We Cannot Choose Our Way To Gender Equality

SORRY CHARLOTTE

SORRY CHARLOTTE

(This post is because I have more to say about this.)

REMOVING PUBIC HAIR HAS ITS ROOTS IN SEXIST TRADITIONS. EVEN THOUGH I AM A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE WHO HAS ZIR OWN SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE REASONS FOR DOING IT.

TAKING A HUSBAND’S NAME HAS ITS ROOTS IN SEXIST TRADITIONS. EVEN THOUGH I AM A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE WHO HAS ZIR OWN SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE REASONS FOR DOING IT. 

WEARING MAKEUP HAS ITS ROOTS IN SEXIST TRADITIONS. EVEN THOUGH I AM A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE WHO HAS ZIR OWN SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE REASONS FOR DOING IT.

GETTING MARRIED HAS ITS ROOTS IN SEXIST TRADITIONS. EVEN THOUGH I AM A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE WHO HAS ZIR OWN SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE REASONS FOR DOING IT.

HETEROSEXUAL SEX HAS ITS ROOTS IN SEXIST TRADITIONS. EVEN THOUGH I AM A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE WHO HAS ZIR OWN SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE REASONS FOR DOING IT.

DATING HAS ITS ROOTS IN SEXIST TRADITIONS. EVEN THOUGH I AM A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE WHO HAS ZIR OWN SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE REASONS FOR DOING IT.

HOMEMAKING HAS ITS ROOTS IN SEXIST TRADITIONS. EVEN THOUGH I AM A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE WHO HAS ZIR OWN SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE REASONS FOR DOING IT.

PLASTIC SURGERY HAS ITS ROOTS IN SEXIST TRADITIONS. EVEN THOUGH I AM A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE WHO HAS ZIR OWN SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE REASONS FOR DOING IT.

HIRING A NANNY HAS ITS ROOTS IN SEXIST TRADITIONS. EVEN THOUGH I AM A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE WHO HAS ZIR OWN SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE REASONS FOR DOING IT.

DIETING HAS ITS ROOTS IN SEXIST TRADITIONS. EVEN THOUGH I AM A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE WHO HAS ZIR OWN SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE REASONS FOR DOING IT.

RAPE FANTASY PLAY HAS ITS ROOTS IN SEXIST TRADITIONS. EVEN THOUGH I AM A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE WHO HAS ZIR OWN SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE REASONS FOR DOING IT.

BUYING FASHIONABLE CLOTHING HAS ITS ROOTS IN SEXIST TRADITIONS. EVEN THOUGH I AM A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE WHO HAS ZIR OWN SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE REASONS FOR DOING IT.

WEARING HIGH-HEELED SHOES HAS ITS ROOTS IN SEXIST TRADITIONS. EVEN THOUGH I AM A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE WHO HAS ZIR OWN SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE REASONS FOR DOING IT.

EATING MEAT HAS ITS ROOTS IN SEXIST TRADITIONS. EVEN THOUGH I AM A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE WHO HAS ZIR OWN SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE REASONS FOR DOING IT.

Y’all, we can add to this list all day long.

It’s important to talk about the ways in which our choices can be and are sexist, and why they are sexist, and what the systems of power and oppression that perpetuate sexism look and sound and feel like. It is vital that we talk about who benefits from these sexist things, and who is marginalized, oppressed or disempowered by them.

No one is living a sexism-free life. No one is free of privilege. Everyone commits microaggressions. Everyone fucks up. Everyone makes shitty decisions. Some of the shit you do is sexist. Sometimes you’ll do it consciously. Sometimes you’ll do it accidentally. Sometimes you’ll do it joyfully. Observing that people make sexist decisions, even observing that YOU, MY FRIEND have made sexist decisions, may genuinely be a critique and a judgment of you as a person, but also may be a cry for help, or a cry of anger, because your sexist decisions are making someone else’s life harder, even if they make your life easier. To be feminist is not to be free of criticism; to be feminist is to be open to criticism.

When I wear high heels, I am making someone else’s life harder. When I eat meat, I am making someone else’s life harder. When I wear mascara, I am making someone else’s life harder. When I shop at Wal-Mart, I am making someone else’s life harder. When I get married, I am making someone else’s life harder. When I watch pornography, I am making someone else’s life harder. Sometimes I can choose not to do these things. Sometimes I cannot choose. But when I do them, for whatever reason I do them, the effect is that I am making someone else’s life harder because I am reinforcing patriarchal norms, perpetuating misogynist ideas or funding explicitly oppressive institutions.

I understand that decisions I make that may seem unimportant, inconsequential or even feminist to me, are decisions that may negatively affect other people in the aggregate. When someone calls my decisions or actions sexist, it may be because they are sexist even though I consider myself a feminist. I may also not have the desire or ability to amend, change or undo my sexist decisions or actions. I may like my sexist actions. They may make me feel good or happy.

To that end, I think feminists have a dual mandate.

(1) Do minimal harm

(2) Do a fuckload of good

We can’t do minimal harm without talking about what things are harmful and why. So if someone critiques a decision you’ve made, or an action you’ve taken, as unfeminist, sexist, or otherwise perpetuating of patriarchy, oppression, or marginalization, they might be perfectly reasonable in doing so, or they might be a complete asshole with a stupid beef. But chances are, you are going to be doing some sexist shit sometimes at some point in some ways. Because chances are, we are all doing some sexist shit, because patriarchy is strong and stubborn and there is no such thing in living in a patriarchy-free way, making patriarchy-free decisions, wholly outside the realm of culture. Because nobody lives on fucking Jupiter. Listen to criticism from people you trust if you feel like a change might be in order. The others? Haters allllllll the way to the left. You will never be every feminist thing to every feminist person.

Being a feminist doesn’t mean never doing sexist shit. It does mean that you take on the social responsibility to fight patriarchy in ways that make sense for you and that utilize your skills and talents for the greater good. Feminism is not an intellectual exercise. We cannot “choose” our way to gender equality in the quiet privacy of our own homes. Feminism is active public practice.

Fuck choosing our choices. Let’s choose our battles.

About andrea grimes

Andrea is a journalist living in Austin, TX. She has a master's degree in anthropology and did her thesis work on gender and stand-up comedy. Seriously. Also, she has a bunch of cats. Three of them. Is three a bunch? Discuss.
This entry was posted in activism, feminism, personal essays. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to We Cannot Choose Our Way To Gender Equality

  1. craftygiraffee says:

    I just wanted to say that I really appreciate your writing and mad props for the awesome viewpoint.

    Also – I agree, three cats is a bunch. Although I think three dogs would be just right. I’m not sure if that would be catist, dogist or something else entirely.

  2. Ellybee says:

    BLAMING OTHER WOMEN FOR THE EFFECTS OF PATRIARCHY HAS ITS ROOTS IN SEXIST TRADITIONS. EVEN THOUGH I AM A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE WHO HAS ZIR OWN SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE REASONS FOR DOING IT.

    I am all for critique in principle, but too much of what I encounter in practice falls in the “those women over there and the bad things they do” category, usually with a glaring lack of self-consciousness about the speaker’s own preferred forms of complicity, or about the types of privilege that facilitate her own “superior” choices. I also worry about victim-blaming implications when “feminist” discourse devotes more attention to what women ought to be doing about patriarchy than to what men ought to be doing about it.

    None of this constitutes disagreement with anything you’ve said, just a wordy buildup to noting that I really appreciate some of the qualifiers you’ve included (e.g., “from people you trust”), and also hope the valiant defense of well-placed critique will not be read in some quarters as justification for its less constructive forms.

    • “I also worry about victim-blaming implications when “feminist” discourse devotes more attention to what women ought to be doing about patriarchy than to what men ought to be doing about it.”

      +11111 THIS

  3. Perry says:

    HETEROSEXUAL SEX HAS ITS ROOTS IN SEXIST TRADITIONS. EVEN THOUGH I AM A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE WHO HAS ZIR OWN SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE REASONS FOR DOING IT.

    I get it, but it seems a little unfair. Is being heterosexual a choice? I understand that there is power dynamics at play that perpetuate patriarchal ideologies in order to maintain power, but it almost seems like you are suggesting that all other sexual relationships (that are not hetero) are somehow separate from patriarchy. Yes, my choice to seek a partner with an opposite gender could very well be amplified by the patriarchy, but could it not be because of my biology aswell? Wearing makeup or shaving or being fashionable is a choice (feminism is all about choice) but are you saying that I can chose my orientation? Is any sex I engage in with my partner automatically perpetrating ideas of the patriarchy, despite the unique power dynamics it involves which actively defy it?

    Or am I missing the point? Can someone clarify for me?

    • I’m saying whether you “choose” it or not (and I really don’t care about getting into some kind of argument about biology and sexual orientation), the practice of just about every. single. thing. in the world is steeped in patriarchy in some way or another. So yeah, you can have heterosexual sex and perpetrate patriarchy, or you can have heterosexual sex and not perpetrate patriarchy. Depending on what you do, how you do, and most importantly, what ELSE you’re doing in the world to smash patriarchy. I’m arguing against singling out ONE choice/activity/decision/way of being as being more feminist than others, and arguing for seeing feminists as holistic people. I’d change the question from “Is any sex I engage in with my partner automatically perpetrating ideas of the patriarchy, despite the unique power dynamics it involves which actively defy it?” (being that hey, you’re going to have some heterosexual sex, right? Go have some heterosexual sex!) to “What are you, as a straight person, doing to fuck up the patriarchy?” It’s a shift in perspective. One judges and polices individual actions, the other addresses systemic oppression.

  4. EmmaMaroon says:

    I have two thoughts – the first is about your claim that “our choices in the privacy of our home” are not revolutionary, game changing, or “real feminism”; and the second is your assumption that certain actions are inherently patriarchal, as if patriarchy is a single thing and therefore all actions are inherently “sexist” or “not sexist”.

    Firstly, I think that choices made by women and men in the privacy of their homes is an enormous part of what “feminist change” is all about. Isn’t it a collection of individual actions that slowly change social norms, and generationally make a world possible in which real choices, for real women, are possible?

    I agree that the problem is systematic, and that we need people fighting the system itself. But ultimately, it’s the individual choices of women and men, every day, that create a world of diverse options for women that will allow us to live deeply into whatever life we create for ourselves. The system is changed by people, and people are changed by individual interactions that challenge and reform their beliefs and ideals. What does it mean to “fight the system”? Have conversations. Have coffee. Engage politely on Facebook. Mention it afterwards when the movie is sexist. I remember having a conversation with a close male friend about sexist language – he started the conversation thinking that “mankind” and “him” to signify all people was OK, and by the end, he had changed his mind and now uses “humanity” when he writes, because reasonable conversations made him aware of inherent sexism in his language. I recently read a blogger’s story about how her young daughter was playing with her stuffed animals in the living room and had two males teddy bears marry each other. When her grandfather protested, the girl said in confusion, “but they love each other!”. These are the sorts of things that change the world. Toddlers who can’t comprehend a world in which sexist and homophobia make sense – they will grow up into senators and pastors and lawyers and yes, homemakers, who cannot comprehend a world in which these things make sense. And they will make laws and create churches and raise families that also affirm equality and freedom… and do those things because of the individual choices that women and men made, in the privacy of their own homes.

    The work done fighting systematic patriarchy and oppression through legislation, blogging, rallies, and boycotts will be meaningless unless the people in the systems are prepared, by long friendships and conversations, to accept and change their own attitudes and beliefs. We are not all “cultural warriors,” and those who are those warriors need to acknowledge that their work is made possible by the countless feminists, male and female, who are simply living their life, raising kids, having a job, and having the sorts of conversations that make change possible. “What else am I doing in the world to smash patriarchy”? Well, just being a person who believes women should have choices, that women deserve to have our bodies respected and protected by law, and that women are more than the sum of their sexuality. That’s “all” I do. But it is quite a freaking lot.

    Secondly, patriarchy looks different in every culture and in every household, and since this is the case, there are many actions that are sexist in one context and not sexist in another. Patriarchy created pornography and also created burqas. A woman fighting the first type of patriarchy will fight very differently than a woman fighting the second.

    There is sexism involved in cutting your hair short and sexism involved keeping it long. There is sexism involved in wearing pant suits to work and in wearing skirts to work. There is sexism in missionary style and sexism in BDSM. There is sexism in mascara… and yes, there is sexism in not wearing makeup at all. There is sexism in heterosexual relationships… and sexism in lesbian relationships. There is literally not choice that a woman can make that is entirely devoid of sexism. I wear mascara and short skirts because of the way that sexism manifested in my family and subculture: I was taught that “female beauty” was offensive and frightening and that my body should be covered up and desexualized because only that could protect me from “male lust.” When anyone tells me that my choice to wear fashionable clothes aligns me with patriarchy, I laugh, because patriarchy told ME that women need to cover ourselves and hide ourselves behind big glasses and baggy clothes and lipstickless lips, because our sexuality belongs ONLY to the man that we marry, and doesn’t belong to us at all. I grew up wearing Birks and baggy jeans. And I did it because of patriarchy. Now I wear short skirts and mascara – and I do it to fight patriarchy.

    Being free from patriarchy looks entirely different for every woman, because we have all experienced patriarchy in different ways. In that sense, we ARE all “special snowflakes”. Patriarchy is a changeable, morphing monster. Don’t presume to tell me how to behave without knowing first how I’ve experienced patriarchy in the world.

    It’s also quite possible that I’ve misunderstood your entire article, and none of this is applicable. Essentially, I think private choices are really important, and I also think that we can’t know the “special snowflake circumstances” of cultural patriarchy that influenced a woman to make the decisions that she has made. Individual life experiences are relevant, because patriarchy isn’t a single thing to every person in the universe.

    • “Essentially, I think private choices are really important, and I also think that we can’t know the “special snowflake circumstances” of cultural patriarchy that influenced a woman to make the decisions that she has made.”

      This is precisely the point I intend to make — private choices are important, and the personal is political. But MY personal is political is not EVERYBODY’s personal is political, and the privileging of one person’s special feminist hierarchy is counterproductive. I think that, instead of declaring someone is wrong or unfeminist for wearing a miniskirt / removing body hair / getting married, and telling them what they “should” be doing, we need to (1) criticize the systems that require women to do x, y, z and (2) ask whether it’s more productive to label someone as “unfeminist” because they took their husband’s name / enjoy rape play / get plastic surgery, or whether it’s more productive to ask whether the aggregate impact of their presence in the world smashes patriarchy and/or encourage them to *do more* rather than *be different.* And “do more” can mean all kinds of things, publicly and privately: teach your sons not to rape, enroll your daughter in science/math camp, start a size acceptance blog, protest anti-choice public officials, run for office, etc. ….

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