Is The Oppression of Women The Root Of All Oppressions?

Since there are now something like 300 posts in the thread Heart started, I thought I’d extract an exchange Heart and I had in that thread to start a new post.

Heart wrote:

In my opinion, a woman is a radical feminist if she agrees that the world we live in is a male supremacist world, that women in general are subjugated and oppressed by men and male institutions. The best way to evaluate the way male supremacy works is by comparing the situations of men and women who are similarly situated. A rich white woman, for example, is never going to be as well off as a rich white man, because she is or was still vulnerable to rape, objectification, sexual harassment, sexual assault, incest, molestation, in ways which the rich white man is not, in ways which affect her or have affected her from the time of her birth. A homeless man on the street is still better off than a homeless woman for the same reasons. And in between these two extremes, if we look at men and women, doesn’t matter the ethnicity, class standing, age, so long as we are talking about men and women who are similarly situated, we see across the board that men fare better in this world than women do. And that’s because the world is a male supremacist world. If a woman sees this, acknowledges that this is true, then she is probably a radical feminist, in that she is understanding sexism as the first or root or foundational or core oppression, with all other oppressions … racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, modeled after this one.

In response to that, I wrote:

I certainly agree that the way to evaluate male supremacy is to compare women and men’s situations “all else held equal,” as you say. The fact that so often anti-feminists refuse to do this – instead comparing Hilary Clinton to a homeless black man, to use an example I’ve seen several different anti-feminists come up with – is either a sign of poor faith or poor thinking on their part.

However, if I understand your argument correctly (and maybe I don’t), you seem to be saying that this sort of comparison shows men to be better off “across the board,” and therefore we should understand “sexism as the first or root or foundational or core oppression, with all other oppressions … racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, modeled after this one.”

Here’s where I’m confused: Couldn’t you say the same thing about virtually any other kind of widepread oppression? For instance, I’d argue that the correct way to evaluate white supremacy is to compare whites and blacks who are similarly situated in all ways other than race. Doing this will show whites to be better off than blacks “across the board.” Does it therefore follow that racism is the root oppression, and all other oppressions are modeled on it?

And Heart responded:

Amp is tricksy hobbits, luring me back into this thread. Heh. Well, I have a few things to say, here and in the Transwomen thread, so it’s all good.

First, I think if we compare black people and white people who are similarly situated, we do not find that across the board, white people are worse off than black people. I think we find, for example, that black men, in general, earn more money than white women and have consistently for a very long time. I think we find that black men were, for example, enfranchised as citizens in the United States 70 years before white women were. And I think we find, for example, that black college-educated women earn more money today, than similarly situated college-educated white women. I have written about this in some depth here.

I think we can say that male supremacy is the first, or root oppression, because men, throughout history and in every culture, first oppressed women, before any man, or any tribe or culture, ever oppressed anyone on account of race, class or whom someone loved. Racism, classism, homophobia, are recent inventions compared with the subjugation of women to men because we are women. The first oppression — oppression of women because we are women — occurred wherever women were assigned the tasks of sexual servicing men, reproduction for the benefit of the tribe or people group, and wherever women were assigned the tasks of the care of infants and children for the benefit of the tribe or people group. This goes back to the very earliest civilizations in all and every part of the world, without respect to race, ethnicity, religion, people group. Students of black history — which I am — know, for example, that in the 10th, 11th centuries, kings in African people groups exchanged women, wives, concubines, with kings in white European people groups. And the African kings were as racist in the direction of European royalty as was true, vice versa. A good book to begin with for those who are unfamiliar with this history is Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America by Lerone Bennett.

Male supremacy was the very first “othering,” the very first objectification by one class of people, men, of another class of people, women. Men’s otherng of women occurred, again, across the boundaries of race, culture, class and history. The othering was enlisted in the service of specific goals, i.e., the sexual servicing of men, the bearing of children, creation and perpetuation of family dynasties, and all of the caretaking and labor involved in these efforts. In the othering of women, men learned the usefulness and efficacy of dominance hierarchies. Power-over was eroticized and celebrated. Over time other people groups were othered, in later periods of history and in various cultures, for specific reasons, most of them having to do with the amassing of wealth or the preservatin of dominance hierarchies. But the techniques by way of which a class of people — women — were made the servants of an upper class — men, were honed in the earliest relationships between men and women. And for this reason, among others, radical feminists attend to the *way* women as a people group continue to be objectified and othered by men as a people group. Other otherings are important and the subject of the attention of all feminists, including radical feminists, but radical feminists attend first and foremost to this one, which is so central in so many ways.


So that’s where we stand. I do intend to respond to Heart, but it may be hours before I can do that, because I’ve got things going on in the meatworld right now.

NOTE: As an experiment, this comments thread is for feminist, pro-feminist, and feminist-friendly posters only. If you suspect you wouldn’t fit into Amp’s conception of “feminist, pro-feminist, or feminist-friendly,” then please don’t contribute to the comments following this post.
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106 Responses to Is The Oppression of Women The Root Of All Oppressions?

  1. 101
    Thomas says:

    [Thomas’ post has been moved by Amp to a shiny new thread]

  2. 102
    reddecca says:

    To go back a bit I’m not sure that any oppression is modeled on any other, because I think oppressions work in very different ways. Part of our job has to be to uncover and articulate these differences. I think that’s part of the objection to the term ‘classism’ that I raised earlier in the thread (and wrote a bit more about here

  3. Pingback: Reclusive Leftist » Blog Archive » Radical Feminism

  4. I have not had a chance to read through all of this thread, but there’s something I would like to point out. There is a difference between saying that sexism is the root oppression in a social-psychological sense and saying that it came first in a chronological sense. I’m not sure we can ever definitively prove the latter to be the case, and I’m not entirley sure what I think about the former assertion…somehow homophobia has always felt to me to be the root, but I don’t have the time right now to go into my thinking about that, so I will save that for later.

    What I would like to do is point out a phenomenon that I don’t think anyone has alluded to yet: the fact that racism, anti-Semitism and almost any other “ism” that you can point to almost inevitably involves the feminization/emasculation of the other, specifically of the male other. So, during the 12th century and well up until the 17th–I think I have my dates right–the church held to the belief that Jewish men menstruated. I don’t need to detail the ways in which white supremacy consistently and purposefully works to emasculate Black men (which is not so different, in many ways, from how Jewish men were treated in Europe well into the 19th century), or the ways in which east Asian men are consistently seen as somehow inherently, essentially feminine–the list goes on–and I also think it’s important to point out that this feminization does not only happen when it’s white men who are the privileged class. In South Korea, when I lived there, Filipino men were construed as feminine. In Iran, where my wife is from, you hear it–or at least I have heard it in jokes her family sometimes makes–about ethnic Turks. What this phenomenon suggests to me is that gender oppression, or at least gender discrimination, is somehow fundamental to the overall social-psychology of oppression in ways that are important to recognize, and I think that is different from arguing which oppression came first.

  5. 104
    A woman says:

    I believe that oppression of women is the main oppression.Women of all races are oppressed by men.Black women are oppressed by white and black men.Women are more poor than men in all races.White women as a whole are better off than black women but its oppression as a woman first,then as a minority.Soljourner Truth faced black freedom before rights as a woman.Men come first over women.A man who has alot of money and especially a sports player can get away with anything over a female.Even a white female could not get justice over a black highly paid sports star!Men value thier sports more than justice for some girl who isn’t a virgin(it’s okay if the guy is a slut)and is full of faults.Since the guy is presumed innocent we can’t slander him by mentioning his faults!I am white, my children don’t see thier father and only now get court ordered child support because the child support people finally made him do it.They were prompted by the agency that gives me food stamps and medical help for my children.Having $460 taken out of his pay is way easier than taking care of them which takes far more money,time,and careing!So the problem is the same for black and white women.The men are first over women then race further divides.I ‘d like to see men live as a woman and see what we are talking about.Straight white men!Here is a bigger challenge, be a black woman!

  6. 105
    Samantha says:

    I found out two weeks ago that my city considers it a crime of hate speech to use racist or homophobic verbally abusive language, but not sexist language.

    To the best of my abilities I can only explain how verbal racism and homophobia have become recognized as forms of oppression while sexism is not by knowing that theoretically half of black people are male and half of gay people are male but 100% of women are women, and that’s what makes the difference.