I have seen modern Liberal Feminism (that’s mainstream feminism, the sort you see on TV and read in online mags like Everyday Feminism) referred to derisively as Choosy-Choice Feminism. The key concept here, as I understand it, is the idea that A) women are whole people who can make their own decisions, and B) therefor any choice a woman makes is a feminist one because she used her own mind to make it.
Obviously I totally agree with A. I want to scream point A from street corners (not after dark, tho, a bad man might get me.) B is what I’m taking issue with. It reminds me of people who have no verbal filter but whatever rude crap they spew is okay because they’re “just being honest.” It’s possible to be both honest and tactful. It’s also possible to make a decision motivated by scripts you don’t realize you have internalized.
Internalized scripts are a terrifically important thing to understand, but not easy to get a grip on. Our minds naturally work on heuristics — shortcuts of association that inform us what to expect in a given situation. They’re why that lady who reminds you of your grandmother makes you feel comfortable, despite her being a stranger.
They’re why people tend to fall into the same relationship patterns over and over (and they can still be triggered if you manage to find a nice boy, and screw it up real quick.) They’re why people make a lot of the choices they do. We often choose our careers not based on any rational reason, tho we tell ourselves how much we enjoy the work or how good the checks are. Often we find we enjoy an activity because it makes us feel good.
Riddle me this: why, aside from basic physical stuff like light exercise, a good meal or a good rest, would a random activity make us feel good? Because we like how it makes us feel about ourselves.
People enjoy woodworking because they like being the kind of person who makes things out of wood, their mental script for what that means is appealing to them. The same goes for any activity you could mention. And we are often confused when our mental scripts don’t match up with reality — the aspiring woodworker who has a low capacity for 3D mental imagery will find his projects never turn out like he imagines.
So, how can we believe that any decision women make in a sexed context (that’s anything gendered, having to do with gender presentation or interaction with potential mates) is not shaped by mental scripts? Every other decision we make is! A kid dreams of going to Harvard, probably not because she has been there or knows anyone who went there, but because she wants to be the kind of person who goes to Harvard. Which she learned about through cultural depictions of who they are. So when she decides to spend a bunch of time (and money!) on cosmetics and removing all the hair from her body, why is that suddenly considered a totally independent decision?
Because somewhere along the line we have gotten lazy. Older feminists forget the intense peer pressure of youth, and don’t take into account that most young people lack the galvanizing experiences that make a person driven. They mainly just want to have fun.
They feel little connection to their mothers’ and grandmothers’ lectures and, with characteristic optimism and naivety, assume that things are different for them. This modern age is not the world we grew up in and their generation would never be so dumb as to fall into the same traps. I have been told as much by my teenage daughter and her friends, and found myself repeating the old line, “Just wait till you have kids, and you end up doing most of the work.” Ugh! I made my own eyes roll with that one!
And it’s so much simpler and more palatable to assume that, because we can have jobs and go to college, that the old battle of the sexes has been laid to rest. 20 years ago, I believed it myself. I assumed that when I got a little older, it would be easy to garner respect and prestige for my intelligence and hard-won skills.
Then I watched my child’s father simply walk away from parenthood without a scratch on him, while I was left with scars (literally) a wounded earning capacity and a serious dating handicap.
I watched the men I did date fail to grasp how to use a laundry hamper.
I watched men who were no more competent than I blithely land jobs because they met another guy at a bar while I was home being a decent parent.
I watched my male companion sleeping peacefully right after an upsetting argument.
I watched them hold me to a different standard than themselves, feeling no responsibility for self-reflection.
Over and over I have observed their lack of obligation to respond to me when I speak to them, greetings and questions go unanswered because they “don’t know what to say.”
Too bad for them I don’t buy the dumb caveman thing.
Eventually I began to wonder if the sense of responsibility I felt to care for my child and not leave dirty socks laying around was some kind of dirty trick played on me by Nature, or Society, or just my own mind.
These days I’m pretty sure it’s a little of each of these. But I sure as hell don’t believe I made any of these decisions in a vacuum. And I would never argue that these are necessarily feminist choices, just because I made them. That is the height of laziness and circular logic.
We have to put a little effort into our activism. Unfortunately the only way sometimes to get kids to stop being lazy is to force them, and know they will thank you later. We do our girls, ourselves and our foremothers, who fought and sometimes died for our right not to be property, a grief by allowing such silly, shallow philosophy to be taken seriously for a second.
We have to think through our choices. Then we have to walk our daughters through the same process. We may come to the uncomfortable conclusion that maybe wasting a bunch of time (and money!!) on pretending we are bald as a baby just isn’t a rebellious act after all. If that’s what you have to do to feel pretty, fine, but please think about why that is. And do not tell me it’s just because you “like it that way,” as if it’s an arbitrary comfort thing like wearing your favorite shirt.
And sure as hell don’t tell me Feminism made you do it.
I heard from Feminism the other day. She said to put the razor down and pick up a goddam book.