Contemporary Oppression

Iris Young’s “Five Faces of Oppression” was published first in Justice and Politics of Difference (1990). Young was born January 2, 1949 in New York. She is known as an American political theorist and social feminist. Her work, “Five Faces of Oppression” essentially argues that all forms of oppression consists of: exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence (Young, 38). She explores targeted oppressed liberal groups in the United States during her contemporary moment. Unfortunately, the same political oppressions that were experienced in the 20thcentury are still perpetrated in the early stages of the 21stcentury. Within her literary work she poses unanswered questions and evokes thought from her readers.

            Young’s argument focuses on feminist, queer, poststructuralism, and post-colonial critiques of classical Marxism. She essentially argues that “… all oppressed people suffer some inhibition of their ability to develop and exercise their capabilities and express their needs, thoughts, and feelings” (38). This literary work was published during the era of spreading capitalism. This was a very important time for Young to have her political feminist voice heard. During this time many liberal social groups were focused on progression and freedom from the oppression they faced daily. Young states, “racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia… are distinct forms of oppression with their own dynamics apart from the dynamics of class…” (40). Although these groups face oppression due to uncontrollable factors, they also face discrimination in regard to class. Social economic status is essentially a hidden force to keep groups divided. This is important and courageous to discuss in her writing especially being a woman and living during the rise of capitalism.

            Essentially, Young’s argument is relevant in our contemporary moment. As an African American woman the battle between the oppressed and oppressors appears to be a lifelong war. Initially Young states, “in accordance with ordinary political usage, I suggest that oppression is a condition of groups” (38). This statement has lingered and caused question. Is Young ultimately blaming the victim of oppression for their reality? She later states, “the conscious actions of many individuals daily contribute to maintain and reproducing oppression, but those people are usually simply doing their jobs or living their lives, and do not understand themselves as agents of oppression” (40). Young explicitly suggests that oppression can never be overcome because the oppressed individuals are actually contributing to their own oppression. As one can see, Young’s approach to oppression can appear a bit biased and uncertain being that she is a White woman from New York discussing oppressed groups, I assume she does not belong to. It is easy for outsiders to express their perspective of oppression, but it also can be condescending and misleading. 

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