Gender Inequality

Are women really oppressed in current American culture?
Answered by Diana Bocco
  • Diana Bocco

    Diana Bocco

  1. Oppression is a loaded word. Around the world, oppression takes the form of genocide, slavery, religious intolerance and even violence against women. In that context, it would be hard to say that American women are oppressed at a level remotely similar to people in other countries. On the other hand, it doesn't mean that American women are oppression free.

    The feminist movement started in the 19th century and focused mainly on basic rights such as women's suffrage. Second-wave feminism concentrated on several issues, including reproductive rights and equality in the workplace. The third-wave feminism movement started in the 1980s and still goes on. The fact that a movement is needed in this century is a clear sign that women are still being oppressed, just in a more subtle, often "invisible" way.

    Third-wave feminists believe the American woman of today is oppressed personally instead of in a broader political sense. Much of feminists' emphasis is on sexual self-esteem and a woman being free to express her own identity. The liberation movement of the 70s was all about female equality. In their efforts to gain that equality, however, women were forced to be "more like a man." That is, they tended to play down their femininity and sexuality to be taken more seriously. The end of oppression would mean that women could be as feminine or "womanly" as they chose to be, without losing their rights. Third-wave feminists believe that women's oppression also shows in the form of unfair maternity leave policies, nonownership of sexuality and lack of personal fulfillment [source: Washington Post].

    According to a March 2011 report by the U. S. Department of Commerce, women are faring much better in today's society than they did just a decade ago. The report says that women score higher in school grades and earn more college degrees than men. They also have longer life expectancies. In addition, the report shows that nonfatal violent crimes against women declined significantly between 1993 and 2008.

    One aspect where American women are not faring better is income: Women are more likely than men to live in poverty and they're also more likely to work part-time rather than full-time (and as a consequence suffer from financial issues). Women still experience wage inequity. As the report shows, "at all levels of education, women earned about 75 percent of what their male counterparts earned in 2009" [source: U.S. Department of Commerce].

    Although violence and abuse still exist, women's oppression in America is more likely to take the form of inequality and discrimination. Because this form of oppression can be subtle, it's sometimes ignored or dismissed as "not-real discrimination."

    More answers from Diana Bocco »

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