A Commonality of Shared Oppression among Women and their Men

A paper by Phyllis Rappaport, December 1999. Copyright 1999.


In the following paper I have discussed various layers of oppression that women have experienced around the globe. My starting point is the oppression that white Anglo women experience and suffer from their Anglo men. Then I describe the secondary layers of oppression and their effects on women and men from ethnic or racial backgrounds where difference in language, culture and custom will play a part in the prejudice and oppression they will experience from the white dominant society. I have given examples of the differences in the value systems existing between men and women and how this difference is at the core of disruptions between the genders and has a causal effect of oppression through dominance of the male to the female. I consider this happens in all communities within a truly multicultural society.

Differences in cultures, religions and ethnic and racial backgrounds will impact on this often intangible oppression between genders and racial groups. The depiction of our indigenous people in pre-colonial days and now in post colonial times has had a great effect on them gaining voting and land rights in recent times. I have portrayed some examples of their struggles and I have endeavoured to illustrate unification between black women and their men for the survival of their culture, languages and their racial heritage within Australia.

There is an overflow of this commonality of unification to the women and men from any ethnic or racial background to that of the black community in their joint efforts in overcoming oppression from any dominant non black society.

Both these above groups differ in their unification of the genders to the division that patriarchy has created between white men and white women. There is the oppression of a powerful group over another group becoming the powerless. This oppression can occur within a gender group of both sexes or it can cross genders, communities and entire societies. Complex reasons of money, status and a dictatorial position or need to rule a person/s by others create such oppression for those who are being ruled. I believe that oppression of powerless people lies outside the paradigm of patriarchy.

I have intended to demonstrate that women with disabilities are another category of women who, along with their fellow men with disabilities have experienced and struggled against the oppression of the attitude of the ‘welfare mentality’. This mentality is part of but not the whole of the powerful versus the powerless. The process behind the mentality of welfare under government agencies is the person with the disability is often expected to adjust and cope in a non-disabled world that does not readily give the provision of services and facilities to help compensate the person with a disability. Women with disabilities need to be united with men, who have disabilities, in the ongoing struggle in creating new attitudes of difference. This is where we as a society need to reconsider the definition of difference and who and how we gauge what is normal in a fast changing technological world. We have to be much more accepting of all difference in a society encompassing huge differences in religions, ethnicity, racial backgrounds and disablement. These sectors of society are all very different to each other but they do share the commonality of experiencing some form of oppression because their particular difference differentiates them from the present accepted paradigm of normality.

I will end with a line from the closing quote in my paper on difference. “The key issue is not about ‘difference’ per se, but concerns the question of who defines difference…”. Difference should be an integral part of humanity for black, ethnic, disabled or different communities. We can be united as people who have experienced and fought against, in our personal endeavours, to change the oppression of difference. The positivity of difference can be unifying whereas the oppression stemming from patriarchy divides men and women of a white dominant society.

A Commonality of Shared Oppression among Women and their Men.

Sexual oppression of some kind is common to all women. White Anglo women suffer oppression from men to varying degrees by sexism when living in a patriarchal society. This oppression deepens when there is a different set of values between men and women of another colour or culture or ethnic background.

Women from an Anglo background have their standpoint outside the framework of Anglo men. Therefore if a woman is from another ethnic or racial background and has another culture and language that is going to put her further outside the universal framework of the white Anglo paradigm. This form of exclusion from the universality of society for women with any difference, in race, culture or ethnicity is a form of psychological oppression. This oppression inhibits their abilities and their aspirations of becoming full and active members of mainstream society and could cause an reaction of rejection to happen. This rejection of mainstream society by women of different backgrounds could take the form of an introspective turn into their respective ethnic or cultural backgrounds for collective support for recognition as women in their own right.

Stereotyping and Validation:

In Jocelyn Scutt’s essay “Sexism and Psychology” she writes of two stereo types of women which illustrate how the sexual status of a woman determines her credibility as a person. If a woman is attacked and reports it straight away she is seen by the authorities as being the ‘honest’ victim of the attack. But if there is the reaction that some women are so hurt and emotionally bruised that they feel they cannot report it as they will be seen as having ‘asked for the attack’. The second stereotype is if the attacked female fights back to the utmost it will be deemed that rape had not taken place as she had fought physically against it. She will be ‘viewed’ by the authorities as being the innocent victim. She will be seen as not having acquiesced or given cause for the attack. Therefore her credibility as the innocent party will be validated by the authorities. (Scutt, 1997)

A third stereotype for validation is the disability of cerebral palsy which, is often seen to denote a lack of veracity in ones’ character. This oppression is intangible and inhibits the true capabilities and the recognition of those capabilities for women and men with this disability. Therefore it follows that women without disabilities and women with disabilities will share a common oppression in having their veracity and their intellectual ability questioned by the patriarchal ethos that rules society.

“…..It is a matter of common knowledge that the bad character of a man for chastity does not even, in the remotest degree affect his character of truth when based upon that above while it does that of a woman.” (Scutt, 1997)

In the essay “Restructuring the Australian Ethos” also by Scutt, Mrs. W. J. Williams writes … her husband pointed to what appeared to be some galvanised iron resting on top of a pile of logs and he said to her, “this is your home”. For a moment she could not speak, her eyes filled with tears as she looked at the hut rising from the ground and appearing so desolate as she then said “for a moment my heart failed me” (Scutt, 1997)

This extract typifies the hardship women went through due to men’s misconceptions of what women needed or wanted. It would be one thing to go and set up a house in the Australian bush, but the sight of a pile of galvanised iron sheets and wooden logs would fail most women’s hearts, especially, in extreme temperatures of the Australian climate. There seemed to be very little good communication between men and women in the 1800’s and there is some doubt how much it has improved at the end of 1900’s.

This piece from Mrs. William’s essay demonstrates a different system of values existing between men and women in general. Mrs. William’s essay has a similar theme to a short story called “Squeaker’s Mate” by Barbara Bayton.

Both sets of essays have an empathetic nature in that both women worked physically hard in the building and planning of their homes in the early Australian bushland. Once the mate was disabled by a fallen tree, in the Bayton essay, the woman’s faithfulness and hard work was not reciprocated by her male companion when he brought home a younger woman to be his mate. The new mate was to care for him and his former companion. From his perspective, was he doing the only thing possible, or was it an insult to the disabled mate, lying helplessly on the bunk, to be superseded by a younger model? The older woman showed her antipathy to the situation when she shot out her arm like a “bolt of lightning” as she grabbed the hand of the younger woman.

This demonstrates a great difference in the value system and structure in the pattern of priorities between men and women. This difference is at the crux of many disruptions in partnerships and marriages in today’s society. This lack of reciprocal, emotional and physical fidelity with understanding and respect from men to women is at the core of all women’s shared and common oppression (Barbara Bayton, 1990’s).

The Double Edge Sword of Sex:

In Scutt’s essay entitled “The Economics of Sex”, she states that marriage is the legalised way of women selling their sexuality gaining a defacto right to some form of financial independence. It is society’s view of marriage, that if a woman sells her sexuality outside of marriage, it is called “prostitution”. The dominant male ethos in society ‘condones’ prostitution so that the female partners and wives of men can feel safe in that, their men have access to a sexual outlet within the privacy of home. Outside this private world there is a tacit understanding in society that men have virtually created a need for prostitution. When they do this they split the allegiance of loyalty of women to other women. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to have a concrete supportive base among women for women from varying cultures and backgrounds. This is an underlying, if not hidden, common psychological oppression experienced and suffered by all women around the globe. This psychological oppression takes its form from both sexist and patriarchal rulings of relationships of men to women. (Smith D, 1987).

The Loss and Suffering When Leaving your Home Country:

A woman from another racial or ethnic background will suffer prejudice and sexism from both white women and white men, so that her oppression is much more profound than for white women. Women who leave their home country will experience a grief at the loss of their country, their land, and their language.

The feelings for home brings grieving for the familiar smells of home cooking, family members of an extended family to support the women with children. This separation is a great wrench and would need resilient strength to overcome and settle in a new country.

The Paradoxical Loss:

For Aboriginal women, the paradox has been that the land was taken from them under colonization. The Pitjantjatjara women protested at their exclusion from Land Right negotiations. They hired buses to take them to Adelaide when male relations came north for the negotiations, so as to ensure they were not entirely neglected. The press, along with everyone else, largely ignored the presence of the women, so that few outsiders ever realised that the women were there let alone knew how they felt. (1985) (Goodall H. & Huggins J. 1992).

The following are two significant roles which Aboriginal women played in major industrial struggles were when domestic workers joined the Pilbara Pastoral Workers Strike in 1946, to improve working conditions and in 1973 Aboriginal women were involved in the Wee Waa Aboriginal Cotton Chippers’ Strike protesting for better working and living conditions (McLeod, 1984; Roberts, 1988, in Goodall H. & Huggins J. 1992).

These are two examples of how women from one indigenous culture rallied and united with their men for the betterment of their whole community.

“It is unfortunately true that mainstream feminist thought echoes radical male thought in Australia in underlining the presence of black and immigrant women. For many migrant women, failure of mainstream feminism to see any central significance for women. In the resurgence of racist, nationalist activity in this country.” (Vasta E 1993, 19)

The Australian Feminist Movement :

The white feminist movement has not been able to be inclusive of all the needs of Aboriginal women. The goals and political aspirations for Aboriginal women have the need to include Aboriginal men because the black community has already suffered denigration through the colonization of white Australia. If the black women of Australia unite with their men, they may have the strength together to continue their struggle for their complete equality with white society overcoming colonial oppression.

Pre-colonial racism depicted the Aboriginal people as having nothing and being of little value as human beings. Post-colonialism sees the Australian indigenous people as having too much influence, power and economic gain through land claims and government funding. Through these land claims a new ‘presence’ has emerged with both aboriginal men and women having one voice to articulate their rights and needs to be recognised and accepted as the rightful owners of their land (“Late Night Live” 10 August, 1998) .

“We hunger for the loss of our land and we continue to struggle for repossession. We continue our demands for our birthrights, we struggle for the rights of our children for their own culture.” (Goodall H. & Huggins J. 1992).

Aboriginal women have a common historical interest with their men in the struggle against colonial and gender racism. This commonality with its historical oppressive background to racism also applies to immigrant women. Immigrant women share a common bond in the oppression of their particular culture, ethnicity and racial background with their men and aboriginal women and their men. Both immigrant and Aboriginal women have found that racism divides, not unifies them per se from the entirety Aboriginal and migrant women have a lower profile in getting the higher paid jobs and the recognition for these positions. The oppression that derives from racism, sexism and patriarchy have had an influence on the lives and that quality for acceptance into mainstream white femocracy for these women. All women from any racial and ethnic background will suffer the common oppression of invalidation of ones’ self and the men’s non recognition of women as a worthy part of human society.

The Self Takes Hold:

As Robyn Rowland writes in “Woman Herself”, the social and political content in which the construction of self takes place for women in a male dominated society in which men oppress women, that is, through patriarchy. By patriarchy it means a socio-political system, in which women are universally, subservient to men, men dominate, due to their control of public life and their regulation of women to the domestic role, and this differential participation of the sexes in public life gives rise to universal male authority over women and a higher valuation of things male.

In her book, Rowland writes of patriarchy being used to denote the system of structure and institutions created by men in order to sustain and recreate an ongoing male powered structure and female subordination to that structure. Such structures include institutions as the law, economic system, religion, educational and the family.

This male perspective with its ideologies perpetuate the ‘naturally’ inferior position of women; and the socialisation process which ensure that women and men develop behaviour and belief systems appropriate to the powerful or powerless group to which they belong. Men will always be the more physically stronger and with their ‘top positions’ within patriarchy they will always see, relate and respond to things with restraint emotion. Women on the other hand are more inclined to perceive and respond to needs and situations with a nurturing and caring role model. This order can change if women attempt to adopt masculinity as their role and submerge their femininity. This internalisation of ones’ true self deepens all women’s oppression. This submergence of being female does not assist in Anglo women sharing a common denominator in the oppression of women with any difference of racial, ethnic or disability background.

Aboriginal women are not only subservient to their own men but also to the white men and white women. This three tiered effect of oppression compounds the difficulties black women will face in the many facets of public life and education within the hierarchy of white Anglo society. (Rowland, 1988)

The Multi Layers of Oppression:

A recent report from a radio program said that three young girls aged between Thirteen and eighteen had been kidnapped for four days and gang raped by police in Mexico. There is a widely know factor of oppression for women from different racial and ethnic backgrounds for this type of sexual assault to take place in these countries. The ethos and the value of the law and those who keep it are rated extremely low in South America and other third World countries. In such cases, women and girls will be badly treated and sexually violated to a higher degree. This will further underline the oppression of women and girls in such countries. There is a situation here of the powerful against the powerless that lies outside the paradigm of women’s oppression by men or the dominant society over other minority groups within that society. (Saturday A.M. Program 1997, Radio National).

Many women from different racial and ethnic backgrounds will also experience, and many will flee from, a political and religious oppressive ruling apparatus of a home country. This kind of oppression is a shared experience of many women from European, Baltic and Asian countries and is part of the pattern of the powerful over the powerless person. This religious and political oppression is also, shared by the men, with their women, from these countries.

This added oppression is compounded by the social engineering that all women experience when living in a patriarchal, societal structure within, their different racial and ethnic backgrounds. The multi range of oppression stemming from patriarchy, religious repression and a political dictatorship will flow over to the men of any racial and ethnic background when it is coloured by racism when living in a multicultural society where white Anglo society still dominates in a patriarchal sense.

White men oppress white women. Men from an ethnic or racial background oppress their own women of ethnicity, then they, in turn, become the oppressed, along with their women when living in a white dominant society.

This experience of a shared oppression by women with their men from a different racial and ethnic background is because their oppression from racism unites women and men as people in the struggle of overcoming racist attitudes and behaviours stemming from the dominant society. People from these countries cannot afford the division of patriarchy that causes dissension between men and women. For them it brings to the fore a different set of priorities in their value systems of an oppressed race and culture that requires unity for survival.

As Goodall and Huggins write, women from any race or culture do not need to feel guilty if their men have difficulties recognising and accepting that women are becoming more equal now and are taking on positions in the workforce that are not subordinate but determine leadership. This will encourage women into prominence and they will have an important role in the moulding of societal values into accepting people from all different racial and ethnic backgrounds including our own indigenous people, the Aboriginal People of Australia. (Koolmatrie 1983, in Goodall & Huggins 1992)

The Welfare Mentality and its Oppression:

Disablement is another sector in society that suffers the experience of oppression from the ‘welfare mentality’. The experience is similar to that of the Aboriginal people, in that children, with a physical or intellectual disability were not highly valued as human beings, empowered with human rights.

Towards the end of the nineties, the disabled person receives a great deal more help and recognition from government and has a more prominent position in society. The oppressive experience happens if the person with a disability steps too far outside the stereotype of the ‘helpless and senseless’ syndrome and shows intelligent and independent values.

Many welfare agencies and the people that work within these structures tend to treat people with the difference of colour, ethnicity, race, disability or aged background in a patronising manner. This insidious oppression endeavours to demoralise, demean and disempower any woman or man with a difference to that of the able Anglo mainstream sector of society. A secondary and often prevailing oppression for the above categories of difference in people, is that, of poverty.

This welfare oppression is a shared experience for both women and men with a disability, and Aboriginal women and men, in that disabled children were ‘taken away’ from their parents and families. Not because of their colour, but because the doctors, who were seen as the experts of the time, deemed that many disabled babies and children were nothing more than vegetables and would be nothing more, so forget them and get on with your life, many parents were told.

These children with disabilities were grossly devalued as human beings. Taking into account the parents had a right to their own lives, the siblings’ lives. These disabled children should never have been institutionalized and in many cases, forgotten. The parents often had limited finance and knowledge to do anything else but what the doctors advised. The reason these children were not included into the family circle as being recognised as members of the human race is a question that can only be answered by examining history. Then revising the structure of the future for women and men with any difference so that this archaic and cruel separation treatment does not happen again for the women and men with the difference of disablement or colour.

As Professor Mike Oliver writes, expertism ‘puts the blame’ onto the disabled person for their lack of dexterity or mobility and isolates them as a ‘problematic individual’. Instead of placing this ‘blame’ on the lack of provision of adequate and appropriate programs of assistance within a society that fails to recognise and meet these needs.

Thus this isolation and the misplacing of the cause of the problem is an overt oppressive attitude that stems from the welfare sector. Its oppressive mentality perceives the giver of treatment or care, as ‘the expert’ and the recipient as the receiver, with no input or knowledge of what is being received. (Oliver, 1992, 105)

Turning on the Heels of Perceived Normality:

In conclusion, why do we see others less able to walk, less straight, less able to articulate, less than white or someone from another ethnic or racial background, as being different? It is because we need to bolster up our own insecurities so that we feel more able and secure to face the world. It can be gratifying and easy to put someone down. It is easy to make them feel lower and in doing this we enhance our perception of our superiority over them. We need to see the ‘other’ person’s position from their experience. We need to change and turn around our social and cultural perceptions of normality and take on board thinking of difference in disability, aging, colour and ethnic or racial background as being acceptable and part of normality in society. To re-conceptualise our thinking of normality and accept that both women and men with differences are people in their own right, with intelligence and feelings – is to recognise the humanness in us all.

“The key issue is not about ‘difference’ per se, but concerns the question of who defines difference, how different categories of women are represented within the discourse of ‘difference’ and whether ‘difference’ differentiates laterally and hierarchically. We need greater conceptual clarity in analyzing difference”. (Vasta, E 1993, 19)

These presenting factors illustrate a commonality of a shared experience of oppression and one of understanding between women and men from an indigenous, ethnic or racial background and women with a disability or cultural difference.


Bayton B. “Squeaker’s Mate” Study of Literature, Sydney, 1990’s.

Goodall H. and Huggins J. 1992, ‘Aboriginal Women are Everywhere: Contemporary Struggles’, in Gender Relations in Australia: Dominance and Negotiation, Saunders, Kay and Evans Raymond. (eds), Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Sydney.

“Late Night Live” 1998, Radio Interview, ABC Radio National, Melbourne, Presenter, Phillip Adams.

McLeod 1984, Roberts 1988, in Goodall H. & Huggins J. 1992.

Oliver M. 1990, p. 8 in “Changing the Social Relations of Research Production” p. 105, Disability, Handicap and Society, Vol 7 No 2 1992

Rowland R. “Woman Herself: A Transdisciplinary Perspective on Women” Oxford University Press, Australia.

Saturday A.M. Program 1997, Radio National

Scutt J. 1997, “Sexism and Psychology” in The Sexual Gerrymander. Spinifex Press Australia.

Scutt J. 1997, “Restructuring the Australian Ethos” in The Sexual Gerrymander, Spinifex Press, Australia.

Scutt J. 1997, “The Economics of Sex” in The Sexual Gerrymander, Spinifex Press, Australia.

Vasta Ellie, 1993 ‘Immigrant Women and the Politics of Resistance’, Australian Feminine Studies, Vol 18, pp. 10-23 Dossier Reading 28.