Oppression is historical. The under-representation of women
in government is not simply the result of the last federal election in a given country. Women’s exclusion from government in the United States and Canada well into the 21st century illustrates their long-term overall exclusion as citizens, guaranteeing that they would have no role in deciding how society would be organized or governed. The cumulative effect of this exclusion cannot be corrected in a single election nor within one generation. The institution of government itself—its processes and practices—have been established by men; if tomorrow only women were appointed to government, they could not govern outside the rules that men had established. To reshape the institution and its norms and practices would take generations of effort (and be solidly resisted all along the way). (White) women received the right to vote in the early 20th century in Canada and the United States but injustice between men and women did not end the day suffrage was granted. In fact, victories enacted through law, while important, often work to slow progress because they mislead people into believing that a single change has solved the issue. For example, in 2013 key protections in the U.S. Voting Rights Act were struck down, illustrating the tenuous nature of civil rights advancements in the face of deeply embedded systems of oppression.
Ideology: The big, shared ideas of a society that are reinforced throughout all of the institutions and thus are very hard to avoid
believing. These ideas include the stories, myths, representations, explanations, definitions, and rationalizations that are used to justify inequality in the society. Individualism and Meritocracy are examples of ideology.
Oppression is ideological. Ideology, as the dominant ideas of a society, plays a powerful role in the perpetuation of oppression. Ideology is disseminated throughout all the institutions of society and rationalizes social inequality. Thus oppression cannot be remedied through law alone. Oppression is embedded within individual consciousness through socialization and rationalized as normal; once people are socialized into their place in the hierarchy, injustice is assured. Oppressive beliefs and misinformation are internalized by both the dominant and the minoritized groups, guaranteeing that overall each group will play its assigned role in relation to the other, and that these roles will be justified as natural. When we believe the social hierarchy is natural, it is difficult to see our positions within it as unequal at all. Not all women were invested in gaining suffrage or saw themselves as oppressed without it. The suffrage movement had to convince other women, as well as men, that it was an issue of rights (although only men had the institutional power to actually grant suffrage to women).
Oppression is institutional. Government is only one of many
institutions that men dominate. Men also dominate all other major institutions of society (military, medicine, media, criminal justice, policing, finance, industry, higher education, religion, and science). These institutions are interconnected and function together to uphold male dominance across the whole of society. Using our suffrage example, while male government officials denied women the right to vote, all the other institutions of society were also dominated by men and worked simultaneously with government to block suffrage. Male doctors claimed that women did not have the physical capacity to engage in politics, male psychiatrists claimed that women did not have the capacity for rational thought necessary for suffrage, male clergy preached that a woman’s place was in the home and ordained by God himself—a male God who only spoke to men and whom only men could speak for, male journalists published editorials critiquing suffrage, male police officers shut down demonstrations and made arrests, and male judges determined punishments (Bem, 2004; Green, 1997). Women were not in a position to use any institutions in the service of suffrage and could only rely on a few sympathetic men who could present their case for them or allow them