Simone de Beauvoir was once asked in an outraged way if she truly believed women shouldn’t be given the choice to be housewives. She responded that no, they shouldn’t since she will choose it every time.
When I was first told about the differences between second and third wave feminists, it was framed to me as such; do you believe that women should have the choice to do as they like or do you think that women who shave their legs, wear dresses, and have sex are wrong? Being my pre-feminist self I became defensive of my skirts and the fact that I shaved my legs. I LIKE shaving my legs, I said. I LIKE wearing makeup.
On the train yesterday was a woman scratching her legs. She had dark stubble growing in on her ankles and she must have reached down to scratch 10 or 15 times. It looked painful, and she looked self-conscious and embarrassed. Another woman on the subway was self-consciously covering her knees because they had a small amount of hair on them. And they had every reason to be. A man across the subway from me was eyeballing me in an uncomfortable way until he got to my hairy legs, at which point his eyes widened and he looked away quickly. The attention my hairy legs get is astonishing. People look repulsed, as though female body hair is somehow covered in plague. They will stare as if they’ve never seen hair on a woman before, as if I’m deformed in some way. If I wasn’t a radical feminist, that kind of attention would have made me mortified to exist.
Shaving your legs is expensive. You go through a razor head a month, at a cost of maybe $2 per piece, plus shaving creams at a cost of maybe $3 each. It is time consuming. In order to not have stubble a woman must shave at least every other day, maybe every day, at around 5-10 minutes per session. It is assumed that every few times you shave you will cut yourself a little. There is certainly nothing fun about leg shaving.
There is only one reason to shave your legs. Because the pain of shaving your legs is, to most women, much less than the pain of not shaving her legs. The pain of money and time wasted and the annoyance of the occasional cut, the irritation of constant stubble growth, is far less than the pain and humiliation of being given the looks I am given. Being considered repulsive, disgusting. That kind of woman. One of them. Feminists.
That is not a free choice. A free choice is whether I want chocolate or strawberry ice cream. Being given two options, one that will be difficult and one that will be easy, is not free will since most people will choose the easier way. It would be like saying, you can choose the chocolate or the strawberry, but if you choose the chocolate you will be punched in the face. And then saying people just inherently like strawberry more when they choose it. This is not a free choice.
The more complicated way to talk about this is in the frame of women presenting themselves. Women supposedly have two equally valid choices, to present themselves as objects or to not present themselves as objects. We are told by funfems that women have the option to be either, that most women simply choose out of inherent desire, to serve men. Women and girls are shown role models on TV, the fuckable doctor, the fuckable lawyer, the fuckable teacher, etc… The message is extremely clear. In order to be successful as a woman, you must be fuckable. You must leverage your sexuality to get to the top. That your sexuality is your most important aspect. Who needs to do well in science class if you can seduce the science nerds into doing well for you? Women are told that if they cannot present their sexuality as their only identity, then they are not worthwhile as whole human beings.
What is not presented are the women who choose not to define themselves by pornified sexuality. There are very few shows where a normal-looking woman or a woman who focuses on her career/friends/hobbies/passions is presented, unless that “flaw” is part of plot. Think Ugly Betty where the fact that she is merely average looking must be constantly pointed out so viewers won’t think it’s an oversight. These women, the women who don’t entirely define themselves in relation to the men around them and how they can manipulate them with their bodies are completely absent, completely invisible. Given those two options, acceptance and success versus invisibility, who would choose the latter? And because of this invisibility of the woman not wishing to be constantly viewed as “for sex,” very few women even know this option exists. When women are presented with only one option, it can hardly be surprising when she “chooses” it.
When a woman goes to buy clothing, these images and ideas are not wiped clean from her brain. It would be impossible given that everything she has ever seen, heard, read about, or experienced is in relation to these images and ideas. She could buy the practical clothing, or she could buy high heels. The fuckable women often wear heels, while the not-fuckable women don’t. The heels make her legs look longer, she can now emulate the fuckable character. So she chooses the heels, she believes she likes the heels when in fact, she simply likes the image the heels give her. This is reinforced when she goes outside and gathers votes of approval from the men staring at her legs up and down. Yes, she thinks, she definitely likes the heels. They hurt, but it’s “worth it” because of the approval she gets.
But it’s never good enough. She needs to buy more things to emulate the character even more. There is a constant stream of things she must buy to emulate these characters. New impractical shoes, new impractical makeup, new toxins to put on her scalp and skin. There is no way that any woman can truly live up to this image she is burdened with. I was once sitting with a man and a tall skinny blonde woman in extremely high stiletto heels and a very small tight dress walked past. He was practically falling on the ground drooling and slobbering and yelling about how hot she was. Look at those legs! He exclaimed. Then just seconds later, she had to walk across the grass and was unable. She sank in, staggered around, tripping and falling, desperately pulling at the bottom of her dress to cover everything until she had to be carried by her friend in flat shoes. Was this guy supporting her? Do you think he was still drooling over her, giving her his praise? No. Throughout all of this he mocked her, cruelly and endlessly. What an idiot, he said. Why would ANY woman wear heels? It’s so stupid. When I pointed out to him that his reaction 10 seconds ago is why women wear heels, he didn’t have anything to say except that she was still a “freak.” The impracticality was expected, appreciated, loathed and mocked.
There is no winning for women, there is no good choice. But always “choosing” the one that panders to this unattainable standard of fuckability is the one thing guaranteed to not be able to free us from double standards, victim-blaming, and being viewed in a one-dimensional hyper-sexualized way. Because of the complete invisibility of an option other than hyper-sexualized and pandering to male porn fantasy, women only have one option visible to them. Women believe they have choice because they are given so many ways to fit the porn fantasy. Do they want red or black heels? Gold or silver eyeshadow? This act of “choosing” gives women the illusion that they have some kind of free choice when in fact, they are all choosing the exact same thing. But really, when women are only presented with one option, how can ANYONE be surprised when she chooses it? If there is no other choice, there can be no “choice” at all. It’s simply doing what you’re told. This is why even the “feminism is about choice” argument completely falls apart. There is no choice.