You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘choice feminism’ tag.

Good evening, feminists!

So I know that today is election day, and I know that as a radical feminist I should be fighting this particular system of voting -since no one who will take office in January could ever possible represent radical feminist interests to the extent necessary (any) to gain my support/blessing/whatever – but I come to you today with a confession:  I totally voted within the system.  I’m not proud, but I’m still growing and developing in terms of my radical political affiliation.  Maybe next election I will act differently.  I dunno.  Maybe the scare tactics won, or maybe I just see an Obama victory as more conducive to the next step in the process of dismantling this distorted system, I’m not entirely sure.

What I am certain of is the importance of engaging in politics and, thanks to Michale Ferguson, the importance of forming political judgments.  This is a new concept to me, as I am in the habit of parroting a lot of political thought, but have never genuinely grappled with an original idea and come out victorious, confidently presenting a judgment or stance to public.  No, indeed, every time I form a judgment, I am sure to keep it well hidden, at least until I find already documented support of something similar, and then slowly that  anxiety melts away.

One thing Ferguson discusses in “Choice Feminism and the Fear of Politics,”  is the reasoning behind this sort of inaction.  Fear! Fear of rejection or fear of criticism/critique, fear of the sheer force of the power within, even! Ok, I added that bit, but still.  I speak from a place of personal experience when I say that there seems to be an assumption of incompetence with regard to a woman’s ability to form judgments that are sound, reasoned, and of any realm prior to now (or even still) deemed male.  This includes, but is not limited to, politics.  And not just your parents’ run-of-the-mill, boring debate, politics, either.  I speak now of even the so-called “progressive” political realm of which I am a part.

It seems that no matter what choice a woman makes, she’s not being “progressive” or “feminist” enough in her choices.  Now, true, voting for Romney in such a hostile political environment (you know, one that has attempted literally THOUSANDS of anti-choice legislative efforts in the last 2 years) is decidedly a poor move in terms of feminist thought, but then again, there is an entire branch of DREAMers who support Romney in name because of Obama’s deportation policies, so…there’s a lot going on.  With regard to the current election, this has manifested itself as the derision of any progressive/feminist woman’s “choice” to vote for Democrats in an attempt to protect Roe v. Wade from being overturned by a Republican dominated U.S. supreme court.  I use the term choice here lightly, because of the manipulable nature of this voting system.

The argument, of course, is that the Obama administration has been nothing more than an oppressive force for all people (that includes women), in any given country deemed “worthy” of U.S. intervention a.k.a. SALVATION AND FREEDOM! and that a vote for this administration is inherently anti-feminist.  Hell, participation in this intentionally limited system given ANY candidate who makes the cut is inherently anti-feminist.

What I will say about this simplified version of the argument is that I couldn’t agree more with the premise!  I mean it!  Of course the Obama administration is an imperialist, capitalist, farce!  It’s inherent in the position of President of these United States.

What I am tired of is being told how to be a “good feminist.”  According to some, there is no room in the discussion – Roe v. Wade is small potatoes in comparison, and can’t we see that?  if we really care –yeah, that’s right, IF we really care, we should be more global in thought.

Here’s what I have to say – that’s right- my very first PUBLIC ASS political judgment:

Step 1: Vote, Don’t Vote, Vote however you want.  If you think a vote AGAINST Romney is a vote towards progress, if you think voting for Roe v. Wade is the safe bet to protect your rights to abortion, if you think, like me, that Obama’s administration will be easier to work with in terms of progressive legislation or human rights initiatives, DO IT! Do it loud, do it proud.  After all, in a country where MOST PEOPLE don’t vote, and where marginalized populations are STILL fighting for that right, not voting at all IS NOT a revolutionary act.  Voting for the candidates that have been pushed from the limelight like JILL STEIN for instance, is arguably  revolutionary, but if you think that a vote for Stein at this juncture is a vote FOR Romney in terms of realistic outcomes, then do what you think is more important.  Make that choice for yourself.  Educate yourself, sure, but don’t let some uterus-less white man tell you that imminent rights to birth control “aren’t important” enough to be the basis of a vote.  After all, regardless of the outcome of this election, the rights of women around the world will remain in peril.  That won’t change.  But the legal status of abortion in this country very well may.

Step 2: Now – after you do all of that voting, non-voting, strategic, manipulated voting, or what have you, take a moment to reflect. Did anything change? How did it make you feel?

Step 3: And this is the really important one – Realize that election day, especially this sort that comes only once in four years, will only ever do so much.  As lovely as it would be to see change stem from the current political system, the old adage probably remains true: If voting changed anything, it would be illegal.  I do leave an exception for local elections, of course, because these elections in particular have the potential to enact changes and policies that will have real effects on the constituencies.

In terms of national and global politics, however, if you have gone through this grueling process of deciding who, why, when, where, at what costs?!?!? because of how much you care, because of issues that matter, because of your interests in a better future for your children, you would be remiss to begin and end your political engagement every year on the Tuesday after the first Monday every November.

As history has demonstrated over and over again, the power lies with the people.  We cannot continue to put our hope for real societal change in  group of wealthy career politicians,a majority of whom are straight, white, men.  Sure, they are there.  If we can codify something and push for a paradigm shift ever so slightly in that manner, it certainly won’t hurt, but rest assured that this will not be the path by which we achieve social justice.  This will not be the path by which we will obtain a humanitarian ……..

So yes, vote.  But what about the other 364 or 365 days of the year?  What will you do to encourage progress in the interim? The one thing you will do if you really care, is stay involved.  You will seek out coalitions in your area.  If there are none to be found, you will start them.  You will disseminate literature and exercise your ability to engage in the formation of political judgments.  You will engage in radical/progressive discourse.  You will start a radical feminist knitting circle at a locally owned bread and coffee shop.  You will question your own choices and actions.  Are you unintentionally reinforcing messages that you actively speak against? Examine that shit.

You don’t have to give up your life as is and transform everything about yourself, but you do have to find a way to keep these conversations going.  If the personal is political, then every choice you make is a vote for something.
UPDATE:  As a bad ass comrade of mine so eloquently put it today:

“Democracy exists when engaged citizens practice it every day, when we organize our communities and let the voices of the marginalized be heard loud and clear. We like to say that we know democracy in this country, but it is not true, we have so much to learn, and going to the polls today is just the first step.”

-Ana Maria R

Advertisements

Last year, two of my close friends took a first-year seminar on women and gender in eastern Europe.  Both of them enjoy retelling the story of how, during the first week of classes, the professor asked the class for a show of hands: “How many of you would call yourselves feminists?”

Three people raised their hands: my two friends and one woman who emphasized that she didn’t identify as a radical feminist.

Doesn’t three sound like a shockingly small number of feminists in a room of more than twenty people?  True, most of them probably hadn’t enjoyed being part of an out-and-proud feminist network as my friends and I did throughout high school.  Maybe they weren’t comfortable using the “F-word” during the first week of college, which would align them with a powerful political ideology.  Looking back, though, plenty of my fellow first-years were happy to support other (read: less awesome) causes from day one.  This, coupled with my subsequent experiences beyond student organizing at Carolina, has convinced me that students here reserve a special squeamishness for feminism. 

Let’s return to the student who swore up and down that she wasn’t a radical feminist.  What the hell does non-radical feminism mean, anyway?  Feminism is a movement to end sexist oppression (bell hooks, “Feminism”).  That means that if you don’t like racism or sexism, and you try not to treat people horribly based on where they fit in the capitalist caste system, you support feminism.  If you’re doing feminism correctly, you can’t avoid being radical, rigorous, riotous.  That’s that.  Why do so many people have a problem with this?

Being radical, rigorous, and riotous, supporting feminism, can feel alienating at times, and that keeps a lot of people from participating in it.  On the other hand, feminism can be a refuge for people who feel alienated by our mainstream/dominant culture, which currently supports and disseminates (what a verb!) white supremacist, sexist, classist and imperialist ideology.  Feminism is inherently radical because it seeks to alter mainstream culture in a way that dismantles the roots of sexist oppression.

Most people reading this blog support, perhaps at a very conscious level, feminism.  Good for us.  Before we pat ourselves on the backs for “being radical”, it’s necessary to address the problem of choice feminism, a devilishly tricky variant of feminism that is undermining the movement and creating a huge group of complacent and supposedly non-political people.

Choice feminism is a non-judgmental way of approaching feminism that justifies everything anyone does as long as they’re “politically conscious”.  Sounds great, right?  It even echoes the tried-and-true “the personal is political”.  But actually it’s incredibly misleading, given that choice feminism avoids political engagement and stops informed critique in its tracks.  Choice feminism ignores the complexity of choice, and the ways choice-making agents and their environment mutually affect one another.  It also defines feminism as an endless source of empowerment, for good or ill: any choice made by a feminist is universally beneficial and empowering for other feminists.  This leaves no room for discussion of what feminists actually support; over-identification with the cause has transformed many people’s experience of feminism into a justification for unyielding self-indulgence.

For instance, if you call a woman who cuts you in line at the grocery store (or  a close friend, partner, or colleague who has done you no harm) a “bitch”, that is not a feminist action, no matter how conscious you are of your use of sexist and derogatory language.  Beginning a discussion of how sexism harms people requires us to be judgmental.  That is okay.  Judging other people, and not letting them get away with being jerks, is a part of being a socially responsible person, not just a feminist.

Political consciousness and good intentions are not enough.  In order to behave in an ethical and feminist way, we have to think of the implications of our actions.  This requires a considerable amount of self-criticism, but it is a necessary and ongoing step to creating real change in society.    

As supporters of feminism, we must constantly question our own behaviors, use of language, and engage fellow ethically-minded folks in critical and political conversation.  When you think something might be harmful, ask yourself, “Who benefits?”  If the answer makes you uncomfortable, don’t ignore that discomfort!  Do or say something different.  Even if that doesn’t lead you to support feminism, stop living on autopilot. 

Sarah-Kathryn Bryan

Sources:

 “Choice Feminism and the Fear of Politics” by Michaele L. Ferguson

“Feminism: A Movement to End Sexist Oppression” by bell hooks

Feminist Students United (FSU) is a progressive feminist organization which affirms that no form of oppression can be overcome until all aspects of racism, classism, sexism, and heterosexism are dismantled. We acknowledge intersecting identities and strive to be mindful of these intersections in all our work. We endeavor to create an environment which is non-hierarchical and supportive in nature, and we work to bring about change in our community through education, outreach, direct action and community organizing.

Weekly Meetings

Spring 2015: Wednesdays at 7:30 PM in Murphey 202

For a better look at events, check out FSU's Calendar

Feminist Students United Twitter

contact us

uncfsu AT gmail (dot) com