I brought this up in another post as commentary, but I wanted to revive this again here. I find the term oppression one that is unconvincing to me when it comes to women. It seems to me that women like men had status depending on where they fit into the social ladder throughout history, but had different roles.
What I have a serious problem with is the across the board definition of women’s situation throughout history as oppression. First of all, nearly every oppressed group we can think of throughout history (which nearly always includes both men and women) has at some point at least tried to rise against their oppressors. I can’t think of an instance where women have done this.
Second: oppressed groups don’t get to adjust how they are treated. It seems to me that women began writing about a desire to change their generally social status since the 18th century and have been making a steady progress of change since then. But this could not have happened without the consent of men. What I mean by this is that for example under the Taliban non-approved religious groups and women, for example, were genuinely oppressed in that they had no political voice and no means of redressing injustice. However women in the West can legally lobby for political change, can challenge the status quo, can air their views whenever they want to.
Third: the oppression spoken of, with its roots in 1950s feminism, refers to a form of psychological cultural persuasion more than anything. While it is described as having physical results, it is generally described as having psychological origins. So while you could call this unfair, or wrong, or misguided if you wanted to, calling it oppression creates the viewpoint that it is like a conspiracy.
I think that the idea that women are oppressed in general (say that the average woman living in the United States, Canada, France, etc is oppressed) vs. saying that women in cultures where they are literally forced to be silent confuses gender issues and makes them impossible to discuss intelligently. It creates a trump card that enables one side to walk away at leisure. Furthermore, it makes it harder to discuss general issues of injustice.
When I think about the issues that trouble modern marriage, I see feminism as contributing to them in a big way.
In modern marriage, couples often don’t have any kind of traditional support around them. You have to work to earn a living, but a chunk of your time is taken simply traveling, because few of us live close to work. So you have little time; children take even more time. You don’t have extended family or trustworthy neighbors for the most part so you spend a LOT of time together as a couple in the emotional pressure cooker. And so you add to the mixture this idea of an emotional laundry list that is filed under “Male Oppression of Women”. Male and female we are told of male privilege, and of course the best thing about this is that it is something men may not be conscious of. So add to all the real anxieties a set of concerns that may not even genuinely concern the particular couple–because the man has been told that his position is inherently unfair towards the woman in his life, and the woman has been told that it’s such a shame that she has to put up with that man.
Even to talk as though marriage and family are important enough to perhaps put particular personal concerns aside for is described as oppression. This makes it more difficult than it would be to begin with to determine what a good marriage is.
Of course the term won’t go away, but I believe it’s important to challenge it whenever possible.