First published on Saturday the 20th of April, 2019, this piece comes in at number 19 in the top 30 most read Villainesse stories of 2019.
“It’s her choice!” has been the online battle-cry of feminists for as long as I’ve been socially aware enough to know what a feminist is (which, admittedly, has only been about seven years, or as long as I’ve had a Tumblr account).
Feminism has, by its large and wide definition, become about women’s right to choose.
We should have the right to choose what we do with our bodies, careers and lives. Obviously, that’s something I agree with, because I like not living in Gilead. But, sometimes I get a bit concerned about the emphasis we place on the idea of choice.
We’ve started to use these words to describe everything women do. If a woman stays home to raise children, that’s her choice. If a woman surgically modifies her physical appearance, that’s her choice. If a woman wears a full face of makeup every day, that’s her choice.
But that’s not really the whole story, is it?
When we classify these things as individual acts of free will, we’re negating any consideration of the societal and institutional oppression that has strongly influenced those “choices”.
Conforming to (and even rebelling against) the idealised norms of femininity that we’ve been force fed since birth can never be a purely individual choice free from the shackles of societal conditioning.
When a woman stays home to raise her children, a huge part of the reason she does that is because she’s been told that it’s where she belongs, that she’s biologically predisposed to be nurturing and maternal, that it’s her duty, basically since she could focus her eyes and comprehend words.
If a woman shaves her legs, armpits and every other freaking surface on her body, that’s mostly because she’s been taught that body hair on a woman is so grotesque that it’s unimaginable to be hairy. Literally, the ads that market razors to women would rather show their product being completely ineffective, shaving already smooth, bald legs than show a woman’s leg hair.
If a woman wears makeup every day, a huge part of the reason she does that is because corporations, advertisements, models and movie stars have drummed into her mind since birth that she needs to alter her appearance in order to be deemed acceptable enough to walk out of her front door.
In turn, the corporations and institutions that encourage women to make “choices” (for example, to shave their legs or get botox) are picking up on the language we’re using. Multi-million dollar corporations that exploit our insecurities for profit are selling us concealer, mascara and bronzer, and telling us it’s an empowering, feminist act to buy and wear it. They’re telling us we need to change ourselves in order to be acceptable, while also telling us we should be proud of our little revolutionary selves for doing it. Because it’s our choice!
Women should, of course, do whatever we want. We should shave our legs if that’s what we want to do, stay at home to raise our kids if that’s what we want to do, wear as much or little makeup as we want, whatever. But we should also acknowledge and discuss the fact that when we make these choices, a huge reason for that is because we’ve been told it’s what women should do.
I wear makeup. But when I wear it, I’m not telling myself that it’s an inherently feminist act that empowers me to walk through No Man’s Land à la Wonder Woman. I wear makeup because it makes me feel pretty.
I’ve had 22 years of advertising, TV and movies telling me that without makeup, I’m unfinished, that I just don’t look quite right. I’ve had 22 years of magazines and Instagram celebrities giving me new things to be insecure about and new products to fix those insecurities with increasing rapidity. I’ve had 22 years of listening to the women around me apologise for being bare-faced when I run into them in the supermarket. So, sometimes I wear makeup.
And that’s okay! Not everything we do has to be a brave act of feminist rebellion.Support Villainesse