Feminist Theories: Hegemony As “Consensual”

In Gyn/Ecology, Mary Daly speaks to the idea of women being coerced into their own oppressive demise. She quotes Simone de Beauvior’s The Ethics of Ambiguity: “One of the ruses of oppression is to camouflage itself behind a natural situation since, after all, one cannot revolt against nature.” (56)

This brings to mind the idea of hegemony as “consensual” oppression. I swear I learned that as one definition, though Dictionary.com does not say that. Though it wouldn’t now, would it? It does, however, give the definition as a “predominant influence” of one group over another (whereas the Oxford University Press dictionary says only “dominance”). The idea of “influence” versus “dominance” indicates a slightly better definition, closer to the idea of “consensual” that I learned in Intro to Women’s Studies all those years ago, and so therefore I give props to Dictionary.com (well, the American Heritage Dictionary) over Oxford University Press (bloody Brits, who needs ‘em anyway).

This all reminds me of a time when, even more years ago, I attempted to gather together a group of my women friends to discuss and find ways to conquer one particular pet peeve of mine: objectification. (That’s an overly-broad term—I know now that I meant sexualized objectification [and/or perhaps object-ed sexualization] of women by the media, particularly the so-called “cookie cutter” “Hollywood whore.”) I was pretty uneducated about all of this—I knew I didn’t like it, but I didn’t have the language, this being long before my illustrious educational career at Antioch.

Many of the responses to my rallying were positive, agreeing with me that this indeed was an issue we needed to tackle. Many others, however, were not as supportive. Their main critique of my complaint was that women “do it to themselves”—the make-up, the hair, the clothes, the warped beauty standards. The women who said this were, I’d thought, relatively progressive (to my 19-year-old high-school drop-out awareness). They were older and I’d admired them, and now I was speechless. I once again didn’t have the language to retort: I knew there was something not quite right with their flippancy but I couldn’t quite get an English-language grasp on it. I gave up the project, regardless of the many positive responses, because my lack of education became salient.

Now, I do have the education and language (at least, more than I had before). I’ve got it enough, I know, to help others understand, others who normally wouldn’t. I keep thinking I should go back to these women, over 5 years later, and re-start the dialogue.

Lately, though, I have sort of given up the practice of attempting to “teach.” It got frustrating and when I get frustrated I lose the ability to communicate, and when I lose the ability to communicate I get frustrated. It’s a bad cycle. It is clearly an important pursuit; I have just left it up to others. This was both a conscious and unconscious decision, one I would like to work to change. Being at Antioch, it’s pretty easy to avoid these things—either they’re on the same page as you (more or less), or they’re already too sick of “Antioch” “politics” to want to hear anything else. But I’ll graduate in April, and head back out into the “real” world, where perhaps my muscle for attempting dialogue can be stretched and flexed.

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