How is oppression made?

The public enemy in the shades of LGBT+, women, refugees, and others

Oppression /əˈprɛʃ(ə)n/


prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or exercise of authority

What exactly can be categorised as ‘unjust’ or 'cruel’? Is scowling at an interracial couple a form of oppression or reusing to legalise same-sex marriages? Is feminism oppressing men? Are antiabortion laws oppressing women? Or does the women’s decision to terminate pregnancy oppress the conservative institution of the family?

In modern society, oppression is hardly ever an open act of physical violence. Nowadays, it can be described as silencing, marginalisation, and discrimination, which are conducted less ‘out-in-the-open’ and, therefore, easier to present positively in media. It creates a moral panic, a move to mobilise the society to join the authorities on their crusade to persecute minorities and strengthen patriarchal capitalism. Therefore, one thing has not changed - oppression is built on the ideological point of view.

In 1971, Stanley Cohen coined the term ‘moral panic.’ It describes an exaggeration of threat, stigmatization and demonization of a chosen group of people. Hence, creating a folk devil (the public enemy) and high media investment subsequent with overreporting. Traits of moral panic listed by Cohen are symbolisation, stigmatisation of the folk devil, and support for the elitist views. First used to describe a conflict in the United Kingdom between gangs of Mods and Rockers, it is still relevant in understanding the way media and society navigate reality.

History classes in school, we were taught that there is a clear victim in every story. Plebeians and slaves in ancient Rome did not have citizenships. Peasants in 16th century Europe were at the bottom of the feudal system. Jews during the Second World War were dehumanised. ‘They’ were portrayed as inferior or dangerous - a threat to societal values and interests dictated by the ideology supported by ‘us.’ The ideology of Nazis, portrayed Jews as public enemies for living above the average for German citizens. The ideology for Romans was based on the hierarchy of profession inherited in the family - so on the money. However, manipulation and creating ‘folk devils’ is not new. It is easy to label the horrible things from the past and present as simply ‘hate.’ But the mechanisms of manipulation dig deeper. The point is - patricians, seniors of peasants and Nazis were convinced of their righteousness resulting in a complicated situation where the Nazis oppressing Jews were doing so because of the idea (propagandist, but still) that Jews were the ones endangering them.

Battle for safety?

It is often said that we live in times ‘poisoned’ by political correctness. Everyone needs to at least seem tolerant or fight for something not to ruin their reputation. But police killing people of colour in the United States is presented as a tragic mistake, calling LGBTQIA+ community an ideology is a way ‘to protect the family.’ And, depriving women of their rights is ‘saving morality and the conceived life.’ Meantime, in Poland, we witness night-time government meetings, increased difficulty accessing the ‘morning-after pill,’ antiabortion laws, criminalisation of sexual education, LGBT-free zones, and ‘gender ideology.’

After the refugee crisis that started in 2015 in Europe, the world has met with a visible shift towards the far-right wing, resulting in Donald Trump being elected for US president, PiS receiving a definite majority in Polish Sejm and the UK leaving the European Union. Once again in history, ‘charismatic leadership’ takes over, promising to tackle the chaos and shield us from dangers of either the West, the ideological left, globalisation, or multiculturalism.

Traditional values presented by PiS see gender as a prime form of representation used by the state to control the subjectivity of their citizens. In the part of the society that supports those actions – gender, race, and sexuality are ways of knowing that make sense of social reality. Therefore, by claiming to protect the family, they desperately try to maintain their position in society, the patriarchy and to preserve the social control that lies in their hand at present. Moreover, as a person both, belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community and identifying as a woman, I see oppression as an unjust exercise of law-making authority, using social constructs such as gender or inequality of sexes, utilised to subordinate the opposition. To silence minorities, to hinder with the fundamentals of democracy. In those terms, a system that values a traditional social institution more than lives and decisions of individuals cannot call itself well-adapted to modern days calling for equality.

This is war

Nonetheless, there are always two sides to a story. An important, in terms of impact on the situation, anti-choice voice is Ordo Iuris. This Catholic organisation spoke about the LGBT declaration signed by the Warsaw President Rafał Trzaskowski claiming it to be unconstitutional and amplifying the threat. They not only openly criticised the act, which aims to fight with homophobic and transphobic behaviours, but also showed approval for conversion therapies claiming to be giving a choice to those who do not wish to be LGBT. Despite the World Health Organisation stating it to be an abuse of human rights as the LGBTQIA+ individuals make up a great percentage of people who attempt suicide, suffer from mental disorders and substance dependency. According to minority stress theory and research by Balsam, exposition to microaggression and stigmatization causes internalised homophobia and safe-hatred resulting in those statistics being so high.

Yet, for Ordo Iuris and those who agree with them, a fetus (‘conceived life’) should have a ‘dignified life,’ while the institution of the family is based on ‘natural predispositions’ of sexes where women’s duty is to give birth. They are trying to ‘secure the morality of society.’ In this narrative, a rainbow is a sign of ‘sexual deviants’ who put in jeopardy the ‘right’ development of children. And anyone who ‘puts a sign of equality between the health of the mother and life of the baby’ (as stated in the 1993 Family Planning, Protection of Human Embryo and Conditions of Termination of Pregnancy Act) is immoral. But any discussion on the subject of morality is usually doomed to be emotional one rather than objective.

The Question

Right now, the majority of those in charge around the world hold conservative views. And as such, they represent their group while serving the never-ending circle of moral panic. It might seem they are unjustly exercising their power. However, what if they do everything to prevent some groups from being oppressed because they think the ones they are oppressing are an actual danger to them? But most importantly - is there an exit out of this vicious circle?

Following the idea of Poland being the bulwark of Christendom and martyrology, Poland was built on always fighting for survival, on seeing danger everywhere, and the Sarmatian mentality of xenophobia and misogyny. The solution is simple yet difficult. If we understood and accepted that everyone in the world is not out to get us, maybe we would manage to respect and give equal chances to people just because of a simple fact of being human? Maybe we could agree that people, who are pro-choice, feminist and allies to LGBTQIA+ are actually supporting people’s free will to decide about themselves and themselves only. But it is even harder to achieve with the public discourse ruled by manipulation and divisions that are often artificially imposed upon us by the ones, that are supposed to unite.