Isn’t Feminism All About Choice Anyway?

October 30, 2007

It’s not a choice if it’s your only good option. Now repeat that as often as you need to in order to take that on board.

Too often we see discussions of how if feminism is all about choice, then why can’t women choose to wear makeup (full disclosure: I’m wearing make up RIGHT NOW), or choose to stay at home and rely on their husband for full financial support, or choose to diet and lose weight or choose, choose, choose, choose, choose to perform actions that validate the patriarchy.


It’s not a choice if choosing otherwise would be an uphill struggle. It’s not a choice if sticking with it means you have to compromise your own fucking autonomy. Can I choose to go to work without makeup on, without fixing my hair, in a cheap pantsuit? Sure! But since attractive people do better in the workplace, that choice would put me at a disadvantage. I have no choice but to comply with the standards of beauty in order to be viewed as a competent professional. Yet, in having to spend time, effort and money to adhere to those standards, and in being a competent professional who is also trying to be reasonably attractive (don’t forget, I am fat) I am perpetuating the stereotype that people who don’t (or can’t afford to, or are making the political stand I am unable to) aren’t as competent.

It’s not a choice to stay home and tend house if the wage-gap means that my family would have 30% less income if my husband stayed home with the kids instead. It’s not a choice to go out to work and have a CareerTM if I need to hold down a job to make ends meet(whether I have a partner or not). It’s not a choice to work in the pink ghetto if those were the only viable options presented to me.

It’s not a choice to try another diet to try to be part of that 5% that might just not gain all their weight they lost back after 5 years because fat people are seen as slovenly and unattractive. It’s not a choice to undergo plastic surgery to look decades younger because eternal youth is associated with the only form of power consistently available to women today. It’s not a choice to reject that power either – how else are you supposed to navigate society? It’s like the Matrix, without the option of getting the fuck out altogether.

So when people say that Feminism is about choice, it is. It is about making it POSSIBLE for people to choose. And when it looks like we’re not validating choices that don’t fit into our ideology, sit back and think about it for a while. It might not even be a choice. Not yet, at any rate.



  1. (trailed here from http://jtan.org.uk/blog/?p=139)

    very good point made, which in fact has been explored by the likes of Oprah (sorry, i’m just too big a fan of hers) and feminist theorists in general. i remember a particular episode of Oprah in which–to this effect–a woman claimed that it was her choice to be sexually mined by the men she’s been with. to her, her liberal sexual life was in fact a stake in feminism.

    while you’re right that feminism is about choices, the main thrust of feminism has often been impressed upon me more so to be about liberating society so that women have *rights* to choose. which is how things can tricky.

    the problem of course is intuitively laid out in your post: society (or commercialism/ consumerism) at large has managed to hijack this liberty to its own benefit, making it seem like women are exercising their discretion in choosing while limiting the options by which to exercise this right. which leads a lot of women today to say things like “oh, i’m exercising my right to wear make-up/ go under the knife/ be the image of a stepford wife/ etc; see, i’m liberated.” this strategy in fact causes women to falsely take on the burden of complying to warped standards of beauty, and it’s tragic that no amount of intelligence can ensure that people see through the this cleverly laid trap.

    as to why this is so is that despite the advances that women have made in the last century, i’m of the opinion that it’s due mainly to the fact that the same cannot be said about most men in terms of their being evolved socially. (which is not completely their fault because they haven’t been given as much knowledge (power) to redefine themselves.) so it’s hard to be given these liberties when at the end of the day navigation through society requires a certain level of meeting of minds between men and women which is clearly lacking.

    (oops, over-extended my attempt for a short comment. sorry abt that.)

  2. Mark D, you’re exactly right! Thanks for making my point far more cogently than I was able to. 😛 Your point about the knowledge accorded to men is very salient as well. Men too are given very limited acceptable roles (although admittedly, these roles come with attendant privilege) which is quite heartbreaking. I mean no one ever said that the patriarchy didn’t hurt men too.

    I think though that this form of conciousness raising is certainly a step in the right direction. If more and more people are talking about these things and getting dissatisfied with the way things are, well then change is only going to happen next right?

  3. […] We’ll add the other “n” soon. Really. « Isn’t Feminism All About Choice Anyway? On Emotion and Getting People To Stay Long Enough To Listen To What You Are Trying To Say […]

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