Use your Diversity, Oppression, and Social Functioning text to read the following:
- Chapter 7, “Women and Sexist Oppression,” pages 90–106.
For this Discussion, your instructor has created a presentation that contextualizes practice with women. After you view the presentation, review the case study of Jean on pages 92–94 of your Diversity, Oppression, and Social Functioning text and consider the question “What do we mean by the oppression of women?” on page 102. Then use your post to discuss one or more of the following:
- How do you define the oppression of women?
- How might you apply the empowerment framework in working with Jean or other female clients?
- What are the key issues to consider when working with women?
Jean is a twenty-seven year old half Korean and half American Caucasian woman. She is married to Tom, an American Caucasian, and the mother of three children: Brent, age six; Sarah, age four; and Tommy, age two. She recently sought counseling from a crisis service for battered women. Jean is depressed and withdrawn. She has a very small frame and reports that she has lost ten pounds in the past month. This weight loss, coupled with her flat affect, makes her appear quite ill. She denies any suicidal ideation, although she says that she doesn’t know how she will continue to take care of her children and Tom’s sick mother.
Jean’s husband, Tom, is given to bouts of heavy drinking and questionable drug use. He has violent episodes in which he alternately verbally and physically abuses her. He likes to bring his friends home after a drinking binge and make her serve them breakfast. He verbally abuses her in their presence, adding to her humiliation. During these episodes he calls her sexual names and tells her he wants to send her back to Korea and keep the children here.
Jean and Tom met and married seven years ago when he was in the army and stationed in Korea. They moved to the United States and settled near his family. Jean wanted to come to the United States to himself.
Jean reports to the counselor that the verbal and physical abuse is escalating and she often can’t sleep because she lies awake with fear. Jean sleeps with Sarah on the nights when Tom is angry and drunk. Jean asks the counselor what she is doing wrong to make Tom behave this way toward her.
Jean has a high-school diploma but little work experience. Tom went to computer school using the funds from his Army G.I. Bill. Jean always wanted to go to college, but worked during the first year of their marriage so Tom could get his degree. The children came quickly and there was no time for her to go to school. Now, when she and Tom discuss it, he tells her she isn’t smart enough and it’s not his place to watch the children. Her place is at home. Tom’s mother is very sick and Jean makes daily visits to her mother-in-law’s home. She feels it is her duty to care for her husband’s mother. Tom’s family often criticizes her mothering and lets her know that they wanted Tom to marry a Caucasian American.Jean feels very bad about herself, her mothering, and her place in the family. She blames herself for Tom’s drinking and possible drug involvement. She thinks she is causing him to abuse her. She has no family in this part of the country and feels that she doesn’t fit with the Korean community and isn’t really an American. She had one Korean friend whom she met at church, and with whom she discussed spiritual concerns. That friend recently moved away and Jean doesn’t feel comfortable discussing her beliefs with others. Therefore she has no one with whom to discuss her problems and feels culturally isolated. She feels completely dependent on Tom, who is getting more and more angry and drunk. In addition, he is missing so much time at work that his job is now in danger.
What Do We Mean by the Oppression of Women?
To be conscious of external oppressive forces is the beginning of a sense of empowerment. Bartky (1990) states, “feminist consciousness is a consciousness of victimization” (p. 15). This consciousness is a divided consciousness in two ways. First, it is an awareness of unjust treatment of women by the surrounding environment that enforces an often stifling and oppressive system of sex-role differentiation. Victimization is impartial, and occurs on a macro, societal level. The damage is done to each one of us personally and is felt at a familial and individual level. Understanding this sense of victimhood raises one’s level of consciousness, and, through this increased awareness, one can begin to release energy and begin a journey of personal growth. Second, women of different colors and classes are privileged in ways that are uneven.
Lacking a culture of our own, we adopt the culture of our men and therefore subscribe to a truncated definition of the self, which either conforms to cultural stereotyping or sets parts of us struggling against each other. This is true for Jean, who leads her life through rigid cultural and gender role stereotypes. Her (1) lack of education, (2) economic dependence, (3) cultural proscriptions, and (4) lack of cultural and social supports inhibit her from articulating and meeting her own needs.
Linnea GlenMaye (1998) describes three general conditions that all women share as a result of being subject to psychological and structural gender oppression: (1) profound alienation from the self, (2) the double-bind of either meeting one’s own needs or serving the needs of others, and (3) institutional and structural sexism (p. 31).
Closely tied to gender roles and economic status is a term that emerged in the national consciousness in the 1970s and remains true in the 2000s. The feminization of poverty posits that women are poor because of the effect of their traditional gender roles on their ability to accumulate economic resources. The traditional coverture (femme coverte or covered woman) common-law marriage contract reinforces patriarchal structure and is reinforced by many social and economic institutions. This preferred family form fosters the woman’s economic dependency in the family. If she is divorced, a teen mother, or over age sixty-five, she is likely to be living in poverty. Women earn less than men for the same work, their share of national income is less, and income is stratified by both ethnicity and gender with African American and Hispanic/Latina women at the bottom—women’s job status is lower than men’s. If married, they earn less than their husbands. If single and the head of a family, their family income is lower than that of comparable families headed by men (McBride Stetson, 1997, p. 333).