Sometimes It’s Just Not Oppression


These days, people are hyper-aware of oppression. Racial, gender, sexual orientation and all other forms of oppression are commonly highlighted. I’d argue that this is good. For too long, people have overlooked the systemic inequalities in our society and clearly, that’s lead us to nothing good.

However, in the midst of this rush to make sure that everybody knows when oppression is rearing its head, many of us have also tried to ascribe the word to things that aren’t actually oppressive at all.

We’ve all seen other examples of this. Any time someone wants to do something that the rules say they can’t, it becomes an –ism, -antagonism, or -phobia and worth 50 Facebook posts, 10 interviews on the news, and maybe even a feature on a few of the many e-magazines that exist. I’ll admit that I read these things and 85% of the time, I wonder what the big deal is.

So, I’ve compiled a short list of things that aren’t oppression to help us all get through this thing called life with as little outrage as possible.


Things That Are NOT Oppression

Dress Codes: Dress codes are not oppression. I know it may be hard for a lot of millennials (especially the younger ones) to believe, but tank tops, miniskirts, club dresses and flip-flops aren’t appropriate attire for any and everywhere you need to go. Many of you will recall the “Teacher Bae” scandal where a TA posted herself in a tight dress on IG and after the photo went viral, she was subject to all sorts of social media commentary. We later found out that she had indeed transgressed the school’s dress code and apparently, her supervisor failed to admonish her about it (I can guess why). Of course, the accusations of body-shaming abounded. People swore that she was being discriminated against and even that people were jealous. There have been other examples of students starting demonstrations and parents swearing their children were fat-shamed because what they wore was against guidelines.

Now, I’ll concede that sometimes dress codes have an unequal target and I would never say that young women need to abstain from crop tops because it’ll cause some man impure thoughts. Someone’s thoughts are their own and if they might manifest in nefarious ways, they need to rein themselves in. Nevertheless, I would say that crop tops aren’t school attire. Despite what social media may have taught you, your appearance speaks before you do and inappropriate dress does you no favors. Just like the employees at Best Buy are expected to wear the blue shirts, your appearance is representative of your organization and frankly, you. By the way, the funniest thing about the “Teacher Bae” scandal was all the educators who rushed to her defense knowing full well that their own campus has standards of dress that would get them reprimanded should they want to try to become their district’s “Teacher Bae.”

Work hours: Recently, I had a conversation with someone who talked about a new employee at their company that was already considering quitting because his work hours were 8:30-5:00. He felt that it wasn’t “fair” that he had to be at work at 8:30. I mean…8:30 is clearly the witching hour, no?

The thing is, adulthood requires you to do things that you don’t necessarily want to do. Bills, work, scheduling repairs, dealing with customer service reps., watching Calliou by proxy; all of us wish there was a magic wand that would deal with the stuff we don’t care to. Yet, we do these things because we know we’ll be worse off if we don’t.

Our generation shakes our fists at the economy that requires us to sweat to find a job. Our generation also gets upset and traumatized by having to go to work. I’m not sure if people know this or not anymore, but 8:30-5:00 are pretty standard work hours. The fact that someone would be willing to give up a reasonable salary, benefits, and weekends off because they find being at the office at 8:30 unfair is mindboggling.

On that note….

Work in general: I was sent a crowdfunding campaign a couple of months ago for someone wanting a few thousand dollars to attend a retreat because her job was “mentally exhausting.” She said that she needed to attend this retreat to get centered and prevent a breakdown. The retreat location? Jamaica….for a week. Apparently, this capitalist system that causes everything (that people want) to cost more than they can afford forced her into an unhealthy situation and if she didn’t get to this island retreat, that chariot just might swing low and scoop her on up. First, I laughed uproariously. I mean, you have to give her credit for having the balls to poetically beg the public to send her on an island vacation. After I caught my breath, however, I shook my head (for real).

If your job is causing you to experience the early signs of a nervous breakdown, that’s unfortunate. I would say that at the first pang, you should probably start sending out resumes. I would then mention that it’s likely not just the job and you should probably see someone. I get it. Work is stressful. I used to work for the county courts and my co-workers alone were enough to burst a vein. Add in convicts that thought you may want to date them fresh out of the clink hitting on you at a rate of 5 per hour, for 8 hours a day and it could be hell. But, the fact that you have to work for a living is not a sign of oppression. It’s a sign that you are one of the millions of adults on this planet who has to earn a wage in order to sustain their standard of living because they are either too old to be dependent on their parents or weren’t born with a never-ending trust fund.

Rules: Before I start, I’m not talking about “law and order” as dog-whistled by racists. I’m talking about regular standards that apply almost everywhere. Society has rules (often referred to as common courtesy). Businesses have rules. Even individuals have rules that govern their space. That’s why it’s baffling to me why often, when somebody can’t do whatever the hell they want to do, it’s perceived as not only a personal insult, but some systemic plot to hold everybody in that demographic down.

I know this is hard to believe but disallowing cell phones in class isn’t a ploy to quash freedom of speech or dehumanize children just for being children. Your neighbor not wanting to hear your television program blasting on a Thursday night at 1am and asking you to turn it down isn’t an attack on freedom of expression. Someone being annoyed that your visiting relative is sitting out in front of their home blasting trap music isn’t a sign that they’re an Oreo that hates being Black and is trying to help Dwight Man take another Black man down. It’s an expectation of common courtesy, also known as social rules.

Can rules suck? Often. Can they seem unfair? Yes. Are rules inherently wicked and meant to drag you into mindless obedience to an oppressive system? No. So, the next time you have to do something, wear something, or go somewhere you don’t like, before you e-mail all the blogs and your local news, stop and think about what’s really happening. Dollars to donuts, you’ll sigh, say, “ugh” and move on.

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