Browsing Tag



the vulnerabilities of choice

I’ve been whining about this (on and off the internet) for a while, and I figured that now was a good moment to sit down and discuss what ails me. Patterns I’ve been watching for a few years are starting to turn in unfortunate and — in my opinion– dangerous directions, and I think feminists need to start examining ourselves and how we’re becoming vulnerable to exploitation by racists, bigots, and misogynists.

To explain, I need to begin with what I’ve started calling “internet feminism.” First, my moniker isn’t intended to denigrate feminist actions that take place on the internet; that would be incredibly hypocritical since most of my work is based online. What I’m referring to is a general sense that online feminist discourse is stuck in a nascent stage. I’ve followed a whole host of sites and blogs like Everyday Feminism and The Mary Sue for a while now, and it seems to me that these ostensibly feminist spaces are stuck in a loop; we only seem to discuss a handful of issues and never seem to move beyond 101-level explanations of things like consent and objectification.

This is not to say that 1) better discourse does not take place online– it absolutely does or 2) that these 101-level explanations aren’t helpful or needed. However, what I’ve experienced is that a lot of online feminists seem to congregate at two ends of a spectrum. At one end you have people like me, who have dedicated our lives to feminism. On the other end are the people who stay in the “shallow end” of the feminist pool; they’re happy to share a Robot Hugs comic when it shows up in their feed … and that’s about it.

I’m not exactly unhappy with this. I appreciate how these 101-level comics and posts are being widely disseminated, and that a lot more people are being educated in the basics of feminism and learning to appreciate it. I especially like that feminism — despite the screaming carrot demon we just elected president– is losing some of the stigma misogynists managed to tar it with.


The “shallow end” is resulting in a certain class of feminist that believes that feminism in its entirety can be encapsulated by a comic strip and amusing videos about tea. This is unfortunate because someone could walk away from the bulk of online feminist commentary and believe that choices — when made by a woman or femme person — are inherently feminist.

I understood how we’ve gotten here. Supposedly feminism is all about offering women more choices, and they’re not wrong … in the sense that Captain America wasn’t wrong when he observed that “it seems to be run on some form of electricity.”

If you follow the history of the feminist movement in the United States (as well as other places, but I’m an American, so), women from the suffragettes to the second-wave feminists to intersectional feminists of today have all fought for the agency and autonomy of women. In a word, that fight is practically represented in choices— the more autonomy we have, the more choices we have available to us. This is why the argument that women should have the choice to remain in the workforce or become a stay-at-home-mom is, from a feminist viewpoint, sound. Feminists argue that neither women in or out of the workforce should be economically, socially, or politically penalized for their decision.

Making our choices truly autonomous ones is the struggle of feminism.

Unfortunately, all this talk about “it’s my choice!” has led many of us to believe that any choice can be a feminist one. This is where I think we’re vulnerable, because it is allowing a certain kind of person to claim their actions  are– or to label the actions of others as– “feminist” even when the decisions they’re making are harmful to women, especially women of color.

Last month I read an article titled “Pushing Back Against Non-Consensual Misogyny in BDSM.” In it she described her relationship: Her and her partner are full-time dominant/submissive, and while I have issues with power play (as opposed to sensation play or impact play), I don’t feel that it’s my place to tell anyone how to live their life. If she thinks it’s “so, so hot” for her husband to tell her when to shave, what to eat, what to wear, etc, whatever. As long as she’s not telling other women they have to submit to their husband, it’s none of my business what happens in their home.

What I do have a problem with is her argument that her husband using misogynistic language and regimenting every aspect of her life is “feminist.” It’s her choice, and she’s free to make it, but it is not feminist. It does not advance the autonomy of women, it does not help women achieve equality or liberation, and it does nothing to fight for our rights. If other women were to emulate her, mimic her, what would be the end result? An equal and just society, where all genders are free? Absolutely not. Her life choices, if repeated by others, would lead to the opposite.

Feminism fights for the autonomy of women; feminist choices are those that resist systems of patriarchal oppression. Choosing to expand my definition of beauty in ways that do not align with white supremacist, classist standards is a feminist choice. Choosing to defend my LGBT siblings against bigotry is feminist. Choosing to surround myself with marginalized artists and creators is feminist. Choosing my fashion aesthetic based on personal preference and without shame is feminist.

Many choices are neutral, and have no real feminist implications one way or the other (like, say, which flavor you want at the fro-yo place). Choosing to have your husband demean you because it turns you on, on the other hand, could even be an anti-feminist choice. These sorts of choices matter because they are a part of the system you’re upholding and reinforcing. If you want to uphold a dynamic where, as the woman, you’re demeaned and infantalized … go ahead. But don’t say that decision contributes anything toward tearing down patriarchy.

Which leads me to my last, and most significant, concern. This sort of emphasis on choice feminism is leading to an environment that allows racism and other forms of bigotry to invade. Last year, Megyn Kelly was hailed virtually internet-wide for her “feminism” when, as a debate moderator, she asked Trump a question about his disdain for women. Megyn has explicitly stated on multiple occasions that she is not a feminist– not that she rejects the label, but that she opposes feminism.

When women like Megyn– anti-feminist, racist, bigoted– are hailed as “feminist icons” for daring to say “calling women mean names isn’t cool” then feminism has been co-opted to serve the interests of Empire. In the context of everything I’ve been railing against in this post, this permissiveness is a result of thinking that merely making choices is what can make a woman a feminist, even when those choices uphold patriarchal systems. Choice feminism and white feminism not only go hand-in-hand, they’re indistinguishable. They both exalt people for upholding patriarchal, white supremacist norms.

Feminism isn’t ultimately about choice. It’s about equality and liberation, and we cannot lose sight of that. Too much is at stake, especially now.

Photo by David Uy

Fascinating Womanhood: The Rights of the Leader

following the leader

Helen really takes the cake in this chapter. Which, if you notice, she pulled a bit of a bait-and-switch on us. In the last chapter, she described one of the masculine roles as the “guide,” but if you notice above, this chapter is called “The Leader.” Which, honestly, I wasn’t too thrilled with “guide,” either, but it’s certainly a sight better than Leader. This chapter is quite long, so I’m going to break it down into at least two posts, maybe as many as three. But, let’s get started.

She opens her argument with several reasons why men are supposed to the leaders, and she starts off with this one:

The first commandment given to mankind was given to the woman: “Thy desire shall be unto thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” Evidently our Creator felt it so vitally important that the woman understand this, that He directed the instruction to her.

I’ve already mentioned (twice, now) that it is incredibly bad hermeneutics– almost obviously bad– to make the case that women are required to be subservient to their husbands based purely on the Curse. But, there’s another problem here, because Helen . . .  is lying. It would be generous to admit to some sort of genuine confusion or forgetfulness on her part, but that seems unlikely. Because the first command delivered to mankind? The very first one? It’s in chapter one, not three. And, interestingly enough, the command is given to both the man and the woman equally. There’s nothing in this command that separates the sexes: they are given the exact same responsibility.

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

Genesis 1:28

Helen, 0,
The Facts, 1.

After this, she moves into the Ephesians passage. This is one of the Great Complementarian Clobber Verses. My experiences with the uses of this passage have been from those who take a straightforward approach to it– taking it at face value, and usually, quite literally. While I’m sure there are complementarians out there who have done sound research into the historical and cultural background to these verses, I’ve never been exposed to that research when being taught about “husband as the head of the home” (and, as always, if you’ve seen this, please point me in their direction or leave a comment explaining). I think that’s curious, especially since historical and cultural context reveals some interesting things that undermine the traditional complementarian argument.

After Bible-bashing us, she turns to “logic.” She says that since the family is a group of people, and groups of people always need leaders to “maintain order,” that the father should be the leader– and that it is illogical for a woman to lead, because, and this is hysterical, woman are “vacillating and indecisive. Women are just not capable of making decisions, and if we interfere with the decision-making process, the only thing that can result is “hours of deliberation,” and, ain’t nobody got time for that. Also, men make the money, and whoever makes the money should be in control.

That is probably why Mary Kassian wrote this pearl-clutching piece in response to the Pew Research survey that revealed that women are becoming the primary breadwinners in many homes. Oh, noes! If women earn more money, we’re going to become “resentful” and “critical,” and even worse, if a woman makes more money– she is going to become dominant and take over The Sex!

No, really. She said that.

Next, we move into the section Helen titles “Rights of the Leader.” Here, she gives us two primary rights: “To Determine Family Rules” and “To Make Decisions.” She’s deliberately clear about what this entails:

A family is not a democracy, where everyone casts his vote. The family is a theocracy, where the father’s word is law (italics hers).

From what I remember of Debi’s Created to be His Help Meet, she danced around this idea the entire book without explicitly saying this (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). She said everything but this, although this is really the idea it seems Debi was actually going for. Helen is a little bit bolder. She just comes right out and says it.

The family is a theocracy.

Meaning, “Rule of God.”

Just a quick note, in case we’re confused: no man, no father, no husband, is God. Debi got close to conflating husband and God as she wrote, mostly because she emphasizes the need for the wife to submit to her husband in obedience to God– women are to obey God indirectly, through submission to their husbands. This results in Debi occasionally implying that, for a wife, her husband represents God to her.

That’s not what Helen argues, though. Her husband is God.

This is one of those times where her LDS background is showing through, although I’m not familiar enough with LDS theology to really analyze it. Also, while I can understand how her theology is affecting her writing, it is problematic here because this book was, and is, not primarily read by Mormon women, but by Protestant women, and this conflation of God and husband is not a claim that Helen ever backs away from.

She also takes the “Right to Make Decisions” to an extreme that boggled me:

Should Jane take her umbrella and walk to school in the rain, or should her father take her? When the father makes the decision, matters are settled at once. And whether Jane gets her feet wet or not is as important as order in the household . . .

Some of these decisions are minor, such as whether to take the dog on a picnic or leave him home. But even though such a decision is small, it must be made, and often quickly. When the husband the wife don’t agree, someone must decide. The final say belongs to the father . . .

Sometimes a man may seek his wife’s support but is reluctant to explain his reasons. He may think she lacks the knowledge to understand. Or, he may be unable to justify his plans or explain his reasons . . . if this is the case, don’t probe too deeply.



Should Jane walk to school in the rain?

Should we take the dog on the picnic?

These are the kinds of decisions that the father must make in order to avoid “hours of deliberation” because of us vacillating, indecisive women? Really? I grew up watching my parents in a complementarian marriage, as well as observing many other complementarian marriages, and this portrayal is unfair, even to complementarian theology. I don’t even know what to do with this. It all seems to imply that women really aren’t capable of making any kind of decision whatsoever, no matter how ridiculously small. I’ve never met any woman that was this pathetic.

However, the last example is the most troublesome for me, and it is deeply personal.

John*, my ex-fiancé and rapist, and I were planning our wedding for December, exactly a week after I graduated. He would not be finished with college yet (interestingly enough, because he was indecisive and couldn’t settle on either a college to attend or a major to study for years). Because of that, we were planning for me to be the primary breadwinner while he finished his degree, which would be paid for by the work-assistance program he was in.

However, in August, he announced that he was quitting the work-assistance program because working through college was just too stressful. This was a problem, because when a student quit the work assistance program during a semester (which was his intention), he or she becomes completely ineligible to enroll in the program again. In short, if he quit, not only would I be paying for daily life, but his education as well (our school did not qualify for student aid, any kind of student loan, and he had no scholarships).

This resulted in the worst fight we ever had, because I had the audacity to insist that this was a very bad idea– unfeasible and impossible, really, given our circumstances. He broke our engagement a few weeks later, citing, hilariously, that I “was not submissive enough.”

However, if I had followed Helen’s teaching, I would have nodded my head like a “perfect follower” (pg 122), and gone along with all of his ideas and plans, even though he had no justification for them and they would have ended in financial disaster. This is not some hypothetical situation that women rarely ever face, as well. It happens all of the time.

Just because men are men does not make them inherently more qualified to make all decisions in isolation. It is not good for man to be alone, and I’m pretty sure God wasn’t just talking about sex.