Do Women really have a “Choice” in Choice Feminism

Choice/liberal feminism has now become the norm and has taken over every social media platform. We label Any “choice” a woman makes as a feminist choice under the guise of empowerment. Duh! It’s my choice! is the ultimate feminist statement. And we want no further debate or critical analysis whatsoever. However, how feminist are these “choices”? This article attempts to provide a critique for mainstream choice feminism by looking at these “choices” and the agency they provide. 

How Independent Are These Choices?

The claim that any choice made by a woman is feminist in nature lacks nuance as it does not look at the years and years of patriarchal conditioning we are born and brought up with. It is devoid of the analysis of the various structures that govern these “choices”. According to Andrea Dworkin in her seminal book Intercourse, “One does not make choices in freedom. Instead, one conforms in body type and behavior and values to become an object of male sexual desire, which requires an abandonment of a wide-ranging capacity for choice…”.  

While looking at these “choices”, we need to remember that they do not exist in a vacuum. A woman raised in a liberal household makes very different choices than a woman raised in a conservative one. Pretending that these choices are revolutionary is, in fact, quite counter-revolutionary and antithetical to feminism. This is not to hold the individual choice makers accountable but to urge everyone to introspect if the choices they are making are feminist. Do we consider a woman’s willing participation in the patriarchal setup feminist since it fits the choice rhetoric? If yes, how is that emancipation at all? 

The Status-Quoist Nature of Choice Feminism

Feminism as a political movement demands women’s emancipation and is a vigorous struggle for a complete downfall of the patriarchy. However, what’s happening with choice feminism is the polar opposite of the demands of feminism. It prioritizes convenience and fears the real dismantling of the capitalist patriarchal structure. For example, claiming that the make-up we use to hide “flaws” (keeping aside the make-up done for art purposes) counts as a feminist “choice” is a way to comfort oneself while actively taking part in the patriarchal standards. There is nothing transgressive about this “choice” and it is mostly a perpetuation of Eurocentric beauty standards

We groom young girls to hate their own bodies in the name of feminism. Plucking your hair, using make-up to hide “flaws”, cosmetic surgeries in the name of “self-love”, etc. are the various mainstream “choices” that we sell in the name of feminism. Unfortunately they are nothing but patriarchy persevering. Brands propagate these thing to fit in and endorse the status quo without questioning it and rather end up glorifying it by using the feminist tag. However, rather than blaming individuals, we must question the conditions in which these “choices” are made and dismantle and smash that structure from the very root.

The choice for the Privileged 

“Choices” like sex work, giving up one’s career after marriage or marriage itself become a little more important to examine. Being a housewife is a choice that privileged women glorify, but for women from marginalized communities, it might not always be the case. It seems very natural for a woman to give up her career and take care of the children by herself, which, if perceived through a feminist lens, is extremely patriarchal. We as a society glorify women choosing their children over their career. We impose this idea of motherhood on women. Are men’s careers ever affected because of these reasons?

Similarly, in the case of sex work, often lack of work opportunities force women in this profession. It’s only women from privileged backgrounds who can choose to become a sex worker when they have other work opportunities available for them. Reducing sex work to a mere choice means not looking at the various factors involved in making that choice. When young girls “choose” sex work, how much of a choice is that? Did they even get enough time to assess that ‘choice’? Most sex workers are very young when they start working. It’s extremely important to look at the working conditions, economic conditions, and safety concerns of the sex workers rather than calling it a “choice”.

The Ahistorical Nature of Liberal Feminism 

Liberal feminism is very individualistic in nature. It does not challenge the status quo at all and reduces a political movement to comfortable “choices”. A movement like feminism that wants to achieve women’s emancipation will involve making hard decisions and questioning the various “choices”. There is nothing feminist about making the same patriarchal choices and calling it empowerment or doing things for the omnipresent male gaze. It’s going to be an uncomfortable journey to unlearn all the conditioning, but that does not mean it’s not important. It’s anti-feminist to be comfortable with the natural order of things which are essentially patriarchal and capitalist. 

Conclusion

Choice feminism has no actual choices to offer. These are all “choices” that align with the status quo. It is an easy way out and is very anti-feminist because of the way these “choices” are, in fact, a glorification of the status quo. It’s even more harmful because we do it under the guise of empowerment and feminism. Any genuine change through choice feminism is an illusion because of how it rather limits the choices available to women. 

Smashing the patriarchy means smashing the very capitalist structure that sustains it. It’s about looking at things from a critical perspective and questioning everything. It might not be an instantaneous process to realize the nature of the choices we make, but that does not mean we stop introspecting or start labeling every choice a woman makes as a feminist choice. It’s pretty pretentious and anti-feminist to navigate the feminist discourse in a manner like that. Change is possible, and it’s only when we believe in it can we advocate for it!

Author

Deeksha Pareek

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