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Over at Punkass, Lisa has an interesting bit on how women are functionally censured no matter what choice we make with respect to childbearing (and, of course, many other things).
She concludes, wondering,
Why, in a country purportedly founded upon the rights of the individual to choose any number of things–why we have created a situation where doing so is overwhelmingly disapproved of, a situation where the only fix in terms of general societal approval would be to remove entirely that right..?
I think it’s because we… don’t. We as a society don’t genuinely value individual choices, desires, and responsibility. We don’t like agency, and we don’t like individuals to have actual power to affect change. We like to say we do, though, because we can leverage that narrative of free choice to legitimize our institutions. “See,” we might say, “women don’t actually want access to employment and equal pay, for when completely free of coercion of any kind, they choose to stay at home and have kids.” Or we might say, “Look, those poor blacks / immigrants / white trash wouldn’t be poor if they didn’t choose to live that way.” Or perhaps, “Fattie fattie fattie stop choosing to be fat fat fat.”
The thing is: if you hold a gun to someone’s head and say, “Believe this. Do this. Live like I tell you to,” you lose a certain amount of authority to claim that your way is superior to any other. Shallow Nietzschen ethics aside, we have some intuition that “because otherwise I will shoot you,” is not an argument that supports, “society should be structured like this.” We aren’t, in short, interested in a free, liberated society because such a thing is valuable for its own sake. We are interested in a free, liberated society—or at least the appearance of one”because it supports our ideology. Because then we can say, “hey, whatever your qualms, with it people freely choose to support a white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy,” as if such a thing were even possible.
So first of all, this is why it’s important to make individuals responsible for every single negative thing that has happened to them—if not directly, then situationally, in that they have failed to choose to overcome the same adversity that everyone else obviously does. Mockery, derision, and distilled shame are the only effective medicines.
It’s also particularly evident when we decide to—what’s the euphemism? “Export colonialism?” “Engage in neo-democracy?” Something like that, anyway. Especially when the state we’re trying to build isn’t particularly popular with anyone, y’know, living there, maintaining the illusion that this is Exactly What They All Want is crucial.
This is also why we like innovative! entrepreneurial! driven! straight! white! men! who are rebels! bucking the system! by making money and exploiting others in a very slightly novel way. We particularly like IEDSWMWARBTS when they aren’t technically straight, white, or men”after all, Oprah shows us that any black woman can attain incredible wealth, fame, and power, since, see, one has!
In all of these cases, it is completely acceptable and desirable for anyone and everyone to passionately pursue their desires and boldly make individual statements and choices, so long as those choices support and reify patriarchal power structures. Women choosing their career over their children are obviously heartless and demonstrate the need for men to help them make the right choice; women choosing their children over their careers obviously demonstrate that feminism did no good for anybody; women insisting that the choice is a false dichotomy and working against to support their carers and family are, sadly, simply unrealistic.
And God help you if you’re a childless lesbian (tragic), a lesbian with kids (gross!), or a single lesbian (metaphysical impossibility).