Elements of Oppression
(from Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism)
, By Suzanne Pharr

This presentation gives an overview of Pharr’s discussion on Oppression in the United States and the systematic and organized way it can be used to keep power in the hands of a dominant few.

Common Elements of Oppression

Defined Norms:
The ideal image or image of success
Tools of Oppression
Threat of Violence
The Other
Stereotyping & Blaming the Victim
Isolation & Tokenism

What is Oppression?

Pharr defines the "isms "
(sexism, racism, classism, ageism, sexism etc…) as coming from an oppressive base

This base begins with the "Defined Norm"

Defined Norms

Basically, Caucasian, male, heterosexual, Christian, temporarily able-bodied, youthful, has access to wealth and resources.

She also notes that an established norm does not necessarily represent a majority, but those who have the ability to exert control over others.

Ways Defined Norms are kept in place:

Institutional Power
Economic Power
Threat of institutional or individual Violence

Institutional Power

Pharr claims that institutional power is often used to oppress marginalized groups.

For instance if women (or ethnic minorities or…) had more institutional power, they would have equal pay. She also claims there is no such thing as reverse discrimination because this requires institutional power to back it up.

Other Examples regarding women:

In the U.S. Congress women are still the minority
Women hold 65, or 12 percent, of the 535 seats in the 106th U.S. Congress.

Good News!!!

Washington has the highest percentage (40%) of female legislators.
Web source: http://falcon.nji.com/~vera/

Other Examples regarding ethnic minorities:

In the Criminal Justice System, Caucasians dominate positions of power, while minorities dominate numbers of those incarcerated.

Black males have a 29% chance of serving time in prison at some point in their lives; white males have a 4% chance.

Black Males in the U.S. are incarcerated at more than four times the rate of black males in South Africa -- 3,822 per 100,000 versus 851 per 100,000. Web Source: http://www.sproject.com/test/brief/1035.htm

Other things to consider

The same lack of representation exists in financial institutions, community leadership positions and in the military.

History and Education is still dominated by that of the ideal image (Caucasian, male, heterosexuals)

Economic Power

It takes money to control institutions

Resources are limited by `lack of money’

It perpetuates the "Myth of Scarcity," which is used to pit people against one another. (The myth of scarcity scares people into believing they will lose access to the few resources there are!)

"Myth of Scarcity" Stories:

Resources are limited and the poor use too much of what little there is

Immigration must be stopped because they will take our jobs, ruin our schools (which are already struggling economically) and destroy the few neighborhoods that are good to live in.

Economic Power ensures Control of Institutions in the following ways:

It takes money to run for office –only those rich or with affluent connections can succeed.

Crimes involving property are dealt with more severely than crimes against people

Schools in poor neighborhoods are judged by the same standards as affluent schools and penalized, despite the fact that those with more access to money, have more resources and more chance of success

Tools of Oppression

Threat of Violence
Lack of Prior Claim
The Other
Stereotyping & Blaming the Victim
Isolation &Tokenism

"Threat of Violence"

Native Populations (decimation of native groups in the Westward expansion)

Gay Populations (As late as 1996 21 men and women were slain in the U.S. because of their sexual orientation, ROBIN McDOWELL
The Associated Press) The most recent killing was university student Mathew Shepard in Wyoming

From 1983 to 1991, the number of domestic violence reports received increased by almost 117%. (NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services, 1983 and 1991)

Lack of Prior Claim

If you weren’t there when the original document was written or when the organization was founded, (for instance the Constitution), then you have no claim to inclusion.

Examples of movements for inclusion are: Suffrage Movement, Civil Rights Movement, Countless Native Protests

Labels of Exclusion like "The Other"

They are:
Those who are lacking somehow, in comparison to the norm

Those seen as abnormal, deviant, inferior, marginalized, not "right," even if they are the majority

Those who are seen but not seen or "invisible." These include under-represented groups in the media, historical texts or educational contexts


Over generalizing
Not seeing individual difference
Negative name calling
Expecting people of color to speak for their whole racial group
OR Assuming without checking facts

Stereotyping can lead to:

Internalization of negative beliefs
Blaming the Victim (Welfare people are lazy etc…)

Isolation & Tokenism

Occurs when:

Victims of Oppression are isolated (such as in the past when women were afraid to report rape or incest, for fear of being seen as promiscuous or asking for it)

Those that succeed are used to put down others who don’t succeed (Example: Model Minority)

Tokens are in a double bind --such as in the 50’s, Blacks in congress had to both cater to their cultural community and the Caucasian majority they worked with. They faced hostility and isolation from both

Overall, Tactics of Oppression include:

Keeping a focus on Individual achievement which keeps groups from organizing

Putting an emphasis on individual solutions, which keeps movements from beginning

Group Discussion:

What would it take for you to stand up for an issue in the way Civil Rights Leaders did in the 1960’s? Have you ever felt that strongly about injustice? What was it about?