Is Feminism About Choice? (Originally published as a guest on www.zinniajones.com on June, 2012)


Recently, as I was procrastinating something important or another, I came across a picture on somebody’s Tumblr. It was a silly graphic of a woman shaving her legs, and it said, “To me, feminism means choice. I can choose to shave my legs, and I can choose not to. There is no right answer, one option does not make me any more or less of a feminist than the other. I can shave or not shave. Whatever the hell I want to because it’s my choice!” This was reblogged hundreds of times and posted on Reddit and various other places online. It received quite a lot of support.

I find this disturbing. It’s as though somebody took the entire lexicon of feminist theory, feminist literature, history of feminism, and women’s studies, and then crossed out billions and billions of words and circled the one that justified literally anything they wanted. Feminism is not about choice. Feminism is about equality of the sexes.

Does the word “choice” sometimes occur in arguments and discussion about women’s equality? Absolutely. We want choices. We want our choices to be sexy, be parents, or be feminine to necessitate sacrifice no greater or lesser than those of our male counterparts. We want to be attractive and have sex without being reduced to a sex class, where every inch of skin, pound of fat, and follicle of hair on our bodies are monitored for youthfulness and open to all for comment. We want to choose to be parents without having to choose between putting brand new babies in expensive daycare ten hours a day, or lose our careers entirely. Those are the choices we want. Those are the choices we don’t have.

When a woman chooses to shave her legs, she is making a choice that has absolutely no negative consequences, real or imagined. For feminism was never about not shaving legs. It was never about being sexually unappealing, not having children, or not sleeping with men. In fact, when a woman “chooses” to shave her legs, she is choosing a course of action that will earn her approval from men and women alike. When a woman chooses not to shave her legs or underarms, she is making a choice that will earn her almost universal disapproval. Her femininity and heterosexuality (if she is heterosexual) will both be called into question. Her politics will be assumed radical and man-hating. Her decision will be considered an aggressive rejection of men, sex, and femininity. She will have broken the barriers of her class, assigned by her sex, and for that she will be rejected and punished. The choices to wear makeup to work and parties, or not, follow the same lines of consequences, as do the choices to battle wrinkles and gray hair or not, eat daintily or not.

Nonetheless, a choice either way on any of those questions does not determine whether a person is feminist or not. The defining choice that determines whether or not a person is feminist is whether they’re going to be satisfied with the unequal set of choices they have. It is the choice between being complacent with a society that teaches us that we must put financial independence and ourselves second to men and babies, or wanting a better reality that gives us the options to have both, as men have had since the beginning of time. The future of feminism is in breaking the glass ceiling, unraveling the sex classing of women, and equalizing the sacrifices of parenting and careers between the sexes. It has nothing to do with the state of your legs.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Is Feminism About Choice? (Originally published as a guest on www.zinniajones.com on June, 2012)

  1. I do think feminism is about choice. It’s about free choice, which can only happen if women are truly equal with men. Women should be able to make choices without feeling forced in a certain direction because of sexist assumptions about their “place” in society. I agree that it has nothing to do with shaving legs or wearing makeup, but there are people who describe themselves as feminists who believe that it sets women back when they do those things (by supposedly conforming to men’s expectations). I don’t belong in that camp. My version of feminism is not about judging others.

  2. “It’s about free choice, which can only happen if women are truly equal with men”

    Exactly. The one has to come first. Saying it’s about choice and then that your choice to shave your legs or not has equal consequences is, to put it mildly, putting the cart before the horse.

    “there are people who describe themselves as feminists who believe that it sets women back when they do those things (by supposedly conforming to men’s expectations)”

    Well, it *is* conforming to expectations, but any singular act of refusing to do so won’t change anything, nor will any singular act of conforming ruin anything. I too refuse to take a reductio ad absurdum approach to feminism.

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