What does an oppressed woman look like? Is she a woman in the sex work industry that is there not by choice, but because of coercion or force? Definitely. Is she a woman who chose to enter the sex work industry in order to feel empowered, only to be bombarded by the misogynistic and exploitative practices of club owners and patrons? Maybe. Or is she a housewife who feels unfulfilled and depressed staying at home, yet is told by her male doctor that she is suffering from hysteria, that the only cure is to stay at home and rest? Maybe.
There is certainly ambiguity in many cases as to what constitutes oppression. In the business of stripping, which could be feminist and empowering in theory, with women taking ownership of their sexuality by their own choice and making a profit from men, we consistently see horrendous and oppressive working conditions meant to keep women subordinate and in line. As seen in the film Live Nude Girls Unite!, even the most progressive of strip clubs made it nearly impossible for the workers to unionize for standardized and fairer business practices.
The same goes for women who choose to raise children at home rather than work; in an ideal world, this would be a choice free of gendered ideas, but it is still seen as more common for a woman to leave her job to rear her children than it is for men. Just look at the labels society has conjured up: we have the universally known word “housewife,” but we have no equivalent word for men.
Are the roles women end up fulfilling inherently oppressive? Maybe some women genuinely want to be sex workers and strippers, and maybe some want to stay home and raise children. That is supposed to be the core of feminism: allowing women to make informed choices about what they do. However, what scares me is that these choices may be misinformed, that men have convinced women that stripping and staying at home is fulfilling just so they will stop questioning authority. Take off your clothes, it’s empowering. Run this household, that’s enough for you, right? I only hope that one day, women are not made to believe that they are empowered when in reality they are still be oppressed by the overbearing male-dominated customs in society. Maybe one day choosing to strip really will be feminist in practice.