips) and taking them to the side of the class and measuring. If their shorts were deemed to short, then they would be sent to the gym to change, and if they didn’t have a change of clothes, they were forced to go to the principals office. (Keep in mind this was only happening to the girls)
    These actions were rationalized under the notion that, and I quote:

    “We do not want our students wearing clothing that could be DISTRACTING TO THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT.”

    The hypocrisy of this statement astounds me, this is a public school, students are required to be there by law, and a widely accepted human right is basically that, People can do whatever they want, so long as they do not harm anybody else.
    In a way, this this practice is violating our human rights, maybe I am reading way too much into the situation, but you would think our basic human rights would be protected BY LAW in a place we are forced to be BY LAW.
    ^And I happen to think that this practice of shaming our female bodies like they are something to BE ashamed of is just re-enforcement of Slut Shaming.

    Forget the media, now oppressive slut shaming is being promoted at your local public school!! :)
    >.<

    I also have to add that I agree with everything that Sarah said earlier in the comments. That women and men are basically equal legally, but our society continues to perpetuate false differences and such, well said on her part.

    Needless to say, oppression is extremely frustrating.

    BTW I like how you manage to take a depressing topic like oppression but end it with a positive outlook like there is hope! It gives me hope. <3 :) Thanks Laci.

  5. I’m aware it’s an asshole thing to say but I’m really running out of steam with the whole privilege discussion. First of all hands up, I’m white, male, straight, educated etc, I don’t really fall into any of the main groups of relatively oppressed people.

    So as I tried, and continue to try and educate myself of the privileges I have been born into and do my best to avoid exploiting any… inherent advantages I have, instead trying to utilize the privileges I’ve worked harder to attain to advance my position. e.g I worked hard for my degree, but I only got that degree because there was funds there, and I was born into a good home in a country with a good educational system etc.

    So what I am doing is making a conscious effort to recognise my unfair advantage and level my playing field with those that don’t have the privileges I do. Essentially taking responsibility for something I am, not something I’ve done.. which I find counter intuitive enough as it is.

    But what I have found is that when I engage with the oppressed groups and ask my questions I tend to get a positive response. The people I talk to light up like they have just gotten through to somebody and hope to make me understand their plight.

    But I dare not have a dissenting opinion or make what I would see as constructive criticism, If I do I just get various versions of the statement “You will never understand, your privilege blinds you to our situation.” Fuck that, yes I will never be in your position, but here I am at the table trying to learn and your going to shut me down like that. If what I said is wrong, feel free to correct me, enlighten me even. But if you think shutting me down with an impenetrable argument like “You’ll never understand”, why the hell should I go out of my way to try and learn.

    One decent example of this is my position on gay marriage. I think that the church should be entirely separated from the state, and that if the state wants to recognise people as being in a “civil partnership” it should do that, and for all people. Gay couples, straight couples and all other couples should receive the same benefits (tax, inheritance rights, power of attorney, etc) from the state. I don’t think it should be called marriage, I think it should be an entirely separate entity. I also recognise the church’s right not to marry gay couples, those are their rules. I don’t agree with it, but I’m an atheist I think the whole concept of the church is stupid anyway.

    But I’ve had the discussion more than once, that the church should have to marry gay couples, mainly with gay friends who still want to consider themselves Christians and have their “God” bless their union. For me that’s a no, being gay wasn’t your decision, I understand that. But the church is just a club that has its own internal rules, one of them being we don’t “marry” members of the gay community. Ergo the two are mutually exclusive, you can be in a gay relationship, or be married to a member of the opposite sex in a church. I don’t really see a problem with that.

    Now I am aware that my position may be wrong, it is open as all my opinions are to debate and suggestion. But if my efforts to learn about the situation are going to be undercut with the ad hominem “you can’t understand”, why the hell should I even care about your oppression? If you don’t want my help why should I feel bad for exploiting privileges I never asked for.

    • Forgive me if I’m not sympathetic to your problems, but you’re privileged, so it’s not really about you or how bad you might feel about your privilege. You could just walk away of you felt like it and lose nothing tangible. When someone who is oppressed tells a privileged person, “You don’t understand,” that isn’t ad hominem because it’s true that you don’t, and can’t ever fully understand. Ad hominem is when you take someone’s character (which is always irrelevant) and attack that instead of their argument, but in your case, your privilege isn’t irrelevant. It should be trivial to say that a person who is oppressed will have certain insights about their oppression that someone who isn’t oppressed won’t have. You can’t experience what it’s like to not be privileged. As to why you should be an ally? Because systematic oppression is wrong? Because inaction only contributes to the fact that it remains intact? Because acting is the right thing to do? If you need any further convincing than that, then maybe you shouldn’t bother.

      • This comment seems a little rude to me. The OP obviously is trying, and seems to be struggling to get to the perspective he wants to – without privilege. At least give him some credit instead of being passive aggressive.

    • I think it’s a tough position, because we are all just stupid animals in the end. If it looks different, it must be different and it can’t be the same as us!

      Which is what we all want, to be thinking the same. And wanting everyone to be accepting of differences and going their own way… is wanting them to be the same, lol.

      Anyway, but no doubt you look like a conventional ‘enemy’ and that sucks. I was talking about assumptions being made in a thread a little while ago.

      http://forum.friendlyatheist.com/viewtopic.php?f=23&t=5570

      You’ll have to just suck it up to be the bigger human, to be the better human.

      “If you don’t want my help why should I feel bad for exploiting privileges I never asked for.”

      I get that feeling. I really do. And I disagree with that idiot you were talking to. Sounds like they want their church cake and their gay cake, but they’re wrong I think. It will be difficult for you to understand somethings, no doubt, I find it extremely difficult to understand some people who are very alien to me.

      But it’s not impossible and it’s unfair to attack you when you are trying your best to do something good.

      You asked a question and this is what I think on it. Because it’s the right thing to do. The right thing is always the hard thing, but that doesn’t mean we should just give up.

      In the thread I linked I talked about a specific example, but it’s just one of many in a trend. I am frequently assumed to be a warmongering misogynistic stingy religious nut-job with a thirst for the blood of heretics and freethinkers alike because I am a dark skinned Arab, have a beard, a penis, and a gorilla’s stature.

      Actually, I don’t have a beard anymore, but I did for a long time. I’ve wanted to get rid of it for such a long time (because a beard is for a grown man and I’m still a boy with a lot to learn) but every time someone told me to shave was another week that I refused to do it. That’s not the smartest response in the world but I’m a human animal, what can I say.

      But the point is, I still signed that petition for gay rights the other day, I still advocate the reign of justice, I still donate my blood, I still do volunteer work, I still speak my mind and argue my real thoughts, everything in my power to do what’s right, because I’m not doing it for the thanks of some douche who thinks I should “just be quiet and die working” because “I can’t understand”. I’m doing it because I think that it’s right.

  6. Laci, you always seem to post on topics that are currently on my mind. However, could I get a little clarification on somethings? You mentioned comedy and humor above as being a reinforcement of oppression. However, how can comedy be oppressive? It is mere comedy. For example, remember when Bill Maher called Sara Palin a “cunt” and everyone went ape shit? Why didn’t people just sit back and say, “Hey, he is a professional comedian, he used the term for shock value. By deduction from his previous work, he clearly is not a sexist.” Or, when Gilbert Gottfried made those twitter posts. Sure people found them distasteful, but was his intent to oppress anyone? It would be unreasonable to assume they were anything more than jokes. If the answer is yes, they are oppressive, then why isn’t it wrong for popular musicians to use demeaning language against women? Don’t get me wrong, I am completely against oppression and I have been active against it. But, I do not want to sit on the sidelines and watch a median like comedy come under attack. Lenny Bruce is a beautiful example of my argument.

    • I think this is one of those things which can depend heavily on context and a large range of variables.

      Like for example using the word dick or cunt offensively. “You’re a dick.” “You’re a cunt.”

      I’m not sure if I think that is wrong.

      I do think it’s wrong to argue that saying “You’re a dick.” is acceptable and “You’re a cunt.” is not and vice versa.

      I obviously can’t speak for Laci, but from reading her writings I’d imagine that she’d say that both are unacceptable because people’s genitalia shouldn’t be equivlant to curses.

    • “Sure people found them distasteful, but was his intent to oppress anyone?”

      I think one can be oppressive without intending to be oppressive. Just because someone does not want to be oppressive, does not mean he/she is immune to such behavior.

      And even though I’m a big Bill Maher fan, the “Sarah Palin is a cunt” part and especially the constant hammering away at Bristol Palin make me uncomfortable. However, I do laugh out loud on some of these jokes, so I guess I’m no stranger to hypocrisy. But still, I think Maher could do without these kind of jokes. There are plenty of ways left to ridicule Palin without resorting to mysogonist jokes. Even if Maher is not sexist, the jokes are.

      P.S.: Hasselbeck should stop whining, that joke wasn’t even close to the line.

      • Where do we draw the line between satire and oppression? As an example, I suppose that comics like “The Boondocks” could be considered racist, but considering that the creator himself is African American, was his intention oppression of black people? Perhaps his intention in this particular case was to satire popular misconceptions and stereotypes of African Americans to show how ridiculous they really are.

    • The thing about comedy is that, in a way, it gives the message that doing or saying some things, even if they are hurtful and/or oppressive in some way, is okay just because it’s “comedy”.

      I speak from personal experience when I say people use the excuse “it’s just a joke, don’t get so worked up about it” right after saying something degreading to my person, something hurtful about me or something that disrespects me in some way. What’s terrible about that statement is not that I am a person without a sense of humor or that can’t take a joke every now and then, What’s terrible about it is that I am not only being made fun of in a way that I do not approve of, but I am also being berated for being hurt and bothered by it. The person is asserting their power over me by insulting me, letting it slide as “just a joke”, doing it in front of other people who will then see it as okay to do the same because it’s just a “joke”, thus giving them the power to insult me the same way and also creating a certain idea about me that is entirely fake, and then disregarding my person and feelings even more by attacking me for being upset by it, thus creating yet another false idea of me. Let me give you an example:

      “Stupid” is in general not a completely destructive insult (though I do disagree on that but that’s another point entirely), you could say it is mostly accepted and not many will find being called “stupid” as a joke insulting at all. I used to not mind at all, after all, it was just a joke. It was harmless. Or so I thought.

      I started getting called “stupid” by a friend often for no real reason at all; it was part of the joke that everything I did and/or said be addressed as ‘stupid’, regardless of wether it was actually stupid or not. At first, I didn’t mind. However it got to the point where everything I did or said was being disregarded and not taken seriously enough simply because my friend called me ‘stupid’ afterwards. Me and my friend were aware of the joke, but nobody else was. Nobody else seemed to understand that the fact he had the power to make this joke, power that I had allowed, did not mean that THEY had the power to do so as well. But everyone around us started to believe that ‘hey, if he can call her stupid, then i’ll do it too!’ and it got to the point where I was turned into this character, this image of someone who is not me, and that was what I was projecting to everyone by allowing my friend to call me stupid in front of them. So I decided to speak up and asked for the joke to end, that I didn’t want to be called stupid anymore, that it wasn’t funny anymore. And what happened? I think my friend and the others felt so empowered by now, that they actually believed it. They refused to stop and instead resorted to make fun of me for wanting them to stop. They took this character that I had become and made it into a weak, whiny little thing that not only was stupid, but could also not take a joke. It was no longer about taking or not taking a joke, it was about what other people perceived of me and what I perceived of myself. Was I really that weak that I couldn’t take a joke? Or was I really that helpless and insignificant that I couldn’t make the situation stop?

      You see, thinking that it is okay to do or say something that attacks/hurts/offends a person and/or group, their credibility and/or dignity and pass it up as ‘comedy’, only affirms the oppressor’s idea that what they’re saying is not only true but that they also have the power to do/say it. By laughing at someone’s disadvantage, you affirm your power and privilege over them. And when you refuse to acknowledge their concerns and their protests about the matter, you’re not only asserting once again your power over them, you’re also ridding them of their voice. By denying their right to be mad at a direct attack that’s being disregarded as ‘comedy’, you are telling them how powerless and worthless they are in your eyes. You are ridding them of their own power and their own control.

      And yes, most jokes always target a certain person and/or group, and most can be taken as harmless enough to not bother anyone. But you see, when people joke about a certain, let’s say, race or sexuality, they are both creating a stereotype of these certain groups AND asserting both their privilege and power over these groups, giving out the message that different = bad. This alienates these groups, pushes them away from the rest of society because they’re not considered “normal” or “good enough”. Their worth is lessened, their feelings ignored, their rights as human beings neglected. They are not same. They are not equal. They are taken as a joke.

      I know I may have over-analyzed some things and gotten carried away, but I hope you at least see the point I’m trying to make. Of course, this doesn’t happen with absolutely every joke, aimed at someone or not, and it doesn’t mean comedy is this bad evil monster we should all try to bring down. No, that’s not the point.

      The point is that one should always be careful with the kind of humor being used, what exactly is being said, how it is being said and how others might perceive it. One should always think of how it will make others look and how it will make others feel.

      That, and comedy can be just as great without disrespecting and minimizing others. Because I certainly don’t laugh at women in the kitchen jokes.

      So yes, comedy is a way of oppression.

  7. Culture. I am one of those least oppressed people you speak about. I am white, tall, slender, and good looking. I was raised with ideologies that skin colors made a difference. I realize this is not correct. I’ve learned enough that I do not oppress based off of skin color, gender, etc… but I have very generalized culture ideas that I’ve developed towards certain cultures which can be considered a form of oppression. For example; Non-English speaking American’s are much more inclined to have low paying jobs. Undereducated English speaking American’s are more inclined to low paying jobs. These cultures of undereducated and non-English speaking American’s gains my disrespect and thus my oppression. If that can be classified as oppression.

  8. I think Pamela is dead wrong when she says this privileged fellow could “walk away” and “have nothing tangible to lose.”. That is incredible backwards and counterproductive. If we see oppression, in its historical sn logical totality, as a system that (as Fredrick Douglass wrote) “Divides each to conquer both” then oppression exists in order to divide the marginalized working class so that the ruling class can exploit and benefit from this weakened, disorganized position of workers (the 99%). White, hetero, cisgendered males have a material stake in fighting oppression because achieving a unified working class to fight for higher wages and benefits, a greater social safety net, and social provisions like public schools, etc. will materially benefit ALL members of the working class. Having this kind of class analysis–like Laci outlined in her Hunger Games video–will lift up all members of the oppressed class together.
    In short, we must fight oppression and work to understand it, but the only way to ultimately end its perpetuation is to unify against the class that divides us. Both of these must happen at the same time–fighting oppression and fighting the power of capitalist exploitation. Telling white males to “go home” and that they have no material stakes in ending oppression only paralyzed such a movement.

  9. Thank you so much for allowing me to locate my true feeling and experiences that I have had, rather than someone dictating to me what I suppose to feel and think. This article is more about who I am and describes who I am and what I experienced as a Black Woman. Thanks again,

  10. One question, is this a site just to vent, or try to resolve issues? Please respond. I am not a venting person. I do not care to talk about something I have no power to control of course, through non-violence. I am a doier person trying to come up with resolution to problems that many of Blacks face in America.

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  12. There’s too much oppression going on, and too many people think its normal. Even ourselves!
    It’s hard to do, to critically think about yourself, to be honest with yourself, to know that there is no such thing as an unprejudiced person. You have to be honest that you have certain thoughts about certain people, being honest is the only way that oppression can be stomped out. It’s like the 12 step program, admitting you have a problem is the first step to healing. We gotta heal ourselves, we gotta heal this country, this world. Quite the mountain to climb.

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