It’s been well over a semester since I have written a volume of “So It Goes,” and it unsurprisingly feels great to be back in the game. Since becoming the Features Editor last May, I’ve had my plate full gathering story ideas, corresponding with writers and putting together my section.
Yet I’d be lying if I said I still didn’t have a hunger to start up with my column again. As luck, or perhaps fate, would have it, a series of coinciding events has led me to resurrect this thing. So it goes.
The topic of choice this time around is the discrimination and oppression women are subjected to on a daily basis. Just when I think feminism is alive and well and making positive changes in society, the ugly truth crawls out of the dark and shakes me out of my daydream.
It all started to come together after one of my Introduction to Ethics classes. My professor, Charlotte Moore, was giving a lecture about American philosopher Marilyn Frye. In her essay “Oppression,” Frye talks about the struggles women have to go through during their lifetime in comparison to men. She draws very interesting points that Professor Moore elaborated on in class.
She noted that in our society, men typically get to decide what is suitable for men, whether this is shown through physical (clothing choice, hairstyle, body image) or emotional (crying, being sensitive, talking through feelings) appearances.
Frye argues that men get to decide what’s “right” for women, too. Men decide (or have decided in the past) how women should look, act and present themselves.
The great thing about the philosophy classes here at West Chester University – not to get too off-topic – is that they truly do open my mind to a completely new way of seeing things. That is just what my class, and specifically that lecture, has done for me.
Ever since that lecture, I’ve been looking at things in my life more closely and critically. Surprisingly enough, I first began to notice female oppression in one of my favorite Netflix-binge shows, the U.S. version of “The Office.” So it goes.
The show features eccentric and outspoken Michael Scott, played by Steve Carell, as regional manager to Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.
I always used to think that Scott’s behavior towards his co-workers was crude. Of course, Scott is a caricature of an ignorant and misogynistic man, I get it. Yet I never really gave him a second look. Until recently that is.
I began to notice how sexist Scott acts towards his boss Jan Levinson and what that means since his superior is female. The fact that Levinson is higher than Scott on the workplace pyramid is subject to much disrespect and sexism. Most of the harassment from Scott himself.
Levinson constantly has to remind Scott that she is his boss and has just as much, even more, authority over him despite being a woman. However, Scott persistently undermines Levinson’s authority over him exactly because she is a woman.
His main offenses are inappropriate sexual jokes and attempts to sleep with her. Although the two do end up having a mutual relationship at some point (spoiler alert), the beginnings of their workplace relationship fall in line with Frye’s philosophy.
Even when women gain power, they are still subjected to discrimination and oppression based on their gender. This is an unfortunate fact that may be poked fun at in comedic sitcoms, but holds true in real life.
Don’t get me wrong, people, I still love “The Office” and sometimes even find Michael Scott endearing. But after connecting Frye’s “Oppression” with some of the show’s themes, I’m left slightly disheartened.
If my only argument that sexism is alive and well came from a television sitcom, then I would be quite embarrassed. Alas, I have recently come across some real-life examples and stories of this topic that only add to my case. So it goes.
A few weeks ago, my close friend told me a story that both infuriated and saddened me. She was talking with two of her male friends when one of the two made an off-color comment referencing her appearance. She later told me that after that conversation, she went right home and changed what it was that she was made fun of for.
Upon hearing this anecdote, I initially felt so angry. I could almost feel the heat rise in my body and my stomach develop a knot of frustration. I questioned why any human being, never mind a supposed friend, would say something so pointed and critical to another.
Then I began to really think about the story, and I became overrun with sadness. My friend felt as though her self-image wasn’t in line with how her friend thought she should be, so much so that it required immediate change.
One could argue that perhaps the male friend was joking, that perhaps he didn’t mean anything by it, that perhaps my female friend took the comment the wrong way or was overly sensitive.
Many arguments could be made for either side. Yet the fact that we as women feel a pressure from the opposite sex to conform to an ideal version of what a woman “should” be is very much still a truth.
Frye was spot on when she wrote that men decide what’s suitable for both genders. I do find flaws in her argument at times, however.
Obviously men are not the only people who put pressure on women to be a certain way. Conversely, women do the same to men, they do it to other women, and the media and advertising industry do it to both sexes regularly (and without mercy I may add).
But I think the case still can be made that women find themselves facing discrimination more often and in harsher ways.
So what can I make from all of this? I’m not entirely sure, if I am being honest. I think if everyone begins to look at oppression in a different and more nuanced way, then perhaps we can start to break down a few more of those glass ceilings that still exist.
I’m not recommending that we all become bra-burning, jean jacket-wearing feminists, but if we all just take a closer look, I think we’ll start to see our own series of coinciding events.
‘Til next time, so it goes.
Rachel Alfiero is a third-year student majoring in communication studies with a Latin American studies minor. She can be reached at RA806657@wcupa.edu. Her Twitter is @alfieroperson.