• +6012-6268490
  • hey@thegblog.org

The Choice Feminist Delusion

The Choice Feminist Delusion

thegblogteam No Comment

  

 

  “Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality,” said Emma Watson to a chorus of female cheers reverberating across the world. [1] If there was ever an archetype for the 21st century feminist, Watson would be its superhero and those words would be the battle cry for her fellow choice feminists.

Choice feminism has been so fetishized within popular culture that when women criticise particular industries, institutions and social constructs as patriarchal, they are often met with accusations of attacking the women who choose to participate in them. It doesn’t even matter what the choice is, the comments section would inevitably devolve into her personal right to choose. To say anything otherwise is to defeat her personal liberation, and to stampede on her choice is anti-feminist, so they say. They’re right, in so far as women should have the right to choose, but does it follow that every choice is a good choice for the collective liberation of all women?

The pitfall of this feminist blueprint is that it presumes that we live in a post-patriarchal world where every female choice made, is one that is made independent of the suffocating influences of the patriarchy. It presumes that a liberating choice made by women in first world democracies has no effect in entrenching the very institutions that robs choice from women in third world countries. Most importantly, it presumes that some choices are not made at the expense of the collective liberation of all women.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

 

The core belief of choice feminism is that any choice you make towards your self-fulfillment is a feminist action. The narrative behind that is noble: women’s choices were made for them under a more severe patriarchal past, so any ability to choose is a liberating one. The foible presents itself when choices that seem to personify female subordination are now being repackaged as liberating personal choices; despite the fact that the patriarchy, popular culture, corporate retail and the mass media are all clamouring to hijack the promotion of those choices for their own gains.

Pornography and prostitution are being rebranded as sexual liberation. [2] Cosmetic surgery and make-up are being rebranded as personal fulfillment. [3] Sexual objectification is being rebranded as personal empowerment. [4] Even marriage, and the act of taking your husband’s name, is now being reconstructed as a feminist choice. [5] All of this is happening while women are still primarily the victims of structural discrimination on those very same platforms that are being used for empowerment.

Women still face unbearably high levels of sexual violence and millions of women around the world do not even have the limited protection of common sense laws like marital rape. Activists are still fighting all around the world for the rights of girls and women to not be mutilated and exploited. Pornography and the trafficking of women and girls are booming global businesses trading primarily in sexual exploitation. To support choices which strengthen these institutions ignores the horrific number of women worldwide who still experience oppression and inequality.

We also need to acknowledge that choices are not made in a vacuum, they are shaped by the normative social forces surrounding them.

We have no way of knowing if these personal choices are made because of the patriarchy or despite of it. In many cases, popular culture constructs a mindset in which women find fulfillment, satisfaction and happiness from fulfilling the exact roles that men want them to. While these choices are not exactly coerced, the agency that some women believe they are exercising is an illusion, if she does not self-interrogate the reasons why she makes these “liberating” choices. While she wears make-up for her own personal fulfillment, is she aware that her fulfillment is shaped by the oppressive beauty standards perpetuated by men? Misogyny can be internalized and her choice could be a byproduct of patriarchal influences that she is not consciously aware of. Since there’s no way of knowing, choice feminism presents an easy cop-out that paints all women to be self-aware in a way that frees herself from these coercive social forces.

Yet, even if choice feminists can genuinely proclaim that the choices of women in liberal societies are made independent of the patriarchy, their brand of feminism is also taking over popular culture en masse which trickles down to societies where women are definitively not free from those patriarchal forces. The “My Choice” video launched by Vogue India went viral with a popular icon, Deepika Padukone depicting female empowerment through a series of choices. [6] Ironic, considering the video is launched by an industry that reinforces sexist beauty standards; and confounding, considering that India suffers from a culture of sexual violence and a rape epidemic that’s beyond control. [7] Some of those choices not only consolidate the female oppression in conservative societies, but women trapped in these environments are often not in the position to freely make these choices.  

We should not stand for a feminist framework where questioning choices that reinforce female oppression can be inoculated from criticism. These criticisms are not a personal attack to the character of these women, they are stepping stones to recalibrating their feminist worldview.

The unavoidable reality is that all women experience different levels of privilege which potentially barricades us from being fair to other women who do not have the same shared experiences. Our solidarity has a learning curve wherein many women are fighting to be heard and included in the feminist narrative. Choice feminists have reason to be wary of what this learning curve may entail: fellow feminists would have to be obliged to criticise one another for making choices that are unwittingly “unfeminist”.

 

 

But this is not a devolution of feminist solidarity. This is a necessary maneuver in formulating a version of solidarity that could elevate the position of all women. While feminists may differ in our approach to feminism, there is no denying that we share a common goal in achieving the complete social, political and economic equality of all genders. The only way we can accomplish genuine equality is to capture the different shades of patriarchal oppression suffered by women of different backgrounds. As a movement, we are not singling out individual women as unfeminist, we are simply debating which choices serve our cause for equality better.

These criticisms are not only part and parcel of an educational process, doing so to public figures that are greatly revered by many, like Emma Watson, has a spillover effect to the rest of society. In the infamous Nicki Minaj-Taylor Swift Twitter debacle, Minaj lambasted the MTV Video Music Awards for having a cultural bias in favor of the slim, supermodel-type of beauty and sexuality. In what she perceived to be an attack towards her nomination, Swift, a self-professed feminist, tweeted: “I’ve done nothing but love and support you. It’s unlike you to pit women against each other. Maybe one of the men took your slot…” While Swift was offering what was true to her own experience as a white female artist, she is ignoring the intersectionality of Minaj’s experience of sexist beauty standards as a black woman. [8]

What follows next is tremendous, Swift experienced a public re-education on what it meant to be an intersectional feminist. She apologised and tweeted: “I missed the point, I misunderstood, then misspoke.” This recalibration of her feminist worldview was owed to the massive outcries and criticisms levied by fellow feminists and Swift’s public schooling acted as a multiplier force for many young women who have also not considered the complexities of female oppression for minorities. Even renowned feminist icons are not free from this learning curve. Gloria Steinem insinuated that young female supporters of Bernie Sanders are there to simply follow the men and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie purported that trans women are not women. It is the feminist backlash that made both of these figures recalibrate their positions and publicly apologize for their ill-considered stumbles. [9][10]

The only way we can compel public figures and everyday feminists to check their privilege, or to realize the far-reaching consequences of their choices to other women is to criticise their choices. We can no longer access this when ‘choice’ is flagrantly used as a catch-all defense to end conversations. “It’s her choice,” “No one forced her to do it, she chose it to do it for her own fulfillment,” or “She is not a victim, this choice improved her position” has now become the golden standard to determining the value of a feminist choice.

While that may benefit the individual, it may or may not benefit the collective liberation of women.

Considering that modern feminism appreciates intersectionality which acknowledges the different levels of oppression that women suffer depending on their identity and context, choice feminism which belittles the context of certain choices is perplexing. We want to build a politics of solidarity, yet we refuse to collectivize against choices that perpetuate the oppression of women who suffer differently than we do.

If our suffering is interwoven together, then our solution must be, too. The origin of the feminist movement was never meant to be about liberating the specific choices of individuals, it was about the liberation of the entire gender as a marginalized class. Choices that undermine that, while they should be allowed, should not be celebrated by feminists.


References

 

[1] Washington, A. (2017, May 3). Emma Watson defines feminism in her response to Vanity Fair topless photo shoot criticism. The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved from http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/emma-watson-defines-feminism-her-response-vanity-fair-topless-photo-shoot-criticism-983295

[2] Bell, K. J. (2009). A feminist’s argument on how sex work can benefit women. Inquiries Journal. Retrieved from http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/28/a-feminists-argument-on-how-sex-work-can-benefit-women

[3] Neustatter, A. (2014, February 3). I’m a feminist and I’ve had cosmetic surgery. Why is that a problem? The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/03/feminist-cosmetic-surgery-low-body-confidence

[4] Berlatsky, N. (2014, October 7). Beyoncé doesn’t perform for the male gaze. Pacific Standard. Retrieved from https://psmag.com/social-justice/beyonce-91908

[5] Deitz, B. (2015, September 30). Why changing your name after marriage can be a feminist act. Bustle. Retrieved from https://www.bustle.com/articles/113010-why-changing-your-name-after-marriage-can-be-a-feminist-act

[6] Deepika Padukone – “My Choice” directed by Homi Adajania – Vogue Empower. (2016, February 10). Retrieved from http://www.vogue.in/video/deepika-padukone-my-choice-directed-by-homi-adajania-vogue-empower/

[7] Khan, S. (2016, March 23). What’s really behind India’s rape crisis. The Daily Beast. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/whats-really-behind-indias-rape-crisis

[8] Armstrong, J.K. (2016, February 1). Taylor Swift’s feminist evolution. Billboard. Retrieved

http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/pop/7423962/taylor-swift-feminism-impact

[9] Crockett, E. (2017, March 15). The controversy over Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and trans women, explained. Vox. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/3/15/14910900/chimamanda-ngozi-adichie-transgender-women-comments-apology

[10] Contrera, J. (2016, February 7). Gloria Steinem is apologizing for insulting female Bernie Sanders supporters. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2016/02/07/gloria-steinem-is-apologizing-for-insulting-female-bernie-sanders-supporters/?utm_term=.1deec594fc77

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get in Touch!

We're fun to talk to. We promise!