Liberal feminists realize that feminism is a movement after all. Confusion ensues.

Elizabeth Wurtzel published an article in The Atlantic on June 15th, arguing that women who choose housewifery are ruining feminism for everyone else. She gets close to making some good points about women’s independence from men being largely dependent on their ability to be financially independent as well as the idea that OH GOSH YOU KNOW WHAT? Just because a woman makes a choice to do something, it doesn’t automatically make that choice a feminist one.

Jill Filipovic over at Feministe picked up on the piece and added all sorts of things that I agree with, such as the idea that feminism is actually a movement, not just a fun time lady party that’s all about making ourselves feel good as individuals. She says:

Feminism is not about choice – at least not insofar as it’s about saying “Any choice women make is a feminist one and so we can’t criticize or judge it.

Well colour me shocked, because that’s what I thought liberal/fun-feminism was all about! One of the key weaknesses of Slutwalks is its focus on individual empowerment/identity; the idea that if *some* women want to ‘reclaim’ the word slut because that makes them feel empowered as individuals, they should make a whole goddamned movement about it. Same goes for pro-sex work advocacy —  one of the key ideas being that women simply choose to engage in prostitution out of their own free will and that because they’ve made this ‘choice’ prostitution is potentially empowering or even feminist.

So what the hell, liberal feminism? Feminists have been arguing, for decades, that ‘I choose my choice feminism’ isn’t actually feminist and has nothing to do with moving towards collective liberation. ‘I choose my choice feminism’ is a product of libertarian thinking and an American neoliberalist ideology  that tells us that true freedom is about individuals being free to do whatever the fuck they want whenever they want, regardless of how their actions impact society at large, in particular the marginalized.

Actual feminists (and, in general, the left) have been making arguments against this concept of selfish ‘freedom’ for a few at the expense of the many for, well, ever. THE WHOLE POINT of leftist movements is that we need to focus on building a society that supports others and that if our individual desires are marginalizing others, those individual desires don’t win out.

The fact that Filipovic and Wurtzel are capable of recognizing the dangers of mychoice feminism is good. But the fact that so many liberal feminists remain incapable or unwilling to make these connections when it comes to “gendered choices” (which Filipovic recognizes in the ‘choice’ to be a housewife or a stay-at-home mom) like entering into prostitution, working at a strip club, working in porn, etc. is also dangerous. Why are we picking and choosing when it comes to the mychoice argument?

And I’m not saying that women in the sex industry are not feminist or that they are, somehow, ‘ruining’ feminism or others, I’m saying that these ‘choices’ are not choices that happen in a vacuum and that simply by pretending that women are making these choices outside a context of oppression is both stupid and a lie.

So much of what feminists (well, feminists who don’t buy into the easy peasy lib-fem, nail-polish-is-feminist-because-I-like-wearing-it brand of feminism, also known as faux feminism or fun feminism) have been arguing since the second wave has been about the fact that feminism is a movement, not a self-help book. I’ve made this point here on this blog dozens of times over, as have hundreds of other feminists. This point has been made with reference to marriage and women taking their husbands’ names (so hey! Guess what – taking on your husband’s name still isn’t feminist – even if you choose to!), to the ‘choice’ to objectify oneself, to the idea that somehow stilettos can be ‘feminist’ if you decide they make you feel empowered, or taller, or hotter or whatever, to the idea that burlesque is somehow ‘feminist’ because some women think it’s fun (let’s recap – just because you like something doesn’t make it a movement for radical social change).

So what the hell liberal feminists? Where have you been all this time? The idea that “the freedom to choose one’s path doesn’t come with a right to be free of criticism or judgment or critical thought” or that privilege impacts women’s choices or that simply making a choice, any choice at all, isn’t necessarily feminist just because a woman or even a feminist makes that choice are not new ideas. That’s feminism. I’m not even going to pretend that I don’t believe there is such a thing as actual, real feminism and that there is such a thing as faux feminism. Because making an argument that if a woman makes a choice it is automatically safe from critique or analysis or that it is automatically empowering and, therefore, feminist — that’s not what the feminist movement is about. Never has been, never will be.

Until those the more mainstream or liberal feminists out there start making connections around these issues, it’s going to continue to be really hard to take any of them very seriously.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan 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.

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  • Aphrodite

    I completely agree. I run into this problem ALL the time with liberal feminists-especially when it comes to sex work issues. It’s frustrating how in our culture, many young women don’t completely seem to understand what feminism is, and therefore, they assume that it’s just this nebulous feeling that’s supposed to make them feel liberal because they chose to have sex, or buy a trendy pair of shoes. Feminism has almost become a fashion, instead of a real movement that has constructed a new method and system of critique. I definitely enjoyed this piece.

  • I love you for saying this!

  • Carrie

    My favorite is when girls repeat to me that “today’s Feminism is all about doing what men do, like having as much carefree sex as possible, because a liberated woman should be allowed the freedom to boink without being called sexist names, yayyy!” And of course this is no doubt verbatim the line that men have convinced these poor, naïve things of.

    When I try to perhaps point out the flaws to their logic, I get called “ugly”, “old”, and “bitter”. The funny thing is, I can’t even put my photograph on my social media sites because guys come by and leave very suggestive remarks because of my [apparently man-pleasing] appearance.