A History of Oppression
Our country, the world’s oldest democracy, has a history of oppression based on race, gender, and ethnicity. The United States of America was founded by men whose desire for power and control compelled them to oppress and subdue groups or classes. Yet in 1870 black men gained the right to vote under the 15th Amendment. Since those voters’ rights were established, political leaders and institutions established laws and regulations designed to oppress African-Americans and deter their development as full citizens. Legal maneuvering included literacy tests, poll taxes, elaborate registration systems and unreasonable Voter ID requirement. (Omi and Winant 2015). For example, in 2011, South Carolina passed a restrictive voter ID law kept more than 180,000 African Americans from casting a ballot. This systematic oppression fueled a myth that African Americans were inferior.
A similar process fuels the ongoing oppression of women. Even though the right of suffrage was granted in 1920, a multitude of subtle biases and perceptions have contributed to women’s subjugation in the 21st century. There are many faces to the ongoing oppression of women. The first explanation is simple sex discrimination. Women entering the workforce are met with overt hostility. Women who are more assertive and dominant in their areas of expertise are not seen as brilliant or knowledgeable but as bossy and annoying. Either a woman is barely heard or she is too aggressive. It may not be hostility towards women but preference for men and their interpersonal style.
The current male-driven culture does not allow women to succeed. Women’s values and approaches are different, and when entering the workforce, women find that the male culture is not to their taste or are driven off. Those women who do succeed adapt to the male culture. In other words, women need to become like men and not fear any backlash to become corporate executives. Sheryl Sandberg, the chief CEO of Facebook, in her book Lean In (Sandberg and Scovell 2013), defines feminism: “A feminist is someone who believes in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” She urges women to lean in and become as assertive as men in pushing forward their careers.
A recent study by Northeastern University professor Benjamin Schmidt (2015) found that men are more highly praised in professional settings than women. His findings indicated that in the classroom setting women’s appearance or personality were the more critically emphasized qualities in contrast to men’s skill and intelligence. According to Miller, this evaluation carries out of the classroom setting over into the business scene and undeniably into the political arena. (Miller 2015) A study conducted by a Yale psychologist, Victoria L. Brescoll, found that powerful female senators spoke significantly less on the Senate floor because of fear of backlash. After further research, Brescoll found that women who worry that talking “too much” will cause them to be disliked in comparison to male counterparts are not paranoid but often right. (Sandberg and Grant 2015) Benevolent attitudes have been found to be patronizing and can do as much harm as outright discrimination. Stereotypes create lower expectations for women in the absence of hostility. The foundation of American democracy seems rooted in the concept of white male domination. According to Taylor, man’s instinctual desire for power and domination explains his drive to supremacy. (Taylor 2012)
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Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.