• Emily Coogan

Nothing is inherently feminist

Introducing ‘choice feminism’, a brand of feminism-lite that gives women a get out of jail free card to enjoy traditionally anti-feminist actions simply because they are women.

Such a simplistic definition is fitting for such a hollow idea, which asserts that any decision or act by a woman is inherently feminist and should therefore be immune to judgement.

First and foremost, choice feminism is counterproductive as it fails to consider the ramifications for others. The theory uncritically lauds women for anything and everything, neglecting the implications those choices may have for other women. Reality leans to the contrary – an act is not feminist of itself merely because it resulted from a woman expressing a level of agency. To go one step further, nothing is inherently feminist.

Choice feminism asks no questions once a woman has said “but it’s my choice”; importantly, it doesn’t explore the decision making process leading to that choice. It rejects the idea that those choices may have been shaped by the very systems that more productive strands of feminist thought actually fight against. The movement is closely related to trickle down feminism, whereby there is an expectation that a woman in power means equal opportunity for those at the bottom of the social hierarchy. This complete lack of intersectionality runs the risk of reinforcing white feminism (i.e. a double agent for the patriarchy). Decisions do not exist in a vacuum, and the choices each and every one of us make are subject to broader social, institutional, political, and cultural influences.

As a superficial kind of feminism, choice feminism assumes that because of the individual nature of a decision, that action is politically empowering for all women, broader social consequences be damned. While a choice may be a private matter for one person, it is not always without public ramifications for others. The idea that gender equality is somehow achieved as soon as a woman is in power effectively derails the objectives and premise of productive feminist ideas. Such an individual-centric approach is the easy way out, as choice feminists carelessly extract their decision from the social context within which it was made.

Choice feminism is a tool used to evade accountability, acting as a shield from the consequences of their actions. It is usually invoked to support questionable decisions, being actions that can further entrench inequality if left unchecked. Choice feminism demands nothing and resists nothing, disconnected from any larger, more productive feminist framework. With decision comes great responsibility, a notion ignored by choice feminists and anti-feminists alike. Further, freedom of choice is a privilege and a decision cannot be divorced from the context leading to it.

Let’s look at an example. It is a common conservative mindset that because we have women in positions of political power, gender inequality mustn’t exist. Any critique of subsequent policies is met with cries of “what happened to women supporting women?”, as though those in power are exempt from social judgment. Conversely, a woman in power does not signify equality elsewhere, and their actions do not deserve resolute support purely because of their gender. If that woman were to push policies counterproductive to gender equality, they cannot then endorse those ideas under the guise of feminism. While it may be significant to see a woman making decisions, the feminist movement is still required to increase opportunity for all. A decision by one woman that does not benefit the movement in any way cannot be considered an act of feminism.

By co-opting the language of feminism but kicking the fundamental ideologies to the kerb, choice feminism diverts attention from the need for political and collective action against systemic inequalities. Instead, it is a surface level celebration of choice – or at least the illusion of such.

To finish, a friendly reminder: feminism is not feminism unless its intersectional.

If this read piqued your curiosity, you may enjoy this week’s episode of The Weekly CheekIs sexualising yourself a feminist act?