Feminism & Freedom of Choice

abortion-sign-capitol-domeA recent dialogue on feministing really got me thinking. In a post within the community, a young woman asks if it is possible to abstain from sex and be a feminist at the same time. To me it was obvious that the answer was yes, but I was surprised to see that this woman’s feminist friends had told her no, it wasn’t. So often I believe people look at feminism’s problems with abstinence-only education and assume that feminists advocate sex as the “right” thing to do when, really, feminism is all about choice when it comes to pretty much everything, including sex.

For instance, in an interesting book discussion that I participated in today in my college’s Women’s Center someone pointed out how the pro-choice (often considered the “pro-abortion”) movement has really opened people’s minds up to the idea of single motherhood. In Jessica Valenti’s book, He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know this idea is touched on in a few places, but it was really in the discussion of this book that this interesting concept was fleshed-out for me.

We talked about women who are single mothers by choice (meaning they made the conscious decision to get pregnant out of a relationship, because they wanted to be a mother) and how common this situation is becoming. This, in my opinion, is an example that embodies feminism: feminists will fight for a woman’s right to get an abortion, to remain pregnant and raise a child even when it is not socially acceptable, to be on birth control… or whatever she chooses because feminism is about honoring other people’s experiences, rather than imposing your own worldview.

The reason why I love the feminist movement is that those who really GET it are some of the most open minded and non-judgmental people I know. That isn’t to say they’re open to all ideologies (homophobia, sexism, and racism are obviously not embraced within the feminist culture) but this makes a lot of sense, since the ideologies that are not embraced by feminism are all about limiting choice. I often find myself asked how I can criticize those who are sexist/homophobic/racist/etc. since I do try to be so open-minded… there is an easy answer for this.

A professor told me one day that I should, “be open to the idea that men might be superior to women.” While, as a feminist, I am ALL about being open minded, I refuse to be open minded to this idea because it is one that is rooted in oppression;  male superiority  is a concept that is used to keep women out of the workplace, keep them from making positive contributions to society, and to keep them from taking on equal roles in their relationships.

While I accept the fact that my professor may feel this way, once he (or anyone) uses their belief to try to limit someone else’s choice, it becomes my responsibility to speak out against these limiting values. Thus, I am fine with him believeing that, as a man, he is superior to women but once he begins to express this opinion in my class as the truth, which holds me and other women in the class back from feeling comfortable expressions ourselves, I need to speak up.

Another good example: I am fine with those who believe in abstinence until marriage, but once those people try to push comprehensive sex-ed out of schools I am forced as a feminist to express my belief in a teenager’s freedom to be given all of the information nessecary to make an informed choice. I’m not forcing anyone to have sex, all I ask is that no one try to force people into not having sex by witholding information.

It can be hard to maintain an ideology like this since its human nature to wish everyone shared our beliefs about how the world should work, but keeping an open mind is ultimately the best way to gain respect and have your own views heard and respected. I truly do believe that if we all lived by the concept of choice for everyone, we could come to a much better understanding of those around us.

So, feminists (and non-feminists alike) please, focus on fighting oppression where you see it, and championing the cause of free choice, but remember to be respectful while doing so. Don’t name-call, don’t judge, just listen and debate intelligently.

Remember: Feminism in its truest form leaves women and men free to live by a wide set of beliefs and values, so long as they respect the rights of others to live their own values as well.

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