Over on Any Other Woman, to celebrate International Women's Day, they are talking about choices. Which is an interesting topic, because for the most part, while I like the feminist rhetoric that feminism is about choices, I think, especially in this economy, choices are a bit of a myth.
For the past year, I have been under or unemployed. For six months before that, I was unemployed. In my first year out of law school, I made very little money. Like, would be well under the poverty line if I wasn't married little. As a feminist raised by feminists to be self-sufficient and self-supporting, in fact, raised with an expectation that I would be the higher wage earner in my relationship, I have found this incredibly, indescribably challenging. As a feminist raised to place a high premium on my career, on building myself before building a family, I suddenly found myself staring at a range of "choices", none of which were actually choices.
The fact that I was being supported by my husband was really difficult for me. Even though I didn't want to, I found myself "choosing" to be the person who cooked and ran errands and got things done for our household. It wasn't because I was the woman, it was because it was what made sense. It wasn't because my husband was asking me to, it was because I felt guilty that I wasn't bringing any income into the family. I was doing what needed to get done, because I am a grownup and a fundamentally practical person, but it wasn't my choice to do those things.
I made "choices" like choosing my husband over my career. I could have perhaps pursued a job somewhere else, like Alaska, but because there was no guarantee that if we moved for my job, I could support both of us, or my husband could find a job, I really didn't "choose" to stay here. I like it here and I'm admitted here, but this wasn't a "choice" I made for my family. This was the way things are for my family.
Even now, as I have started a permanent, salaried, full-time job this week, I'm still struggling with the "choice" rhetoric. If my husband works long hours and I "choose" to make dinner when I get home, I'm not actually making a choice to make dinner. I need to eat, so I make dinner. It is ready for him when he gets home, because our meals aren't single serving. Usually he does the dishes, which is nice, but nights when he comes home close to 9pm, I will often "choose" to do the dishes myself because I have to. In this economy in particular, neither of us is making a choice here.
I know that in the future, I will make sacrifices so that we can start a family and I will dress them up as choices. I know that sometimes I will put my relationship or my family ahead of my career and sometimes it will be a choice and sometimes it will be what is practical and reasonable and I will pretend it is a choice. Sometimes I will do these things and they will be what I want or they will be what works out for the best, but that doesn't make them a choice.
Ultimately, what I'm saying is that I think there is a larger cultural narrative here than feminism is fighting for choice. I think feminism-as-choice rhetoric is allowing us to justify why we are not fighting harder. Instead of having the tough conversations about income disparity, who should work flexible hours and who should do the housework, or whether housework or caretaking should be related to income disparity, we are saying, "women who choose to stay home with their children should expect their careers to take a hit" and "the partner who chooses to eat healthy, wholesome meals should be in charge of preparing them" and "the partner who wants the house to be neat and tidy should be in charge of keeping it that way." We don't fight for affordable childcare because it is easier to "choose" to stay home with our children, if the cost of childcare exceeds our salaries and we would kind of like to do it anyway, or somebody tells us it is better for the child. We don't fight for safer food processes and better agricultural practices because we tell ourselves that we can just choose to grow or prepare real food, which takes a considerable time and effort.
Do you think that feminism is about choice? Or does the rhetoric bother you as well? What practical things have you done for yourself or your family that you dressed up as choice? What changes do we need to be fighting for so that we have genuine, real choices available to us?