Is choice feminism doing more harm than good?

Friday, February 12

By Molly Hughes

I love makeup.

I love buying myself new palettes with lots of colours and sparkles. I feel pretty wearing makeup, just like I feel pretty without wearing makeup. I know girls who wear a full beat everyday, I know girls who wear nothing at all. These are all choices we make.

But how do our choices effect others?

It was brought to my attention not 2 weeks ago, that choice feminism may have qualities that might hurt us more than help us. Intitially, I thought that this claim was ridiculous. How can making my own choices be anti-feminism? I've been a feminist for as long as I've understood what the word means. I even labelled myself a feminist when people treated it like a dirty word, or being told that it was something that any future boyfriend of mine would immediately be put off by (both of which I now know are highly inaccurate.) I thought to myself, what does this even mean? What the hell does making my own choices have to do with any of this?

It was something that really played on my mind for a while. Every time I put on makeup or shaved my legs I started to think to myself - am I really doing this for me? I realise that yes, this is something I like doing, but I know deep down that we are somewhat conditioned from youth. We are told to shave our legs and shamed if we choose not to. If all women suddenly stopped shaving, what shame would there be? We've all got hairy legs now so...what's the issue? Although I know I've been teased in primary school for having hair on my legs, and that this was the first reason I decided to shave, I know that if I don't want to shave, I don't have to. This is my choice. However, how does my choice effect other women, who perhaps don't shave? Am I enabling the shame because in comparison to my hairless legs, they are deemed unfeminine by society?

The whole choice feminism argument is really complex. On the one hand, women should be able to live how they want and do what they want, but on the other, we know what society sees as feminine and not feminine. It something I've been trying to break away from. That in turn my femininity is just as much gender expression as my masculinity - that its not just seen as the default. I want so badly to wear dresses in the same way that men can wear dresses - as a form of self expression rather than just adhering to social norms of gender, the same way I cut my hair and wanted to wear baggy clothes - but at the same time hiding who I truly was. I want to wear dresses. I want to be pretty. But I don't want that to be the limit of who I am or perceived to be. That my beauty is all I'm worth, as society has pushed so heavily in the past and that women fight against - that we have brains; beauty and brains and fucking feelings. To put it in simpler terms - the patriarchy sucks.

However, I know that shaving my legs and wearing makeup is inherintly anti feminist - and by that I mean the feminsim movement fights against patriarchal ideals, and shaving and makeup is one of those ideals that is expected of women - but to know that these things are a result of patriarchal ideals is feminsim in itself. To be aware of our conditioning is what feminism is. You can be critical of the things you like. I love makeup, but I know that it's original and intended purpose was to enhance a woman's beauty because in the era of its invention, that was all a woman's worth was - her appearance. We know that beauty and makeup is endorsed by capitalism and companies invent new things that can be wrong with our bodies and create products that we will buy to fix them. But loving ourselves unconditionally without these products and loving ourselves with makeup on, is probably the boldest act of rebellion we can perform.

Choice feminism discourse has also arisen over sex work and hook up culture. It seems that within recent years sex work has taken on a glamorous image, concealing the hundreds of stories from women about how sex work can be degrading. I want to iterate very clearly before making any further points - sex work is work. Women who have had to turn to sex work deserve the same rights and protections as any other worker. After all, you claim that these women are selling their bodies for money - is a physical labourer not also doing this? Are they not also using their body, wearing it down over time for one purpose- to get paid? As the old sex industry proverb states - don't wank with your one hand and point with the other. The only problem is, is the perception of sex workers affecting the perception of women as a whole?

Personally, I don't think so. I don't think that being women being perceived as sexual objects is sex workers fault - after all where there is demand there is money and in such a ruthless society as ours, money makes the world go around. I do think their is a problem with pornopgraphy, as I discussed in a previous article on exposing children to porn, however men have always seen us as sexual objects, from the beginning of feminism and even before that. It is often blamed in our society that men sexualise us more because of what we wear or how we act but as far as I'm aware, even when we were wearing petticoats and dresses to our ankles, we were still being assaulted and seen as lesser. In today's society, we are luckier than our mothers and aunts that came before us. We now know that we can do and achieve whatever the hell we want to because we are not lesser, we are equal - yet we still have a long way to go to achieve this - especially when we still have TERFS and white feminism upholding outdated and abhorrent ideals. How can we possibly blame individual choice over a system that does not benefit us, and especially does not benefit our black, Native American, Asian, Hispanic, lesbian and transgender sisters? Yes, our choices do not exist in a vacuum - we need to unlearn the conditioning we have unknowingly learned. We are privileged by even having choice - for I know that not all women have the choice to do what they want and be who they are. 

However, we need to start analysing what choices truly effect feminism. For example, the rise of #GirlBoss feminsim os a choice that can negatively effect. We tend to uplift women in positions of power, rarely criticising what that power means. Just because a CEO is a woman doesn't mean she is void of criticism - for example profiting off of cheap labour. These are the choices we must be critical of, not whether a girl decides shes going to put on a face of makeup. However, we know that women making the same choices can be recieved differently when they are different ethnicities. We know there is a stark difference between how white women and WOC are treated. We are labelled as feeble and small, while black women in particular are labelled as aggressive with "attitude problems." Individual choices made can effect us differently depending on our background. The real problem with choice feminism is assuming that all of our individual choices have good intentions. There are choices that women make that are malicious towards one another - through racism, misogyny or homophobia. These are the choices that too many women make, sand that's why feminsim has not progressed in the way it should have.

The biggest rebellion women could ever do is just support and protect each other. Exist in their natural state. Express themselves in whatever way they desire. Our conditioning does not necessarily have to continue in a way that is negative. We can actively unlearn and criticse all of what society portrays as feminine. Embrace one another with open arms.

But obviously this isn't a utopia, not everyone is rainbows and smiles. Too many people are nasty and bitter. Too many women have not realised their internalised misogyny. Too many men have not realised their toxic masculinity. 

At the end of the day, who knows how feminism will have progressed in the next 50 years. I hope more and more people will understand that feminism is not a dirty word, that you can be a feminist and still shave and do your makeup. 

We do not exist in a vacuum.

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