The Oppressions of Women and Men

The battle of women and their allies against sexist oppression has been the most widespread and the most hopeful of people’s struggles in the last decades. This vicious oppression of over half of the people of the world had perpetuated itself without effective challenge for thousands of years. It was called into question and much of its foundations eroded in a remarkably short period of time, speaking historically. The main structure of the oppression still stands, its cruelty and viciousness still operate, but it is a sick, wounded monster. It can never recover its domination of human populations in the ways it dominated them for so long.

The oppression of men must be as ancient as the oppression of women, but its very existence has, until recently, been largely obscured by the assignment to men of the roles of oppressors of women, and the conditioning of men to accept and play out [act out] these roles. The shortening of men’s lives by the special conditioning against discharge, the saddling of men with over-fatigue and over-responsibility, and men’s cannon-fodder military role in wartime have been clearly identified as the key features of their oppression.

These two oppressions have to be equally ancient. And neither of them could have arisen until class societies became established. The fundamental oppression in class societies is economic—the robbery of the majority producing class by the minority ruling class of much of the value produced by the majority. All other oppressions, including the oppression of women and the oppression of men, arose as a means of dividing the economically oppressed against each other and keeping them from uniting against the economic oppression. Certainly there were greed patterns operating in pre-society cultures. But there was no advantage to be gained . . . by people operating in such greed patterns until economic exploitation entered the picture. . . .

As the twentieth century draws to a close, it is plain that women are everywhere oppressed. They are everywhere held to a kind of second-class citizenship involving economic, educational, and cultural deprivation and, often, sexual degradations. Men also are oppressed. . . .

I call on all men’s and women’s liberation leaders to at once form powerful, public alliances to inspire and support the development of more advanced liberation policies by each other. There is a valuable clarity that each movement can offer the other by being outside the other’s oppression. I propose that men and women become expert, devoted counselors of the other gender . . . , using their excellent and clear view of each other’s internalized oppression.

Harvey Jackins

Excerpted from pages 217 to 220 of
Start Over Every Morning (October 1989)

Last modified: 2019-05-13 15:12:23+00