Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Appeal of Oppression

In class on Thursday we discussed Marilyn Frye’s essay entitled “Oppression” in which she explores the nature of oppression of women. Her main analogy is the bird living within the many bars that form her cage. Each of the bars on its own may not constitute oppression, but together they form the structure of a cage and the bird is unable to fly freely. In her essay she uses the example of door opening to represent one of the bars of the cage. Men will hold the door for women because they are weak and fragile and need someone to do it for them. We contested that although this may be part of the door holding phenomenon, most of us in class agreed that is has become a common practice of polite behavior and for the most part did not represent a sexist act. However, this discussion made me think about all of the other bars on the cage and how the nature of oppression can be perpetuated by the “appeal” of the cage.

If we continue this caged bird comparison, it is easy to point out that the bird does not have to feed herself, create a home for herself, clean her cage, or be aware of predators that want to eat a bird. The bird is not self sufficient in any way and relies entirely on someone else to make sure she has everything one seemingly needs in life. This is an exaggerated example, in some cases, but I think that it highlights the fact that life in the cage can be easier and more appealing than a life free from the cage and the oppression it represents. Since I have come to college and moved away from home I have become increasingly aware of the appeal this “cage” can hold for many women. I am twenty-two years old and have only recently begun to be treated as a woman rather than a teenager or child, and this new treatment has absolutely opened my eyes to the way in which the cage structure is maintained by both men and by women. It is the ease and comfort that the cage represents that I believe makes it remain appealing to certain women.

If a woman enters into her metaphorical cage, she knows that there will almost always be food on the table, a home to live in, and someone to “take care” of her needs. I think this example can be illuminated by the concept of a gold-digger, and popular shows like Joe Millionaire. There exists a certain status that comes with being a trophy wife and not having to work in life. We all can think of cases, either among celebrities or people we know, where that woman would not be with that man if there wasn’t a very large bank account involved. There is no doubt that the life in the cage can have its appeal, and does for many women. Despite its appeal, it remains an oppressed life within a cage and women must remember this when seeking to cast off their oppression. Life outside of the cage can be much harder, and this has to be a trade we are willing to make if equality is what we really desire.


  1. Your mention of the "gold digger" stereotype got me thinking., and I want to elaborate on that a little. This stereotype is certainly a product of patriarchy and female oppression, but couldn't the gold digger role, in some instances, be seen as an exercise of a woman's power? Not always, but sometimes. For example, when a beautiful young woman marries a rich older man, isn't it possible that she is using the allure or her beauty to control the man and to get what she wants? Of course, it is just as possible that the man is using his money to control her, but every situation is different.

    I think the gold digger is one example of a way that a woman can use patriarchy to her advantage. Yet I must acknowledge that it seems almost like a surrender--an "if you can't beat em, join em" type of situation.

  2. This is a good point. When one lives within the confines of the birdcage, they don't have to worry about being taken care of. They also don't have to worry about defining themselves, because that is also done for them. Some women really think, and have bought into the idea, that there role in life is to be in a supporting role to a husband. It takes a lot to undo years of breeding but then again the comforts of a made home outweigh the fire of independence and revolution.

    With the gold digger scenario: I see where it can be a use of Erotic Power (a la Audre Lourde). They see it as beating the patriarchal system to their own advantage, while still keeping their independence and identity. It's totally one of those "have your cake and eat it too" moments. Looking in from the outside we think that she is falling victim to the MAN (pun intended) by being reduced to an objectified body, whose value is in her parts and not her feminine agency.


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