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Feminism, Choice Myth And Its Limits

FEMINISM, one of the oldest and social movements in history is not without critics. These nigglers have more often claimed that the movement’s central objective is the rejection of domesticity by women or even labelled it an anti-male crusade. They tout that feminists are bad mothers, incapable of cooking, and that they are contemptuous of those women who choose to marry, be full time housewives or have children. Without having to pointedly address the misconceptions, let it be noted that these false narratives do not represent what true feminism is all about. This is because feminism cannot in any way be reduced to the stereotype of bashing of men as an end goal as the objective has always been the liberation of women and society, based on equality and equity for all people. Yet, there has been a new and recent attempt to further discredit feminism by subtly submerging it in a critical dialogue about choice in order to make it look like an interesting and refreshing addition to the nuances of feminism.

Choice feminism, as it is now called, can be found particularly in media representations of what feminism is and what its insistence on women’s empowerment is, or should look like. Evidently, it is an attempt, which unfortunately has been fairly successful, to reduce feminism to simply being the right of women to make personal choices as if anybody has ever denied the importance of choice to any proper conception of dignity. Yet it must be noted that this new narrative about choice does not even raise the issue of the capacity to make or be in a position to make choices, nor does it refer to choices about political involvement of women or equal pay or bringing awareness, but is more about what make up to wear or whether to go natural, get married, be a stay -at -home wife and mother and such others.

What is important to the purveyors of this new slant on feminism is the desire to reduce its interest in women liberation to the celebration of choice as is evident in the debate in the mainstream and social media recently on account of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s question to Hillary Clinton about the prominence of her status as a wife in her Twitter bio at the recent PEN World Voices Festival in Manhattan. To many in the debate, the question has to be reduced to that of preference and the freedom of the woman to choose without any regard to the context of choice. Not many were concerned with the larger power structures and social norms that continue to restrict women in many different ways all around the globe, providing a very certain denudation of the power of the woman to make informed choices at every point.

The fallacy and flaws of the choice arguments are evident in the basic assumption they make of unrestricted freedom of women to make choices which situation or state of affairs simply does not exist in the current patriarchal world. No doubt, women make choices, but just as Ms Adichie rightly points out, “choices don’t occur in vacuums”. They are shaped and constrained by the unequal conditions in which we live and function. By the same token, our choices are shaped by the environments and culture, societal expectations as well as the media, and as such, have to be approached and dissected with caution. In this case, care has to be taken not to celebrate conforming to social pressure as a choice, telling us that perhaps, in the case of women, it would only make sense to uncritically celebrate choice in a post-patriarchal world.

Even so, choice, in and of itself, cannot be regarded as fundamentally feminist because women sometimes make individual choices that support patriarchal constructs with those choices doing nothing to deconstruct and challenge and remove the oppressive systems under which women labour and from which feminism is seeking their liberation. Besides, the idea that more choices automatically equate to more freedom is a fallacy. It is essentially the selling of neo-liberalism with a feminist twist. Yes, women can now work or stay at home if they have children, for example, but this “choice” is fairly hollow when child-rearing continues to be constructed and construed essentially as “women’s work”.

In real terms, choice and the freedom to choose as the new reigning queens of empowerment discourse are in contrast to political philosophies that explore the ways in which structural inequality limits freedom. In the same vein, whereas choice feminism tells us that every individual is free to choose and that choice is empowering no matter what the choice actually is or is about, sociologist, Natalie Jovanovski, in suggesting why it is not surprising that this kind of liberal feminism has risen to prominence, asserts that such positioning of individual choice above all else does not challenge the status quo of oppression, does not work for or demand significant positive social change, and effectively undermines calls for and the need for collective action. The truth is that choice feminism does not address the reality of the multiple oppression that women are subjected to under exiting structures and thus, asks nothing of its proponents and adherents and delivers nothing in return. Instead of prioritizing resistance to oppressive structures, we now have activities that were once held up as prototypes of women’s subordinate status being presented as liberating personal choices to underline the limitations of this diversion and inversion of feminism.

So, just like Megan Murphy, Emma Watson, Chimamanda and every real feminist out there fighting for the emancipation of the female folks and gender equality, the movement demands for real choices for women and wants to change the system within which those choices are made, and would not just be satisfied with the use of the language of choice to perpetuate the present oppressive system or to simply comfort women. Feminism, in its real essence, targets collective empowerment, not temporary empowerment for only a few, while also insisting on the need to purge women and girls of the possibilities of making fake choices designed by the very mechanisms that oppressed them in the first place.

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