May 24, 2010
EXAMPLES OF SUBTLE OPPRESSION
Adam Blatner, M.D.
On other webpages on this website I describe some thoughts I’ve had about oppression. Here I note more some types that might serve as discussion points: Are they examples of oppression?
1. Corporal PunishmentWhat levels of physical violence may be properly inflicted on children, if any? Is corporal punishment of children in school a form of oppression? I think recently paddling students is still authorized in 21 states in our nation. There are many who argue that this is bad for kids and increases antisocial attitudes. What are the limits of violence that can be perpetrated on a child by a parent, family member, religious school or institution? This is obviously a changing issue in our culture, but still one that is hardly talked about lest people in a church suffer from "dis-unity" in the congregation.
2. FashionHow much is peer pressure and how much is manipulation by media and the fashion houses? How much are people responsible to their own susceptibility to their desires to seem glamorous, however they think of that quality? This set of questions applies to many other fashionable activities, such as smoking, plastic surgery..
3. Fashion in ToysWhat has been said about clothes and jewelry fashions, tattoos and smoking, might be applied to other generations or populations, such as children. Is the television and other media advertisements about toys, plus peer pressure, a form of oppression?
4. Partial ResponsibilityIn some civil suits responsibility is apportioned among the defendants and the accused. Sometimes it turns out that the defendant is held responsible for all or almost all of the consequences. Should we apply this principle to other categories, such as education or health care? How much is it realistic or fair to attribute to the helper's responsibility if the "helpee" doesn't do his part. This is important about issues such as teen pregnancy, school drop-out, obesity, smoking, driving without a helmet or seat belt, driving a motorcycle, and so forth.
5. Pornography:Some consider this to be an oppressive degradation of women, a type of oppression. Or would the denial of the right to create, share, possess, and enjoy pornography for the sake of sexual stimulation be oppressive? Where to draw the line between rights versus exploitation? Are there some kinds of pornography that are oppressive? What about child pornography? What if the people and actions in videos are completely computer-generated?
6. ProstitutionIn this related problem, there are women who claim they are not oppressed, or only oppressed in being harassed or threatened with jail, made to bribe officers, etc., in order to make a living as they wish as sex workers. Other women claim the whole practice oppresses women.
It's clear that some prostitution involves sexual slavery with all the brutality that involves, and that this is clearly oppressive. It's just that there are also these "fuzzy" boundary areas.
7. Hyper-Sexuality in the MediaIs the message in many women’s magazines that sexuality is an important way to get and keep a man? Is this push towards immodesty as well as promiscuity oppressive for those who might prefer to attempt a more traditional approach to dating?
8. DiscourtesyWhen is discourtesy oppressive? How about when it is combined with certain types of power? (A favorite pet peeve of mine is the way nurses or aides call out a patient’s first name into the waiting room, instead of a more courteous last name, Missus Jones, Mister Smith. It feels overly familiar and presumptuous, as if the patient might feel, “I haven’t given you permission to address me by my first name!”) There is often an age discrepancy and lack of implied respect for that age difference. Can one protest?)
A. So perhaps the question is whether rudeness when combined with another power or status difference makes for another type of subtle oppression.
B. Or if anyone verbally “pushes” someone so that the situation becomes awkward, or the one pushed is going to have to become very strong and embarrass the pusher?
C. When is coarse language oppressive? In any contexts? Cursing. The casual use of obscenities?
D. The impudence of children can be extreme as they test boundaries and find out if the larger social system with countenance boundary-making. Here the implicit power is on the side of the child, as in the belief that "my parents won't let you yell at or punish me."
9. HazingIs there any place any more for any kind of hazing or initiatory stress imposed on people when they join a club or organization? What is the rationale? (Is it reasonable?) Is it a subtle type of oppression?
10. When does oppression apply to certain social organizations? Is it oppressive for any groups to exclude people who would qualify based on merit but don’t buy some of the superficial social requirements of race, family, resistance to hazing... ?
A. Are there some groups that claim to be exclusive and leave out others, but in fact membership in these groups are essential to economic progress in a community? (E.g., certain golf and country clubs.)
11. Is teaching children to obey without question oppressive? At what age does it become so?
12. HellIs frightening children with magical judgment about God’s punishment for doubt oppression?
A. Is double binding them by threatening them with punishment because God can read their minds and detect even a little doubt—is that oppression?
B. Is double binding them by telling them that they need to believe in God’s love even though that love is not incompatible with subjecting you to eternal torture?
C. How is this not emotional abuse?
D. In short, is any teaching about Hell an act of oppression?
E. Or is it okay to allow parents to abuse their children this way because it’s different from overt physical or sexual abuse or neglect?
13. BoredomHow much is it okay to make children sit quietly and put up with boredom? 15 minutes, 2 hours, 4 hours, more?
How does this apply to the present educational system, which is compulsory up to a certain age.
14. Should Wives "Obey"?What does it mean to be expected to obey one’s husband? Under what circumstances should this social norm be considered useful and not oppressive?
15. ContraceptionHow is it a sin to want to control one’s own reproduction and insist on the use of contraception?
A. Is it emotional abuse by the husband or extended family or community or religious clergy to insist on not using contraception, thus condemning a woman to unwanted pregnancies, thus threatening her health?
B. What is the punishment for the man’s taking a risk (above) and the wife still gets pregnant?
C. What percentage of unmarried women demand that the man pay child support? What are the factors involved so that this isn’t happening very much?
D. Is the "morning after pill" a form of abortion?
E. Is abortion a "womens right to her own body" or a "murder of a baby"? Is it oppression to insist that a woman cary a baby to term even if it harms her physical and mental health? Or is it oppression of the unborn to seek an abortion?
F. Is condemnation of female infanticide in certain cultural groups in our own country or other countries a presumptuous oppression of other cultures?
16. Language-ism.Is it akin to racism if you cannot understand the dialect of a person you do not hire or promote? (This may not be racial, but regional, or even generational, or other individual or group idiosyncracies of language.) What if their job requires that they be relatively clear in their speech?
A. What are the rights of those who are subjected to services by people whose language they can barely understand because of the thickness in dialect? This is a poignant issue for the students of some college teachers and teaching assistants who are really graduates of foreign universities; or patients and co-workers of some physicians or nurses who have not learned to speak the main language clearly.
B. What levels of translation are immigrants from other countries entitled to?
C. Are there any norms in systems to ensure that younger people don’t talk too rapidly, or speak too softly? These, too, interfere with understandability.
17. Is it prejudice if you don’t like the smell of the person because he smokes cigarettes and reeks or he doesn’t bathe or use deodorant?
18. What if he or she plays the radio too loud, talks too softly to be heard, too loudly, subtly threatens or intimidates? Are these forms of prejudice?
19. Private Preference or Prejudice
What is within or beyond the acceptable work ethic for workers, especially those who have to interface with customers, co-workers, etc.?
20. Class-ismThis involves the unspoken acknowledgement that some classes are entitled to certain privileges. Interestingly, various classes not only tend to look up to higher classes, but also look down on them in certain ways: Oh, they're so 'hoity-toity.' Under what circumstances should special consideration of the power of class be given? For example, are there some political or social policies that are biased towards a certain complex of class-associated values? Is it ture, for example, that some middle-class values seem compatible with optimal work ethic, while some so-called lower-class values that seem incompatible?)
21. Types of AuthoritarianismWhen is the authority asserted by teachers or administrators in educational institutions appropriate and when not? Ditto for religious institutions and other institutions.
22. BureaucracyWhat is the moral demand for higher ups to continue to press for greater transparency, openness to input, redress for miscarriages of justice, “the law’s delay, the insolence of office, the spurns that patient merit take...” as Hamlet bemoans in his soliloquy.
23. Becoming OffendedIs the act of emotional incontinence, becoming outraged, offended, an act of interpersonal oppression? It hasn’t been so considered, but perhaps it should be. It imposes a strong gradient of power in the relationship, as if to say: I don’t have to justify the degree to which I am angry; that I have found fault with you suffices. I don’t have to work it out with you, or be open to forgiveness if you are open to trying to work it out with me.” These implicit rules, I am suggesting, may be subtle forms of oppression.
A. Is the person who is most angry or distraught always the one to whom priority should be given in group process? Are we obliged to feel sorry for the one who seems most upset? What about groups in which one or two people are histrionic and who use this as a type of interpersonal manipulation to gain sympathy and attention?
24. Intellectual Obscurantism, Jargon, ElitismAre those who are erudite justified in using jargon that many in the group cannot understand? Is this not a kind of elitist oppression, if there’s a subtle norm that “If you were smart you wouldn’t need to ask me what I mean; and if you’re not smart, you’re too trivial to be entitled to ask.”
A. Is it pedantic and oppressive to call someone on minor errors in grammar, spelling, etc.?
25. Expectations Regarding New Communications MediaEmail, cellphones, twitter, and so forth are not in themselves oppressive, but might some work or social contexts arise (or have already arisen) where you are “expected” by those you sense as powerful—employers, supervisors, clients, peers—in some circumstances to check your accounts with some level of attentiveness, and if you don’t respond to them within a period of time that you have not agreed to, they feel offended, hurt, bewildered, disappointed, etc.
26. Age-ism I (What's "old")One of my points is that qualities such as imaginativeness, spontaneity, exuberance, playfulness, expressiveness, creativity, curiosity, openness, emotionality, vulnerability, and so forth lend spice and vitality to life. I use the category of “vitality” to describe what used to be called “young at heart.” The point is that the qualities mentioned can all be cultivated, just as walking and talking—which also begin in early childhood—can be cultivated. (It’s just that for a couple of centuries—in the industrial era, in which children were expected to work, not play—the qualities associated with child-like-ness were stifled. But they can be and should be redeemed in the service of promoting mental flexibility and creativity in adulthood.)
27. Age-ism II (Young People)The rights and abilities of young people to participate in society as an adult are inconsistent: They were eligible for being drafted in the military services, or of volunteering; in different states they may marry at become parents; in other states any sexual behavior with a girl under 18 is considered statutory rape. They are generally expected to attend school, no matter how boring or oppressive the school process may be. (There is no reciprocal obligation for schools to accommodate their curriculum to young people’s interests or actual skills.)
28. Issues in the Mainstream ChurchA. Does keeping women from serving in certain religious vocations constitute oppression?
B. Is the demand for celibacy another unnecessary precondition for spiritual participation at a high degree of involvement?
29. Re-Thinking Criminal LawWhich laws about crime are necessary? Are some laws unnecessarily harsh? In what was should we become more libertarian?
30. Marijuana UseShould this drug be recognized as having a different level of social danger from other drugs? Should marijuana be illegal? Is its illegality a source of oppression for some and an income-earning business for others who appeal to be guardians of safety and righteousness?
31. PrisonAs they are in actuality, are prisons managed so they deliver cruel and unusual punishments? What is the prison administration's responsibility to prevent homosexual rape or sexual abuse among prisoners? Is insufficient supervision or guarantee of safety a kind of oppression?
A. What about offering insufficient medical care? Or unnecessarily delayed medical care?
32. Is lack of funding for programs a type of oppression if the service delivered is considered necessary? (The conversation about necessary thus overlaps with priorities. For example, what is the priority of not mandating a 10-20% cut on military pensions, other government pensions, various farm subsidies, etc.?)
33. What is and is not a disability, and how can this status be protected from undue manipulation and parasitism? Is it oppression to avoid wrestling with the problem that there are people from whom disability is unjustly withheld while there are others who are receiving more or any disability and they don’t properly deserve it, or not at that level?
A. A similar question may be asked about welfare?
34. Should parenting be an unquestioned "right"?Is the right to have children out of wedlock and receive welfare unbounded? Are there any obligations to report the name of the father or of ensuring that the father pays? Is it oppressive to require this? What about men who father multiple children from different mothers? What about the right to keep a baby when it’s clear that the baby will grow up in an unwholesome environment? Or is it oppressive to make judgements about such issues?
35. Cross-Cultural OppressionOne group of people may be claimed not to be oppressing the other group, while others would say they are, too. Some areas of argue-ability:
– purdah and the burkha in hot climates and stuffiness.
– genital mutilation, male and female, circumcision
36. Impinging on Others (with Noise, Light, Smoke, Smells, etc.)Can people impinge on others in ways that are oppressive and the mainstream culture doesn’t interfere? Here are some examples:
A. How much noise can a neighbor make, or someone on the beach? How much loud music can they make? A recent phenomenon is the way some folks speak loudly into their cell phones on airplanes or in libraries or in other contexts where they should be quiet.
B. What about businesses to put up extraordinarily bright lights and pollute the neighborhood so that it’s impossible to see the starry sky?
C. What about the right of businesses to build tall buildings that obscure scenery?
D. Of course there’s the problem of second-hand tobacco smoke.
E. Here’s a more ambiguous one: Seeing people engage in risky behavior which, if an accident ensues, costs everyone higher medical premiums—such as motorcyclists’s not wearing a helmet. What about junk food, diabetes, and obesity? Non-protected sexual promiscuity? Is this the freedom of individuals to oppress the collective by demanding the “right” to care for their folly? And what about the public-health theme of imposing their sickness on others—perhaps by infection?
37. Medical Oppression:Though doctors generally don’t actually believe themselves to be gods, they do become overly-caught-up in their busy-ness and many demands and unconscious of the little things that make human relationships enjoyable. For patients who are worried, though, those little things are more needed.
A. I consider it oppressive for patients to feel intimidated so they can’t ask questions. In this case, though, the anti-oppression training needs to be focused especially on empowering patients to get past their own authority-transference, their own slave-mentality, and to speak up.
B. Some focus needs to be given in the training of professionals that patients are doing this more often and that coping with people asking for personal attention is part of their job—they are not merely technicians!
C. There are complex forms of counter-intimidation, though, because some crudely entitled patients will scare their doctors into being overly cautious, ordering extra tests that may have their own risks, etc. The whole malpractice litigation theme sets up a mutual paranoid social and economic pathological cascade of processes.
D. See below for issues regarding psychiatric oppression.
38. How “Tough” Should Authorities Be?A. Is it true that for some populations, gentleness is met with impudence and slacking off, and toughness, even harshness, is expected and evokes adequate responses? Is this true of high school and college coaches?
B. What about those in high school who find this degree of harshness, insults, threats, excessive punishments, etc., to be overwhelming, even traumatic. I’m not talking about those who can choose to not be on the team, but those for whom physical education is required.
C. What is the proper care of football players now the word is getting out that brain damage secondary to concussion is common? What is the proper role of parents in supporting football?
D. How “protective” can a parent be and when is it “over-protective”?
39: Property-ismShould we make a distinction between those who own a certain amount of property and should be allowed by society to dispose of it as they wish and those who own a much greater amount that involves substantial natural resources, jobs, and other categories? It seems to me that the latter should be differentiated from the former: The fact that the same term has been used should not deter us from re-thinking the social policy that might differ in each case. The point here is that in the second case, “owners” perhaps should be constrained from irresponsible “use” of their “property.” For example, if an individual or corporation owns a hundred thousand acres of forest, that title to property perhaps should not include the right to chop down rare old trees or clear-cut.
The whole question as to whether there even should be corporations and what that legal status entails should be revisited, by the way. There is a handy avoidance of responsibility by individuals in this artificial device created in the late 19th century. It’s not a given in economics or political science, but rather merely a precedent that generates its own unintended consequences.
In the same sense, in the mid-20th century income tax was significantly more steeply graded, as was inheritance tax. Starting around the time of the Reagan administration, this gradient has been significantly reduced. Perhaps this is a good thing; the point, though is that the issue involved is not a fixed principle but a policy that deserves to be re-considered in light of the increasing gap between rich and poor.
Finally, here are some related questions: Thinking in terms of the papers on white privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege, Christian privilege, we might consider also the kinds of privileges that go with different socioeconomic classes: What can people who earn $ 100,000 / year or more take for granted, while people who “only” earn $40,000 / year cannot enjoy the same set of expectations; and in turn, what can these folks feel accustomed to or entitled to that people who earn less than $15,000 / year can not?
40. AbilitismWhat kinds of discrimination is unnecessary when it comes to various jobs, schools, and other social roles. Our culture has had a lot of publicity lately about people who are considered disabled in various ways but it turns out that they compensate and are able to do a wide range of roles that others wouldn’t have imagined possible. The moral is that each person should be evaluated in terms of his or her own range of actual abilities, and these should be paired with the actual requirements of various jobs.
Yet this trend may in some cases be over-done when there are bureaucratic rules interposed. At what point is it fair and moral to ask the majority to subsidize the minority, to require that certain requirements are met. I read somewhere that a platform for stippers be made wheelchair accessible. Maybe, maybe not. These are interesting problems—how far can we stretch?
42. Ability-ism II: What should and should not be considered a “disability”?There will need to be a re-adjustment about this general category as increasing numbers of people are classified as “disabled,” and the criteria for this judgment is subject for review. This is especially relevant for psychiatric disabilities. What is being questioned is the degree to which a person is judged as not being able to “help it,” even a bit. What can we appropriately ask from such people? Can we expect them to attend rehabilitation services regularly?
So what becomes arguable is what constitutes a disability and where do we draw the line? How much can people help it?
Here’s a corollary: When is the use of medical marijuana really needed and when is it an indulgence. What about the cases that are more fuzzy, on the boundaries?
Is alcoholism a sickness? Any other drug abuse? What does that entitle a person to? Disability payments? Rehabilitation? Who pays? How many relapses are allowed? What can be demanded of such a person?
What about tobacco use and its use even in the face of diagnosed lung disease?
Or junk food eaten by people who are diabetic? What degrees of responsibility can we demand and monitor? These are public policy questions and should not be left to the decisions of those subject to lobbyists or small group pressures.
How much subsidy should society give people who are problematic and does the withholding of subsidies or the granting of amounts that are considered inadequate considered oppression?
43. Oppression of the Printed WordJust because something is written—printed, published—doesn’t make it true. How much uncritical acceptance of written texts—especially those considered unassailable, such as the Constitution or the Bible—in fact oppresses young people by numbing their mind? Should there be more emphasis on critical thinking with some inclusion of the “power” of printing over hand-writing, and the assumption of validity in the media.
44. Oppression by Tradition.That something has been believed or used for hundreds or even thousands of years does not in itself mean that the belief has much or even any validity. People use things not always because they work, but because they have been believed in by authoritative people at that time, and those people continue to believe not because of evidence, but because they have become accustomed to their own believing. Unless there is some clear thinking about this, misleading, obsolete, and essentially false ideas will continue to be pervasive in culture.
45: Other Ethical Issues
In this era of "rights," some people rhetorically "beg the question" or assume the solution is obvious when in the minds of many it remains ambiguous. This list overlaps, then with my thinking (written about on another webpage) about a number of ethical conundrums that continue to be relevant to our culture's policies.
Summary: These are topics for discussion. Are the gradients of privilege necessary? Is the word, "oppression" appropriate? What other words might be used? Manipulation? Stress? Please feel free to email me with your comments.