Why I Don’t Support Choice Feminism
I stopped shaving my legs about a year ago.
For years, I’d been convincing myself that shaving my legs was just something I liked to do, something I enjoyed – that I would be doing it even if I hadn’t been sold the idea that to be an attractive woman was to waft around looking like a dolphin from the waist down. So what if my skin always broke out in itchy bumps every time I shaved? So what if my legs were always irritated and sore? It was just a preference I had, you know?
Long story short: no, it wasn’t. It was something that I’d been trained into thinking was normal was so long that I’d bent it to fit my feminist worldview, even when that nagging little voice at the back of my brain was reminding me that it was an absurd and actually painful beauty standard that I shoved myself into for the sake of being more socially acceptable. Sure, it was a choice I’d made, but it was a choice so impossibly influenced and dictated by the culture I was living in that it had almost ceased to be one at a certain point.
And there’s that word – choice. It’s a word that comes up a lot with regards to feminism, and especially the particular brand of choice feminism that seems to have risen up in the last ten or so years along with the growing internet feminism movement.
Choice feminism is based on the idea that anything a woman does is inherently feminist because a woman is doing it – that it’s bestowed with a kind of feminist approval because a woman has chosen to follow that path. I think choice feminism exists for a lot of reasons, to be honest, and the biggest, I believe, is as a way to allow feminism to co-exist with capitalism. Women can still consume make-up, shaving products, gendered fashion, plastic surgery in a way that doesn’t conflict with their feminist ideals. They can still buy and consume all the toxic patriarchal tools of oppression that have been used to define their gender and worth, but now, it’s their choice, and that’s feminist, isn’t it?
On top of that, it seems like a way to protect a new generation of feminists from being lumbered with the “uncool feminist killjoy” title. We can support feminism, women’s rights, gender equality, but we can also be hot and attractive and desirable in all the traditional ways we’re supposed to be. Of course, now we’re just choosing to fit those beauty ideals, which makes no negligible difference to the way that women are marketed and marketed to in the world. The hairy-legged feminists of the past are not too easy to sell in a way that appeals; better to come up with a new image of the feminist who can actually still sell, still attract attention from a new generation of women.
And these things bother me, but more than that, I hate the idea that women can’t make choices rooted in misogyny. Aside from shaving my legs, I’ve written before about the bullshit misogyny that I brought into for years, actively decrying feminism, shitting on other women, all of it. I was an outright misogynist at a certain point in my life, and even when I started to really identify with feminism, I was still making shitty choices and doing shitty things that did not exactly move forward the gender equality movement. I think that’s true of a lot of people, including women, who find their way to feminism. We’re still in the midst of a culture that has a lot of problems with women, womanhood, femininity, and anything to do with it, and it’s not like you just slough off that attitude when you embrace feminism for the first time. This stuff runs deep. It did for me, does for me, in ways I’m sure I haven’t really worked out yet, and it does for a lot of other people, too.
It’s incredibly patronizing and simplistic to approach feminism as simply “anything that a woman chooses to do”, because it strips the context of those choices from the women making them. The context that raises women in a misogynistic society, where that misogyny soaks up into us in ways we don’t even notice. Giving women the power of choice over their lives is part of what feminism is aiming for, obviously – but suggesting that the very choice is all that needs to exist for something to be feminist is not the answer.