December 03, 2019
I Made a Choice! Am I Feminist Enough?

Many of us follow choice feminism without recognizing the prevailing systemic inequality that gave birth to the feminist movement.

by Zahra Zulfi
Issues // Politics and Society
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Scrolling through my Instagram feed, I found a post by my friend who talked about his ex-girlfriend’s dream to have a beautiful kitchen. To him, this aspiration contradicted her vision as a feminist.

“You are a feminist but why do you love cooking?” he wrote in his caption. The girl had apparently replied, “It is my right to choose whatever I wanted and equality covers wider aspect than that.”

This, in turn, led my friend to contemplate: “What if women consciously and voluntarily choose to be a stay-at-home mother? Does feminist theory still apply?”

Last month newly inaugurated National Police Chief Idham Azis made a remark – apparently to show that his wife would have no influence in his work – that summed up his thoughts of what a man should expect from a wife: that she should only take care of sumur, dapur, and kasur (literarily: bathroom, kitchen, and bed). The comment upset many women and provoked an inevitable outrage among Indonesian feminists and activists.

Welcome to the age of en vogue feminism. It’s never been easier for women to call out sexist remarks and behavior. Being able to spot a sexist comment and expressing our anger about it shows that we recognize power imbalance, are aware that we deserve more opportunities, and believe that everyone has a choice to make.

Women celebrate their rights to choose to make them feel empowered, respected, modest, feminine, masculine, and simply happy. Unfortunately, it seems we have failed to look at what’s beneath the surface.  

It is undeniable that the chance for women to pursue higher education and enter the workspace provides them more option to make a stand. Women have recognized their rights to self-determination by taking opportunities in wider roles and positions. We have the privilege to embrace the fruitful result of the feminist movement by making choice and creating our own journey.

Also read: Are You a ‘Passive’ Feminist? That’s Perfectly Fine

Choice feminism has been a distinct characteristic of contemporary feminist movement. Women can be single forever, pro-choice, ditch the diet culture and claim themselves as a feminist. The glorification of choice is obvious and it is not limited to professional and political choices, but is often expanded to personal choices like fashion or family. Women can opt to wear sexy clothes or hijab, put on makeup or not, and getting married and have kids while embracing feminism in every way possible.

The emergence of choice feminism has attracted wider audience all over the world into believing gender equality, while abandoning the old image that feminist is radical and white-centered. The freedom, inclusivity, and openness seem appealing to all of us; making it easy to call ourselves a feminist or jumping on the feminist bandwagon.

Indeed, nothing can go wrong with being a stay-at-home mother. They probably aspire to raise feminist kids in the future, no?  However, feminism is beyond making a choice. We should not stop after we make a  choice, when out there mothers are burned out while managing domestic duties on her own and others longs for self-actualization outside the home. There are mothers under constant pressure to maintain the balance between career and domestic responsibilities; those who are constantly worried about the high cost of child care; and those whose husbands would never move their hands to wash a dish, much less share household chores. 

These issues are common among middle class women, but they are barely talked about. But for working class women, their struggles are even more fundamental and intertwined with  access to their basic rights. They struggle to keep their land from greedy corporation, are stuck with horrible systemic labor or modern day slavery, and have to live with the consequences of their lack of access to reproductive health.

Also read: Married at 21: Can I Still be Called a Feminist?

Many of us have failed to recognize this prevailing systemic inequality, yet we are here thinking that we are doing enough, proudly celebrating feminism on the surface level. We have been trapped by the symbol and identity that distract us from the core value and the spirit of feminism.

Feminism is a movement and it should never stop until we achieve social, economic, and political equality. It also works as a methodology that helps us to scrutinize and challenge the structural factors that has put women in disadvantaged positions.

Here, many feminists would probably project that choice feminism is an alternative that has made women come together. While it is true, it does not necessarily mean that they become part of the solutions. Ultimately, what we constantly face is systematic patriarchy and neoliberal capitalism.

Patriarchy has been so embedded in our culture that it leaves us feeling guilty for not submitting and prevents ourselves from breaking the glass ceiling.

We must also be aware of forces of neoliberal capitalism masking as good eggs. Capitalists have seen the popularity of feminism as a powerful tool to expand their market, so they turn it into a commodity to increase their profit. They have successfully aligned their marketing strategy with the idea of independent, high-achieving women who is fully in charge of their choice and prompted them to consume for the their own well-being.  

Choice feminism lulls us into complacency; we think we are feminist enough by solely embracing a certain identity. And it leads us further away from the socio political movement designed to protect underprivileged women. In short, it’s time for us to rethink what feminism means for us, learn from the backlash, and take action on the grassroots movement. 

Zahra Zulfi (Zizi) is an interpreter who is transitioning to activism who enjoys hitting the dance floor and staying in reading.