limited opportunities to present it for themselves.
Oppression is cultural. Oppression is embedded in all dimensions of culture. Referring to the iceberg diagram from Chapter 3, consider how the norms of what constitutes deep culture (the unspoken and unconscious rules) are gendered and manifest in government processes and policies. These norms privilege men. Women who do enter politics are most successful when they are able to demonstrate their ability to fit into the androcentric (male-centered) culture. Demonstrating their fluency with the norms of androcentric culture demands that women conform with the deep structure rules of masculine culture (e.g., don’t show emotions, show only “appropriate” levels of care for family responsibilities, don’t name sexism). While demonstrating this fluency, women simultaneously enact the deep structure rules of “their own” culture. Thus minoritized group members carry the extra burden of duality. W. E. B. Du Bois (1903/1989), speaking about race, coined the term “double consciousness” to capture this burden of having to perform the dominant culture’s norms as well as your own. Because none of these conditions of oppression apply to men, there is no oppression against men as men and therefore no “reverse” sexism (although there is oppression against men where they also inhabit oppressed positions, e.g., working class White men or gay Asian men or elderly Sikh men).
STOP: There is no such thing as reverse racism or reverse sexism (or the reverse of any form of oppression). While women can be just as prejudiced as men, women cannot be “just as sexist as men” because they do not hold political, economic, and institutional power.
Men may be a numerical minority in a given context and experience short-term and contextual discrimination. For example, men in elementary education are the minority in number and may experience feelings of isolation and disconnection from cultural norms in elementary school, and they may experience discrimination and exclusion from the women with whom they work. However, this is not oppression, because, while these feelings and experiences may be painful, they are individual, temporary, and situational, and do not have the necessary elements to constitute oppression. The historical, ideological, institutional, and cultural dimensions of schooling are still androcentric and will reward and advance men over women. Men are most often in positions of authority over women, advance faster than women—even in female dominated fields—
and are consistently paid more for the same work across multiple sectors (Budig, 2002; McMurry, 2011; Bishu & Alkadry, 2017).
Precisely because the care of children is associated with women, early childhood education is naturally seen to be the responsibility of women, perceived as little more than advanced babysitting with very low status. As children grow older, more male teachers and masculine approaches to schooling appear. For example, values associated with primary education such as play, community, cooperation, and sharing virtually disappear in the higher grades, as values such as rationality, independence, and competition take over. As well, the status of teaching increases in the higher grades because more men are present, and subject areas increase in status when they are associated with men: mathematics, science, and philosophy over literature, drama, and art.
Marilyn Frye (1983) illustrates the interlocking forces of oppression through the metaphor of a birdcage. If you come up close and press your face against the bars of a birdcage, you will have a myopic view of the bird inside; your perception of the bars will be limited. If you turn to look closely at just one wire in the cage, you cannot see the other wires. If your conception of what is before you is determined by this limited view, you could look at that one wire and be unable to see why the bird could not escape by simply flying around the wire. Even if you slowly moved around the cage and closely inspected each wire, one at a time, you still could not see why the bird would have trouble going past any particular wire and flying away. But if instead of the close-up view, you step back and take a wider view, you begin to see how the wires come together in an interlocking pattern, a pattern that works to hold the bird in place. It now becomes clear that the bird is surrounded by a network of systematically related barriers. In isolation, none of these barriers would be that difficult for the bird to get around, but because of their connections to one another, they are as confining as solid walls.
It is now possible to grasp one of the reasons why oppression can be hard to recognize: We have been socialized into a limited view, focusing on single situations, exceptions, and anecdotal evidence, rather than on broader, interlocking patterns. Although there are always exceptions, the patterns are consistent and well documented; the experience of oppressed people is that their lives are confined and shaped by forces and barriers that are not accidental, occasional, or avoidable, but are systematically related to each other in such a way as to restrict and penalize their movement. In this way, oppression gives everyone a distorted view of how society works.