Welcome to the latest installment of Ms. Opinionated, in which readers have questions about the pesky day-to-day choices we all face, and I give advice about how to make ones that (hopefully) best reflect our shared commitment to feminist values—as well as advice on what to do when they don't. This week, how to be the perfect feminist by accepting you're not the perfect feminist.
Dear Ms. Opinionated,
As a feminist I am always trying to stay up to date on news, research and blogs like Bitch. Lately, though, I have been feeling very muddled. I vocally criticize objectification of women in TV and movies, yet I am a huge fan of artists like Beyoncé and Rihanna who are marketed as sex symbols. I go on about the lack of coverage and opportunities for female athletes but I rarely watch women's sports myself. I tell my friends not to worry about their weight, but I get upset when I put on a few pounds. I confront sexual harassers on the street yet my sexual fantasies often involve domination by men. I tell myself that everyone is feminist in their own way, but it also seems that most activists and websites espouse a "right" way to be feminist. I can't help feeling that I am doing it wrong or not enough. How do I (and other women reading) reconcile all of these contradictions?
As a childfree person, I feel like I often have to defend against the stereotype that childfree people hate children. Based on the comments from my last post about being a childfree person who actually likes kids, it's clear that this still surprises people, no matter how many nice intentionally childless folks they meet. Since I'm also vegan, I'm sort of used to people acting surprised when I say that no, I don't care what you eat, and no, I don't care if you have kids. I get that I'm making two non-normative choices, but I also get why both make people defensive: Because these sorts of choices in particular come with the implication, however incorrect, that my behavior alone casts subjective judgment on that of others. But why are some childfree people overtly nasty and others not? In my case, there's a story behind it.
As someone who writes about choosing to not have children, what I seek are equitable conversations about honoring and giving space to all sorts of reproductive options—in a way, I suppose I want "choice feminism" to extend to us all. In the end, I simply want Bill McKibben's Maybe One to have a shot at being even half as popular as What To Expect When You're Expecting. (I know, a pipe dream, but a gal can hope.) I want every option put on the rhetorical table, for every issue to be given equal consideration when we set out to make decisions about how we live. Just because people claim to not have a bias against something doesn't mean room is made at the table to share those ideas or validate opinions. How can we talk about private, personal decisions related to fertility, childbearing, adoption, family, and love without squashing each other's values and opinions? How do we navigate this rocky terrain?
When I think about the idea of celebrating children, I come back to the same question again and again: Why shouldn't an intentional choice be celebrated? When feminists talk about reproductive justice, it's often within the context of not just the ability to, say, have an abortion, but to raise a child the way you see fit, or to give birth on your own terms. The very notion that we should be in charge of our own bodies—that if possible, we shouldn't just wait for things to happen to us—is central to a conversation about rights, health, and justice. Don't you think intentionally opting out is worth a few streamers and noisemakers too?
"Now when I listen to a really good song, I start nodding my head like I'm saying yes to every beat. 'Yes! Yes! Yes, this rocks!' And then sometimes I switch up with 'No! No! No, don't stop a'rockin!'"
Give it up for the power of yes! And the power of no! Give it up for choice!
You know: a lot of people have problems with Madonna. In fact, pretty much the entire history of Madonna has been the history of people having various problems with her! I first learned of her existence when a news channel reported on one of her concerts. I was maybe five or six. It was her "crucifix as fashion accessory" phase; possibly, also, her "pretending to masturbate on stage" phase. And my mother turned to me and said, "you know, it's important to realize that not everyone likes her.