Sunday, January 24, 2010

Frye's "Oppression"

According to Frye in her article “Oppression”, the most basic claim of feminism is that women are oppressed. Oppression, she describes, denotes a lack of options. A person is oppressed when he or she is confined by barriers constructed by a structure. However, she claims that the definition of oppression has been extended so much that it has lost its meaning and significance. She claims that we can and must compare degrees of human suffering. In doing so, she denies that men, under the system of patriarchy, are oppressed and suffer as a result of the system. A man as a man is not oppressed because of him maleness. He is oppressed because of other traits. While on first read I wholeheartedly agreed with this view, with a more thoughtful read, I had mixed feelings about this view.

On the one hand, how can you consider maleness without considering how maleness intersects with other areas of a person’s life? As many feminists have declared, a person is not simply a person, but the site of multiple intersections. Is it truly possible to consider one of those traits in isolation without considering the others? During second wave feminism, one of the major critiques that non-white feminists had was that the category of “woman” is not universal. You cannot define “woman” using only a white woman as the model. Similarly, Frye risks defining “man” as a universal category. She appears to define “man” by using a white man as the model. It is certainly different to be a white man than a black or Asian man. As a result, I found it very difficult to agree with Frye that a man cannot be oppressed for being a man as there is no way to test this view unless you base of all your claims on a white man.

On the other hand, I believe that it is not possible for me to separate my womanhood from my race or class. All clearly define who I am. However, society is definitely able to separate characteristics of my personhood. Some members are only able to see my race. Others are only able to see my gender. In light of this, I am able to accept Frye’s view of oppression. Members of society are definitely able to separate characteristics of personhood for everyone. A poor man is not oppressed because of his maleness, but rather because of his poverty. While it is very important to consider intersectionality when evaluating oppression, I agree that maleness as a category does not contribute to oppression.

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