Choice Feminism and the White Woman

Choice feminism is a branch of feminism which advocates that every choice that a woman or misogyny affected person makes is inherently feminist, simply because of the gender identity of the person making that choice. This individualistic form of feminism is counterproductive and tone-deaf, because not only is is exclusively applicable to white misogyny affected people, but also furthers the capitalistic, euro-centric, and patriarchal oppressive systems that most other forms of feminism are working to abolish.

Contrary to popular consensus — and the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary — feminism is not necessarily, “ the belief in and advocacy of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes expressed especially through organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” The definition of feminism is not concrete, nor has it ever been; like the movement itself, it is constantly changing as the issues of misogyny affected people, ie women, transgender people, and non-binary people, change. Consistent with the definition of feminism being fluid, each person will have their own definition of feminism as they see the movement and its goals, and as they feel those goals will be achieved. It is crucial that the definitions remain similar, though, because feminism needs to remain collective. The definition of choice feminism not only differs but contradicts the fundamentals of feminism.

Choice feminism’s defining factor is its approach regarding individual choices, in contrast to most other forms of feminism. As a social movement, feminism itself is inherently collective, but the concept of empowerment has been bastardized by choice feminists to mean individual achievement as opposed to collective liberation. They have been told that individual choices are empowering, despite the fact that the choice benefits neither the person making it nor misogyny affected individuals at large. No individual can achieve feminist empowerment on their own, because it isn’t truly empowerment until it’s applicable to all misogyny affected individuals. Feminism’s inherent collectivity derives from its anti-capitalist roots, encouraging everyone involved to contribute what they could and reap the benefits that they needed, whether it be financial support, mutual aid, or knowledge gained from like-minded individuals. In Marx’s words, “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

A second-wave feminist collective protesting for women’s liberation. Image from Jacobin Magazine.

Choice feminism primarily caters to white liberal women, and it’s reasonable why it’s so appealing to them. It’s difficult to come to terms with the fact that all women and misogyny affected individuals are oppressed by the patriarchy, and disheartening to acknowledge that the material conditions of misogyny affected individuals won’t change in the near future, or until multiple oppressive systems are dismantled. The idea that one can singlehandedly end one’s own oppression by working hard, by breaking the glass ceiling, by earning a seat at the table with men, is comforting to a lot of women, especially white women, to whom this dream is more realistic.

White feminists have historically pushed for equality over liberation for women — Susan B. Anthony is one early example. She had advocated for women’s voting rights during the course of the women’s suffrage movement — white women’s voting rights. She was threatened by the fact that Black men were going to receive voting rights as well, and was willing to sacrifice their right for her own. Equality is a utopian concept that overlooks the fact that no one begins on an even playing field. To white women, equality doesn’t mean that women of colour are afforded the same privileges as them. It means that they will be afforded the same privileges as the white man. To revolutionary and POC feminists, it’s recognized that this mindset of equality is exclusive and will be short-lived. As TikTok user @oumousolo has said, “My feminism is not about equality and I’m tired of people telling me that it is… I don’t want to be equal to men, I don’t want what men have. I don’t want to have a seat at the table with [men], I want to destroy the table.”

To choice feminists, being a CEO, a president, a leader, is a desired position, a way to show that they’re not like other women, that they’ve somehow broken out of the patriarchy in their success — they haven’t. All that any female in position of power has done is assume a male role, and contribute their part in the further oppression of women and marginalized people. They often forget that they didn’t climb a ladder to their achievement, rather, they stepped on the backs of less privileged and accomplished people. It is for this reason that Kamala Harris should not be a feminist figure; though she has achieved much in terms of representation for women and people of colour, she has only done so by her career as a prosecutor, in her complacency in the corrupted criminal justice and prison systems.

How Whiteness Pervades Choice Feminism

The choices that have been deemed to be empowering and liberating by choice feminists are similarly oppressive in that they uphold oppressive power structures such as capitalism, patriarchy, and eurocentrism. Makeup is one of the most advertised products to feminists, marketed to be liberating and empowering by supposedly taking back hyper-femininity for one’s own; however, what is failed to be recognized is that makeup benefits no one. The person doing makeup isn’t empowered by it, they gain no societal power by doing so, and no other misogyny affected person is empowered by them doing so either. Makeup also upholds the white beauty standard: people contour wide noses to be slimmer, monolids are taped to be double eyelids, foundation and concealer shades are more widely available in pale shades.

Plastic surgery is similar to makeup in how it perpetuates the white beauty standard, but also promotes the expansion of whiteness on a more extreme scale. Women are told how liberating it is to look exactly the way that they want to, with the body and facial features that they desire. However, such procedures are expensive, and not widely available to low-income and working class people. The features that are desired have recently changed, especially with the popularity of the Kardashians, in their normalization of the features of women of colour such as curves, big lips, thicker eyebrows, and tan skin. The issue is that they are not women of colour. Whiteness expands when threatened, and the Kardashians — among other influencers and celebrities — are enabling it through their appropriation of WOCs features. These features have become associated with whiteness, and because of it, women of colour who have those features are being whitewashed.

Kylie Jenner appears to be racially ambiguous, because she has changed her own white facial features to resemble those of women of colour. Image from Forbes Magazine.

Many girls enter prostitution while they are minors, various studies reveal that from 60% to 90% of those in prostitution were sexually assaulted in childhood, women in prostitution have statistically higher levels of PTSD than war veterans, and a study done in Ireland has revealed that 90% of sex workers want to leave the trade but can’t because of financial instability and lack of viable alternatives. Despite the overwhelmingly negative statistics, sex work is commonly associated with liberation. Women are able to express themselves sexually, and profit from it; however, the sex work industry promotes the commodification of the female body as well as the idea that consent can be purchased, which will have a net negative in the short and long terms. White women especially find sex work to be empowering because it encourages them to express their sexuality in a way that they have never been encouraged to before, but often fail to realize that not every culture is as sex-negative as Western Europe; sex work isn’t as liberating for women globally because it was never as stigmatized — and because its far less likely to be consensual. Sex trafficking is a major concomitant to sex work, and it affects women in the global south in a much greater way than Western women.

The body positivity movement is also exclusively beneficial to those who it originally opposed. Created by Black, plus sized, misogyny affected individuals, the body positivity movement’s original message was that beauty will never define a person’s worth, especially under the fatphobic and Western beauty ideals from which they were excluded. White liberals have recently co-opted the movement in an effort to show solidarity, but have depreciated it, with a new slogan of “Every Body is Beautiful.” Though it’s a kind, well-meaning message, it’s incredibly tone deaf, and glosses over the fact that not every body is beautiful under current beauty standards.

Choice feminism is not and will never be a true form of feminism, because it doesn’t work toward the liberation of all misogyny affected people, it only furthers the white woman. Choice feminism is a privilege, and one that misogyny affected people of colour do not have.

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