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Five Faces of Oppression

Author: Iris Young
Title of Article: Five Faces of Oppression
Text Source: Oppression, Privilege, and Resistance
Year Published: 2004
Pages: 37-63

Iris Young's article is about the systematic reproduction of structural oppression through the ways society defines groups. She argues that oppression is not always a case of one group oppressing another but has now come to include the exercise of power by society over certain groups unintentionally. She uses five categories to describe oppression on any group: exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence.

Main Arguments:
Young argues that, through exploitation, a society that defines everyone as formally free still maintains a hierarchical system. Devaluing one groups labor in order for another group to realize a profit on a distributed product systematically transfers power from the first group to the latter. There is also the issue of gender exploitation. The systematic transfer of power from women to men not only inhibits the ability and opportunity for women to gain power, but it also augments the possibility for more power for men.
Marginalization is a form of oppression that limits a groups possibilities and power. By expelling any group from participation in any facet of society, that group can realize severe material deprivation and other non-material effects, such as boredom or lack of self-respect.
Powerlessness delves into the differences involved with the division of labor. In creating a social division between professionals and nonprofessionals society has developed a status label that extends beyond the workplace. Powerlessness is reflected in the lack of authority, status, and sense of self that comes with being included in the professional group. Also, professionals have three aspects that separate them from nonprofessionals: experiencing progress through acquisition of a specialized knowledge and professional advancement, having some authority over other workers, and "respectability", which is to be treated with respect because of some level of authority, expertise, or influence.
The fourth category of oppression that Young describes is cultural imperialism. This is when the dominant group in society issue the experiences, values, goals, and achievements of their own group as the social norm. Any differences that some other groups may have to this norm are sometimes defined as a lack or negation, marking the second group as the Other. Being the Other, different experiences than that of the dominant group ensue, all the more enforcing their social difference.
Systematic violence is the final category that Young uses to define oppression. This is when members of a group learn to live with a fear of attack with the intention of damaging, humiliating, or destroying the person. Young argues that violence is directed at individuals simply because they are members of a group. This deprives them of freedom and dignity. Also, Young says that violence directed at a group is systemic because of the way cultural imperialism affects how groups are viewed. This results in a fear or hatred of a group which is then embodied with irrational violent acts.
She finishes her article by explaining that the five categories she developed to identify oppression are simply that; identifiers. She seeks to avoid reducing oppression to "a common essence" or that one form may be more fundamental than another.

How do you position yourself to the issues raised in the article?
I recognize the effects of all five faces of oppression in society, some more so than others. Particularly, though, I was able to agree with her description of cultural imperialism. All the other categories, while still very prevalent in society, seem to be undergoing at least SOME change in order to combat oppression. Cultural imperialism, however, seems to me to be more deeply rooted and unrecognized than the others. The five faces of oppression describe how groups are treated in relation to other groups or to society, but they all stem from first defining a group. Young suggests that oppression is a condition of groups. By this, she means that defining groups labels one group as different from the other. Cultural imperialism is where these groups are defined. In order to begin quelling forms of oppression in society we must reevaluate how we define society's norm, or to stop defining a norm at all and accept the existence of ALL differences.

How do the racial, gender, class, religious, nationality, sexuality "social locations" you subscribe to 'speak' to/with/against the arguments of this author?
Within my social location of religion, specifically Christianity, I've become aware of the oppression of homosexuals through cultural imperialism. While I haven't witnessed this oppression first-hand in my own experiences with homosexuals or through my own church's treatment of homosexuals, I see that the institution of the Church has defined, through large access to media, that the social norm in this country should be heterosexuality. At the same time, we've labeled any homosexual as being immoral and, some might say, promiscuous.
I do not follow these beliefs that homosexuals are different physically or that they're immoral as a group, and I feel that I keep an open mind about anyone and their chosen way of life. But, I do recognize religion's impact on the homosexual community. The church has affected how homosexuals are treated and the opportunities or the "respectability" that is made available to them.
Had homosexuality had a larger platform earlier on in the formation of our society, then perhaps homosexuality would be considered the norm and Christianity would be considered wrong. In this case, I know I would not appreciate being called 'different' and 'weird' just because I am a Christian.


Margo Tamez said...

Hi Kenta:

Thanks so much for contributing these insights and understandings.

I have curiosity about:

"The systematic transfer of power from women to men not only inhibits the ability and opportunity for women to gain power, but it also augments the possibility for more power for men."

What "powers" have been stripped from women historically?
How have these "powers" been instituted in the realm (public and private) of men?

Also, I appreciate your candor about the role of Chrisitanity (religion, dominant culture, hegemonic--in any nation) over the gender and sexual identities of males and females of 'the nation', and how that is accomplished through the media. (One huge institution.)

thank you!
Margo Tamez

Margo Tamez said...

Hi Kenta,

Please post the rest of your reading responses to your blog...

many thanks,
Margo Tamez

Anonymous said...

I agree with your statement that “Had homosexuality had a larger platform earlier on in the formation of our society, then perhaps homosexuality would be considered the norm and Christianity would be considered wrong.” I think that is an interesting way to think about how different our society would be today in regards too many things not just homosexuality. I do believe that if Christianity was not the majority group, our society would be completely different than what we know today. I think fundamentally many people realize the threat that open mindedness brings, and the opportunity that may result for the minority to possibly become the majority.