Hello Dear Ones,
I don’t tend to be political in my blogs, or my life, because it can be so divisive. For me, politics too often emphasize difference and nurture conflict. For some, that contentiousness builds energy and passion, but for me it only creates an oppressive weight on my heart. I choose to approach others in ways that feel connective. I try to build relationships, understanding, and compassion. At least that is my intention. I know there are myriad beliefs in the world. I don’t need a political conversation to build that awareness. What interests me, is how we can be in loving and kind relations with one another even when we hold divergent beliefs.
Having said that, I want to talk about oppression. I will start by saying that I believe oppression to be an ideological, systemic, interpersonal and internal phenomenon. This can be expressed as the four Is of oppression: Ideological, Institutional, Interpersonal and Internalized. We experience oppression when we are governed in an unfair and cruel way and prevented from having opportunity and freedom (online Cambridge Dictionary). Being “governed” is something that doesn’t solely happen through our official governments. For me, it includes how we are governed within our families, relationships, workplaces and institutions. It includes how we govern ourselves. Our inner tyrant can often be the worst of them all.
Oppression is a tricky and complex topic. It can appear to be subjective because it is so closely tied to how we individually live and perceive life. On the other hand, it is totally objective. If an individual or group doesn't have the freedom and opportunities that they desire, that is oppression. It’s not for the outside observer (or the oppressor) to decide if it’s truly oppression. Only the oppressed can claim it as such.
I have been curious about oppression my whole life. It probably has a lot to do with a rebellious streak that I have. My rebelliousness can be exaggerated in the face of imposed authority: When I don’t feel the person or institution has earned my respect, or I simply don’t believe they should have authority over me. As you can imagine, it’s quite the conundrum when that imposed authority is my own inner critic.
My interest in the mechanisms of oppression began to be a more conscious inquiry when I got divorced and I was trying to unearth the control mechanisms (internal and external) within that relationship. Up to that point, how I reacted and responded to oppression in my own life had been an instinctual thing. I didn’t yet know what I was rebelling against. My curiosity intensified when Donald Trump was elected president.
When it was revealed that so many white women voted for Trump, I was at a complete loss for understanding how that could have happened. From my perspective (as a white woman), Trump has a misogynistic and predatory relationship to women. Regardless of political leanings, I believe that no self-respecting woman could ever vote for Donald Trump to be our president. Simply because his actions and policies are oppressive to women. I don’t want someone like that to make decisions on my behalf, and I have a hard time understanding why any woman would. That is my bias, I won’t intentionally support people and systems that I know to be oppressive.
The topic comes up again with the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe Vs Wade, thereby threatening a woman’s right to be the sole decision maker over her body. I will point out that for me, this doesn’t have anything to do with being for abortion or not. It has to do with being anti-oppression. I don’t see how we can claim to be a free country for women if we do not uphold that ultimate freedom. Overturning a law that specifically protects women’s rights is a misogynistic and oppressive act. And many women are in support of this legislation. For me, this clearly points to the internalize aspects of oppression, and its perpetuation.
It is important to note that although I am specifically speaking to the oppression of women, I am fully aware of how deep and broad the oppressive tendencies of western patriarchy run, and that women are only part of a millennia old and tremendously diverse heap of oppressed humans. And, that women of color suffer more direct and severe oppression than do white women. I could get carried away talking about how we oppress non-humans and Mother Earth herself, but we can easily extrapolate these same ideas to understand other forms of oppression. Those based on race, gender fluidity, sexuality, class, neurological and physical diversity. The list goes on.
Having worked a lot with trauma and trauma recovery, that is the lens through which I will attempt to better understand how and why oppression continues to be so prevalent in our societies, and why we sometimes perpetuate it ourselves, as the oppressed. To better understand this dynamic, I will use a victim/ aggressor analogy. Admittedly, it fits, the oppressed/ oppressor paradigm is a sufferer/ assailant relationship.
An important part of an aggressor’s strategy, in perpetrating their violation, is to convince their victims that they in some way had it coming to them. This creates a complex psychological situation in which the victim feels responsible for the violation. That sense of responsibility is further reinforced by the victim’s own mind, which would much rather believe that they are somehow at fault, than believe that there is absolutely nothing they can do/ could have done to prevent the violation or protect themselves. The human psyche will not opt for helplessness. We will do almost anything to avoid feeling powerless.
I believe it is this frame of mind, or psychological state (helplessness avoidance), that is the set point for a victim to eventually identify with the perpetrator; by aligning themselves with that person/ institution and their interpretation of reality. When we align ourselves with our abusers, we confirm our belief that we are somehow responsible for what has happened/ is happening to us.
Of course, with the above option, healing is not part of the equation. It can’t be. The moment we start to heal from our trauma, we start to see the violation for what it is. And our toxic perception of the experience, and ourselves as the responsible party, start to break down. It is deeply painful to hold the incongruency within us. As we more clearly see how we were violated/ abused/ oppressed the harder it is for us to align with those who have violated/ abused/ oppressed us. If we are to maintain our allegiance and alignment with the aggressor, we must be careful not to poke holes into the distorted version of reality they have created for us. Hence, no healing occurs when we remain in the victim role. This is our way of maintaining the agreed upon perception.
When we have been oppressed, we feel helpless, and disenfranchised from the system, institution or individual that oppresses us. If we have not had the opportunity to heal from that oppression, we will likely subconsciously align ourselves with the oppressive mechanism, and then internally perpetuate that oppressive belief. It is a beautiful self-perpetuating design. Quite brilliant, really. That is how an oppressive system is built; the original oppressive act is perpetrated on the individual (with the manipulation of placing culpability onto the victim), the victim internalizes that sense of responsibility (to avoid feeling helpless), and the next time the individual reaches for an act of freedom they will automatically self-censure and oppress the desired action. Now the oppressor must only gently reinforce the systems and beliefs that reaffirm the self-oppressive act as appropriate and beneficial to the individual and society.
Finally, if we somehow created enough space within ourselves to recognize something as oppressive, if we have healed enough to know that our alignment with the oppressor is false and contrived, we are able to break free of the oppressive belief. Unfortunately, breaking free of a believe is not the same as breaking free of a behavior. Partly because of the difficulty of re-patterning within ourselves and partly because the system will inevitably resort to more overt mechanisms of oppression, if we overthrow the internalized mechanisms, and start to challenge the belief in the supremacy of men, especially white men.
When we do finally overthrow our inner tyrant, successfully re-pattern our behavior based on a new, liberated sense of our place in society, and throw off the bonds of the systemic oppressive apparatuses, we are a little closer to true freedom. Once the oppression is finally lifted, because we have resisted and challenged it adequately, we must grab hold of and embrace the freedom that takes its place. It takes a lot of courage to claim our freedom. Freedom can be very scary. We may very well be more comfortable allowing others to control us and run the show. It feels less risky. What if we don’t do any better than the patriarchy has?
P.S. I do believe highly evolved (or aware) individuals are able to recognize the act of oppression as it is moving through us toward ourselves or toward another person or group. This is an important concept that will be necessary to fully unravel the internalized practice of oppression that is so present for many of us. And it will be helpful for exploring how we, as individuals and as a society, can move toward being less oppressive in our daily lives. However, this topic is for another day.
P.P.S. There is support for the shared believe in civilized society that some behaviors should be oppressed. I don’t have time to go into that topic in this exploration of oppression, however it is acknowledged.
P.P.P.S. If any of you have a different understanding of Trump and why you chose (as a woman) to vote for him, I would love to hear about it.
Tawa Ranes has a very curious mind and has always been interested in the nature of consciousness and the workings of the Universe. Since healing has been a big part of her own personal journey, much of her curiosity focuses on understanding how and why healing occurs or fails to take place.