Friday, 31 July 2009
at 2:31 pm by Anna
In this Guardian op-ed, writer Ellie Levenson defends her book, The Noughtie Girl's Guide to Feminism, from some fairly trenchant criticism, delivered in a previous Guardian review. Using Barbie as an example, Levenson hails freedom of choice as a goal of feminism, rejecting the 'self-appointed moral arbiters' of feminism who want to tell all the other ladies what to do and think.
Frankly, I think choice is over-rated - and Levenson shows pretty clearly why. There are aspects over a woman's life over which she absolutely must have individual choice - her sexual and reproductive life, and her right to live free from violence, for example. But Levenson seems to believe that a thing is inherently feminist if a woman happens to choose it, and she seems to not fully understand the fact that women can and do make choices which are harmful to other women. By my definition at least, the choice which harms other women is not a feminist one.
Here's a fairly dumb example. In a moment of utter tactless stupidity, I made a remark about my being fat.* It's my choice to buy into the culture of skinny if I want to. I can impose whatever standards on my own body that I please. Thanks to freedom of speech, I can choose to mouth off about my beliefs if I feel like it. A woman nearby me when I made this remark (and who was a lot fatter than me) was visibly hurt. Good one, Anna. I'd just used my right to choose to contribute to a cultural climate that makes overweight people feel stink about themselves. Feministic? I don't think so.
I'm not talking about abolishing choice of course, but I don't think feminists ought to be advocating a free-for-all. Levenson argues that feminism would attract more women if it didn't really have principles, and while she's probably right, there's clearly something wrong with this picture. My ideal world is one in which we can choose, but in which we have good analystic tools, based in a collective consciousness, to weigh up the value of the options we have to choose from.
* There was a context to my idiotic remark. I was about to go to a job interview, and was pregnant at the time. I was actually hoping to pass for fat rather than pregnant, since I thought I'd be less likely to face discrimination that way ... a whole other feminist issue I'll blather about some other time.