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EST. 1915

An opinion on oppression in the US

Leslie Hamilton


Social and/or societal constructs often define and shape human behavior (individually and as a community), as to what is socially acceptable or unacceptable. These predetermined expectations majorly affect human behavior in a more public environment and can extend to a private environment, such as the privacy of a home or in solitude. This concept seems pretty evident and basic; however, human behavior is more nuanced than that. Defining a universal application, a universal moral compass if you will, of what is right and wrong is nearly impossible given cultural (i.e. societal) differences, such as differing belief systems (religion), which often shape political viewpoints, gender roles and associated expectations, and government ordinance and law enforcement. Other contributing factors includes historical events of significant impact, such as war, genocide, or civil rights movements, all of which tend to have an underlying implication of a differing belief system and opinion as to what is right and wrong. While there are many ways that one can explore human behavior and morality, my interest and focus is related to gender roles, perception, and expectation. As globalization continues, debates on gender roles, especially those that are oppressed or perceived to be oppressed, grow more heated. In using the phrase “perceived oppression,” I am referring to those that are largely unaware or unbeknownst of their own oppression, common in dictatorial nations and/or developing countries.


While the United States is not a dictatorial nation and has a relatively high HDI (human development index), many are unaware of their own oppression. While other forms of oppression are evident, such as oppression with respect to ethnic populations and the LGBTQ community, more simplistic examples of oppression exist on a daily basis due to perceived gender roles and expectations (i.e. sexism). Sexism does not solely exist within the female population, men also experience sexism and pressure to live up to societal standards. While women have fought oppression much longer, it is important to recognize that women are not alone in the fight.


Some American women are currently fighting for reproductive rights and have the general feeling of oppressed, while other American women do not perceive or feel such oppression. Until recently, I was pretty indifferent with the feminist movement and felt fairly unaffected/unoppressed; however, just yesterday, a peer in an organization took the time to remind a GroupMe to “stay classy” during Pat’s and went further on about how the perception of our organization is very vital rather than being safe. I was taken back and surprised by my own reaction, feeling rather angry regarding the implications of this message. It was a rather snap reaction, but if you follow the same word association that I did, it is not a big of a leap.


Define the word “classy,” think of how you use the word, think of the origin and root of the word. Now, define the word, specifically as a social and behavioral adjective of a person (male and female). Now, think of antonyms of “classy.” If you apply the adjective to a male, the implications of being “classy” are not as socially or behaviorally constrictive in that promiscuity is encouraged and basic manners is a minimal standard. In contrast, if you apply it to the female counterpart, it is behaviorally and socially constrictive and conservative, in that they are held to more traditional (oppressive) standards of being lady-like (well-mannered, reserved, virginal, etc.). Furthermore, given that, by simple word association, one can equate that by being told to “stay classy,” she is also being told to “not be trashy” or to “not be slutty.” When this idea was further expanded upon in terms of perception by other organizations, specifically male organizations, I was flabbergasted by the notion that we were placing so much emphasis on how others perceived our organization. The idea that we had to act “classy” and “hold ourselves to a higher standard” than other organizations, was insane to me. There is such a huge double standard on deemed, “acceptable” behavior between female and male social organizations, not to mention the differing individual perceptions of what is “acceptable,” shaped by their belief system. As I see it, the individual is ultimately responsible and accountable for their actions. While there might be some accountability on the organization (purely situational) and some negative light, I find it hard to say that a single person’s poor judgment -even if they did not perceive it as such- could be reflective or overshadow the reputation of an organization as a whole. In the end, I feel that my main objection to the whole “classy” thing is that I find the double standard oppressing and pressured to be something that I was forced to be growing up and not the person that I am, potty mouth and all. Perhaps the commenter did not realize the implications of the word and emphasis on reputation, but what I see is an organization that is more concerned with their reputation than empowering and supporting each other.


As a woman in STEM, a male dominated field, I feel like we constantly fight for respect and equality in the field (classroom and workplace), but I cannot see how any progress can be made if we are so preoccupied with how the opposite gender perceives us or even how we perceive each other. Sure, reputation is important, but I feel like there is a line between professionalism and your personal life, a line that has to be drawn by you. I find that when you take pride in your work because you are passionate about it and put little thought into someone’s opinion of you, a positive, professional reputation will typically follow. However, if you spend your life so preoccupied with how others perceive you, it does not seem nearly as rewarding. Deciding to not place as much value on how others perception of me has drastically improved my own self-esteem and anxiety - it is very freeing. I truly believe that fighting small instances of societal oppression like this will lead to further progress in releasing people from oppressing societal constraints, making a more fluid sense of being.

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