Struggle For Equality
Published 31 Oct 2016
There are many forms of oppression in the world. Because people, individually and collectively, like to feel the position of power and control. This need for power is the reason why the Black people were forced into slavery at the height of Western colonialism and why women have been suffering from double standards in a male dominated society. The oppression of Blacks and women are largely the same.
These groups of people suffer the same stereotypes and limitations. The only difference is that the oppression is due to categories: the one is aimed at women or is gender-based, while the other is targeted at Black people or is race-based. In any case, both suffer the same for an innate identity, for something inherent in who they are and something that cannot be changed. This paper seeks to analyze how such oppression exists and how these groups of people have struggled through history to be seen as equal and treated as such. To such ends, this discourse will discuss the fight for equality of both oppressed groups because the subjugations they are made to suffer are essentially the same.
Of all the many lines that we draw to separate us from another, none perhaps is as abiding as gender and labeling, or the stereotyping of individuals based on whether they are male or female. Society has imposed certain roles that the man and the woman must fulfill in order to be considered productive. Traditionally, the male is viewed as the stronger of the two sexes, and is given the responsibility of providing for the needs and safety of the family. The female on the other hand is expected to keep house and take care of the children. These classic stereotypes are slowly changing as more and more women are forsaking their traditional roles in society in pursuit of a more rewarding career in a still largely male-dominated world.
Indeed women have gone a long way in terms of redefining their value to society, but some labels are lasting and continue to put the female at a decided disadvantage. A subset of gender stereotyping is the kind that categorizes women as “good” or “bad”. What makes this good girl-bad girl dichotomy interesting is that it is an archaic vestige of a morally uptight society that no longer exists today. Nowadays, woman are generally permitted by society to explore her sexuality without being required to get married, but the double-standard still exists. The male can be sexually promiscuous and we will never question his values, but a woman who is sexually liberated is perceived as a “slut”, and as such, should not be treated with any respect. In our modern society, some rules have changed, but some are consistently oppressive to women.
The slut label is akin to the “nigger” label in the sense that it has negative connotations as well. It implies violence, as well as the image of being a second class citizen with less productive value to society other than as slaves or menial laborers. This labeling casts or stereotypes people within certain roles, and is called deviant if they fail to act within their label. People act in a manner that is expected of them and in a sense, what we expect from people become self-fulfilling prophecies. Society imposes its own perception on a person’s character, and in a sense, the individual is shaped by society to fit that mold. The people who arbitrarily decide on what is deviant and conventional are the very same people who will label a behavior as unacceptable or not. Labels exist in so many levels and in all aspects of our lives. The varied roles that we essay in society are actually our own ways of fitting the mold or staying true to our labels. The tragedy of labeling is that it almost always has a negative connotation. This cruel name-calling such as slut and nigger creates a tension within the individual, whether to pursue and define their own individual character or just act within such low expectations.
Both women and the Black people all want to be treated with respect. Their struggles parallel each other because they are denied more or less the same rights. Up until the 20th century, women and African Americans did not have the right to vote, they are also relegated to certain roles in society, women to keep house and produce children, the Black people to till the cotton fields or other production or industry that requires labor. In a sense, women and the Black people are all treated as utilitarian entities, good only if they are able to deliver on what is expected of them. For a long time, women who could not bear children were shunned and scorned by society. In the same manner, Black people who are unable to produce as expected are sold off to another house for another life of slavery. Moreover, both women and the Black people, during the height of their oppression, were not allowed to go to school. They were kept ignorant because it is believed that such knowledge would be wasted on them. As such, many women and Black people remained unable to read, even until the early 20th century.
It is no surprise therefore that the movement and struggle for equality of both groups were also very similar, occurring at almost the same time in the United States. The sixties saw the peak of the black civil rights movement. After making minor but pioneering breakthroughs in the fifties, African Americans began pursuing more peaceable means to forward their cause. More court decisions and legislation slowly allowed for the integration of black Americans and over the decades, the efforts of the civil rights movement began showing itself as next generation African Americans benefit from the struggle their predecessors made in their behalf.
The civil rights movement was not limited to black-Americans alone. Women’s rights groups also gained momentum in the 1960’s. While experts in history acknowledge that the final years of the 19th century up until the first decades of the 20th century was the period that saw the rise of women’s liberation, it was in the sixties that the pioneering efforts of the earlier years were cemented. The 1960’s seems like a right time as any for women’s liberation. The time was ripe, and conditions were ideal. During World War II when most American males were doing their tour of duty, the women took the cudgels for keeping production up and supply lines coming to the soldiers in the frontline. While America was at war, the women left their homes to work. When World War II ended, the United States saw its women dominating the labor force. However, while females did the same work as they were paid so much less than what the men would have been earning given the same job. This sowed the seeds of discontent and the women slowly began to coalesce into a united movement that demanded better pay and protection from the law. In 1963, the book The Feminine Mystique, written by Betty Friedan came out. The volume encapsulated all that was wrong with society at that time and became the rallying point for American women all over the country. Friedman called on to the women to break out of the oppressive roles that society has imposed on them. (Rosen, 2006, p. 23) The book challenged and inspired women to come out of their own and claim their own individuality and redefine gender equality. The women’s liberation movement rebelled against stereotypes and policies that are put women at a disadvantage. The movement was able to make advances, among these is the passing of the law that prohibited gender discrimination in the work force.
Much like the Black Americans, the women were seeking respect and equal rights under the law and wanted a society that did not discriminate of the basis of color, religion, gender, or sexuality. Indeed it might be said that the sixties was an era that saw all discontent and unhappiness come to a boiling point. For the United States, the time was perfect for change, having achieved stability and prosperity after decades of war and other upheavals. Having overcome its growing pains and stabilized as a country, it was time for American society to mature. The civil rights movement and all the rest that came under its banner was a movement that has been a long time in the making. And when it did take place, it did so at the best possible time. The movement came at a time when Americans were becoming aware of their rights and the rights of others. Thus American society was only too willing to heed the winds of change.
- Baker, Paula. The Domestication of Politics: Women and American Political Society (1780- 1920).Univ of Wisconsin Press, 1990.
- DuBois, Sarvasy, Wendy. The Souls of Black Folks. Norton. 1999.
- Ritter, Gretchen. Gender and Civic Membership in the American Constitutional Order. Stanford University Press. 2006.
- Rosen, Ruth. The World Split Open: How the Modern Women’s Movement Changed America. Penguin Books. 2006.
- Sarvasy, Wendy. Social Citizenship from a Feminist Perspective, Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, 12(4), 54-73. 20 p. Fall. 1997.