Let's Be Radical

[Content Note: Misogyny; choice policing.]

Here is something I wrote once:
I respect women, and I love them. And when I take stock of all the issues disproportionately affecting women across the globe, what I see is lack of respect and love for women so pervasive and profound that to merely assert to love and respect women yet remains a radical act.

...I love women. I respect women. I trust women. Not as part of some abstract, theoretical feminism but as part of an applied, practical feminism that urges me to love by nonjudgment, respect by listening, trust by supporting individual choices.
Here is something else I wrote:
There is a difference between not hating women and thinking of them as likable. I have crossed that bridge. And once you are on the other side, you realize how cavernous the space between the shores really is.

Thinking of women as likeable in a misogynist culture is truly a radical act.
And here is one more thing:
Recognizing that people are different, that their circumstances and lived experiences and needs are different, is crucial to being expansively pro-choice.

So is understanding, and acknowledging, that many women don't have meaningful choices at all, sometimes in multiple areas of their lives.

Thus, here's the question I keep coming back to: How is it feminist to judge a woman's choices when she doesn't have any good ones?

Feminism that is not expansively pro-choice is neither relevant nor accessible for women with limited choices. And I don't know that there are any women who have the freedom to live undilutedly feminist lives, who never have to compromise on their ideals in order to survive or avoid harm. If a failure to perfectly exemplify and embody some very specific definition of privileged feminism at all times is a disqualifying act, then I imagine none of us are feminists.

...We are all, I imagine, keenly aware that there is a feminist yardstick against which women's choices are measured—a yardstick whose increments of acceptable choice vary depending upon in whose hands it's held.

The mainstream feminist movement is compromised by privilege—and unexamined privilege has created a space in which the pernicious culture of judgment can proliferate. Sometimes in the form of overt hostility, as in the case of trans*-exclusive radical feminists who actively seek to deny trans* women a seat at the table. And sometimes in the form of the simple but harmful failure to understand the diversity of demands on the lives of women.

Unexamined privilege makes it terrifically easy to elide that marginalized women are compelled to enact multiple levels of performance and conformance to attain access. For example, the obligation to "turn off" different and/or more parts of our- or themselves in the workplace, in order to be considered "professional," in ways that have nothing to do with basic vocational competency.

Did you make the wise feminist choice to be born with what Corporate America deems professional hair? Or do you need to make a choice to "do something" with your hair that someone else might deem an unfeminist choice?

...There are billions of women on the planet who live their lives making choices every day, and very few, if any, of us have lives so privileged that we can make them in a consequence-free vacuum where the only criteria can be whether they conform to a narrowly-defined version of feminism, the architects of which often casually ignore meaningful disparities in available options among women.

The truth we must recognize is that adherence to a privileged version of feminism is a luxury.

And putting women's choices up for debate ignores that truth.

...One of the most important things I have ever done for my own sense of value, one of the most profound kindnesses I have ever offered to myself, is to take a long look at the deeply unreasonable, inherently condemnatory, nakedly cruel, worth-subverting, oppression-entrenching, target-moving, can't-bloody-win culture of judgment in its impossibly merciless face and tell it to fuck off.

I am not pro-judgment. I am pro-choice.
Liking women, respecting women, trusting women to make the best choices for themselves is a radical act in a misogynist culture. Being comprehensively pro-choice instead of policing women's choices is a radical act in a culture in which we are exhorted to judge and condemn other women.

And, in a world that hates women and holds us in contempt, perhaps the most radical feminist/womanist act is creating space for women to love ourselves.

To hold ourselves in esteem.

Judgment and love are incompatible. Policing and esteem are incompatible.

It is eminently possible to critique the culture in which women's individual choices are made, and the cultural narratives that may affect our decision-making processes, without condemning those individual choices—or the women making them.

Let us be radical. Let us not treat as an aside whatever cultural imperatives inform and oblige women's choices. Let us center the realities of a misogynist culture. Let us center the idea that the way sexism visits privileged and marginalized women "is similar in its devastation but often unique in its practice." Let us replace the instinct to judge one another with the urge to understand one another.

The world looks very different once you replace "I don't think you should feel that way" with "I want to understand why you feel that way."

We will never change the world if we cannot even change the way we approach it.

[Originally posted December 10, 2013.]

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