Sociology Paper #2 - Birdcage
An excellent paper 2 example by Natalie Stager.
Marilyn Frye's birdcage analogy is meant to represent oppression. She talks about how, when looking at a birdcage microscopically, there seems no reason that a bird couldn't fly out of the cage. It would seem the bird was stuck due to the fact that by looking at it this way, all the observer would see is one wire and they wouldn't be able to see that, in actuality, the bird is surrounded by a series of wires that contain it in a certain space. In Frye's writing entitled "Oppression" she concludes, "It is only when you step back, stop looking at the wires one by one, microscopically, and take a macroscopic view of the whole cage, that you can see why the bird does not go anywhere..." (Frye). In the original work, Frye speaks about the oppression of women, but her comparison of social structures that keep people from reaching certain levels or leaving certain spaces to a birdcage can be used to describe many other types of oppression found in society today.
This example really reminds me of a common problem that is seen today among high school dropouts or the unemployed. The unemployed worker, let's call him Joe, never graduated high school. When he was 16 he dropped out of school and started doing mining work with his father. Joe has been working for the same company for 10 years when suddenly, the company goes bankrupt and shuts down. Joe is unable to find another job in his town due to the fact that so many are unemployed. He decides that he needs to go back to school to get his GED because many other employers won't hire him without it. Joe does some research and realizes that he can't afford to go back to school and he has already taken out a loan in order to buy a house for him and his family. This puts him in a frustrating predicament. He can't get work because he is not educated enough, he can't get more education because he can't afford it, and the reason he can't afford it is because he doesn't have a job. It is a horrible circle of circumstances that contain him in the place that he is already at: unemployed and stuck.
One occasion that I experienced constraint by social structures is when entering into college. My parents help me pay for college and luckily I decided that I wanted to go to Portland Community College and was fortunate enough to be able to. Although, had I wanted to go directly to a four year university, I would have had to take out some kind of loan in order to afford it. If I had wanted to go to a more prestigious school or maybe a school that was further away, I don't know if it would have been possible due to financial limitations. Although we are able to get by paying at PCC, it is still difficult, so I apply for financial aid. Trying to receive financial aid is a frustrating process. My family tries to make enough money in order to pay for my schooling, but along with other bills and my parents contributing to my sister's financial needs also, that money doesn't go very far. Due to the fact that my father tries to make enough money to help us with schooling costs, I was unable to receive some financial aid because my dad made too much money. While I can see how it is sensible to base aid given on the person's financial situation, it isn't taken into account how much of the money made is even available to use for schooling. This situation reminded me of Frye's analogy. The first wire that I saw that seemed to block me in was the cost of going to college. I thought to myself, "By applying for financial aid and receiving help from my parents, I can get around this," but when I tried that, it was another roadblock. If I pull back and look at the whole situation from a wider view, I seem to be stuck in this situation.
While it seems like speed bumps on the road to college can be surpassed by going around them, it isn't always true. Let's say an Oregon citizen wanted to go to college in New Mexico. This student wanted to try to break out of their lower class lifestyle and go to a new state in order to start fresh. Firstly, they need to find a place to stay. They look into the dorms at the college and find out that they have applied too late and won't be able to be accommodated. So they think to themselves, "Alright I'll find another place to stay and then I'll be all set." The student decides to get a small apartment near campus, which will cost them more money. Due to the money they had to pay for the apartment, and the out of state fees for going to college in a state they haven't lived in, they don't have enough money to pay for tuition. Getting a student loan is their only option, but by getting a loan they will have a major amount of debt. In order to offset the debt they will receive from the school loan, they look into getting a job that will help them make enough money to stay on top of the payments. Getting a job will in turn make them have less time to go to class and therefore make them have to spend an extra year at the college in order to get their degree. By staying that extra year, they would have to pay even more tuition and rent. Finally, seeing that their situation isn't improving, the student decides to stay in Oregon for school where they can afford it and they are stuck right back in the position they started in. The way that the social structures work together and intertwine makes change extremely difficult and these structures are oppressive.
Emile Durkheim argued that what gives groups a sense of solidarity is something called a collective consciousness. This consciousness makes people feel like they are a part of something and they are then obligated to act within its beliefs and restrictions (Andersen 130). The negative effects of these common ties are that they can hold people back from transforming into something different or perhaps even better. For instance, if a teenage girl is part of the Christian religion and has discovered that she is a homosexual, she may be inhibited by her religious beliefs and the beliefs of those that surround her. Since she was little she may have been told to accept herself as one of God's creation and to love herself, but if she does so, she risks being shunned or being looked at with disgust for doing so. This young woman may feel like she is sinning by lying to her friends and family. Durkheim's idea of collective consciousness has a connection with Frye's analogy of oppression as a birdcage because being part of a group can contribute to the enclosures by which someone may be confined. By looking at this situation microscopically, you might say that the girl just needs to tell her family and friends the truth and get around her feelings of deceit from lying, but if she does so she will risk all that she has. The situation is actually much more complicated than it appears. The wires in this situation are not tangible, but they are definitely present.
Social structure, "...the organized pattern of social relationships and social institutions that together compose society," can lead to many situations of oppression (Andersen 129). These different types of relationships and social institutions can cause confusion and contradictions that may cage someone into a certain place. In the story of the teenage Christian girl, family and religion are the social institutions that are affecting her social relationships. If looked at microscopically, you may just think her family is homophobic, but if you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, you may see that there is a huge religion base that makes them feel a certain way. Whether their opinion is right or wrong doesn't matter because both the family and the girl are being influenced by outside sources that contribute to their feelings and actions. Frye describes why you can't look at situations from only one perspective; you must look at all the contributing factors and the social structures that may cause certain things to happen a certain way or people to react in the ways they do.
Andersen, Margaret L. and Howard F Taylor. Sociology In Everyday Life. USA:
Frye, Marilyn. "Oppression." 13 February 2008 . http://www.terry.uga.edu/~dawndba /4500