Difference Between Oppression and Suppression

Key Difference – O pression vs Suppression

Although oppression and suppression are both connected to the use of force, there is, in fact, a difference between the two words. First let us define oppression and suppression. Oppression refers to the harsh and unfair treatment of an individual or a group of people. When we look at the society, we can notice that some groups are oppressed by others. On the other hand, suppression refers to putting an end to something by force. This can be an activity, a process, publication, etc. This is the key difference between oppression and suppression. However, it is necessary to highlight that the word suppression can be used in a variety of situations to denote different things. This article attempts to highlight this difference between oppression and suppression through examples.

What is Oppression?

Oppression can be defined as harsh and unfair treatment. Such treatment is mostly aimed at certain social groups such as women, working class, transsexuals, etc. the society is structured in such a way that certain social groups are oppressed by others. This is a result of the power dynamics of the society. Let us examine this through an example of the working class.

Along with the industrialization, the modes of production changed from feudalism to capitalism. In this capitalist society, people had to work in factories to earn their living. The owners of these factories also known as the capitalists often attempted to treat the working class in unfair and harsh manner. This can be further elaborated through the working conditions, the long working hours and the low pay that the workers gained although they had to work very hard. This can thus be considered as a form of oppression.

Difference Between Oppression and Suppression

What is Suppression?

Now let us pay attention to suppression. Suppression refers to putting an end to something by force. Let us comprehend this through an example. Imagine that the workers that we spoke of earlier got together and decided to revolt against the oppression that they underwent. In such a situation, there will be specific social mechanisms such as the law and armed forces to suppress the endeavors of the working class. This highlights that suppression is when force is used to crush completely the effort of a group of people.

Suppression can also denote preventing something from being known by the people, or simply the necessity to keep something a secret. This can even be a publication. For an example, as the communist ideals began to spread around the world, in most countries, the governments suppressed the publication and distribution of material which encouraged communism.

Also, suppression can be used to refer to the individual as well. When an individual makes an attempt to prevent something such as an emotion, or expression suppression takes place. However, unlike repression, suppression is not unconscious. It is a conscious effort of the person. For an example, a person can suppress a painful feeling or suppress one’s anger.

This highlights that there is a clear difference between the words oppression and suppression. This difference can be summarized as follows.

Key Difference - Oppression vs Suppression

What is the difference between Oppression and Suppression?

Definitions of Oppression and Suppression:

Oppression: Oppression refers to harsh and unfair treatment of an individual or a group of people.

Suppression: Suppression refers to putting an end to something by force.

Characteristics of Oppression and Suppression:


Oppression: Oppression is a social phenomenon.

Suppression: Suppression can be both a social as well as a psychological phenomenon.


Oppression: Oppression can be aimed at a social group.

Suppression: Suppression can be aimed at a group, particular individual, activity, or even one’s emotions.


Image Courtesy:

1. “Pinkerton escorts hocking valley leslies” by From a sketch by Joseph Becker ; Hyde [Public Domain] via Commons

2. “May Day Immigration March LA66” by Jonathan McIntosh – Own work. [CC BY 2.5] via Commons