Commentary Media

More Feminist Than Thou: Moving Beyond Self-Defeating “Choose-My-Choice” Feminism

Andrea Grimes

I just can’t have another fight about whether it’s feminist to be a stay-at-home mom, shave your legs, or wear makeup. Let’s stop choosing our choices and start choosing our battles.

I am so tired of “I choose my choice” feminism. So, so tired of it. I just can’t have another fight about whether it’s possible to be a stay-at-home mom, shave your legs, wear makeup, date men, have rough sex, have submissive sex, change your name, watch porn, worship a Judeo-Christian God, shop at Wal-Mart, wear hijab, get breast implants, listen to hip-hop, go on a diet, eat meat, or wash the dishes and be a feminist at the same time.

Let’s stop choosing our choices and start choosing our battles.

Choosing is passive. Choosing is not enough. Choosing devolves into finger-pointing, into holier-than-thou posturing, into casting feminism as some kind of private mental exercise, rather than a powerful force for social change. No one person is making all the right feminist choices, but so many people are fighting good fights. 

Choose-your-choice feminism brought us, for example, the so-called Mommy Wars, which pits women against each other, instead of against anti-family work policies and the intersecting mechanics of economic oppression; it pits a very small group of “each others,” usually deeply privileged “each others” against those “each others” who blessedly have the option of choosing at all.

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Choose-your-choice feminism implies that all women already have the full spectrum of choices available to them in the first place. Choose-your-choice feminism is for people who don’t play the long game, or who are so blinded by their own privilege that they no longer see the need to. Choose-your-choice feminism is for people who think the fight is over.

Do our choices add up to the people we are and the world we live in? Absolutely. But ought we be defined by personal decisions that help many of us simply get by, day-to-day, within a system designed to marginalize and oppress us, or ought we be defined by the actions we take to challenge whatever part of those systems of oppression and marginalization we think we’re best equipped to address?

I say this because I’m guilty of policing other women’s decisions myself, and it’s gotten me exactly nowhere; it helps no one and nothing as much as it helps my own ego. My particular vice? Judging women who take their husbands’ names after marriage. It gets me so riled up. It’s a literal reinforcement of patriarchy! It’s a cultural remnant of coverture, of a time when men actually owned their wives!

And yet, some of the fiercest feminists I know share their husbands’ names. I also know feminists with breast implants, and feminists who wear hijab, and feminists who buy Lil’ Wayne records—and I know they’re feminists because they educate teens about dating violence, volunteer for abortion fund hotlines, and lobby for domestic workers’ rights.

It’s of the utmost importance to make the best-informed, least socially harmful decisions we can, whenever we can. But instead of bringing women down when they don’t (or can’t) make the outright feminist decision—which is so often a moving target—let’s focus on celebrating when they choose to fight, to rebel, to challenge, to speak up.

Certainly the personal is political, as they say. But if we work to get to that “political” part by engaging in a dialogue, by changing the dialogue, by taking real-world action, I think we can quit policing every personal decision. I like “I choose my battles” because it gives us an opportunity to talk about actions and their implications and outcomes, rather than individual people and their beliefs. “I choose my battles” allows us to thoughtfully criticize and analyze results, rather than to blithely criticize individuals, putting women—and so often, only women—through the ringer.

So what if we choose our choices? What are we doing to make life more equitable for other people? Are we volunteering for prison outreach in our communities, forming a union at work, or teaching our kids about enthusiastic consent?

Let’s value activism and intentional change-making more than we value having the world’s most feminist pubic hair, whatever that means right this second. And hell, maybe your feminist pubic hair is being the change you want to see in the world, but it doesn’t have to be everyone’s.

Women cannot be everything all the time; we cannot expect constant perfection. If we expect perfection, and all that comes with it—compliance, poise, graciousness, infallibility—we’re no better than the patriarchy we decry. We have to give ourselves room to fuck up, to make shitty choices, to make easy choices, to make dissonant choices that allow us to fight the fights we care most deeply about. We have to be comfortable with contradictions.

I don’t mean to say that every choice a woman makes is feminist or even good or right, simply because a woman makes it. I don’t mean to say that women shouldn’t be held accountable for their decisions and cheered on regardless of the harm their choices might do to others in the aggregate. To be sure, there is harm done by, say, the multitude of individuals buying diamond engagement rings, or our willingness to turn a blind eye to sweatshops because we really want that great new knock-off skirt.

What I’m advocating for is a move toward positive reinforcement before knee-jerk criticism. I think that creates a better system of accountability, one that focuses on reforming or eliminating overarching systems of oppression, rather than telling women they’re stupid for not defying every possible iteration thereof.

Certainly feminism, at least to me, is a lifestyle. It is absolutely something that comes out of my personal choices, but it’s also something I try to build out of my own activism and my way of living publicly. My feminism is defined and crafted by my whole personhood, not limited by my shoes or my lipstick or my job.

The beauty of an inclusive, intersectional, progressive feminism that champions positive reinforcement is that it allows a wider spectrum of people to participate in social change. Choose a battle that will allow your sisters and brothers in the fight for gender equality to have more and better choices, and someone else will do the same for you in another arena. We have to use our collective efforts to lift each other up, rather than become mired in criticism.

If you’ve chosen a battle, you’re probably doing it right. And if you’ve only chosen your choices, it’s time to step up and choose a fight.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Commentary Race

Have a Problem With Black-Only Spaces? Get Over It

Ruth Jeannoel

As the parade of police killings of Black people continues, Black people have a right to mourn together—and without white people.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

Dear Non-Black People:

If you hear about a healing space being organized for Black folks only, don’t question or try to be part of that space.

Simply, DON’T.

After again witnessing the recorded killings of Black people by police, I am trying to show up for my family, my community, and victims such as Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I am tired of injustice and ready for action.

But as a Black trans youth from the Miami, Florida-based S.O.U.L. Sisters Leadership Collective told me, “Before taking action, we must create space for healing.” With this comment, they led us in the right direction.

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Together, this trans young person, my fellow organizers, and I planned a Black-only community healing circle in Miami. We recognized a need for Black people to come together and care for each other. A collective space to heal is better than suffering and grieving alone.

As we began mobilizing people to attend the community circle, our efforts were met with confusion and resistance by white and Latinx people alike. Social media comments questioned why there needed to be a Black-only space and alleged that such an event was “not fair” and exclusionary.

We know the struggle against white supremacy is a multiracial movement and needs all people. So we planned and shared that there would be spaces for non-Black people of color and white people at the same time. We explained that this particular healing circle—and the fight against police violence—must be centered around Blackness.

But there was still blowback. One Facebook commenter wrote,

Segregation and racial separation is not acceptable. Disappointing.

That is straight bullshit.

To be clear, Black-only space is itself acceptable, and there’s a difference between Black people choosing to come together and white people systematically excluding others from their institutions and definitions of humanity.

But as I recognize that Black people can’t have room to mourn by ourselves without white tears, white shame, white guilt—and, yes, white supremacy—I am angry.

That is what racist laws have often tried to do: Control how Black people assemble. Enslaved people were often barred from gathering, unless it was with white consent or for church.

Even today, we see resistance when Black folks come together, for a variety of reasons. Earlier this year, in Nashville, Tennessee, Black Lives Matter activists were forced to move their meeting out of a library because it was a Black-only meeting. Last year, students at University of Missouri held a series of protests to demand an end to systemic racism and structural racism on their campus. The student group, Concerned Students 1950, called for their own Black-only-healing space, and they too received backlash from their white counterparts and the media.

At our healing circle in Miami, a couple of white people tried to be part of the Black-only space, which was held in another room. One of the white youths came late and asked why she had to be in a different room from Black attendees. I asked her this question: Do you feel like you are treated the same as your Black peers when they walk down the street?

When she answered no, I told her that difference made it important for Black people to connect without white people in the room. We talked about how to engage in political study that can shape how we view—and change—this world.

She understood. It was simple.

I have less compassion for adults who are doing social justice work and who do not understand. If you do not recognize your privilege as a non-Black person, then you need to reassess why you are in this movement.

Are you here to save the world? Do you feel guilty because of what your family may have done in the past or present? Are you marching to show that you are a “good” person?

If you are organizing to shift and shake up white supremacy but can’t understand your privilege under this construct, then this movement is not for you.

For the white folk and non-Black people of color who are sincerely fighting the anti-Blackness at the root of most police killings, get your people. Many of them are “progressive” allies with whom I’ve been in meetings, rallies, or protests. It is time for you to organize actions and events for yourselves to challenge each other on anti-Blackness and identify ways to fight against racial oppression, instead of asking to be in Black-only spaces.

Objecting to a Black-only space is about self-interest and determining who gets to participate. And it shows how little our allies understand that white supremacy gives European-descended people power, privilege, and profit—or that non-Black people of color often also benefit from white supremacy just because they aren’t Black in this anti-Black world.

Our critics were using racial privilege to access a space that was not for them or by them. In the way that white supremacy and capitalism are about individualism and racing to the top, they were putting their individual feelings, rights, and power above Black people’s rights to fellowship and talk about how racism has affected them.

We deserve Black-only community healing because this is our pain. We are the ones who are most frequently affected by police violence and killings. And we know there is a racial empathy gap, which means that white Americans, in particular, are less likely to feel our pain. And the last thing Black people need right now is to be in a room with people who can’t or won’t try to comprehend, who make our hurt into a spectacle, or who deny it with their defensiveness.

Our communal responses to that pain and healing are not about you. And non-Black people can’t determine the agenda for Black action—or who gets a seat at our table.

To Black folks reading this article, just know that we deserve to come together to cry, be angry, be confused, and be ready to fight without shame, pain, or apologies.

And, actually, we don’t need to explain this, any more than we need to explain that Black people are oppressed in this country.