Monday, January 26, 2009

'Five Faces of Oppression' by Iris Young

According to Young, the definition of oppression centers around the injustices that a group of people suffer as a means to further empower their oppressor(s). As she states on page 42, “Oppression refers to structural phenomena that immobilize or diminish a group.” She divides the concepts and conditions of this injustice into the following 5 categories:

* Exploitation – “a steady process of the transfer of the results of the labor of one social group to benefit another” (p. 49).
* Marginalization – Described as being “…perhaps the most dangerous form oppression. A whole category of people is expelled from useful participation in social life and thus potentially subjected to severe material deprivation and even extermination” (p. 53).
* Powerlessness – “The powerless are those who lack authority or power… those over whom power is exercised without their exercising it; the powerless are situated so that they must take orders and rarely have the right to give them” (p. 56).
* Cultural imperialism – “To experience cultural imperialism means to experience how the dominant meanings of a society render the particular perspective of one’s own group invisible at the same time as they stereotype one’s group and mark it out as the Other” (pp. 58-59).
* Violence – “members of some groups live with the knowledge that they must fear random, unprovoked attacks on their persons or property, which have no motive but to damage, humiliate, or destroy the person” (p. 61). Beatings, rape, killings, intimidation, and harassment are some of the examples used to define violence.

Young defines social groups as “a collective of persons differentiated from at least one other group by cultural forms, practices, or way of life” (p. 43). However, she makes it clear that it is not solely characteristics that people share that makes a group, but that a sense of identity is what creates the feeling of belonging that makes a group a group.

I believe that oppression is still a very real thing in the U.S. One example of a group of people that experience oppression are those of us in the GLBTQ community. Violence in the form of gay bashing and gay baiting are daily realities for many of us. The FBI came out with a 2006 study showing that the rate of all bias-motivated crimes increased 8% - hate crimes based on sexual orientation are the third most common type here in the U.S., behind race and religion.
I think that another notable example of the GLBTQ communitie’s oppression may lie in cultural imperialism. Non-heterosexuals have been widely forced into this category of the Other, and the dominant culture, in this case being heterosexuals, reinforce their position of domaniance because of this.

All quotes taken from: Iris Young. Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton University Press; New Jersey, 1990.

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