The Relativity of Oppression


Oppression exists, and much like other abstractions, oppression is often cognitively enmeshed with content or with something more concrete. There is often a more tangible entity that gets labeled as ‘oppressive’ or as the ‘oppressor’… through time we often allow for more tangible entities (such as a person, lifestyle, belief system etc) to be labeled objectively (and without relativity) as literally being ‘oppression’.

This tendency creates an irony for many ofus as often it is the constructs about oppression which become the oppressor (the constructs become oppressive – the individuals ability to live a most authentic life is oppressed by an unconscious adherence to an oppressive construct).

here is a list of some common constructs concerning oppression that can lead to an individual oppressing themselves:

  • being a stay-at-home parent is oppressive
  • rules and laws are oppressive
  • all religion is oppressive
  • science is oppressive
  • medicine is oppressive
  • set schedules are oppressive
  • education is oppressive
  • work is oppressive
  • power is oppressive
  • gender roles are oppressive
  • grading is oppressive
  • competition is oppressive

 I am going to steer us away from a conversation on dialectics = (yes, all the above variables are both oppressive and emancipating)

whether something is oppressive or emancipating is relative … ex. being a stay at home parent could be the source of oppression for one, and the source of emancipation from oppression for another.

History has played a huge role in creating social constructs (belief systems) that many of us are unconsciously dictated by…

For example, Women were systematically and institutionally oppressed for a long period of time in our country by inhibiting their access to careers. In doing so, females were oppressed from attaining existential fulfillment, independent financial security, and the power to positively influence the various components of the system.

The construct which was born out of this reality was: “to be free from oppression one must have unimpeded access to career.” Well many of us have experienced that in the United Stated many careers are extremely oppressive… they can impede our ability to attain: ‘existential fulfillment, independent financial security, and power to positively influence the various components of the system.”

This creates a potential for radical dissonance as many parents would be more fulfilled with more time spent with their families (or spiritual development, personal hobbies etc), but they don’t allow themselves this option because of there unconscious adherence to the construct: ‘being a stay at home parent is oppressive.’

The solutions is to allow curiosity, flexibility, subjectivity and relativity to become involved in the process.

What is the source of MY oppression? What experiences do I inhibit access too because of a belief system which may not be serving me right now?

I personally experienced this dissonance when I entered into parenthood.

I held the belief system that “schedules are oppressive” – After many years in formal education I arrived at this construct as my incredibly scheduled life caused me emotional discomfort – I found happiness in spontaneity (which I dichotomously labeled freedom) and concluded that schedules oppressed my freedom – thereby schedules oppressed my happiness.

Upon becoming a parent the idea of freedom becomes almost humorous as you are completely enveloped into a developmental stage of service – With freedom being heavily influenced by individualism, there is not much ‘freedom’ when you are a parent of young children 😉

yet the desire for freedom remains – and happiness still manifests when I feel like I have more freedom…

Here is where the paradigm needed to be shifted… schedules were the only means of affording time for me and my wife to meet our individual and spousal needs… in other words, schedules created the freedom to meet our needs … and in meeting those needs we are more happy.


schedules emancipated us from a deficit in perceived freedom… wow

And here is the kicker… If this paradigm isn’t adjusted again as the children get older it could once again be that schedules are the source of our oppression.

In conclusion, what we often label as objectively oppressive may not be oppressive in different relative instances… further, the process of labeling something as objectively oppressive may actually be the source of our oppression.












William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

William Hambleton Bishop
William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

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