The recent events in Iran have brought with it a tide of articles and blogs about the inequality and oppression of women in Iran, both here and on other sites. That in itself is not surprising and it’s a positive thing to get it out there.
I’ve noted though that the words inequality and oppression are often used to describe women’s lot in life and are bandied about together wiley niley and it seems to me that the meaning of these words are not always fully understood.
They are in fact two separate issues although they have both been in existence since time began, universally, traditionally and historically and usually in life, do accompany one another. I personally think there is much confusion over the two issues. Clearly they are linked and it could be easily argued that oppression arises from inequality or visa versa. However I think the whole issue of woman’s place in the scheme of life is difficult to unpick.
A definition of equality is in itself a challenge. We know it to be the opposite of inequality which is somehow easier to define. Basically it describes difference. To consider what and why inequality exists we have to start at the beginning and look at the differences between genders and there are as many gender theories as there are differences and it would take a month of Sundays to work through.
For example Evolution theory is framed around the belief that we are what we are as a result of nature and environment… we evolved from our prehistoric past, adapted and inherited traits. Some religions believe god created men and women equal in his image and practice it to a greater or lesser extent such as Christianity, whilst others believe that men and women are equal before god, but not before man such as Islam. There are many religious explanations… Most of them have been changed through translation and interpretation by man. Equally there are many feminist theories … some feminists think gender differences are a result of patriarchy and yet others that the differences and inequalities arose from a background of matriarchy. And then there a heap of psychological and psychoanalytic theories ………… Again too long to go into details here. For references just type the words gender differences in a search and it will bring pages of explanations and theories to browse .
What ever theory you agree with doesn’t change the fact that men and women ARE physically, psychologically and physiologically different. Those differences probably account for the division in gender roles. For example, women usually want and need to be at home and be with their children. And nature intended for that to be the case …. Otherwise nature would have provided men with the physical ability to feed infants. Of course now we can feed our babies with formula, which allows for choice and diverts us away from how nature intended it to be. And all other ‘choice’ allowing advances divert us away from how nature intended the division of labour between men and women to be. We have learnt and inherited gender roles and our social, cultural and religious backgrounds, all have had some impact.
I’m not by any means saying that women haven’t the right to expect equal pay or equal rights. We do. It is our right. And equality can also bring with it many unwanted situations I suppose.
Oppression is a different matter altogether. It is separate.
What is the definition of oppression? In both the UK and US dictionaries it defines it as cruel and harsh domination.
So focusing on oppression for a second… If we agree that the oppression of men over women is domination in a harmful or unjust manner. How did it evolve? Whether it’s misogyny, chauvinism, sexism, prejudice, fear, hatred, tradition … what ever drives it, what ever you want to call it, the result is unjust, harmful, and unacceptable, (However racism and all the other ‘isms are also oppressive and unacceptable to me and they exist in Iran and everywhere else in the world. And all ‘isms lead to an inequality).
In some psychoanalytical practices it might be said that women allow oppression to take place and that there is some secondary gain in it for them, eg. Keeping the peace in a family because of not wanting to upset the children and it occurs in other social spheres micro to macro for a variety of reasons. And I personally think there might be some truth in that in a general sense. I think it’s fairly safe to say women usually tend to avoid fighting, and there is a physiological reason for that …they don’t have the hormone testosterone as men do, they feel a need to protect and nurture. And so we’re back with nature again. Other interpretations might explain it differently dependant upon the individual circumstances. Of course these are generalised statements and there are exceptions and most men also feel the need to protect and nurture.
So I say understand the distinction, embrace the differences between us and through the liberation of being hung on difference as a negative thing we can eliminate oppression.
The key to all these issues is freedom to be who you are. Lets give freedom a chance and see what happens.
If only it were that simple