Patterns of Internalized Dominance and Internalized Oppression

Patterns of Internalized Dominance and Internalized Oppression




Source: Adapted from Adair & Howell (2007), with permission

Figure 5.4. The Panopticon





This model produced a type of self-policing, a self-imposed mechanism for control and supervision. In other words, the prisoner becomes fearful of the threat of the ever-watching eye of authority. Not knowing when that eye will be turned on him, he begins to monitor himself in order to avoid penalty. This structure of surveillance produces a conforming and passive prisoner.

Foucault argued that the panopticon was a metaphor for the ways in which power is transmitted, normalized, and internalized through social institutions such as prisons, military, hospitals, and schools; a metaphor for how these institutions socialize us into compliance with norms that serve controlling group interests. Those who have the motivation, authority, and resources to design, institute, and enforce the panopticon are those who hold institutional power in a society. These power relations are in place well before our birth, and we might think of ourselves as born into a cell that already exists and is waiting for us.

However, Foucault did not see these relations as fixed and unchangeable but rather as constantly reproduced and negotiated in society. This means that we have the ability to challenge power, but first we must see and understand how power works.

Consider the example of schools. Schools train students to conform to a set of self-disciplining measures by structuring students’ time and handing out rewards and punishments such as grades, honors, tracked placements, detentions, and expulsions. While this seems normal to us, the organization of the school is not neutral. Through its structures, the school regiments and monitors all activities such as what will be studied; when, how, and for how long it will be studied; how proficiency will be demonstrated; how intelligence will be defined and measured; when (and often what) students will eat; when they will rest; when they will play; when they may use the bathroom; and when they will go home. The structures that regulate schools are also regimented and monitored. The principal oversees the activities within the school, while the school trustees or district officials monitor and regulate the schools in the district, and the relevant government bodies (state, provincial, federal, ministry of education) monitor and regulate the institution of schooling at large.

The school also mandates the continuation of this regimen beyond its walls and into the home through homework, expectations for parent involvement, parent-teacher conferences, and parent participation in fieldtrips and other activities. Punishments are also given out in this domain. These punishments include the evaluation and assessment of parents as either “good” or “bad” based on their participation in these activities. These evaluations have consequences for students and their




families. These consequences determine the degree to which families are included or marginalized within the system and the extent to which children can remain connected to their families and still succeed in conforming to the norms and requirements of the school. If we expand our discussion of school to include institutions of higher education such as universities, we can see how federal grant agencies and the research they choose to fund can also be seen as structuring education.

Another key way that power circulates is through the mechanisms of knowledge and how knowledge is constructed, validated, and taught. There are at least two forms of knowledge that are important for understanding how power circulates in schools. The first is our everyday understanding about how schools work, or knowledge about school. This form of knowledge is important because it is a form of taken-for-granted cultural capital (social resources other than money) that not all families possess equally. For example, immigrant families, Indigenous families, non-native English speakers, and parents who did not complete school often do not have enough understanding about how schools work to help their children navigate the system, or to challenge it when it has treated their children unfairly. When they do challenge the school, their voices do not carry as much weight.

However, knowledge about how the structure works is only part of the story. The other important kind of knowledge is knowledge within school. This kind of knowledge includes how students should behave and conform; how learning is defined, tested, and measured; what topics are worthy of study and from whose perspective; what topics and perspectives will be rendered nonexistent; and how the creation and justification of “tracks” label and separate students into categories such as “advanced” and “special.” These categories dictate the kind of knowledge that students will have access to, which in turn translates into the kinds of opportunities they will have in later life. This knowledge also shapes their sense of place in society, for example, as either those who manage others or those who are managed by others. Thus knowledge within the school benefits some students at the expense of others, while being presented as neutral, logical, and normal.

To illustrate that school knowledge is not neutral, revisit the study by Jean Anyon that was described in Chapter 2 (Anyon, 1981). Anyon asked children from three different kinds of schools—working-class, middle- class and affluent-professional—to define knowledge. Their responses, summarized in Figure 2.1, reveal the differences in what kind of education the children receive, and how this education will direct their future and the kinds of work—or place in society—for which they are being prepared.




The structures in place between groups of people limit mobility in very significant ways. While there is always the possibility of an individual working-class child moving beyond the limited education she’s been given, clearly this will take a great deal of effort. Conversely, because this system benefits the affluent child, she will be less invested in removing these barriers for others. In fact, she (and those who advocate for her) will most often resist removing these barriers.

Returning to the hiring committee in the beginning of Chapter 4, we may now understand why Mary (who is prejudiced against a gay candidate) is demonstrating oppression but Liz (who is prejudiced against a male candidate) is not. Mary’s discrimination against gay people is backed by historical, ideological, cultural, and institutional power in all major institutions in society. Indeed, in the United States there is no federal protection against discriminating against a gay candidate. In other words, this hiring committee could openly state that they are not hiring this candidate because he is gay. In Canada, while federal protections do exist, they cannot be taken for granted because they are regularly challenged and must continually and actively be defended.

On the other hand, Liz’s discrimination against men is not backed by historical, ideological, cultural, or institutional power. Indeed, if the man gets hired, he will be more likely to rise to a position of leadership over the very women who hired him. Why, we might ask, are men who enter women’s fields more likely to rise to positions of leadership in the organization, while women who enter male-dominated fields are unlikely to rise to positions of leadership in the organization? To understand this we must understand internalized dominance and internalized oppression. The forces of socialization are powerful. Once the message of our superiority or inferiority is internalized, very little outside force is needed in order to ensure that we will play our social roles. Of course the messages about where our group belongs continue to circulate in the culture all around us and reinforce what we have internalized, but the fundamental acceptance is complete by an early age. Men will tend to see themselves in positions of leadership and expect to be in these positions, and women will support this tendency because they will also tend to see and expect men to be in these positions.

STOP: Remember that both groups in a social relationship receive the same messages about their positions; the minoritized group is also taught to see the dominant group as more deserving of or suitable for leadership.




Women will also tend to be more comfortable with men in positions of leadership (recall the common patterns from Figure 5.3). For example, as instructors, we often see these dynamics play out in class. Even when there is one male in a group of women for a small-group discussion, he will invariably be the spokesperson for the group when it comes time to report out. When this pattern is pointed out, the women often say, “But we wanted him to be our spokesperson” or “We asked him to be our spokesperson.” We would argue that this perfectly illustrates the power of internalization. Wanting a man to speak for you as a woman does not negate the impact of this pattern; it demonstrates both prescribed roles. Most often, the male as spokesperson happens automatically; in other words, there is no discussion of who will actually report out, it is just assumed that it will be the male. The women see themselves as choosing this, even in cases where no explicit decision was made—because at a very deep level, they are choosing the men to lead. This is how both groups play their roles in keeping oppression in place. That we chose members of the dominant group to lead does not negate that this choice is informed by the dynamics of oppression. Rather, the predictability of this choice confirms the dynamics of internalized oppression and internalized dominance. These dynamics play a powerful role in moving men up in female-dominated fields, while limiting women’s movement up in male- dominated fields.

We must also remember that we are never solely one group; we occupy multiple and intersecting group identities. The disadvantages of one membership do not cancel out the advantages of another. In other words, if our candidate is in fact a gay man, the disadvantages of being gay would not cancel out the advantages of being male. A key project of critical social justice is to help untangle the complex ways these locations work together to hold oppression in place.

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Patterns of Internalized Dominance and Internalized Oppression
Patterns of Internalized Dominance and Internalized Oppression

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