While I was writing that last post, Elsa Roberts was writing this one which she posted on Facebook. She gave me permission to republish it here.
Somewhere, somehow, responses in any community start to short circuit and we begin to rely too heavily on coded phrases as stand-ins for conversation and complexity, and reason and evidence. For example, because feminism is about enabling equity and with that comes the ability to choose sometimes that gets boiled down to “any choice a woman makes is feminist and can’t be criticized (or theoretically it could be but just try it and see how that works out in some circles).
That is fundamentally flawed and thoughtless way of examining something. When we boil things down to catch phrases and jargon we lose the ability to analyze thoughtfully and to consider all the evidence and context on the table.
One of the most pernicious and irritating examples of this for me is the one alluded to above, that if a woman chooses something that is “her choice” and critiquing it or judging it or thinking critically about it is almost automatically shaming or un-feminist. That is a really misguided supposition because our choices are influenced by many things and many of our choices are not going to be feminist or they will just have very little to do with feminism.
Our choices are not made in a cultural vacuum, how I choose to dress, what I watch on TV, etc. is all influenced by the company I keep and the culture I live in. If we want to make this world more equitable and question and change our practices, we must be able to evaluate them critically and admit when a given practice or choice isn’t feminist or when it is simply irrelevant as to whether it is or not.
Feminists fight endlessly about whether, for example, lipstick is feminist or heels are feminist. This, to me, misses the point. Those objects are not fundamentally feminist or not feminist, but as objects they do serve as signifiers in our culture and they fit into broader social norms and regulations and expectations. That is why if a man wears lipstick or heels he is at risk of violence – because those are symbolic of femininity that is supposed to be pleasing to men. Men wearing such things threatens those norms and confuses what those objects “mean” in our world.
Boiling these topics down to “choice” is to ignore the complexity of our world and social dynamics and to deny the reality of how choice functions.