Choice Feminism Part II

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I mentioned in Part I of Choice Feminism that I try to make choices that minimize my complicity in systems of oppression. As a black, African woman, I reject white supremacy, patriarchy, and xenophobia, because to not do so would be to be complicit in my own oppression. However, I believe that my responsibility does not stop there. As someone who does have certain forms of privilege, like cis privilege, and a degree of class privilege (I’m part of what economist Guy Standing calls “the precariat”, that is, someone who doesn’t have job security, but I am still well-educated and have a job for the time being), hetero privilege and other forms of privilege I may not even know about yet, I also see it as my responsibility stand up for the rights of other people who don’t have those forms of privilege.

To that end, I try to make choices that  minimize my participation in white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy to the best of my ability. Still, I make choices all the time that support oppressive systems. I buy products made and sold by corporations. I have an iPhone and I’m typing this on a computer, even though I know that people — black people — die in wars to control access to cobalt. I fly, even while knowing the effect that planes have on the environment. I do these things not only to be a society (it would be difficult to hold down a job in development without at least using a phone, computer, or ever traveling at all) but also for my own enjoyment. I like watching Netflix and keeping in touch with my friends all over the globe. I like to see different countries. I go to Japan to see my family.

I think, though, that one difference between capitalism and patriarchy is that while capitalism and requires people to be obsessed with consuming, a capitalist economy can exist alongside a socialist welfare system. In Switzerland, where I work, for example, salaries tend to be high to allow people a decent living standard (although this happens alongside their complicity in eroding women’s rights around the world by providing tax havens to allow the 1% to avoid paying their taxes). Patriarchy, on the other hand, cannot exist alongside gender equality.

I recognize that people, particularly those who are not white, male, and straight,  are conditioned into rejecting, suppressing, or hating parts of themselves or their whole identities thanks to the society we live in, regardless of where we are.  And we’re rewarded for doing so, even as we’re slowly killing our authentic selves. We receive access to employment opportunities when we destroy our natural hair, it’s easier to find a partner, and it’s just generally easier to navigate the world when we capitulate than when we resist. But it’s still reductive to ignore the fact that these choices help support our oppression and that of others who share some or all of our identities. Saying that feminism is about choice is not entirely erroneous, but it’s too simplistic to leave it at that without further unpacking why we make the choices we do.

The overwhelming majority of married women I know, for example, were thrilled to take their husbands’ names and give their children their husbands’ names, because the erasure of their lineage is something to be proud of. At least, that’s how it looks to me, although no one has ever said that to me in so many words. That’s a choice they are “allowed” to make, no question. But many of them posted social media statuses and articles about how it was a feminist choice, because feminism is about choice. And while it is a choice, it is certainly not a feminist one.

I often (read: constantly) run into other people who are not the beneficiaries of these systems, and are victims of them, trying to railroad other people into participating. On a personal level, I constantly have people disrespecting my choices and identity, and trying to alternately to persuade, mock, or bully me into participating in patriarchal heteronormative relationships, have a child which I don’t want, cut off my locs and straighten my hair, wear makeup, get my nails done, wear dresses, and stop lifting weights, to name a few patriarchy- and white supremacy-approved behaviors.

If you are a woman who experiences patriarchy on a daily basis — policing of your appearance, nonstop attempts to legislate your reproductive organs, a wage gap, being kept out of employment because a man in power either thinks you’re too pretty and he will get “tempted” or alternatively that you’re “too ugly” and what’s the point?, sexual harassment and assault — and you run into a woman who has decided that none of that is for her, why is it so important to you that other women choose to actively participate in the system(s) that harm both of you? 

Like Sway, I don’t have the all the answers. But I don’t think that means it’s invalid for me to ask the questions in the name of “respecting people’s choices”.  Do I go up to random strangers and berate them about their unfeminist choices? Of course not. But it is clear to me, that at the very least, making choices that are true to your identity (living with a same-sex partner, not wearing high heels or dresses, transitioning to a different gender, being childfree, being atheist or having a subaltern sexuality) is different from making a choice that is the result of patriarchal conditioning.

 

 

Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

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I Regret Everything: Mothers Speaking Out About Their Parenting Experiences

neonbrand-395901-unsplashI’m part of a growing movement of vocally childfree people who eschew the idea that parenthood is a requirement to inhabit the planet. Another parallel movement is that of regretful mothers. Perhaps most famously, Corinne Maier, a now 54-year old French woman, wrote No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not to Have Children in 2008.

The backlash against women who are vocal about their regret has been vitriolic. In a Maclean’s article from earlier this year, women report receiving threats of sexual assault and death, as well as being told that their children deserve a better mother. The article’s author, Anne Kingston, argues that “Parents now raise children in a far more difficult, competitive world and are pressured to do more with far less.” One of her interviewees, Andrea O’Reilly, a professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies says that “Expectations have been ramped up to such a point that standards are impossible to achieve.”

While it’s true that life, which includes parenting, has become far more performative thanks in large part to social media, and that materialism and erosion of benefits from the state certainly haven’t made things easier, I don’t know if I’d agree that parenting has become more difficult, at least not from the women in high-income countries featured in the article and who are writing these books. After all, we have levels of infrastructure that our peers living years ago may not have even been able to fathom: running water inside our houses, cars, public transportation, slow-cookers and stores filled with (unethical) cheap fast fashion to cut down on the amount of time it takes to adult.

(Perhaps) unsurprisingly, the article features no experiences from women in developing countries in Latin America, Africa, or Asia. Perhaps because that wasn’t Kingston’s focus, but it maybe also be because none of these women have the room to express regret, even to themselves.

In low- and middle-income countries, it’s still the norm to live in extended family units, especially outside of urban centers, thus giving parents — mothers, more specifically, since they tend to be the primary caregivers — a built-in support network. For me, personally, though, this would not be a viable solution, even if I wanted to become a mother. Right now, I live in Europe, where people don’t live with their extended families after marriage, and I wouldn’t want to move back to Ghana to raise kids (that is, if I weren’t childfree). While it’s true that I would have logistical support, allowing me to continue to pursue my career, I simply wouldn’t wouldn’t want my children raised by my extended family. Parental influence can only do so much, and I wouldn’t want my offspring to be raised in a house and culture where they were told that Christianity is the only acceptable belief system, that personal boundaries and consent are nonexistent, especially for girls, that the sex that you are assigned at birth means you must adhere to certain oppressive behaviors and that there is no room for experimentation or deviation, and that your life has to follow a specifically laid-out script that was determined by colonial powers who left decades ago.

And it wouldn’t be tenable here either: I live in a tiny studio where there isn’t even enough space for me, let alone a human I am meant to be raising, my salary by local standards is… shall we say uncompetitive?, I have no benefits (like a pension or parental leave), and childcare, when available is extortionate. I simply have no room in my life to be a mother, logistically, emotionally, or developmentally.

In The Myth of Mothering Joy, Sarah Fischer, describes being a mother as “incontinence, boredom, weight gain, saggy breasts, depression, the end of romance, lack of sleep, dumbing down, career downturn, loss of sex drive, poverty, exhaustion and lack of fulfillment.”

For someone who wants to be a mother, all of that might be worth it. Clearly, for some of them, it wasn’t. I’m certain that that’s a path I will never tread.

What was it that Robert Frost said?

 

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash