This post got a little long, so tune in tomorrow for part 2, in which I reserve the right to manage my own spoons, we note that a life conforming ain’t perfect either, and I get to the point. Kinda.
I always end up describing the concept of “choice feminism” to other people in two ways: if someone’s using it as a serious term they probably mean some variation on “people who pretend every choice they make is feminist because they make it.” If it’s me arguing against that idea, it’s “let’s stop shitting on other women from orbit just so we can prove that not shaving our legs makes us Superior Patriarchy-Fighting Machines.”
Because no choice is perfect in a society which narrates and interprets our actions against an evil spirit level of power dynamics and biological essentialism. We can never win; all our choices are, on some level, wrong because we are women making them in a patriarchal society.
Wearing high heels? You’re just superficial and obsessed with shoes, like a woman (and sucking up to the patriarchy to boot) (and are probably stupid because omg who would ever like shoes which hurt your feet unless they were brainwashed???) Wearing “sensible” shoes? Prepare to be marked down as a dyke, as a square, as “not well-presented”, and all the attendant harassment and employment discrimination that comes along with it.
And that’s one of the most trivial examples (albeit one which I, as a very-privileged heel-wearer, take a little to heart).
What the anti-“choice feminist” people want to say, though, is that my wearing of high heels might be fine and dandy, oh, they might be magnanimous enough to tolerate my collaborator’s footwear, but don’t I dare claim that wearing high heels is a feminist action.
Because you know, I do that all the time.
And of course I’d better be okay with being called “stupid”, and I’d better be okay with people questioning my feminist credentials because I’m obviously too selfish/superficial to understand that High Heels Are Tools Of The Man.
To me, this is not only demeaning, and a tad misogynist, it’s also a refusal to even consider that the spectrum of our actions and choices is a bit more extensive than (a) Conforms to patriarchal standards ergo Is Bad vs (b) Doesn’t conform to mainstream patriarchal standards ergo Is Good.
So, a couple of points about why I’m frankly just fine with the label “choice feminist”.
1. Patriarchal standards aren’t uniform.
Sure, high heels are a great go-to for Things Approved Of By Patriarchy. If the only role women were ever forced into was that of “sex kitten”.
But there’s also “mother” or “teacher” or “nurse” – the unsexy woman held up for her Nurturing Qualities, her understanding of Her Place, her utter lack of autonomy and an identity focused entirely on being a helpmeet to others.
Betcha she wears “sensible shoes”.
This is one of the ways patriarchy gets us coming and going (well, not usually coming, boom boom!). There isn’t a perfect choice, even if your one goal in life is to conform (a goal which, I’m going to address later, does not actually make you an evil person.)
2. That whole “reclaiming” thing
People can, and do, do things which are surface-level conforming, yet present a challenge to kyriarchy/patriarchy.
It is a challenge to conventional beauty standards when a fat person dares to dress, and act, like a sexually-aware being. It is a challenge to people’s assumptions when a woman changes her name after marriage – and lets them know it’s only because she has no emotional connection to her “maiden” name. It is a challenge if a sex worker chooses to call herself a whore.
A lot of people take issue with the notion of reclaiming. I simply submit that shaking up the assumptions of others and causing them to rethink their immediate impressions of things is a form of activism in itself.
Part 2’s up tomorrow. Tune in then, or comment now, as you like.