I’m Tired of Having to Defend My Choices to Other Feminists
A young feminist explains why judging women for how they choose to express themselves isn't feminism
Riti is a young writer from India. As a lover of knowledge, she enjoys dissecting philosophical and political ideas as well as criticising media. As an activist involved in social justice advocacy, Riti constantly evaluates her positions so they are morally consistent. Her writing involves seminal analysis and critical judgement.
I’m Tired of Having to Defend My Choices to Other Feminists
We live in a time when women have an abundance of choices. Some of these options arise from the expectations of society and some from the progress that has been made in ensuring women the autonomy all adults deserve. Yet, it feels like women are constantly being questioned for the choices we make.
What infuriates me the most is that besides dealing with gendered expectations, we have to deal with other feminists and so-called progressives judging us too. Society puts us on the stake for not being feminine enough, for wearing short clothes, for being hairy or for not weating makeup. However, feminists who think that styling ourselves in a feminine way, or wearing more conservative clothing is automatically grounds for weakness and giving in to the patriarchy are no better.
It's frankly gross how people think they can judge what other people do with their bodies, as long as they’re not harming anybody else. While the frustrations I experience could apply equally to housewives who are judged by career women, I feel very strongly specifically about what I choose to do to my body and so I want to focus on that.
The world is not a vacuum. The choices people make, and the actions they perform are influenced by society. Emphasizing the fact that everyone has the power of choice is what modern feminism should stand for. But there is a sect of feminists who believe that they are doing everyone a favour by dictating that women who remove their body hair, wear makeup, dress in a certain way, act in a certain manner, or conform to gendered expectations in any way are wrong for doing so.
The constant berating that some feminists subject women to is incredibly frustrating. There are better issues to tackle. The absence or presence of bodily hair is something so inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, that men and women who choose in any direction with regards to removing it should be absolutely free to do so. Instead of spending resources and energy judging women that are merely living their lives as they please, we could work harder to dismantle the patriarchal structures that institutionally oppress women and cyclically enforce sexism.
Maybe there is a kernel of truth to what these feminists are saying. Perhaps it is true that some of the choices we make come from expectations put onto us. However, we do not live in a vacuum, so of course we are going to be influenced in numerous ways. Shaming women for their choices makes these feminists no better than the men who shame women for not conforming to traditional expectations. Deviating from the norm is not automatically a testament to feminism; the intention behind the action and embracing individuality regardless of what society says matters more.
This insistence on rejecting traditional femininity also comes from a place of internalised misogyny. The very assumption that in order to be equal women must be exactly like men, is sexist from its conception. Men and women are different- and that is okay. Equality has never stood for making us carbon copies of each other. Instead, choice and the freedom to express oneself however one sees fit is far more important than anything else.
It's frustrating how it’s always women who are targeted for their choices anyway. It is rare that anyone tells men who are traditionally masculine that they must stop complying to these rigidly gendered expectations. Additionally, when men, like Harry Styles for example, step out of the bounds of their gender, they are rewarded and praised for it. A man in a dress is considered stunning and brave, while a woman in a dress is materialistic and haughty. A man in makeup is revolutionary, while a woman in makeup is deceptive or attention-seeking. No matter what, women are judged.
Perhaps the problem with society has never been the fact that women wore makeup, wore dresses, or shaved their body hair. The problem has rather been the fact that we have been restricted and confined into boxes. Value judgements have been made about us merely from the way we express ourselves. Inferences about women’s character have been made from their appearance despite the fact that there is no clear correlation between these things. The problem is never the things we have done but the lack of choices these things have been contextualised by.
This is why it’s so important to me that feminism aims for a society of choice in terms of bodily autonomy and self-expression for people of all gender identities. In trying to bring forth a progressive world, we must not regress. Instead, we must stop seeing the feminine as less than the masculine and remove the existing binary. Removing gendered expectations should not be synonymous with eroding the feminine, but rather with opening up the choice to express femininity to men and non-binary people.
I am an individual who happens to be a woman. I like dressing up and removing my body hair, and I do not care for applying makeup, so I usually go out bare-faced. I am an individual who makes my own choices with regard to my own body, and nobody has the right to judge what I do, just like I do not have the right to judge what anybody else does.
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