Berit Ås

HerramientsMary John Mananzan, Executive Director of the Institute of Women’s Studies of the Philippines, explainsin the Publisher’s Note of the book that presents Berit Ås’s Master Suppression Techniques, that these “are methods men use consciously or unconsciously to make women passive, submissive and repressed. When women become conscious of these techniques, they are rendered harmless- their power dissolves as soon as women become aware of them.”[1]

Berit Ås, Norwegian politician and social psychologist, developed the theory of the master suppression techniques more than 20 years ago. Similar techniques are used to subjugate all oppressed groups. However, Berit Ås believes that they are used in specific combinations and situations that affect women, due to the patriarchal society’s definition of women as objects or property. The five master suppression techniques that Berit Ås identifie are the following:

  • Making Invisible
  • Ridiculing
  • Withholding Information
  • Damned If You Do And Damned If You Don’t
  • Heaping Blame and Putting to Shame

Today we find an extensive development of these techniques, for example, when the dominant group feels it has the right to define reality and to discard certain concerns as irrelevant, or which decisions are considered irrational. They are also present in stereotyping that locks us into predetermined positions or roles. At the structural level, these techniques can be noted in claims that women are better suited for jobs that involve administration or caring for people. Also at a structural level, they are present in sexual harassment, in the sense that denigration and abuse of women is a widespread practice in advertising, as is sexual exploitation in the communications media.

At the individual level, it may involve improper and unwelcome sexual harassment, either verbal or physical or both; as well as benevolent resistance such as resistance to demands for equal opportunity in an age of publicly sanctioned gender equality policies. The idea of equality is widely approved in theory, but no action is taken to put it in practice. ‘Invisible’ opposition obstructs change, with plenty of words but no concrete action.

At the Women and Men’s Pre-Assembly of the World Council of Churches 10th Assembly in Busan, women from different continents were asked to share their testimony as to which suppression techniques were present in their lives and the strategies they use to work through and overcome them. Here we share stirring remarks offered by professor Un-sunn Lee of South Korea:

“First of all, the suppression technique of ‘making invisible’ I experienced mostly as wife of a pastor in activities in my husband’s church. Because he is also a theological seminary professor, his life as pastor is different from other pastors. Yet, he readily makes me invisible at church as pastor. I protested a lot and came to realize how difficult it is to behave differently in the real Korean church life, even though he is very well aware of feminist thinking and theology of liberation. As for me, in spite of humiliating experiences, I do not have in mind to be ordained, because I know well the fundamental suppressing character of the traditional clerical ordination system of the church.”

“For me, what is more painful regarding to withholding information is the unfairness in that they take my knowledge or information without any acknowledgement or disclosure of the original source. It is their long habit to regard as their own what originally does not belong to them, but rather to women or their wives. Nevertheless, confronting this sense of unfairness, I also remember the teaching of the Bible that we must not mention the good things we have done. With all this inner turmoil, I become tired and shameful. It is what Berit As calls “heaping blame and putting to shame.”

Prof. Dr. Un-sunn Lee is professor of Asian studies and philosophy of education, Sejong University, Seoul. Her major works are feminist transversal studies in Confucianism and Christianity. Former-representative Chair of Theology Committee of KAWT, President of Korean Christian Faculty Association.