Pedagogy of the Oppressed

I’m currently reading “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire for one of my classes, and I came across several quotes which I really loved and wanted to share.

To affirm that men and women are persons and as persons should be free, and yet do nothing tangible to make this affirmation a reality, is a farce (p. 50).

I think this is something that many of us struggle with.  We see things that we want to change in the world, yet we do nothing about them.  We always find an excuse not to act — we lack resources and connections, we are too busy, we aren’t smart enough, we don’t know where to begin, we are powerless, and on and on.  This is the feeling that I was struggling with before E and I began this blog.  While I know that there is much more that I could be doing to further the cause of gender equality, I am happy that we have at least taken this step toward tangible action by creating a platform for discussion and awareness.

Resolution of the oppressor-oppressed contradiction indeed implies the disappearance of the oppressors as a dominant class.  However, the restraints imposed by the former oppressed on their oppressors, so that the latter cannot reassume their former position, do not constitute oppression.  An act is oppressive only when it prevents people from being more fully human. … Acts which prevent the restoration of the oppressive regime cannot be compared with those which create it and maintain it, cannot be compared with those by which a few men and women deny the majority their right to be human (p. 57).

This quote struck me because lately I have been hearing a lot about the “feminization of society.”  Some say that feminism is causing a “crisis of masculinity” in today’s society by discriminating against men in order to liberate women.  They say that the focus on encouraging women to be independent rather than relying on men causes men to feel inadequate and unnecessary in today’s society.  Basically, these individuals are claiming that because males are no longer the dominant sex in society (which is debatable in itself) that they are now being oppressed.  As Freire deftly points out, just because you are no longer the dominant group, just because there are now systems in place to keep you from oppressing others, does not make YOU now the oppressed.  Individuals lamenting the supposed end of male dominance need to realize that no one group should ever be dominant over another, and that the end to male dominance is one step towards a more just and equal world.  I would love to comment further on the “crisis of masculinity” but I think I will save that for another post.

For [the oppressors] having more is an inalienable right, a right they acquired through their own “effort,” with their “courage to take risks.”  If others do not have more, it is because they are incompetent and lazy, and worst of all is their unjustifiable ingratitude towards the “generous gestures” of the dominant class (p. 59)

The article E posted yesterday regarding the “Myth of Meritocracy” in Silicon Valley is a perfect real life demonstration of this quote.  Those who have, especially in America’s merit-obsessed society, almost always attribute their success and fortune to their own hard work and effort.  While I do not deny that success typically requires both of these things, it is not the only influencing factor.  Certain groups in society are able to garner more fortune more easily due to the fact that there are systems in place which benefit the dominant groups while making it more difficult for the dominated groups to find success.  Rather than acknowledging their own privilege, the dominating group often places the blame on the marginalized groups, claiming that it is due to their lack of work ethic that they have not achieved such success.  At my young age, I feel that I am a successful individual.  I graduated high school and college and am now in a Masters program.  While I definitely DID work very hard to get where I am, I also recognize that other factors contributed to my success.  I grew up in a white, middle class family with parents who supported me and were proponents of education.  I had the good fortune of living in an excellent school district and therefore receiving the kind of education that many in this country are not afforded.  I never had to deal with discrimination due to race, class or disability.  There are countless factors that contributed to my success, and simplifying the matter to “I worked hard” is not only misleading, but it is insulting to those who HAVE worked hard yet were unable to achieve the same ends.

Have any of you read “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”?  I have not yet finished it but it is very interesting so far.  I would love to hear your thoughts (whether you’ve read the book or not!).



3 thoughts on “Pedagogy of the Oppressed

  1. Wow, I love that definition of oppression. I’ve always struggled with the history of femininity — why does it feel so wrong when other people have suffered as well? And that’s the key, isn’t it? Women have been systematically throughout history denied their right to be fully human. It’s not about affluence or anything, it’s about that humanity. Thanks for the share.


    1. I really loved that definition of oppression, as well! And I definitely recommend this book. It’s pretty philosophical and some parts have (admittedly) gone over my head a bit, but it has some very insightful points. I think you would enjoy it!



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