The trouble with choosing your choice

I’ve re-posted my piece here, originally posted on Kickaction for their annual Blogging Carnival. Check it out – there are a lot of great blogs/bloggers participating.

Within feminist or, what some might call ‘post-feminist’ discourse today, ‘choice’ is front and center – it makes up the framework within which so many debates begin and end. And indeed, ‘choice’ is often used as a way to end the conversation. “Well, it’s my choice.” or “No one was ‘forced’ they just ‘chose’ to take off their shirts.” or “These women aren’t victims, they have ‘choice.” are commonly thrown about as ways to defend women’s choices and actions as being representative of freedom and to present every female choice as, in fact, a feminist act.

This kind of ‘anything-goes-so-long-as-we-call-it-a-choice’ discourse often, rather than signaling collective female power and freedom, is a co-optation feminist language used for individual means. Often this version of ‘choice’ is used in order to frame sexist imagery and actions as something that empowers women, when in fact, it is often doing nothing of the sort. While certainly ‘choice’ is one of the founding concepts of the feminist movement, and of primary importance, I can’t help but feel as though it has been taken from us; that the word ‘choice’ continues to represent feminism but is more often used in an entirely ‘unfeminist’ way. I believe we are beginning to forget where ‘choice’ came from and what it means. And I think it’s time we started paying attention.

Choice became a key part of feminist language and action as an integral aspect and rallying call within the fight for reproductive rights – the right to choose whether or not we wanted to get pregnant and to choose what we wanted for our bodies and lives. This choice was, and is, a fundamental aspect of the feminist movement because it impacts our ability to be empowered and autonomous in, not only the home and as individuals , but in other, more public, aspects of life and society. Having reproductive rights means we get to make real choices about what happens to our bodies, real choices about education, work, marriage, and family.

As of late, though, it has become standard to talk about ‘choice’ in terms of individual choice rather than collective choice (and collective freedom). As though ‘MY CHOICE’ could not possibly affect anyone in the world except for the individual who is making it. And, as though ‘HER CHOICE’ can somehow negate any justifiable criticism or questioning of said choice or the context within which said choice was made. Used in this context, it is a way a shutting down the conversation. And where would feminism be (and where will it go) without conversation and critique?

Many older feminists and critics of the movement do see this ‘anything goes’ mantra as being one the more significant weaknesses of the 3rd Wave and of postfeminist discourse; and while this attitude is not universally applicable to the entire wave, it certainly seems to be building momentum. Does anything and everything count as ‘feminist’ just because we choose it?

The trouble with a perception of ‘choice’ that is all about individual choice without a foundation in theory, activism, a movement and a larger context of the still dominant systems of patriarchy, is that really, your choice doesn’t necessarily empower anyone. First of all, ‘choice’ and ‘choices’ are much more readily available and accessible to white middle and upper class women living in the West, so the conversation is instantly limited to those with privilege and is completely offensive and irrelevant to those whose ‘choices’ are limited not only because of gender, but because of factors like race, class, education, ability, etc. Simply, your ‘freedom’ to make ‘choices’ may well represent your feelings of personal empowerment in your own life, but in no way does this liberate anyone but you and, in fact, your ‘choice’ may exist at the expense of another woman’s oppression in a myriad of complex ways that begin with the Western world’s interactions with developing countries as well as issues of class and privilege right here at home, wherein your choice to represent stripping as ‘just for fun!’ may well not be ‘fun’ for other women. If choice is going to continue to be a valuable part of feminist discourse and a foundation for activism, we need to start thinking of it in collective, rather than individualistic terms. And we need to stop using it as a way to shut down criticisms and conversations. Your desire to make a choice does not mean we all have to shut up.

Of course, the media is an important player here. They would have us believe that yes, indeed, choose whatever you like! That’s empowerment! Whether it’s hair dye or stilettos, pole dancing classes or birth control pills, it’s ALL the same – it’s all your choice and its all feminism.

For example, Let’s look at the way in which choice is presented around the famed, reality-porn-show-of-sorts – Girls Gone Wild; discussed at length by both Ariel Levy and Karen C. Pitcher. The underlying (and overarching) interpretation presented to us by producers and by the subjects of the videos is that a) this is fun, b) everyone is participating through their own free will and c) (the most depressing and confusing justification of all) that it’s going to happen regardless so, you know, just make the best of it: “It’s not like we’re creating this…This is happening whether we’re here or not. Our founder was just smart enough to capitalize on it.”(Levy 12)

Thanks, in part, to capitalism, media, and neo-liberal ideology, female empowerment would appear to rest on the idea that, if we are getting paid, well, that’s feminism! Dita von Teese is quoted as saying, in defense of critics who call her act ‘disempowering’: “How can it be disempowering when I’m up there for seven minutes and I’ve just made $20,000? I feel pretty powerful.” I don’t imagine I’m the only one out there who sees a few gaps in that logic. Not only are we ignoring the fact that most women out there who get paid to take their clothes off or perform sexual acts are not making nearly that amount of money, but then there is also the fact that, simply because you are paid to objectify yourself and perpetuate an image of woman as sexual object, it does not, in and of itself, equal empowerment.

When girls and women flash the camera for Girls Gone Wild and this action is presented to us as representing freedom or empowerment, because those girls and women ‘chose’ out of their own ‘free will’ to participate, well, it signals to me that we need to revisit this word, ‘choice’ and revisit the context within which we use the word. While yes, choice IS the power of feminism, and I am immeasurably grateful for all the choices I have today thanks to the feminists who came before me and fought tooth and nail for my right to vote, have reproductive freedoms, go to University, etc etc, what I also realize is that simply because I have certain freedoms it does not mean that a) all women share these freedoms or that b) every goddamned choice I make is a win for feminism simply because I made a choice.

‘Choice’, and the feminist context within which it was born, has been co-opted by dominant systems and ideology and they have made it their own. We are now being told what choice and freedom looks like by those who have no particular interest in feminism or in ending gendered oppression. Those systems are the ones who tell us that being radical, or revolutionary or feminist even, is bad. That we will be picked on and attacked if we want too much or the wrong kind of freedom and empowerment. They offer us their version of choice, and tell us that empowerment is easily available to us – it’s just got to be pleasant. And you’ve got to look sexy doing it. And, hey guess what! We don’t even need the feminist movement anymore! We can ‘choose’ to objectify ourselves now because we are free – and so long as it is labeled as ‘empowering’ then it is. And everyone else needs to shut up because IT’S A CHOICE.

No.

It just isn’t as simple as that. “Feminism has been the proactive opposition to patriarchy and sexist oppression.” The goal should not be to just join in. We don’t ‘win’ because we can act in oppressive ways just as men do. So when we argue either that sexism will happen with or without us, so we may as well participate and make the best of it OR that if women can profit financially, this will somehow erase sexism, I think there is something really big missing from the conversation. Presenting a radical challenge to patriarchy is not just going along with it, it is not being told by GGW producers what free will looks like or that because one woman is getting rich off fancy strip shows we are all emancipated.

Choice without politics or theory behind it doesn’t hold power. ‘Choosing’ to objectify ourselves, for example, is not, what our second wave sisters meant when they fought for the ‘right to choose.’ And empowerment, through choice, was never intended to be about individual women, but rather about empowerment on a large scale, and freedom from oppression for all marginalized people.

Who is it that gets to ‘choose’ to be consumers, ‘choose’ to flash the GGW cameras, ‘choose’ to play around with the idea of sexual objectification? Who feels safe enough and privileged enough to take this word ‘choice’ and to throw it around wherever and whenever they see fit.? What kind of ‘movement’ are we left with when it is only privileged women who get to make ‘choices’?

Even contraceptives have been fraught with issues of access and have never been universally empowering for all women (look towards the Yaz controversy and the fact that drugs were tested on marginalized women before being sold to white women , as well as many other factors which led towards unequal access in the history of reproductive technologies, including eugenics). My point is not to disparage reproductive rights and contraceptives for women, but rather to point out that ‘choice’ for some may equal repression of others, and that this can manifest itself in various ways. And while we and the powers that be like to throw the word around in order paint our world as a post-feministic heaven, this is far from true and, without rigorous interrogation we risk losing sight of what real choice and empowerment means and how it relates to feminism.

This talk by Australian journalist, Gay Alcorn, provides a great argument around the way in which pop culture, though it often pretends to, lacks any real feminist framework, arguing that “sexism is so embedded we barely notice it”:

So. Does your personal choice negate any conversation? When did we get to a place where ‘choice’ is the end to the conversation? Where your choice no longer must include context and mustn’t include political and theoretical foundation? Where there is no room for debate around the discourse of choice?

When we frame choice as something that is solely about individuals and as something which is isolated from any larger context, it becomes much easier to present any and every ‘choice’ as feminist or as empowering. It also becomes dangerously easy to manipulate this rhetoric into something that actually limits choice for women. We have begun to fixate on ‘choice’ rather than on imagery or context, and have begun to use the word as a way to cloud inequity and a way to discourage questioning and criticism. The ‘choice’ pushers want us to believe that feminism is irrelevant and lull us into apathetic complacency.

When Pitcher wrote about neo-liberalism and rhetoric around choice, looking at Girls Gone Wild, she pointed out that:

“a majority of the women featured on the videos and interviewed in the popular press describe their experience with GGW as ‘‘freeing’’ (Navarro, 2004), inconsequential (‘‘I just don’t see what the problem is,’’ qtd in Grigoriadis, 2002, p. 53), pleasurable and ‘‘just having fun’ and even ‘‘empowering’’(201).

Aaaaand so what – is this good? Within our wide array of ‘choices’, I suppose we are now to applaud out ‘freedom’ to ‘choose’ pornography or prostitution? And thank the feminist movement for this? Our ‘choice’ to exist within the, still, very narrow framework provided to us by patriarchy does nothing to change dominant perspectives of women as sex objects. I would argue that, rather, this ‘choice’ framework placed around anything and everything simply normalizes sexism, erases feminism and works to remove the still dire need for radical activism. So I choose my choice. But will choose it consciously. And with my pants on.

Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy, founder and editor of Feminist Current, is a freelance writer and journalist. She completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog. Follow her @meghanemurphy

  • http://zealey.wordpress.com Mike Zealey

    I found this article through a friend’s link on her facebook page. Well written and logical, but I can’t agree with the idea that some self-appointed feminist women are deciding for other women that their ‘choices’ are not valid because they don’t agree with them. Surely this is very condescending at best, and at worst is exactly the same as men used to do in telling women ‘not to worry their pretty little heads’ about something deemed too philosophical for them. Surely if a woman decides she wants to strip for a living then it truly is her ‘choice’ in a post-feminist world, just as it is your choice to disagree with her?

  • No Sugarcoating

    First of all Mike, we do not live in a post-feminist world. So, her choice does exist in the framework of a sexist society. Second of all, I checked out your blog and found this little gem. http://zealey.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/ex-stacy/ You are not a feminist. Cut the bullshit about being concerned that radical feminists are re-enacting misogyny onto these women. You’re so transparent and your shtick has been done countless times by other men.

    Also…”It was recounted to me last week in a bar in Montmartre and I have no reason to doubt its authenticity.” I could tell you were extremely self-absorbed by your comment, but a moron too?

    • http://zealey.wordpress.com Mike Zealey

      Thank you for helping publicise my blog. It is a short story. Not reality. Why are all feminists so humourless and uptight? You resort to insults in your reply to me, when all I was doing was asking a question. For your information many of us DO live in a post feminist world. None of my many female friends have ever felt they live in a ‘sexist’ society, just as most of my male friends (myself included) have never acted in a sexist way towards women. I think perhaps you are jealous of women who are good-looking and happy with themselves, and you have become bitter and twisted by the hand that life has dealt you and seek to drag everyone down to your hate-filled level?
      Either way, as you clearly can’t debate without resorting to insults, I’ll wish you good luck and hope you find the peace in your own private life that you desperately seem to need.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Mike. Regardless of what you and your friends have decided to believe, we do not live in a post feminist world. Patriarchy doesn’t function on case by case basis. You benefit from male privilege regardless of whether or not you choose to see it and women are impacted by sexism and patriarchy in varying ways and to different extents, it’s true. As you have made very clear, you have been impacted by this misogynist world in a very personal way, seeing as you are, in fact, a misogynist. Good luck with that.

        • No Sugarcoating

          Oh the irony…while explaining he is so not sexist, he has to resort to the old “jealousy” trope. I bet he thinks he’s so original.

          • http://zealey.wordpress.com Mike Zealey

            I take both your comments on board.
            I’ve got a sincere question: see if you can give me an honest answer without defaulting to insults.
            I admit I am by your reckoning a misogynist. But how can I help it? I was born into a patriachal society and even if now, as a reasonably intelligent man, my thoughts were totally pure, my actions would still be taking place within the patriachal framework. So what can be done?
            The world (with notable exceptions in certain African and Brazlian tribes) has evolved to choose patriachal society as its template, (obviously this would have been down to male superior physical strength). But the point is, what is your goal? What do you hope to achieve really, short of just spending your life infruiated and depressed by the state of things? No-one else really cares. We are just getting on with life, but you seem outraged by the unfairness of it all. And fair enough. But how can it ever change so fundamentally as to become a matriachal society?
            Here in the UK, we are more or less equal as a gender society in terms of legislation and most people’s surface attitudes. There will always be the extremist elements of neanderthal men who relish torture porn, just as there will always be elements of religion that want to blow up buildings. But the MAJORTIY of people here in the UK are ALRIGHT. They don’t MEAN to be misogynistic, it’s the framework they are working in. But this will never change, or at least if it does it will take the same 9,000 years of evolution to undo.
            So what is the feminist goal ultimately, except to just whinge about the unfairness of life?

          • No Sugarcoating

            Mike, I will give you an honest answer, but I don’t think you are entitled to one. You have made it clear in this very comment that you do not care…that no matter what we say, even if we prove what we are saying is true, it doesn’t make a difference to you. This is what Meghan is talking about when she’s saying male privilege. Why should she even spend time and effort explaining this to you? Perhaps you can understand how condescending you sounded right from your very first comment. I don’t think it should be a surprise that we reacted the way we did. We have heard your arguments literally hundreds of times, and it gets very tiring having to explain this over and over especially when you know the other person actually does not give a shit.

            You can choose to better yourself. It is true that we are all born into a patriarchal framework and it influences us to a great degree. I’d argue that this is why your female friends do not see the big picture, if they are even telling you the truth. I know I don’t dare bring up sexism around male friends. Breaking free can be very difficult, especially when the system benefits you. It’s not impossible though. What it really comes down to is empathy and selfishness. If your empathy for women as fellow human beings is stronger than your selfishness, you can become a better person – and man. If you come to a realization that the systematic misogyny women all over the world have to deal with is more important, “what can be done” will become much clearer to you. Right now your mind is clouded because you are (perhaps subconsciously) trying to drown out the guilt that can come with such a realization. Are you familiar with the concept of cognitive dissonance? It’s of central importance to understanding why “nice guys” resist/ignore/deny feminist theory.

            I’m pretty sure our ultimate goal is to end the system of male dominance over women, destroy patriarchy, abolish sexism, etc. We do not want a matriarchal society, we want to end power hierarchies based on gender. We want equality, not superiority. We’d like violence against women to not be normal, we’d like rape to not be womens’ responsibility to avoid, we’d like sexual slavery to end, we’d like a world where men don’t get off on degrading women. We’d like a world where women are not thought of as objects to be bought, sold, and owned. The list can go on and on, so “ending patriarchy” sums it up nicely. Men just choose to uphold the system that places them as superior. Men are not apathetic/brutes/evil by nature though. This is social conditioning, and you can choose to fight the system. If we thought all men were inherently evil rapists, we wouldn’t be reasoning with you.

            “Most people’s surface attitudes”…C’mon Mike. Listen to yourself. That is not good enough and clearly you recognize it is not good enough from the wording you chose. It’s obvious that you sense there’s *something* bigger going on.

            We don’t think it’s just “neanderthal” men that are misogynists. You were called a misogynist and you’re not a neanderthal, are you? You probably think you’re a nice guy. You even said you “have never acted in a sexist way” which would be laughable even if you were a nice guy. It’s obviously better to not “mean” to be misogynist, but that doesn’t give them a free pass. It affects women the same way regardless.

            The framework will never change if you don’t want it to change. But you’re lying to yourself when you say it can’t. And by the way, a lot of women care. A lot of women that have never read a word of feminist theory or talked to feminists care. They may even claim they hate feminists because they are just “man-haters”. The system in place has it so that women are afraid to speak up. But when you talk to them about the issues, woman to woman, it becomes clear that they care very much.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Excellent response. Thanks NS.

          • http://zealey.wordpress.com Mike Zealey

            Thanks for a well-reasoned and clear response. I agree with most of what you say. I wasn’t familiar with ‘Cognitive Dissonance’ so have just researched it: a very interesting concept. If we, as humans, are always trying to reduce our tension by not holding conflicting ideas, then I can see how, as a ‘privildged man’ I would be uncomfortable with holding the opposing views of liking the status quo but deep down knowing it needs to change.

            I guess my initial frustration came from the fact that you seemed to paint your picture with very sweeping brush strokes. You cannot compare Middle East treatment of women with Britain for example. So you need to accept that compared to many places in the world, Canada, US and Britain are pretty considerate and heading in the right direction. Here in London so much is done to address gender issues through workplace legislation, education, awareness programs, that ironically many men get annoyed that it seems to be too draconian especially when it comes to maternity rights and small business. There is already resentment over ‘female quotas’ and ‘all female lists’ – I don’t know where you stand on that, but if I were a woman I’d always feel second best and insulted that I couldn’t succeed under my own quality.
            But for all the tinkering with the framework, by successive governments and lobby groups deep down very little has changed in the psychology of most people. Most women deep down WANT to be taken care of by a man. Most men deep down WANT to protect and care for a woman. These are genetic evolutionary markers that cannot be changed with strong-worded blogs and bra-burning, in the same way that forcing women to wear a burqa will not lead to Shar-ia law in the UK.
            The point I’m badly making is that I actually agree with what you said, genuinely I do – no intended condescention – but you are asking for a change not just in a societal structure that’s existed for millennia but in the actual way our minds have evolved through nature it appears, not just through nuture.

          • No Sugarcoating

            Well, I think we were talking specifically about the Western world. The Middle East faces different types of problems, no less important. This post specifically talks about stripping and self-objectification which is not a big issue in that area though. Many women in the Middle East think Western women are the ones being controlled by men. Those women face one extreme of regulating female sexuality – we face the other. That’s how I see it.

            But the idea that we need to “accept” this is just a red herring. We’re not naive. We are probably more aware of global oppression of women then you are, seeing as we are radical feminists and you are not even a woman. What you’re doing is a classic male derailing tactic, trying to get us to realize that we should “just be happy with what we have” and stop being angry since other people have it worse, which then allows you to stop examining your attitudes. Maybe you don’t realize you’re doing it, but I think you do. We fight all oppression, full stop. The fact that “it could be worse” is acknowledging that it is bad in the first place. That’s not something we should be okay with.

            You are not a woman, so it really doesn’t matter how you think you would feel if you were. You do not experience the problems we experience, which would color your view. Perhaps you’d be more afraid of not getting a job because as a woman, you are considered less capable, than of the supposed implication that you are “second-best”. They think women are second best regardless. At least with the quotas or female spaces, women get jobs. You’re still arguing with me using faux-concern, by the way. Stop. Just be honest about what you think. You don’t approve of female quotas? Fine. Don’t pretend you do it out of concern for women though.

            We do not believe this is a matter of biology, but sociology. Those desires are deeply embedded through hundreds of years of cultural conditioning. This is something you would find out if you took more time to research feminism before explaining to us how to be better feminists. Instead of just condemning the desire to “want to be taken care of”, we address the roots of that desire and examine it critically. Why do we have that desire? Is it really evolutionary? If it is an instinct, why do many women not have this desire or lose this desire? I don’t have time to explain the nature vs nurture debate from the radical feminist perspective, though. That is something you could look into yourself, if you are interested. Two great blogs you can google are Rage Against The Manchine and I Blame The Patriarchy. Be sure to explore and think before making knee-jerk comments. You may find out some things you don’t like about yourself. This is the risk of self-examination, but it is a worthy endeavor.

            I, too, once wanted to be taken care of and protected. I never thought much of it. I thought that’s just “the way it is”…but then I thought about it more. I asked myself, why do I need a man to protect me? What do I need to be protected from? And I came to an uncomfortable realization. I need him to protect me from other men. Women feel “safe” with a man…safe from other men. After that, I was no longer afraid of calling myself a feminist.

            For basic concepts, google Feminism 101. They will answer 99% of your questions. If you want to explore deeper down the rabbit hole, check those blogs I recommended.

          • EJ

            Just wanted to say a big ‘HEAR HEAR’ to Ms. No Sugarcoating. Thank you for taking the time to explain these concepts so patiently, honestly and eloquently. As a fellow feminist, I second everything you said.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Indeed. Thank you, NS. You have shown incredible patience and intelligence. Very much appreciated.

          • http://zealey.wordpress.com Mike Zealey

            OK, thanks. Nothing more I can add in reply really. I’m off to stick my head down the feminist hole and follow the white rabbit, hope she don’t bite…

            Best of luck in your quest…

            Mike

          • Mike Zealey

            Just wanted to stop by and thank No Sugar Coating, for your hooking me into the concept of Cognitive Dissonance. I’d been looking for a phrase for what I’d been feeling on many levels and on many subjects, (feminism politics included). And now when I feel that tension, I become AWARE of it. What I’m trying to say is that it’s been a useful tool to live a better life. So credit where credit is due: thank you No Sugar Coating.

          • http://othersideofporn.wordpress.com No Sugarcoating

            Your welcome Mike. It has also helped me a lot the past few years, in many subjects. We can’t always (or often don’t want to) solve the tension, but honesty is a noble endeavor in and of itself.

  • http://easilyriled.wordpress.com Erin

    Beautiful, Meghan. Another side to this whole, “i choose my choice” fun-feminism, is what happens to women who choose NOT to ‘go wild’, to bare their breasts for the camera, or ‘the team’ or who choose not to sign up for pole dancing classes. This is a dangerous, increasingly dangerous, ‘choice’ for women to make. women who refuse are insulted, mocked, threatened, and their choice is certainly not respected. Further along the continuum of structural constraints and anti-feminist backlash, it seems increasingly difficult to choose abortion–but that’s another post altogether. which maybe i’ll get to sometime soon…

    thank you.

    • Nicole

      To be fair don’t men encounter the same difficulties? if they choose to join the football team they are held in high regard but if they prefer to read or play music they are judged as not being masculine enough.

      As for choice and abortion, why should a man not be a part of that choice? The two of them conceive the life together (even if it is accidentally) so why should the woman alone be allowed to decide what happens to the unborn child? Why is the father of the child deemed to be of lesser importance?

      • Meghan Murphy

        Because a man doesn’t have to push a human baby out of his vagina…Women get to decide whether or not they want to be strapped with a kid their whole lives and whether or not they want to go through pregnancy and labour because it affects their lives and bodies. Simply because a man ejaculates inside a woman’s body doesn’t mean he gets to force her to give birth. That’s psychotic.

      • R Davis

        For one, because the consequences and responsibilities are not equal. A man can volunteer to take full custody of the child after birth, and pay all of the medical expenses, but the woman still has to shoulder the mental and physical risks. Men should have equal rights after the birth, but again, the responsibilities aren’t equal, and both need to be corrected simultaneously.

  • Meredith

    I think sexual empowerment, whatever form your sexuality takes, and integrating your sexuality into your larger life rather than apologizing for it, is crucial to undoing all the leftovers from the cult of domesticity. There are still a lot of hang ups rooted in that idea, and the best way to subvert it is to make it ok for women to be full people, which means allowing them to make choices we personally disagree with, think are stupid, or are even harmful to them. At this stage of social life, the idea of the personal as political is doing more harm than good. Unless they’re actively working to limit your rights, let the sluts alone.

  • http://outofthefridge.wordpress.com Rachael

    Well written and insightful. Although it does open some serious questions.

    Do you mean that it’s never okay for women to wear sexy clothing, or engage in sex work, or make look at porn?

    Obviously Girls Gone Wild is just about as disgusting and debase as porn can get, but what about things like the feminist porn awards that try to create a different type of porn that celebrates women aswell as queer and transpeople, that reward women involved in production and legit depictions of women having pleasure.

    Does tihs not get a bit into the “Real Women Don’t Wear Skirts” trope where a women is shamed for liking things that our culture defines as feminine?

    I’m a queer transwoman, and because of that I’m used to being put in a box, either I’m seen as an enemy to feminism though I activly enage in feminist discourse and try to raise awareness of feminist issues. Or people assume that I have to be ultra-feminine to be “doing it correctly”. Defying those labels is personally empowering (well I am a bit on the femme side but I enjoy a lot of things that are more tomboyish)…

    Just because a woman likes sex and/or wears a skirt and make-up and/or waxes her legs doesn’t mean that she’s silly, vapid, undeducated or anti-feminist.

    Likewise the fight for reproductive and educational freedom is not compromised by a woman who chooses to be a stay at home mother. You can’t replace one kind of tyranny with another. Some women don’t want children, that’s fine, some women want nothing more to be a mother and that choice has to be allowed too.

    There are people who can’t see past their own privlidge, and are painfully ignorant of what other people in different situations go through, but there are people who can be politicly active and aware while still making choices that are right for them.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Yeah no. I don’t think that’s what I’m arguing at all.

      • http://outofthefridge.wordpress.com Rachael

        Sorry I kinda ended up combining statements from your slutwalk post and didn’t quite express myself porperly.

        I was also trying to make an anology and failed in doing so.

        The Patriachy says stay home and make babies, is any woman who does so but supports the rights of other women to choose a different path in life somehow a traitor? No of course not if she’s making an informed choice, that’s her right.

        If we take this concept and apply it to porn…

        The Patriachy says porn is good… Can women not make beautiful meaningful depictions of real sex without selling out to the Patriachy?

        Of course I’m not talking about Girls Gone Wild, or strip clubs, or Maxim or Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue… those are about as low and degrading as you can get.

        I agree with the main thesis of your post that, choice shouldn’t negate the need for intellectual debate, and that the context of choice needs to be looked at.

        To go back to the stay at home mother analogy… someone raised in the quiverful movement would not be properly prepared to make the choice to be a stay at home mom because that’s all she’s been raised to believe she should do.

        So I understand that in a patriachal society we can’t blindly accept that a woman is engaging in sex work or just in being “sexy” purely on her own impetus… but…

        I’m really struggling to find the right language here…

        Does the existence of the patriarchy dictate that everything associated with it is evil? Or can there be alternate forms of those things in the context of a liberated woman who has the freedom to choose, that are no longer degrading?

        I’m white, and I live in Canada so I realize I’ve got quite alot of privlidge in the area of choice… but I’m just kind of struggling with the question of where the line between a truly empowered woman and one who is being controlled by society’s expectations is… or if there is a line.

        • Gayle

          The Patriarchy also endorses the objectification of women’s bodies.
          “Sex work” is for male pleasure. You notice het men aren’t selling themselves or each other into prostitution, right?

          There’s a reason for that. They refuse to be treated the way they treat us.

          • http://outofthefridge.wordpress.com Rachael

            There are male prostitutes, and there are women who pay for sex.

            And in the case of feminist porn it’s porn created by women for women and/or for the queer community so it’s a tad different (at least in my opinion).

            Again my main question is where do you draw the line and say it’s acceptable for you to choose this, and not that.

          • Meghan Murphy

            This remains the exception, not the rule. Pointing to the exception is a classic derail. I don’t think there is a rigid line and feel like this is the same question always asked of me when I argue against the objectification of women (see almost ALL the comments on the burlesque post: http://www.feminisms.org/1626/burlesque-they-tell-me-its-just-for-fun-except-im-not-having-any/), usually sounding a lot like this “So ALL naked ladies are being objectified??’, then leading into ‘you hate sex, don’t you’. No, I don’t think that images of sex NEED look like this, but most do and, because of context/the male gaze, we can’t just stick women on screen without some kind of overt subversion of this objectifying male gaze. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, though I do think that Catherine Breillat has done a good job in some of her films and that Carolee Schneeman and Barbara Hammer succeed as well in depicting sex without the objectification: http://www.feminisms.org/2486/feminists-hate-naked-ladies-and-other-tales-from-the-backlash/
            And I completely agree with No Sugarcoating’s point that the Feminist Porn Awards include many films that have similar content to mainstream sexist pornography. People often use this as an end-to-all-discussion argument, i.e. ‘It’s impossible for porn to be sexist because…FEMINIST PORN AWARDS. CHECK. MATE’. First of all, I argue that the term ‘feminist pornography’ is an oxymoron because of the meaning and history of the word (and existence of) pornography (see Andrea Dworkin’s ‘Pornography’ for a more in depth discussion of this), but also, I mean, those awards use a criteria that does not, in any way, demand that the films need be feminist (see this post for said criteria: http://www.tbd.com/blogs/amanda-hess/2011/05/what-is-feminist-porn-your-sex-and-gender-morning-roundup-10584.html), so the fact that they have named them as such is totally manipulative, in my opinion. It would make more sense for them to be called: The We’ve-Thought-About-Women-Briefly-as-Opposed-to-Never Porn Awards’

          • No Sugarcoating

            LOL, I agree about the name change. They are being really, really disingenuous. This made my jaw drop.

            “we do see a lot of men looking for something different from mainstream porn—they’re not interested in the ‘Pole A into Slot B’ kind of porn,” awards leader Alison Lee says. “They’re looking for something with a little bit of heart. “Feminist porn is not necessarily directed by women or only aimed at women. But what feminist porn does do is take women into account as viewers. So even if they’re not the sole audience, I think that one of the things that is considered is whether it’s something they think that women might enjoy.”

            If I ever start my feminist blog, they will be getting their own very special post…

          • Nicole

            um actually some men do choose to prostitute themselves for womens pleasure and don’t enjoy the job per se. it’s a means to an end just as it is for some women.

            And yes, there are men that sell other men into prostitution against their will.

        • No Sugarcoating

          Rachael, obviously you mean well, but you seem a bit naive. Girls Gone Wild, strip clubs, etc. are not as low and degrading as you can get. Cum Dumpsters #4, Teen Anal Nightmare 2, that’s the kind of stuff we have to deal with. It is theoretically possible for porn that is not degrading, and various other patriarchal behaviors to exist, but the context of a “liberated woman who has the freedom to choose” in the greater context of a patriarchy that indoctrinates women into choosing such things is contradictory at best. As for the Feminist Porn Awards, they have awarded films that have the same content as mainstream pornography. Does the existence of a “madame” instead of a regular pimp make prostitution any better? The same applies here. And some of the people involved frequently defend/endorse the porn industry at large, including the worst parts of it. I personally think that organization is very questionable.

    • http://razingcomplacency.tumblr.com/ LilithXIV

      I understand that Real Women Don’t Wear Dresses is an important trope to point out in not demeaning other women for their personal choices. However, that trope has also been used in the past to try rationalizing sexist, stereotyping tropes and objectification (especially of fictional characters) being applied to women in the most inappropriate of contexts and can be easily mishandled as anything.

      I’m not sure if I’m going to say this right but to it’s kind of like a situation of: ‘What’s wrong with wearing heels?’ ‘Nothing wrong with wearing heels to a formal event. But there is something wrong putting women in heels while doing superhero work or on a battlefield.’ They’re there to be fetish items or items people associate with who women are in any context (which is definitely problematic) and have them adhere to the standard.

  • http://marytracy.blogspot.com Mary Tracy

    I really enjoyed Gay Alcorn’s talk. Thanks so much for showcasing it!

  • Gayle

    Yes, it was good. Thanks for posting this.

    Oh and sorry the spelling of my comments gets a bit wonky. That’s autocorrect for you!

  • Meghan Murphy

    Ok. So. Now that I’ve re-posted your original comments in hope that you may NOW clarify (but won’t hold my breath), let’s be clear. You did not, ‘call me out’ in any way. Your comments were so unclear and, seemingly, unrelated to my post, that I thought they were spam. As such, I replied that I would leave them up for you to clarify. I left them up until this morning. I approve 99.9% of comments. If I do, in fact, delete a comment, it will be for these reasons: http://feministcurrent.com/category/comments-policy/

    Your original comments made no sense. This latest comment is ridiculous. You are ridiculous. I still don’t know what you are talking about but am very happy that you are, at very least, amused with yourself. Please go find yourself another blog to verbally vomit all over.

    Best of luck,
    Meghan

  • No Sugarcoating

    Those “moral” countries do not hold feminist “morals” though.

  • http://razingcomplacency.tumblr.com/ LilithXIV

    This reminds me of the conversations I usually saw on forums when things like Sucker Punch and Bayonetta came up. I could never articulate why I had a problem with other people those things ’empowering’ and ‘for women’. I think this article has helped me to understand where I’m struggling with this a bit more. Thank you for posting your thoughts.

  • omniavanitas

    Sigh. Yeah. Just skimmed through the comments……What if one day all the Mikes out there would just STFU and LISTEN for a change. (Just dreaming here)

    I wanted to point out (Meghan, you probably already know, but others may not) about the girl who sued GGW because they videoed her without her consent……and the court actually ruled….. that GGW DOESN’T NEED TO GET CONSENT from the girls they film. I just thought I’d mention that, since it is so unbelievable, and shows just how embedded sexism is in our culture. I totally agree with your article and thanks for writing it and putting it out there. SO sick of the whole corporate sponsored, exploitation-pozzie atmosphere.

  • No Sugarcoating

    I think this post really got to him, to be honest. It seems like it hit a nerve.

    • Meghan Murphy

      AND the crazy won’t stop. I need to figure out this whole ban hammer dealio.

  • Cris

    English is not my first language so I apologize for any mistake I might have committed. I felt the inclination to reply to this article since I found it simplistic and incoherent in some of it’s aspects. Why the representation of the woman’s sexuality at a burlesque show or in the pole dancing, for example, is something that necessarily undermine and objectify a woman? Surely we all know that the woman who is performing is much more then a body or a thing who is being exposed and appreciated, so why proclaim that this is objectification then? If a woman feels pleasure showing off her body and wants to arouse men with it, she is simply highlighting one aspect of her self, which is her sensuality. If we agree that a woman has the freedom and the right to use her intellect to become a successful worker why, in the other hand, we criticize her when she exposes her body and provoke the male desire, saying she is not capable of choose it “right”? It just doesn’t make sense. If we are willing to accept that a woman can choose a career, we necessarily should accept that this woman is equally free and capable to deal with her body and sexuality. At last,sensual images can only encourage stereotypes if people think that women can be viewed as either thinking beings or sexual beings, not both.

  • Cris

    Regarding my last post I forgot to add that my last phrase is a citation taken from the website http://www.itgoddess.info/faq.htm
    Thank you in advance.

  • jenny heineman

    I don’t understand how it is feminist in the least to make fun of another woman by referring to her appearance as “embalmed.” Furthermore, I am so damn tired of these false dichotomies between agency and structure: Meghan, you consistently argue that EITHER you adhere to ideas of individual choice and neo-liberalism OR feminism. Yet, you contradict yourself when you “choose” to validate the voices of victims. Listening to women, whether they have an individually liberating experience or a predictable yet nonetheless bona fide and systematic oppressive experience, is key. Assuming individual experiences can NEVER be liberating, or assuming women who make claims to liberation suffer from false consciousness, indeed puts the onus of misogyny on women! If a woman takes her shirt off because, say, she feels she shouldn’t be required to conceal her body in the name of feminism (a sentiment I tend to agree with), and if in her doing that, men assume women are sex objects to be devoured by masculine pleasure alone, the root of oppression is most obviously in the construction of masculinity, not the individual behavior of the woman.

    Sure, we can critique the ways in which desire and behavior are constructed through patriarchy. But do not assume that a woman can’t know these arguments and decide ANYWAY to expose HER body at HER will. And once again, if men are sent the wrong messages because of her exposure, that is something they must change, not her. Assuming otherwise is, in fact, as paternal as your writing persona, Meghan.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I totally believe that women have “individually liberating experiences” – it’s just that this only impacts them as individuals and does not, often, mean long term empowerment or the empowerment of other women.

  • Nina

    I really want to applaud you for this article, very well written, expressed and sensible and dealing with a point some – me included- would never have thought to question.

    I really like that you underline (in other posts too) that feminism is not about the individual, which may be the reason why sometimes feminism is disparaged (“why would you be a feminist if nothing bad from men happened to you” or like all feminists are bitter bitch), but that we have to move toward the diginity for women in general, whatever their backgrounds.

    I have a question though about “choice”. From my point of view, some women who said they chose to be in the porn industry or prostitution would not listen to someone like you, believing that she really did make a choice of her life, though she certainly ended there because of background, experience or other considerations that finally made her go right where she is.
    HOw do you convince her, that it was not really a choice made in total objectivity and considerations ?

    Also, the issue of choice, isnt’it that it affects other field which are not specially degrading for women (like, a woman -or man besides- believing that she chose to go to college to become doctor, lawyer, or a house-mom, whatever, when in fact, she has been conditionned by her family).

    Anyway, very interesting point.

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  • Heather Downs

    literally lol at Mike describing feminists as ‘humourless’ 😀

    good article – choice is a key element of neo-liberal rhetoric; there is little progressive about ‘individual’ choice in a capitalist, patriarchal, racist world

  • http://coyoteri.org/ Bella Robinson

    hmm “choice was never meant to be for individual women” so how would woman ever become equal if you remove their right to choice. I see this as a rationalization for woman who bully and shame other woman over their sexual behavior, how they dress etc. This is a system that says “you are not one of us” if you won’t behave the way proper woman should. and some of them seem to insist other woman’s behavior stops equality. Isn’t this how feminism got such a bad reputation and why so many people think feminists hate men. Woman will never be equal without choice. Being a feminist does not mean I have to give up my choices nor does it mean I must conform to the beliefs of other women.

    The government also removes many of the choices for women and they too claim it is “best for woman”.

    “in fact, your ‘choice’ may exist at the expense of another woman’s oppression”

    hmm this is what the abolitionists feminists say about sex workers, so it is OK to have a abortion if you are poor, but it is not OK to sell sex to feed your kids and pay your rent. How are these 2 choices any different

    Equality isn’t about launching a war on whores and other women you don’t approve of. This is a act of violence and woman will never build solidarity unless we support the choices of all woman.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Feminists aren’t saying “it is not OK to sell sex to feed your kids and pay your rent,” they’re saying women shouldn’t HAVE to sell sex to feed your kids and pay your rent. They’re saying women deserve real choices.