Originally published: 21.10.14
Choice is a complex term, on one hand we feel as though we are independently directing our choices, but on the other our choices, both manipulated and restrained, are to a large extent directing us as women.
Choice is clearly linked to many factors, such as ethnicity, sexuality, class, access to resources etc and this is imperative to acknowledge.
All women however suffer particular manipulation due to patriarchal society which benefits and privileges men.
Feminists over the ages have worked collectively and individually to challenge many misogynistic views and practices.
However people do not always see the ways in which societal institutions or assumptions [still] interfere with their choices and hurt them or hurt the class of people to which they belong.
‘This is particularly true of women because our culture is rife with all sorts of assumptions about women which inure to our detriment – assumptions about our essential nature (including the assumption that there even is an essential feminine nature), our capabilities, our proper role, and our relationships with men.
Often assumptions [due to socialisation into the gender roles] are so ingrained and so much a part of the fabric of our culture that we simply take them for granted without questioning whether these assumptions are correct or whether these assumptions hurt us.
In the very recent past for example a western women would perhaps not have questioned her family’s assumption that she did not need a college education like her brother; nor would she question societal expectations that the only appropriate careers for women were teaching, nursing, and secretarial work.
Motherhood and Housework
Today, many women [in heterosexual relationships] have never questioned the assumption that parenting – at least its day-to-day nuts and bolts aspect — is primarily a female responsibility. There are numerous other examples.
A lot of women may say, “It was my choice to do x or y.” But sometimes women don’t recognize constraints or limitations that don’t apply to men and that may drive, at least in part, the decisions they make.
So one woman’s choice to stay at home with her kids may have been her preference and her decision, but she may not be recognizing the fact that her decision was driven in many ways by societal factors that affect her differently than a male partner.
Like the fact that everyone around her expects her and not a male partner to be the children’s primary caretaker. Or the fact that mothers often face doubts among bosses and colleagues about their commitment to their work in a way that men and childless women do not. Or the fact that a woman is likely to make less money than a male partner.
No matter how much we may question and critique our cultural assumptions they may continue to have an emotional hold on us that may be hard to shake. On one level a woman might recognize that her inherent worth does not hinge on her dress size or the shape of her figure– but on another level that woman might have trouble shaking the feeling that she is less than worthy as a human being if she is anything but model-thin. Our rational thinking alone may not be sufficient to overcome beliefs with which we have lived since birth. We aren’t stupid of course, but the ‘choices’ we make are therefore not necessarily our own choices at all….’
Society offers women certain awards for certain behaviours as it affords punishments too. The ‘good mother’ for example, who plays with her kids, educates her kids, keeps her kids healthy, keeps her house clean, keeps a career going, does all the admin, all the emotional services, keeps thin, has hobbies and friends, does all the shopping, exercises, looks after the family pets, keeps herself smart, decorates, vacuums, washes, cooks, organizes, looks after relatives……and so on… is an image/idea which surrounds us. All of which is kept in place by the ‘reward’ of guilt to perpetuate an unobtainable perfection. Whatever mothers do it is never going to be enough.
In recent history feminists have gathered together to demand wages for house work/mothers, both highlighting the value such work is offering our culture while also emphasizing that the lack of economic rewards for women, an unpaid workforce, reflects the little status and worth such activities command.
Women still do twice as much housework as men.
Within capitalism women provide an unpaid workforce at home in order to keep the family unit together. This obviously frees men to advance in their careers. This renders women ultimately reliant on men who earn more even if women can work. The idea of the perfect wife/mother is, in turn, kept in place by patriarchal attitudes despite women now for the most part working outside the home as well, to keep women subjugated……
…..and capitalism aims to keep women as dutiful consumers too….
Consumer Choice for Women
‘Two Cunts in a Kitchen’, or sometimes ‘2CK’, is a term used within the advertising industry for a type of television commercial. YES! This is a real term! Generally the advert shows two women in a domestic scene, discussing, using, or otherwise portraying the advertiser’s product in a positive manner.
This characterizes the culture and assumptions behind such advertisements as showing “contempt … for women both as consumers and as females”:
“This charming phrase first gained usage in the early 1980s and is still widely used today in the advertising industry. It is a useful phrase to be aware of, in that it serves as a reminder of the level of contempt in which that industry holds its intended targets.”
Construction of a meaningful identity for a product reflects on our female identity – a cleaning product which cleans is not enough, a cleaning product which will help produce a perfect relationship, or a cleaning product which will make you have amazing children or lifestyle, or a cleaning product that is ethically sourced from Outer Mongolia, is what creates our commodity fetishism… and subsequently drives our consumer ‘choices’…
We are constantly bombarded with how these choices and roles will fulfil us and enhance our lives.
Patriarchal capitalism creates these standards on a whim. It invents ‘needs’ to steal your cash while objectifying and subjugating you…
“ok, what can we get them worrying about in order to buy our next product?” One day it’s fashionable to have no breasts: the next day breasts are all the rage. One day it’s fashionable to have body hair: the next day everyone is meant to thinks that’s disgusting on women.’
Choice became a key word in policy and political rhetoric during the 1980s where ‘private ownership, markets and freedom of choice’ were equated. This was achieved so that selecting from a range of items and the freedom to determine one’s fate became elided in a kind of consumer heaven: ‘To connect closely shopping and existential freedom’.
But does Next, Ikea, the Bodyshop or H&M offer the ultimate form of personal autonomy to any woman?
Understanding “false consciousness” as a concept in terms of what we think our choices are and the manipulation involved in making those choices has helped women gain a different perspective. “Consciousness raising” sessions among feminists in the ’60s and ’70s were a valuable exercise for women working through the many ways in which they had taken for granted their own subordination or failed to recognize ways in which the values and institutions with which they lived were operating contrary to their best interests.
This is an ongoing process as society remains as sexist as ever and capitalism as greedy.
Sexuality and Choice
Ideas of female sexuality are constructed by imagery constantly all around us, in adverts, in newspapers, fashion…..we live in a world of porn culture, rape culture etc…. This bombardment of ideas and images must affect our perception of ourselves.
Sexual compliance and sexual intimidation is often a part of women’s lives. And this is often normalised within a sexist culture, often by such imagery and the attitudes this provokes.
A quarter of women have experienced rape and many more had either suffered some form of sexual abuse, harassment and/or coercive male behaviour. Attitudes toward women, beliefs about sexual behavior, including rape-supporting beliefs and values still abound.
In this climate of violence and willful misrepresentation, what choice do women really have about expressing their sexuality?
‘Boy or girl, equal opportunities?
Boy or girl, equal opportunities?….educational and career expectations for boys and girls are different. If nothing has changed by the time they grow up, the boy will be earning on average 16 % more than the girl.
Is our work valued the same?
Is our work valued the same?Women have as good or better qualifications than men, but often their skills are not valued the same as men’s and their career progression is slower. This results in an average gender pay gap of 16 % in the EU.
Will having a child harm my career?
Will having a child harm my career?Family responsibilities are not equally shared. As a result, women have more frequent career breaks and often do not go back to a full time job. As a result, women earn on average 16 % less per hour than men; and even 31% less per year, given the higher proportion of female part-timers.
Same job, same pension?
The combined effect of lower hourly wages for women with women working fewer hours than men over their lifetime, results in lower pensions. This leads to more women than men experiencing poverty in old age.’
In the UK- women make up 77% of admin posts, men make up 88% of science, engineering, tech jobs. 63% of workers paid at or below the living wage are female.
Office of National statistics.
There is no country in the world where female wages are equal to those of males.
In the 19th century and early part of the 20th century, a succession of laws were brought in to reduce access to legal abortion. These laws effectively controlled women’s lives until 1967. But they did not, of course, prevent unwanted pregnancy, or the need for abortion. Thousands of women resorted to back-street abortionists, permanently damaging their health or dying. Newspapers advertised cures for ‘menstrual blockages’, but women knew they were abortifacients. Many of these were ineffective and were also poisonous; one of the cheapest, a lead-based potion, poisoned and blinded many women. Since its passage in 1967 the Abortion Act has been unsuccessfully challenged several times by anti-choice (“pro-life”) organisations which aim to restrict access to abortion. In 1990, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act introduced controls over new techniques which had been developed to help infertile couples and to monitor experiments on embryos. Despite attempts to use this law to restrict abortion rights, the 1990 Act lowered the legal time limit from 28 to 24 weeks, which is the currently accepted point of viability. It also clarified the circumstances under which abortion could be obtained.
Worldwide safe access to abortion is still for the most part non existent in many countries and certainly globally womens reproductive health remains poor, not invested in or prioritized. Abortion is still shrouded in often secrecy, shame, guilt due to religious pressures, negative press coverage and societal attitudes. It is still a feminist issue and safe access to abortion is still something which comes under attack and needs to be protected.
Choice and control over our bodies..
Body politics involves the fight against objectification of the female body, and violence against women and girls, and the campaign for reproductive rights for women.
“The personal is the political” became a slogan that captured the sense that domestic contests for equal rights in the home and within sexual relationships are crucial to the struggle for equal rights in the public. This form of body politics emphasized a woman’s power and authority over her own body.
Feminists promoted breaking the silence about rape, sexual abuse, and violence against women and girls, which many interpreted as extreme examples of socially sanctioned male power and the invasion of female choice.
Women’s bodies are still a political battleground…… choice over our bodies is routinely held by to the state….. Debates about laws and women’s bodies such as abortion rights, female contraceptive upon without the involvement or proper representation from women prompting feminist action. Women often feel that government or institutional power has unfairly exercised control over our bodies and that society should take greater responsibility for the care and protection of women and children.
Choice about Space
Throughout history spaces have been culturally, religiously, racially and politically marked. Even though women won access to a limited amount of space in the 20th century, both symbolically and structurally, space continues to be largely defined as male.
Many institutions and work places remain as ‘boys clubs’.
Women who are victims of male sexual violence are still blamed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Such institutionalised and cultural sexism limit all women’s access to the world.
A culture of rape, institutionalised sexism, sexist socialisation and gendered cultural devaluation all still restrict women’s access to equitable space.
(Taken from a ‘Choice’ zine created collectively a few years ago and including material from a variety of sources).
Shack Diaries I blog about feminism, lesbians, art, photography, politics, kitsch and more.