“If everyone is oppressed, then no one is really oppressed,” said professor Peter Higgins.
Frustrated by the countless essays from his students on how men are oppressed as men, Higgins decided to present his research on how these claims can be flawed. In his lecture, “Three Hypotheses for Explaining the Alleged Oppression of Men,” he presents his findings and his own commentary following a questions from the attendees.
The event was held in the Halle Library in room 300, a room often used for classes. There were five rows of long tables with seating at each one, along with seats along the perimeter of the room. Plenty of professors and students of all levels came to listen to the lecture resulting in most of the table seating being occupied, only leaving the surrounding chairs for late comers.
Professor Higgins was the first lecture of the winter 2018 philosophy speaker series taking place Thursday, Jan. 25 from 5:30-7 p.m. in the Halle Library. The series is held every year by the EMU philosophy section solely for the general public and students how want to earn learning beyond the classroom (LBC) credit towards graduation.
“The reason why I wrote this paper is because I actually think that it’s useful for that very purpose of not causing people to reject feminism because it won’t accept claims of mens’ oppression,” Professor Higgins said.
He stems most of his ideas for this presentation from Marilyn Frye’s 1983 essay titled “Oppression,” where she explains six conditions that a social group must fulfill to constitute as oppressed. These conditions, in the simpler words, are as followed:
● Social group condition
● Restriction condition
● Harm condition
● “Systematicity” condition
● Privilege condition
● Coercion condition
Higgins made clear that his “primary goal is not to show that men are not oppressed as men, rather to suggest some ways to make sense of the limitations and harms masculinity sometimes imposes on some men without invoking the notion that men are oppressed.”
His first hypothesis is what he calls the non-compliance hypothesis. Higgins uses the “cost of violence hypothesis for explaining cases in which harm applies to men as a consequence of complying with masculine expectations,” like holding the door open for women or paying on dates.
“These examples are evidence of men's oppression is not to say that they sometimes involve genuine harm for some men but these harms are what to be called non-compliance penalties,” he said. “Frye points out that masculine norms are enforced against men primarily by men.”
Higgins’ next hypothesis states that men and boys are often ridiculed when engaging in feminine behaviors. But these penalties are not for being a man, but “penalties for being or seeming gay, which explains such cases is not the oppression of men, rather it explains it as compulsory heterosexuality.”
His third hypothesis is stemmed from the ideas from David Benatar’s “The Second Sexism: Discrimination Against Men and Boys,” where Benatar uses the example of a man’s expectations of military service.
Higgins’ finds that “Benatar acknowledges that the burden of military service, especially combat, does not fall equally on all men” because men of color are more likely to be placed in military combat. Therefore, it only provides evidence of class and race discrimination, not discrimination against men.
Washtenaw Community College student Jacob Sterlitz attended the lecture because philosophy and gender studies interest him. What he found most interesting was “Frye’s six criteria on oppression because [he] never thought of it that way before.”
Similarly, EMU student Danielle Clevenger attended the event because she is pursuing her master’s in philosophy and she finds the speakers very engaging.
“I really enjoyed how the argument was laid out. It was very clear explanations of Frye’s original argument in a very clear form,” Clevenger said. “And I like how he was able to explain some things brought up in classrooms, particularly in introductory level philosophy.”
For more information on the philosophy department annual speaker series, visit their Beyond the Classroom page.