This discussion is NOT about abortion. I'm talking about the idea of women making choices in our society in a broader sense.
Recently, in my online feminist world, there has been a bit of discussion surrounding the notion of choice. Specifically, when are the choices that women make "not feminist" vs feminist? Can you be feminine and also a feminist? This realm really interests me, and I scratched the surface of this before when I was talking about "fuck me feminism." It's the type that's discussed in the first blog I linked where a woman says, "I am a feminist. I got my breast implants for me! They are empowering."
The problem with believing that any choice a woman makes is empowering simply because she made it assumes that we live in a societal vacuum or a gender neutral world. It gets at the very question of free will. If a woman "chooses" to get breast implants, why is she really getting them? What is her motivation? Why does she feel that bigger breasts are better? Why would she feel better about herself with surgically enhanced breasts? I doubt that in most cases you could answer these questions truthfully without evoking something that has been culturally transmitted by patriarchy. And when that's the case...who made the choice? The woman or patriarchy?
Fact of the matter is that we are all subject to patriarchal assumptions. If you have ever set foot outside your home, opened a magazine, or turned on the TV you were receiving patriarchal messages and prescribed gender roles. How did you "know" when you were 3 that girls wear pink and boys wear blue? How did you "know" that boys don't cry? How did you "know" that women take care of babies? How did you "know" that men do heavy, physical work? How did you "know" that women are supposed to care about their appearance and wear makeup and skirts and hosiery and perfume and jewelry and high heels and bras and shave their legs and armpits and wax their eyebrows and vaginas and paint their nails and color/curl/straighten their hair and carry purses and lotion their skin and diet to extremes?
Obviously so much of the things that women are "supposed to do" are dictated to us by patriarchy. Women are supposed to go through that litany of physical appearance related things because it makes them "prettier" and keeps women in a way which has been culturally determined as physically attractive and sexually desirable. And as is well known, these demands take a toll on women...women spends thousands of dollars more in their lifetimes on these items (yet making less) dedicate their time toward it (and time is money) and suffer a loss of self esteem when comparing themselves to the "perfect" images they see in the media.
OK. So performing gender is patriarchal and sexist. Duh. So far all I've said is things that anyone in a Women's Studies 101 class has learned day one. However, despite all of this, the "fuck me feminism" side of things says the woman who has made a choice (to get breast implants or what have you) is making it for her. She's empowered. On one hand, I really want to say blatantly NO you are not. You are playing a part in your own oppression. But here's the conflicting thoughts in my head:
1) Who am I to judge what another woman does with her body? Why should I shame her? Does she really need another voice in the cacophony telling her how to look?
2) Is it actually possible to get breast implants "for yourself?" Can this be empowering?
3) Where do feminists draw the line? What parts of performing gender are acceptable and what are not? Is a mani-pedi OK, but a bikini wax is too far? How could we ever determine this?
No one can ever answer these questions. The whole situation is so complex. I think about my own life for example. I have acrylic nails. And I love them. Did I get them for a man? Sort of, it was for prom (damn, I've had acrylic nails for 6 years.) Does a man encourage I have them? Yes. He loves when I scratch his head. If I really wanted to get rid of them and he protested, would I still do it? Yes. If he really wanted me to get rid of them and I still wanted them, would I keep them? Yes...truth is I love the suckers. Do they cost me too much, really? Yes. Do I enjoy getting them? Yeah, I love feeling relaxed and having clean, pretty nails which display a part of my unique quirky self. (I often get funky colors and designs.)
So what's the verdict? Are my nails feminist? Probably not. And that's part of my point. I am a feminist. I truly care, to my very core, about eliminating barriers to women and sexism. But I still make "unfeminist" choices. I cannot claim everything I do or like is feminist. So how do I live with the cognitive dissonance?
In a lot of ways the problem I have with performing gender isn't that certain beauty rituals exist, it's that the rituals are directly solely at women and we are expected to do them. I think it would all be a lot simpler if women were not criticized for leaving their armpits unshaven and men were not mocked for getting pedicures. Then, in these examples, the idea of choice could be much more valid. Men don't even encounter the "choice" to shave their legs, so how can we say that it's really a choice for women? If leg shaving or acrylic nails or makeup or carrying a purse were as gender neutral deciding what to eat for dinner or which car to buy (which aren't totally gender neutral, just closer) then this would all be a lot simpler.
Of course, I've just proposed a world that most people would be very uncomfortable in...especially Mr. McAsshat over at the American University student paper.
As for the breast augmentation part, however: At the end of the day, I'm not really a pro plastic surgery person at all. And I can never imagine breast implants as feminist. Ever. Not even a little.