Thursday, April 28, 2011

You're Oppressed!

I have never been a fan of this silly thinking that other people are oppressed and I'm not. I absolutely refuse to define the word/concept "oppression" such that other people are oppressed while I am not (... ffffine - there MAY be a few exceptions :p). One day, I'll explain why. For the time being, though, I wanna discuss some questions and thoughts that've been bothering me since this last week regarding the whole "you're oppressed" and "that's oppression" crap.

First off, I have never read a good, convincing definition of "oppression." Never. I am sure that whatever my readers might have to offer, I will find flaws in it and not accept it as my own. Currently, however, I think the closest signs of detecting oppression may be when someone does something that cause them any sort of damage (e.g., psychological, emotional, physical), whether consciously or subconsciously, while wishing it was not the case. (hah. Do you realize that childbirth, which many (or all?!) women don't enjoy going through but must in order to enjoy its fruits may actually fall under "oppression" then? I didn't realize that earlier.) And this is precisely why I don't believe that all women who ear the veil (the head-covering alone, or the face-covering too) are oppressed. Employing this definition in my own life, I am quite sure that I am "oppressed" in certain people's views, just as certain folks may be oppressed in my view if I were to apply this definition to them.

For example, a friend of mine posted a picture of her favorite high heels and said they hurt her feet/back but she loves them. I decided that that was oppression, that she willingly chooses to be oppressed. (I would love to write a piece on high heels and how they are most certainly a form of oppression, a "beautiful" form of oppression at that. One day, ka khairee.) But, yeah, I wonder what my friend thinks, or what women who wear high heels-- so high that they result in physical problems for them, but just because they look beautiful or make them taller or whatever, they continue wearing them ... by choice. But I wonder, is this really a choice, their choice? And if it's not, so what? What business is it of mine?

Here's a conversation between two young females who openly and proudly declare themselves feminists.

Female 1: I freaking need to stop by here to get some make-up! I look horrible! This face, this face is so not presentable, damnit!
Female 2: My God, could you hate yourself more?
1: I knoooow! I hate my face! Just look at me!
2: Your face is far more beautiful than mine can ever be. And I love mine. What do you not like about yours?
1. You don't get it - I hate my face! It doesn't look good at all!
2: I think women who wear make-up because they don't like their faces without it are oppressed.
1: I disagree. I am not oppressed - and don't you dare tell me I'm oppressed!
2: But think about it! You're intelligent enough to know why make-up was created in the first place, you understand why women are pressured to put it on, you realize that men never have to do it. And despite all this, you continue wearing it and hating yourself without it?
1: If this is oppression, then I choose to be oppressed -- and I'm happy this way.
2: And yet, you think women who cover their faces are oppressed.
1: That's a different story.
2: Oh, I don't think so - even the women who want to do it, to whom it is the utmost level of piety and closeness to God?
1: Imagine all the things they can't do because of the face-covering!
2: But what if they don't want to do those things? What if they're perfectly happy not being able to do those things in the process of getting closer to God? Besides, must we assume that every woman, every human being wants the same things we want, wants to be able to do the same things you and I want?
1: You can't compare face-covering to make-up, c'mon!
2: Why not? Okay, more on face-covering another time. For now, let's try to convince you you look beautiful without make-up!... but you know, I wonder what that means. I wonder if I actually had the right to say that in the first place, that make-up is a form of oppression.
1: I don't think it's oppression as long as I am happy with it.
2: But are you really happy about it? Look at you - you're going crazy. You complain about having to remove hair from your face, from your leg, from anywhere else; you hate that you have to wear make-up in order to look attractive. But you claim you're happy?

The conversation (a wee bit altered but you understand!) lasted for a while, but I think the idea in it is pretty clear: When exactly does it become acceptable to tell someone else she/he is oppressed? Does, or can, a person ever choose to be oppressed? What is the relationship between oppression and choice? If the person chooses to do something because everyone else does it and the person isn't necessarily directly pressured to do it, is she/he not oppressed--as opposed to someone who is directly pressured to do it and does it?  If so, would it be fair to discuss the factors, social or otherwise, that compelled (not just led) to the person's choosing to behave this particular way in order to determine whether the person is oppressed?

So, yeah, before you dare to tell someone else next time that they're oppressed, look at your own selves--beliefs, practices, behavior--first. It can do wonders, and then you no longer will feel godly enough to tell another group of people that they're oppressed while you're liberated ... damnit. (In case y'all haven't noticed yet, I love, love, LOVE saying "damnit"! It makes me feel . . . liberated.)


  1. very interesting. I dont think people are oppressed unless they are unhappy in their situation whatever it is. so in that convo, female number 1 is right that make-up is not oppression if she likes it.

  2. Oppression can only exist long-term when accompanied with consent. Morphing our faces and bodies into something else because we are told to do so IS oppression, but its not forced - its enforced, by society and by ourselves. Really all societies restrict behavior, and personal appearance, in some way. The restrictions truly become oppression when we lose the power to even consider making a choice. I may be socially programmed to enjoy and desire lipstick, but there's no law that says I must or must not.

  3. On heels and make-up as oppression, you should read Femininity by Susan Brownmiller.

  4. Thanks for your comments, generous folks! Bless y'all!

    I agree, Sophia! It's true that all societies restrict behavior and personal appearance in some way - it becomes a problem, for me, when one society thinks its restrictions are "better" than another's! :|

    Zuhura, thanks for that! I'm definitely checking it out.

  5. when its down to looking a certain way, i'm not sure if everyone falls under the oppression label. if someone truly believes they have to wear high heel and must look tall then yes it is, but someone who wears it without the subconcious mind of pleasing someone else then no its not oppression. but hey who knows why anyone does anything ey :) it's a tough topic to touch on.

  6. I agree, Hinoo - if high heels are worn without the intention of pleasing another individual or group of people or society or other such force, it is not oppress; it's oppression when it's worn out of pressure, be it that that's the only way you can appear tall and/or pretty.

    It's ultimately our purpose, our reason that determines whether it's oppression or not.

  7. I'm a man and I'm not allowed to wear make-up... like there aren't any rules as such but I will face the wrath of society if I choose to do so. I feel oppressed! =(

  8. =( I'm so sorry to hear that, Mohabbat Khana =(

  9. If for example wearing make-up is enforced by law, there is no real choice, and therefore the majority of people who might like a choice if they want to wear mascara or not, are oppressed.I'd even say that the people who live in a society which restricts fundamental rights, like the right to bodily autonomy and so on, are oppressed, even if they don't want to have the autonomy. Because they can't choose not to want it, there is only conformity or opposition (with possible severe punishment as result). Ramble ramble.. sorry.

  10. @ Anonymous, it's a pity I just saw this comment from you! Thank you for it, and it's beautifully expressed. "Because they can't choose not to want it ..." brilliance!


Dare to opine :)

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