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Wed Jan 23, 2013, 09:48 AM


Where ‘Choice Feminism’ Has Got Us

Choice feminism, for those of you who haven’t been following along, is the name given to the idea that feminism equals women choosing what sort of life they want. Even if they choose to be a woman who defines herself as a man’s helpmate, they can still call themselves feminists. And by ‘helpmate’, I don’t mean simply women who decide not to work after having children. I mean a woman who thinks that a man’s role is to be in the public sphere and a woman’s is to stay home and help him succeed. Yes, folks, it’s now feminist not just to ‘opt out’ of earning a salary but to argue (and publish a book trying to persuade other women) that women should spend their time helping men get more money and power .


Choice feminism makes it clear that we missed other half of the story: feminism needs good race and class politics because without them it quickly ceases to exist. It gets reduced to the individual wishes of privileged women, and then, when some of those women decide that equality isn’t really to their liking, feminism finds itself either without a raison d’etre or rendered equivalent to whatever self-deluded lifestyle choice an individual middle-class woman makes.



On the front page currently is a note from one of the Hot Chicks. The women are not asked in advance whether they would like to be put in a Tumblr heralding their Hot Chickness -- many of them actually appear to have been photographed without their knowledge. But one of them has spoken up, and she says she doesn’t mind being considered a Hot Chick. Well, that’s cleared that up then! Sexism: over.

This got me thinking about the phenomenon of “choice feminism,” where women argue that even anti-feminist behaviors are feminist because “feminism is about choice.” If you choose to be on a Hot Chicks Tumblr -- or if you decide after the fact that, having been put on a Hot Chicks Tumblr without your knowledge, you will choose to be okay with it -- that means the Tumblr isn’t misogynistic, because anything you as a woman choose to do is feminist. In fact, the real misogynist is the feminist who’s trying to tell you that being a Hot Chick isn’t okay.

Choice feminism gets one thing right: You should be able to make the choices that are right for you. And yes, of course that should include the choice to be ogled by strangers, or have your body used as a recruitment poster to bait guys into caring about important causes. Where choice feminism falls down, though, is in assuming that any of those things are actual choices right now.

They’re not. Like the Hot Chicks founder (I’m not giving him the Google hits), patriarchy just slaps your face up on a public site with a sign saying “OGLE THIS.” You can decide to be OK with it, or you can decide to raise a stink, but the options aren’t equal -- one of them’s going to make for a much harder life, fielding a lot of hostility from people who think you shouldn’t complain. And the option to just not be treated as public property in the first place? That one’s not really live.


Falling somewhere between victim feminism and the American dream, choice feminism is the new reigning queen of empowerment discourse. In contrast to political philosophies that explore the ways in which structural inequality limits freedom, choice feminism tells us that every individual is free to choose and that choice is empowering, no matter what the choice actually is. The result is that the term choice is now employed in feminist debates about everything from the sex industry to marriage and makeup. Choice feminism dictates that any time a woman makes a choice it is an act of feminism.


Denise Thompson wrote about the problem of individualism as a foundation for feminist action in her book Radical Feminism Today. She argues that “if domination is desired, it cannot be challenged and opposed.” So, for example, if sex worker is framed as an individual choice, the system of prostitution can be dissociated from the idea of systematic or gendered oppression. If prostitution is only a personal life choice, it need not have anything to do with patriarchy. It becomes a private issue rather than a public one. And yet, as we all know, private choices don’t provide the basis for a movement. Viewing prostitution as a personal choice frames it as an empowerment exercise and, in so doing, erases the context of male domination and female exploitation in which it typically occurs.


And yet, who am I to tell another woman that she isn’t empowered or that she isn’t really making her choices freely? As one of the founders of Slutwalk Toronto, who appeared in a debate to defend her reclamation of the word slut in 2010 said: “For me to call myself whatever language I want if I find it empowering, for somebody else to say that that’s not a right choice, when this is my choice, I find that problematic.” If we consider the objections that have been heard by some women of colour—such as a statement by Black Women’s Blueprint that read, “We do not have the privilege or the space to call ourselves ‘slut’ without validating the already historically entrenched ideology and recurring messages about what and who the Black woman is”—the idea of reclaiming the word slut under the guise of choice may not be so radical after all.


Undeniably, choice is fundamental to feminism. But that does not mean that every choice we make is a feminist one. Choice, and the feminist context within which the slogan was born, has been de-politicized. Hey, we’re so free and empowered that we don’t even need the feminist movement anymore! See how dangerously easy it is to manipulate this rhetoric into something that actually limits choice for women? I want real choices. I want to change the system within which those choices are made, not just use the language of choice to benefit or to comfort me. I want liberation from the forces that lead women into strip clubs, stilettos and Girls Gone Wild. I want collective empowerment, not temporary empowerment for only a few. I don’t want fake choices designed by the very mechanisms that oppressed women in the first place.


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Response to seabeyond (Original post)

Wed Jan 23, 2013, 09:58 AM

1. That firsr one is sorely misguided.

It is SO not just middle class women who promote choice feminism.

Misses the mark by a mile and manages to be unnecessarily divisive while doing it.

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Response to redqueen (Reply #1)

Wed Jan 23, 2013, 10:02 AM

2. i thought so also. two is not that great, but has some points. 3rd is the best, i think. nt


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Response to redqueen (Reply #1)

Wed Jan 23, 2013, 10:04 AM

3. it came at it from a different angle. the palins that say they are feminist. each one


offered a different perspective.

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Response to seabeyond (Reply #3)

Wed Jan 23, 2013, 10:11 AM

4. Haven't read them all yet.

I love the second one, I've read that one before.

Dividing women by class is just wrong, full stop. It's counterproductive. There are women of every type who do things which aren't feminist.

It is important to make sure groups of women aren't being ignored by the movement. Singling out certain classes to blame for problems is a huge mistake.

Many evangelical women of lower income and women in poverty in religious cultures all over the world consider themselves as helpmates. This isn't a class thing, its a religious thing.

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Response to redqueen (Reply #4)

Wed Jan 23, 2013, 10:16 AM

5. the reality is, if one embraces the man being the voice of the relationship,


that, too, is not part of feminism. that would be the point of what they are saying. the author is not talking a helpmate, or stay at home. she is talking about those that promote the patriarchy that man is the boss, per their religion. even though these women make their choices, the choice is not feminism.

it is like me being stay at home. it was argued that it is not feministic, regardless how we champion choice. though i made the right decision for me and my family, and though it has worked for us to our advantage, (i am now recognizing clear disadvantages that kinda bum me), it was not a feminist choice. it was an individual choice.

i can live with that.

as a stripper is making her choice, she can be ok with it, but know, it is not a feminist choice. it is her choice. and does not mean she advocates that job as empowering, but in other parts of her life she is very much a feminist.

that is how i see it.

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Response to seabeyond (Reply #5)

Wed Jan 23, 2013, 10:24 AM

6. She missed the mark by attacking privileged women, and not the real enemy... patriarchy.

It is not having money so that one can stay home, or having a sexy body and an exhibitionist streak which allows one to capitalize on it that are the problems. The problem is the patriarchy.

The system which teaches us all these fucked up messages about sex and power is the problem, not individual women's circumstances or choices. Any time spent blurring that focus is wasted time at best, IMO.

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