I have been sat within several discussions that surround the oppression of women. While I do agree that there are some things within society that oppress women, a patriarchal society is no longer one of them.
A large factor in this debate is the opinion that everything in this world should be made equal for men and women. This is an aim that I feel can never be achieved. Women and men are not equal – this fact can be found in the very make up of the male and female body. One example of this is the structure of the brain – a structure which creates an inequality for both women AND men. A literature review by Cosgrove, Mazure and Staley (2007) found that: women have smaller brain volume than men; women have higher global cerebral blood flow compared with men during rest and cognitive activity (however this higher blood flow could be due to the smaller brain volume). Even hormones can affect men and women: in women oestrogen no matter the levels, is supposed to be beneficial for cognitive abilities (Lacreuse, 2006), whereas in men different levels of testosterone can affect different cognitive abilities (Beauchet, 2006). But even characteristics for men and women are different. Marco Del Giudice (2012) found in his research on genetic variation in personality that there are significant differences in personality traits of males and females due to sex ratios, evolution and selection of mates. It was further suggested that these inherent personality characteristics affected a wide range of social behaviours and thus, again created differences in males and females behaviours.
A point that is routinely raised in this debate is that women are not afforded the same opportunities as men – a point that is usually backed up using the workplace as evidence. While I think that there are some positions, roles or occupations that are more difficult for women to break into, in my opinion an example being politics, I do not think it is necessarily to do with oppression by men. I find it very frustrating when people stand and say, with an air of self righteousness, ‘women should be given more positions based on the fact that they are from a gender that is oppressed by a white patriarchal society’. True equality, which I feel can never fully be achieved, will not occur if you provide a position to a woman based on her gender rather than her skills and merits. I think that women would be resented more by other males in an organisation if she was given the role on gender when they had to pass on their skills and experiences. This type of scenario would set the so called aim for equality back even further. I have never felt oppressed. In my volunteering posts during my undergrad I became Chair of a committee for a local charity and also a team leader of around 10 people at events during a summer – most of these people that I was leading being older than myself. If this oppression is true then surely one of the men who I was leading, or even one of the women who were older than myself should have gained that position instead!
I do not think that women who cannot achieve rising to the top is because of male patriarchy, if that was the case then many women would not have reached the positions that they did – Margaret Thatcher would not have become the first female Prime Minister, Karen Brady would not have risen up through the so called ‘mans world’ of football to turn an ailing football club into one that reached into the top league, had a healthy bank balance and a turnover of £50 million. If you need more examples please follow the links at the bottom of this blog. Now I’m sure that many would turn round and say ‘but these are the exception to the rule’, and maybe they are. Maybe these women are the select few that have overcome this so called oppression. If this is the case then the message to take from that is – IT IS NOT IMPOSSIBLE!
I personally hold the opinion that women are not oppressed by a patriarchal society. No, I think that they are more oppressed by other women! I myself am guilty of defining myself by what other girls or women have said about me. A sad fact, but a fact none the less. Though I try to avoid being affected by it, I am still confined by other women. I have had women make comments on the fact that I have an active interest in academics claiming I am a geek and thus making me feel that I cannot be proud of my interests and knowledge – instead be ashamed of it. I have had comments about my interest in hockey – having one female tell me that only butch women that look like men play it. I think that women also constrain within the workplace. I have known female family friends who have worked hard to reach the top of an organisation, only to be told by other women that they must have acted like a male to get there.
The main point, however, that really irritates me in any form of debate on women’s oppression is when men feel the need to stand up and say ‘women are oppressed by a patriarchal society’ and then proceed to smack down any man who dares try to counterpoint this and claim that they are the privileged male and cannot see the oppression. My issue here is that men feeling the need to stand up and speak for me, is oppression in itself. It is suggesting that I cannot speak up and have my voice heard, that I need a man to speak for me. This is far more worrying as it is harking back to the Victorian era where women were dependent on men. Then the argument often thrown back becomes ‘but you don’t realise / are not aware that you are being oppressed’. So this then suggests that I need a man to help me realise that I am part of an oppressed segment of the population, in effect creating a potential regression to a stage in time where women needed to be patronised as they were too simple and weak to fully accept and understand what is occurring in the world.
A further point to follow from the previous is that, by standing up and informing the world that a patriarchal society is oppressing women, all that is happening is that the oppression is being displaced. It is no longer the women, gradually it is the men being oppressed. Men can no longer make jokes about women’s appearance or behaviours, which are rarely intended to be malicious or insulting. Women, meanwhile, can make as many jokes as they wish about the size of a man’s penis, how his fast car is compensating for things he lacks in other areas etc – jokes which often, especially relating to penis size, are a little malicious.
So, to summarise this blog, my main point is that oppression for women does not come from a patriarchal society. I do not think that the whole of society is patriarchal anymore, some sections yes, but the majority no. I do not need men to stand up for me and inform others, as well as myself, that I am oppressed because I am a female. I am not oppressed. I do not feel oppressed. For those of you who are now turning round claiming that I have never experienced oppression, I would recommend that you to go back and read through this blog entry again. I have experienced oppression, but it is not from men. Instead it is from other women. Equality will not come from oppressing men and pulling them down to meet women. Instead it will come from women working to place themselves on par with men, a route which will ensure equality by earning the respect not only of the males of our society and world, but from the females as well.
Beauchet, O. (2006) ‘Testosterone and cognitive function: current clinical evidence of a relationship’ European Journal of Endocrinology 155 (6), 773-781.
Cosgrove, K.P., Mazure, C.M. and Staley, J.K. (2007) ‘Evolving Knowledge of Sex Differences in Brain Structure, Function, and Chemistry’ Biological Psychiatry 62 (8): 847-855.
Lacreuse, A. (2006) ‘Effects Of Ovarian Hormones On Cognitive Function In Nonhuman Primates’ Neuroscience 138 (3): 859-867.
Del Giudice, M. (2012) ‘Sex ratio dynamics and fluctuating selection on personality’ Journal of Theoretical Biology 297 (1): 48-60.
Links to Lists of Women Who Have Succeeded In A So Called Oppressive Patriarchal Society
- http://bigthink.com/women-and-power/ten-extraordinary-women-in-male-dominated-fields – A list of 10 Women who made it in fields such as the Military, the Police, race car drivers and even a president of an adult film production company,
- http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007qlvb/features/power-list-100 – Radio 4s list of the 100 most powerful women in the UK today.