Feminism, a relatively new movement in the history of social, political, and philosophical thought (since it emerged in the late 19th century and evolved throughout the 20th century), has found an important place in modern social studies. During the 20th century, feminists succeeded in obtaining various rights that previously were the exclusive privileges of men, such as the right to vote and engage in politics, the right to work in many workplaces that were considered “men’s jobs,” etc. However, social stereotypes and behavioral patterns are significantly more difficult to change. Based on two entries from “Women in Culture: An Intersectional Anthology for Gender and Women’s Studies,” this paper aims to discuss one of the central concepts of feminism, oppression (and its influence on the lives of modern women), and to examine the interrelation between masculinity and homophobia, which continues to be widespread, and then to compare the two entries.
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Oppression as one of the Central Concepts in Feminism
This section will examine the entry written by Marilyn Frye on how women are oppressed in modern society. It is possible to divide Frye’s article into several subsections based on the themes and concepts they focus on.
The author begins the article with the restatement of feminism’s fundamental claim, which is that women are oppressed (Frye 13). Further, she observes that “oppression” is an immensely strong, multi-vocal, and multi-valued word that is often misused. The first paragraph of the article is dedicated to the clarification of such misuse. Frye states that the claim that women face oppression is often met with the claim that men are also the subjects of oppression (13). As examples of the most widespread rationales behind such statements, she brings up such arguments as “it is tough to be masculine,” “it unacceptable for men to cry,” “the oppression of women also appears to be oppressive for men” (Frye 13). However, the author claims that these arguments are nonsense since the notion of “oppression” is being stretched in such claims to such a vast extent that it becomes meaningless. This statement is followed by the next section of the article in which Frye discusses the problematic situation that is created by comments made by men such as those mentioned above.
The Situation of Double Bind
Further, Frye argues that one of the core features of the world as it is viewed by the oppressed is the situation of the double bind, in which possible actions are very few and “all of them expose one to a penalty, censure or deprivation” (13). To illustrate her thought, she takes women’s sexuality as an example. She describes two behavioral patterns, each of them having an adverse outcome. The first pattern is the behavior of the sexually active woman, who is condemned by society (primarily its masculine part, along with the judgment of “more restrained” females) in various forms, ranging from verbal insults to physical violence such as rape, beating and murder (Frye 14).
The second behavioral pattern is sexual inactivity, which also leads to judgmental statements from masculine society, for example, such women could be labeled as “frigid,” “uptight,” “man-hater,” and other more explicit insults (Frye 14). Women of the latter behavioral pattern can also experience labeling as lesbians, being unpopular in school, college, or the workplace, or being judged by their own families. Finally, the author mentions that both behavioral patterns are perceived as an excuse and justification for rape, since sexually active women would like it because “she likes sex,” and sexually inactive women would like it because they are supposedly “repressed and frustrated” and “they secretly want it” (Frye 14).
Bird in a Cage
To illustrate her thoughts about the position into which oppressed women are put, the author employs a vivid metaphor of a bird in a cage. Frye argues that if you look at a single bar of the cage with a myopic focus, you would not understand why a bird cannot just fly around that bar whenever it wants. Looking at different bars in the same manner would produce the same results. Only taking a step back to observe the cage as a whole will help you to understand why the bird cannot leave the cage. This metaphor is employed to describe various forces and barriers that are systematically related to one another, creating a system of oppression for women (Frye 15). The author summarizes her thoughts by stating that studying the elements of the oppressive structure is meaningless without a holistic, macroscopic vision of the problem.
Interrelation of Masculinity and Homophobia
In the second entry under consideration, written by Michael S. Kimmel and entitled “Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame, and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity,” the author explores masculinity as a large-scale social and psychological concept that has an immense impact in modern society on both the self-evaluations of men and on how they treat women, gays, lesbians, racial minorities, etc. As a foundation for further elaboration, Kimmel states at the beginning of the article that the “hegemonic” definition of masculinity is precise and relates to a relatively narrow social group (24). The core features of masculinity within the dominant culture are the following: white, middle class, early middle-aged, Protestant, heterosexual men with a college degree and a full-time job (Kimmel 24).
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One of the author’s principal ideas that he elaborates in the article is that the self-identification with masculinity is closely connected with homophobia. Kimmel argues that one of a man’s deepest fears is to be considered to possess any feminine trait (25). Therefore, the author claims, in their quest to obtain the cultural symbols of masculinity, men tend to oppress women and gay people in order to deprive them of access to those cultural resources that confer manhood (Kimmel 25). Thus from this perspective, masculinity in its common expression is a source of homophobia, sexism, and racism (Kimmel 26). The sexist behavior derives from men’s fear of being “wrongly perceived” as not being masculine, and thus they feel that they are obliged to make sexual comments about every woman they meet (Kimmel 27).
Just as Frye mentioned that men also claim to be oppressed, Kimmel elaborates on the similar claim that men are oppressed by the fear of not fitting into the conventional definition of masculinity (26). Nevertheless, the author observes that even though this feeling is “real,” it is not true (Kimmel 30). He argues that men indeed feel powerless, but they do not lack force as a social structure. Additionally, Kimmel states that men are oppressed by other men, which represents the circle of striving for more power among males. That being said, it is possible to observe that masculinity is the core driving factor for the existence of homophobia, sexism, racism, and other kinds of minority oppression.
Comparison of Two Entries
The authors agree on the fundamental issue of feminism, namely, the socially structured oppression of women. However, the authors use different theoretical frameworks to define feminism. Marilyn Frye is a radical intersectional feminist, thus her definition is that women, who are systematically oppressed by the structured power of patriarchy, should obtain equal social power to struggle against their oppression. However, Michael S. Kimmel represents a gender and development theoretical framework in his studies since he perceives gender (and all the related problems) as a social construct. Therefore, the authors do not agree on the question of men’s oppression: Frye argues that such a statement is nonsense, while Kimmel observe that such oppression is present in society (however, the oppressive power is also masculinity).
The authors’ different approaches to feminism could be explained primarily by gender: Frye, as a woman, experienced systematic oppression from a predominantly masculine society, and Kimmel, being a white heterosexual man, did not suffer from the main forms of discrimination. To summarize the results of the comparison, it is possible that the combination of both authors’ approaches could form the basis for the development of a more comprehensive feminist theory.
In conclusion, several statements should be made. First, the oppression of women, which has a systematic and continuous character, is one of the principal problems of contemporary society. Second, abuse derives from the traditional concept of masculinity, which has its foundation in the negation of any feminine traits in “real men.” Third, an oppressive social system, which causes homophobia, sexism, racism, and many other social problems in the modern world, is founded on the basis of these two ideas. Finally, the combination of both authors’ approaches to feminism can form a more comprehensive theory of the role of manhood in the oppression of women.
Frye, Marilyn. “Oppression.” Women in Culture: An Intersectional Anthology for Gender and Women’s Studies, 2nd ed., edited by Bonnie Kime Scott et al., Wiley-Blackwell, 2017, pp. 13-16.
Kimmel, Michael S. “Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame, and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity.” Women in Culture: An Intersectional Anthology for Gender and Women’s Studies, 2nd ed., edited by Bonnie Kime Scott et al., Wiley-Blackwell, 2017, pp. 24-32.