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The Oppression of Men, as Men

In this paper I argue that men are not an oppressed group in today's American
society. I will show that the claim that 'men are oppressed' is false, by first
analyzing what 'oppression' is and how it applies to social groups in general.
After, I will consider several examples that are frequently cited as evidence
for the oppression of men, and will show that these instances do not hold up as
instances of oppression of men being oppressed for being male, but are instead
consequences of an oppressive system and how it affects society as a whole. I
will cache out oppression in the way that Marilyn Frye does in her discussion of
oppression in 'Politics of Reality'. 

The first question we must answer is what exactly do we mean by the term
'oppression'? Frye breaks oppression down into three criteria: 1) The act is
directed at the person as a member of a group, 2) The action functions as part
of a system of barriers to that group, and 3) These barriers are erected to the
benefit of some other group (Frye, 10-16).

Without all three of these present, any particular action cannot be said to be
an act of oppression. What is worth noting is that these requirements do not
mandate any sort of intention be present for oppressive acts. This isn’t to
say that individuals can be absolved of oppressive behaviors, but rather to say
that oppression is built into our socioeconomic, political, and legal systems,
and individuals partake in these systems to perform oppressive acts. Frye
elaborates throughout her piece on oppression about what the characteristics of
these barriers are and how they disproportionality effect oppressed persons. For
instance, an oppressed individual will oftentimes find themselves in what Frye
terms a "double bind" (2). These double bind situations are situations in which
the individual's options become incredibly reduced, all of which yielding
results that negatively impact the individual in some kind of way, either via
penalty or some sort of deprivation. For instance, women oftentimes find
themselves trapped in either one of two camps, slut or prude, and never seem to
be able to find the middle ground that, for example, men are so easily able to
avail themselves - if a male were to tell his friends about his sexual escapades
the previous night, he might be met with high fives and congratulations, with no
judgment about his sexual promiscuity or scolding for his defiance of the
dangers hookups can pose. Men do not find themselves in these kinds of catch-22
scenarios that women are so frequently caught up in. 

In light of the last example, a particular point can be raised. Is it possible
that men can be oppressed? It's a position that might be seen as a kind of
truism of our diverse society: all peoples are oppressed in their own way. But I
contend that this idea is a misunderstanding of the nature of oppression. For
instance, it is claimed that men are characterized as aggressive or violent
figures in society. The almost inescapable imagery males perpetrating violence,
whether in video games, music, movies, or television, serves as evidence for
this point. It is claimed, therefore, that men who fit outside of this paradigm
of the 'aggressive male' are classed as 'sissies', 'wimps', or 'girls'. This, it
might seem, is the oppression of men. But notice what the nonstereotypically
aggressive male is renamed. He is stripped of his masculinity, certainly, but
becomes 'other': a girl, someone who is weak. In Frye's eyes, these are all
categories belonging to women in society. She would say, as she does with
respect to rituals that exist in society to exemplify the status of women, that
women are incapable, or are in ways insignificant or invisible (6). 

Extending from this, it is claimed likewise that men are not allowed to be
emotional beings, or that feelings such as pain and other emotions are not
things that a man possesses.  Men are expected to brush off their injuries, to
work or play through the pain, or to 'rub some dirt in it'. Perhaps this is how
men in society are oppressed. Is it not the case that these requirements on men
act as barriers for them to lead safe lives? But this seems to be exactly by the
design of men. Nay, this seems to be for the betterment of men in society. This
idea that men are required to continue working through the pain is exactly the
kind of notion that helps to construct the idea that women are not allowed to
work, that women are not 'worthy' or somehow 'incapable' of holding their own in
wars or offices alike. It further perpetuates the notion that women are
something that must be protected because they are somehow incapacitated. In
other words, the idea that men are stronger and more cut off from their emotions
isn't a point that men are expendable, but instead it is a point that men are
superior to women in their function in society. That is to say, the idea that
men are not allowed to feel pain is a construction of men to maintain a position
of superiority in the social hierarchy.

Along with the point that men are not allowed to feel pain, it is often argued
that men are not allowed to ask for help. Males are not allowed by society to
express needs or have reassurance in their lives. This is, of course,
destructive to their individual identity or sense of place in the world. Those
men who do ask for help are seen as weak or needy, and are put down by society
for being like women. Is it not possible that this is an oppressive act against
men? This seems to construct significant barriers to the success of men as
integrated members of society that are secure with their own sense of self.
However, consider what these men who ask for help and assurance are construed
as: women. They are 'put down' for being 'like women'. Does this not entail that
women maintain a lower position, that to be a woman is to be weak, that being a
woman is to be a lesser being? It seems to be the case that men are not allowed
to be like woman because it would reduce their own position, that it would
inhibit their own success as individuals. It would, as it were, put them in the
same place that women are kept in: a cage constructed around them simply for the
category in which they fall. Frye suggests that we must look at these instances
of seemingly oppressive acts and consider them in their context in order to
determine whether or not they are truly oppressive. It is not the case that any
inconvenience, frustration, or instance of suffering stems from an act of
oppression (10-11). These men are not being oppressed as 'men'. They are being
considered as part of another category of people - as women. If this
consideration acts to oppress men, it is only because of how it oppresses women
in the first place. Men treating other men like women is not oppressive to men;
it is an exemplary instance of the oppression of women as a category,
immobilized by the systems constructed by men. 

In this paper I have argued that men are not oppressed in society. This isn't
meant to devalue the suffering of men or the discomfort men feel for being who
they are. It is instead to demonstrate that one of the biggest reasons men may
feel oppressed is because they are considered to be like women, an actually
oppressed group. Frye's characterization of oppression as an institution of
barriers and restrictions on groups solely for their membership as being in that
group for the betterment of other groups demonstrates this point: there can be
no 'oppression of men' without an oppressed group to which they are treated
like. Men are oppressed in society insofar as they are regarded as being like
women; insofar as they are accepted as being not male. 


Frye, Marilyn. 'The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory' Trumansburg:
The Crossing Press, 1983. The Crossing Press Feminist Series. Print.


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