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On Choice

February 10, 2010

I was talking to a friend tonight and she was discussing her discomfort with a conversation she was having around reproductive choices. She didn’t have time to go into particulars and I was unable to respond to her feeling of discomfort, so I was lying awake thinking about it instead, formulating my thoughts into a blog post that would never get written… like I have been doing for quite some time now. As you have probably noticed… my blog has been quiet for a while.

So I thought to myself, “Fuck it, write the damn post now. It will be gone in the morning if you don’t!” So here I am. And here are my half-formed thoughts around a brief mention of the word choice in a conversation with a lesbian sister.

Choice is the catch-cry of 21st century feminism. We are taught by rote that the goal of feminism is to expand women’s choices. That choices can and should be as limitless for women as they are for men. That more choice, quantity rather than quality, is good for women. That uncritical and unexamined choices are evidence of true freedom.

Liberal feminists cling to choice, champion choice, march behind banners of choice. Yet I am left feeling very uncomfortable with this word, what it means for women, and what it leaves out of the equation. In our focus on choice it seems the real motivation behind women’s movement world-wide is thrown by the wayside. Liberal feminists are motivated by a horizon of ever-expanding choice. Radical feminists are inflamed by a passion for liberation.

I am not just talking about language. I am talking about the very different way the libfems and radfems structure our politics and our approach to the fact of women’s oppression under male supremacy. I am talking about the radically different way we see the world, the way we analyse our oppression, and the goals that we set for ourselves and for the world.

I would argue that the politics of choice falls far short of the politics of liberation.

In a worldview where choice is the goal, issues like prostitution, stripping and other forms of sexual violence can be defended as empowering. Where choice is the goal reproductive technologies are not dangerous harmful practices, they are embraced as offering women more choice.

But when the goal of feminism is women’s liberation these practices become senseless. When the issue is not a matter of expanding women’s choices ad nauseum, but about liberating women from male supremacy the word choice become less meaningful and less relevant. Especially when we begin to look at and deconstruct the way that many of our choices are made for us.

I believe that liberation is a fundamental necessity for women’s emancipation from the tyranny of male rule. Choice is a very poor substitute for freedom. There are many, many ‘choices’ that women should never have to make and yet we are forced to make them every day.

I am a feminist who wants a world where certain choices are unavailable to women. Where the image of liberation is a bunch of dykes sitting around a kitchen table loaded with delicious vegan food, rather than a woman on a table shedding her clothes for a room full of men who consume her as they would a steak. I can and do imagine a world where no woman is made to see herself as a fuck toy (prostitution) or a womb (surrogacy, IVF etc). I can and do imagine a world where women are considered to be as human as men. I do have faith that one day women are going to wake up and see themselves and their sisters as human.

But choice is the language of the powerless. Choice is the language and the activism of a colonised people who are (justifiably) terrified of their oppressors. Choice a dead-end politics, the politics of a people who have given up and are now begging for crumbs.

Liberation is the language and the activism of the sisters who have found themselves and each other. Liberation is the language and the politics of the women who can set the world on fire. Feminism needs women with the courage to go too far and the imagination to build a new world when they get there. It is going to be a bumpy ride, sisters, but I’m taking her all the way.

8 comments

  1. I read this post while listening to the music in your link above, it gave me shivers. I feel so grateful to be part of a movement full of passionate and articulate women like you.

    What is choice when your oppressors have defined the limits of your selection?


  2. I support the vision too, but… (you knew there had to be a “but”, didnt you? ahahahaha🙂

    Just call me Rain-But(t) *snicker*

    I dont see the libfems as being so antagonistic to radfem goals as you do – I see them as loving women and struggling for the same goals, but with quite different methods. They strive for what is attainable for women in the *here-and-now* – many also want liberation, but just dont see it happening. So they put their energy into baby-steps of band-aid policies, things that provide a small measure of relief in the interim.

    As a lesbian, things like contraception or Family Law issues, are obviously *my* problem – but it is a huge problem for millions upon millions of women, and I can’t judge them so harshly for wanting some relief today – rather than wait for some distant future world. eg, I work with libfems in workplace unions, to help women in crisis with jobs, housing etc


  3. I meant — NOT – *my* problem…


  4. As a woman who is a test tube baby, I would like to say that IVF is probably the best thing that ever happened to my parents and me. What is the problem with that choice? I’m not trying to be snarky here. I really want to understand your train of thought.

    Also, I can understand forced surrogacy being a problem, but once again, as the child of parents with reproductive problems, I think surrogacy could be wonderful in the right context, such as if a woman helps her infertile friend out by embracing the life-giving power of her body. It could be a powerful bonding experience and would give life to a child. Once again, forced surrogacy (on any level of the word “forced”) is a problem, and I fully recognize this. However, unless you consider the desire to have children inherently wrong, I once again do not follow your logic, and I would be very happy if you would take some time to clarify your reasoning for me. Perhaps I would understand better then.


  5. What’s wrong with IVF treatment? Some women legitimately want children and, well, there wouldn’t be anymore human beings if they didn’t have them.


  6. […] makes? Who benefits by believing that’s the definition of feminism? I happen to agree with Allecto who writes: Choice is the language and the activism of a colonised people who are (justifiably) […]


  7. Hi Allecto, commenting on your blog for the first time🙂

    What choice means to feminists of different persuasions is such an interesting question. Personally I don’t think we can ever have full choice under capitalism (which to me entails women’s oppression), and I think that even after its overthrow, it’ll take time to build a really feminist culture and give women full rights. So to me (albeit as a Marxist feminist, so I don’t fit fully into your post), our demands for ‘choice’ are about attempting to mobilise women and our allies in struggles for things which are certainly limited in themselves, but are still rights, and so vital to the fight. And I think that struggling for these limited things always provokes deeper discussion than would otherwise ensue about how to pursue women’s rights more broadly. And gives us a sense of what we can achieve thru collective struggle; we learn not to be passive.

    The power of campaigns around ‘single’ issues, or just a few closely interrelated demands, is I think that it gives ppl the chance to develop these dynamic debates about the way forward, and increase their confidence and skill in collective campaigning, in a way that happens differently in groups/ political parties which have much more detailed positions and hence are smaller as they tend to be agreed on by fewer people. Not arguing that anyone drop their detailed positions of course, just that the power of campaigns for people to have ‘choices’ of same-sex marriage, abortion rights, or whatever, is that they aren’t limited by a requirement for everyone to agree on everything. So in that sense I think they are an important component of building movements where the participants become more conscious that they need revolution to attain actual universal choice, because dynamic growth in organising always leads to much more openness to questioning and discussing issues of more fundamental change.

    Mmm, my longwinded way of saying I don’t think ‘choice’ is always part of a liberal perspective!

    But yes, I do agree that it’s a sick joke that being pro the sex industry is portrayed as some kind of sophisticated ‘pro-choice’ position, that having no feminist critique of women’s sexual objectification, infantilisation etc in popular culture and porn is portrayed as some kind of liberal ‘live and let live’ pro-choice generosity (or postmodernist creativity, as some fashion designers seem to see their output), etc.

    And capitalism provides so much ‘choice’, the reality that most people on the globe can’t avail themselves of it is something we’ll gloss over …


  8. Erin, “What is choice when your oppressors have defined the limits of your selection?” – perfectly put🙂 Yes, Allecto. I am also more interested in liberation. Until patriarchy is abolished, we will not know women’s/females’ full potentials. Even the language sabotages the message. “Woman” is a patriarchal construct; I am not comfortable even saying “women” in this context. How would the world look, if females were given a chance to blossom?



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