Common shorthand within the discipline

Common shorthand within the discipline is:

Prejudice > Discrimination Prejudice + Power = Oppression

Oppression involves institutional control, ideological domination, and the imposition of the dominant group’s culture on the minoritized group. No individual member of the dominant group has to do anything specific to oppress a member of the minoritized group; the prejudice and discrimination is built into the society as a whole and becomes automatic, normalized and taken for granted.

The example of women’s suffrage (gaining the right to vote) in the United States and Canada illustrates several distinguishing features of oppression. Women of course played a primary role in the struggle for suffrage; they had to organize and fight to gain the vote. Yet ultimately, the ability to grant women suffrage rested in the hands of men; women could not grant themselves the right to vote because they did not hold institutional power. Only men could actually grant suffrage to women because only men held the institutional positions of power necessary to do so. Hence, while both groups could be prejudiced against the other, men’s prejudice took on a much more powerful and all-encompassing form.

Because men controlled all of the major institutions—government, media, economics, religion, medicine, education, police, and military—the collective effect of men’s prejudice was radically different. Men as a group infused their prejudice into the very fabric of society. Prejudice is often unconscious, so this would happen whether or not men intended to or were aware that they were doing this. Because men made the rules, the rules reflected their prejudices and served their interests. For example, because scientists began with the premise of female inferiority, their research questions and the interpretation of their findings were informed by that assumption (Harding, 1991; Tuana, 1993). Because they were in the position to disseminate their findings, they further reinforced and rationalized their superior positions. All other institutions (also controlled


by men) were constructed in ways that normalized male superiority (Tuana, 1989): The clergy preached male superiority from the pulpit and rationalized it through the Bible; doctors used the male body as the reference point for health; psychiatrists based definitions of mental health on male norms for emotions and rationality; and male professors taught men’s history, ideas, and concerns.

The term for male centrality is androcentrism. Androcentrism is not simply the idea that men are superior to women, but a deeper premise that supports this idea: the definition of males and male experience as the standard for human, and females and female experience as a deviation from that norm.

Androcentric: Male centered. The centering of society on the interests, needs, norms, patterns and perspectives of men.

Androcentrism remains invisible in all contexts except when we are specifically referring to women, for example: women’s literature, women’s movies (or “chick flicks”), women’s basketball, and women’s rights. “Men” (as a group) are the invisible reference point that women are measured against, and because women do not fit the norms of men, they appear inferior. In this way, male superiority is rationalized, normalized, disseminated, and reinforced through every social institution. Returning to our suffrage example, because oppression is one group’s prejudice plus the power to enforce that prejudice throughout society, even if individual men believed women should have the right to vote, as men they still benefited from women’s exclusion. Thus oppression need not be personal, and intentions are irrelevant in terms of having privilege and advantage.

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Common shorthand within the discipline
Common shorthand within the discipline

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