Thanks to Facebook, I came across a comic strip on everyday feminism and I had a strong reaction to it. It's entitled "Why Saying 'It's My Choice' Doesn't Necessarily Make Your Choice Feminist" and, in a nutshell, it argues that the fact that you made a choice (like whether or not to wear lipstick, which is the focus of the comic) isn't feminist; it's the reason behind the choice that matters. As the editors state in the introduction, “…is every choice we make inherently feminist – or are we influenced by misogyny?”
I have let this comic and its argument rumble around inside me for a week or so, and I can see the illustrator’s point, which I understand thusly: that some choices made by women are greatly influenced by outside factors, and are ultimately made in order to conform to a male-oriented societal expectation. Therefore, if we call any one choice that a woman makes a “feminist” choice without examining the external pressures that affected that choice, we fail to acknowledge the pressure to conform, and thereby validate it.
So yes, if someone starts wearing makeup because of one too many “you look tired” comments, I can see how that choice was influenced by an expectation to look a certain way in the workplace (or in society at large). I get it. A woman making the choice to start wearing makeup in this context would NOT call this a “feminist” choice. Does that then mean, however, that the woman in the office (or, more realistically, cubicle) next to hers is also NOT making a “feminist” choice of her own if she has worn makeup since she was a teenager?
There are so many societal expectations of women that I think it would be hard to pin down a lot of individual choices as being a woman’s own in the way the comic suggests. Women are told to be thin but healthy, pretty but not unapproachable, sexy but not a “slut” or a “tease,” demure but available, fun but serious, kind and nurturing but not a doormat, assertive but not bossy or a bitch, mothers but still fuckable, etc…the list is depressingly long. (Or in shorthand, as my good friend Melissa used to say, “Lady in the parlor, whore in the bedroom!”)
My point is, any woman trying to openly be herself will inevitably fall either into or outside of (or both at the same time!) all of the insanely contradictory expectations society holds for women. Therefore, if we are going to judge the motive behind each and every choice that a woman makes, are we not placing her into or outside of these categories without her having a say in the matter? And are we then not also judging every woman as either “enlightened” or “tool of the patriarchy” at the same time? Aren’t women taught to feel guilty and be ashamed of themselves too much already? What does the term “feminist choice” even mean if a woman is told she can’t use it as she wishes?
Yes, it sucks that women have these expectations and pressures put upon them in the first place, but I don’t think it helps to point fingers at women who choose to meet – or happen to fall into! – these expectations and label them as something other than/less than “real feminists.” I think the better choice would be to stop calling any choice “feminist,” and allow women to live their lives without fear of being policed, judged, influenced, or labeled by anyone other than themselves.
After all, as Lily Allen so eloquently puts it, “It’s hard out here for a bitch!”