Monday, September 2, 2013

Feminism and Personal Choice.

"I thought one of the reasons for feminism was so that women don't have wear those anymore?" Mr. Nerd asked as I giddily bounced around the house wearing my new corset.  I paused, thought for a moment, then replied, "No.  We have feminism so that women can choose whether or not they wear corsets.  And right now, I'm choosing to wear one."  Even though Mr. Nerd said this in a teasing manner, it resembles a common misconception: that being a feminist means dressing a certain way... or not in certain ways.  Doing jobs and activities long reserved only for males.  Voting.  Getting a higher education.  Working outside the house.

It doesn't mean any of that.  Imagine for a moment that a man doesn't vote in an election because he decides he doesn't approve of any of the candidates.  No one would claim that he is somehow "setting back" his sex.  Yet if a woman does the same, she will often have people telling her that she ought to proudly proclaim her equal status with men by voting.  As if she needs to tangibly validate her equality somehow.  But does that actually demonstrate equality?  While I think it important that we work toward goals like decreasing wage gaps and erasing culturally-permitted misogyny, a large part of feminism is, or at least ought to be, about allowing and respecting women's individual choices.*

Necklace from:

As in the corset example, this extends to clothing choices as well.  When Mr. Nerd and I started dating eight years ago, I showed a lot of skin in my "going out" clothes.  I now find that I wear fewer mini skirts and a lot more modest pieces: maxi skirts, sweaters, higher necklines.  Looking back, I realize that this fashion transformation took place around the time I got married.  I noticed that Mr. Nerd liked more modest pieces, and I began wearing more of them. I now like wearing clothes that I know make him happy.  I like wearing his favorite colors.  I usually avoid orange because it's the color of his alma mater's football team's rival (although he's lucky I don't look absolutely amazing in orange ;-)).  But even though I let a man influence my clothing choices, I consider myself a feminist.  I make the decision to wear what pleases my husband.  It is one of the ways I show appreciation for him.  I wouldn't let some random man-- or woman, for that matter-- dictate any part of my wardrobe, but Mr. Nerd is not some random man.  And I feel comfortable doing it in part because he doesn't demand it.

Feminists avoid forcing women into a neat little box, and not all feminists are women.  It isn't a she-woman man hater's club.  I consider most men I know feminists.  They might initially balk at this label, because in popular culture the word has taken on some unfortunately negative connotations**, but if I asked them whether a woman ought to have the right to vote, or get an education, or ought to have the same career opportunities with the same pay as men, they would say yes.  If I asked them whether a woman "belonged" in the work force or at home, they would look at me strangely and say "whichever works for her."  In our house, I do most of the cleaning and cooking, and Mr. Nerd does most of the yard work and handles bills (though admittedly I do know how to do that).   It works for us, and we actively enjoy our respective roles.  But had Mr. Nerd ever said that women shouldn't do yard work or manage finances, I would have gone running in the other direction.  I could go out and mow the lawn today, and although he might be surprised because it is out of character (and because it's nighttime and raining... ), the fact that I'm a woman wouldn't even cross his mind.

I am not weak, unintelligent, or anti-feminist because I sometimes dress modestly, have a very "traditionally feminine" role in my marriage, and listen to the opinions and sometimes accede to the preferences of a man.  On the contrary, I am a feminist because I think women have just as much right to choose those things as they do to make any other lifestyle choices.

*Of course, I would love those choices to be informed ones, but I would say that about people's choices in general.

**I think this is so sad. Who came up with such stereotypes as "Feminists hate men" and started bashing feminism?  Some might.. just like some men who like having civil rights probably hate women.  I could dig deeper into the logical fallacies of this statement, but that would take another post. You might have seen the "I need feminism because..." pictures on various websites and school campuses.  I'd like to add to it:  I need feminism precisely because there are people who are offended by the "I need feminism because..." campaigns.


  1. Feminism is about women and men having equal rights and responsibilities.

    I do think that means having a choice, and not feeling as if one has to make a statement with every choice. But although I support having choices, I don't think that every choice is a feminist one. I may equate *having the choice* with feminism, but this does not mean that every decision one can make upholds the ideal of equality, and this is why I am disappointed when certain decisions - which I think of as reactionary - are lauded as feminist simply because a woman made them. If nobody is promoting the choice as feminist I see it as a personal choice, but as soon as it is suggested that everyone ought to make the same decision, or that the decision is empowering, I object.

    FYI, I have a corset too, and I like to cook. Nothing wrong with that, unless I start promoting it as something for every woman.

    1. Oh yes, as soon as I start saying, "Every woman needs to do what I do," I think it would negate any point I tried to make. And I suppose I should say that the reasons *behind* decisions matter if you're using them to espouse feminist ideology, mundane choices aren't necessarily "feminist" because a woman makes them, and of course we all make bad decisions occasionally that can hardly be said to empower anyone. But I get frustrated when someone says, "You're obviously not a feminist because you do X," because perhaps X *is* empowering and right for that particular woman. I think it defeats the purpose of and does a disservice to feminism to tell any woman that she needs to act a certain way to "qualify" as a feminist. So if a woman makes life decisions that other people are quick to question simply because she is a woman (even if it is questioning from other women who don't like her choices), but she makes them for herself and does what feels empowering to her, I am inclined to believe that *those* are feminist decisions. Of course this is my opinion; people can always (hopefully respectfully) disagree :-).

  2. Your brand of feminism is precisely in line with how I feel. One of the ways I've seen this debate come to head was with stay at home moms. Many "feminists" critiqued women's choice to stay at home and be a wife/mother as "against the cause" instead of realizing that feminism is designed to give us the opportunity to make the choices which suit us best.

    1. I admit that's what made me want to write this post; on one side of my family, the women were mostly stay-at-home mothers, and on the other, they were mostly working mothers. And when I was younger it never occurred to me that anyone would have a problem with either. Then I got older and started hearing about how the "mommy wars" were actually a thing, and that made me really sad.

      The outlook of "make this decision because it is for the cause" actually seems almost stereotypically mafia-ish to me... "Of course you have a choice! But you'll choose this option, right? Because it's a *good* option. I mean, you could choose the other one, but why don't I get my friend to come tell you why the other one might be better for everyone involved?"