“Obviously the most oppressed of any oppressed group will be its women.”
I am an English teacher at James Hillhouse High School in New Haven. Over 90% of Hillhouse’s population is black. Our students hail from all over the country, the Caribbean, Africa etc… They are from diverse socio-economic backgrounds as well as geographic locales. The commonality among them is that they attend an inner city high school. All of the students belong to a marginalized group for this reason. The few white students at Hillhouse are still subject to the stereotyping that accompanies inner city schools. The assumption often being that they are students at Hillhouse because of economic status not by choice. Oppression and racism are not new concepts for the Hillhouse students. This unit is especially important for them because it deals specifically with gender-based oppression. The objectives for this unit are to expose students to the different aspects of gender-based oppression and to identify the ways in which different societies manifest such oppression and perpetuate it. Students will recognize the ways in which they define themselves and others by paradigms rooted in oppressive thinking.
The female students at Hillhouse are mainly outspoken, self-assured young women. They are quick to defend themselves and confront others when they perceive an injustice. They are incensed when they feel their courage, strength and virtue have been questioned; yet they would be unable to articulate concisely how they had been insulted. They often perpetuate gender oppression by echoing sentiments that have long worked to subjugate women. An example of this is female students expressing their sexuality yet criticizing and judging others for the same behavior. Students who are not virgins are scorned and called names however no one wants to admit to being a virgin. With this unit and the material covered I seek to enlighten my students. They will be able to identify gender-based oppression and identify their own reasons for oppressing. Ultimately students will be able to draw conclusions about their own unique identity as both as women and as black women. They will understand the importance of both the biologically based roots of oppression and those that are culturally specific.
The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, “It’s a girl.” Shirley Chisholm
The following unit will explore gender-based oppression. Motherhood and the notion of it as both an asset and a liability will be studied.
“Oppress”-1 to weigh heavily on the mind, spirits, or senses of; worry; trouble 2 to keep down by the cruel or unjust use of power or authority: rule harshly; tyrannize over 3 to crush; trample down b) to over power; subdue
The dictionary offers the above definition of oppress. Oppression based upon gender is omnipresent throughout history and in contemporary times. While it is subtler in some societies than others it occurs nonetheless. It can easily be identified and protested yet rarely are explanations offered for this practice. This unit will explore themes of female oppression and consider the biological and social aspects of gender based oppression. Biological aspects and social constructions of motherhood will be identified and analyzed in a number of fictional and nonfiction works. Various issues and questions will be discussed throughout the unit. Research, journal writing and reading will all be included while studying these themes. In this manner students will learn to identify sexual oppression in its many forms and will begin to formulate theories as to its origin and to articulate reasons for the perpetuation of such oppressions. The unit includes three novels that deal with themes of motherhood and sexual oppression: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee, and Beloved by Toni Morrison.