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Feminism: providing choice not making choices

I was reminded today of the opinions of Australia’s own light-weight Camille Paglia, Virgina Haussegger, and her inane opinions on feminism. Particularly her view of the failures of feminism, and, specifically, how feminism failed her.

For the record, feminism didn’t fail Virginia. Virginia failed Virginia. Feminism provided her with choices in her life, choices which women have not always had before. Feminism did not point a gun at her head and make her make these choices. No, Virginia made the choices.

So I want to talk a bit about choice, and the way that feminism has enabled choice. I want to celebrate the choices feminism has enabled in my life, while recognising that, sadly, not everyone has the same privileges as me as a straight, white, able, Western woman to make those choices. I want to recognise that, while I owe many of these choices to feminism, I also owe these choices to my position in the luckiest 1% of people in the world, with access to education, food, water, health care. I want to acknowledge that if all women are not able to make these choices, this is not a failing of feminism, it is a failing of the world, of a world which is structured around inequity and inequality. Feminism is not a panacea, it can’t cure everything, but that doesn’t change the fact that a lot of the choices I have made were made possible by the struggles and courage of western feminists and pioneers over a very very long time. And, I want to thank these women.

I chose to be educated, I chose to get three degrees – a BA(Hons), a MA and a PhD. This is a choice I would not have had without feminism.

I chose not to be married, to have a range of sexual partners and male friends in my early 20s; to live together with my partner on a committed basis without being married for more than 14 years now. This is a choice which would have been hard, would have attracted significant social stigma and may not have been possible without feminism.

I chose to control my reproduction through contraception until I was in my 30s, and now in my 40s. This is a choice which I would not have been able to make without feminism.

I chose to travel alone and live overseas at different points in my life. This is a choice I would not have been able to make without feminism.

I chose to work while I had children, while I studied. I chose to use maternity leave and childcare and a supportive partner to enable this. These are choices I would not have had without feminism.

I chose to be the primary breadwinner in my family. This is a choice I would not have had without feminism.

I chose to have a career, to aspire to seniority in my workplace. This is a choice I would not have had without feminism.

I have chosen to vote, I have chosen to run for public office and be active in political parties. These are choices I would not have had without feminism.

These are just some of the choices I can make. It saddens me that these choices are not available to all women – to all people. Claiming that feminism has failed if they aren’t available to everyone is not the point. Celebrating what feminism has achieved, what the women who have come before us has gifted us, is.

And, if someone makes the wrong choice, is that feminism’s fault?

8 responses to “Feminism: providing choice not making choices

  1. Ev ⋅

    So obvious it barely needed saying, yet you said it very well.

    Thanks Mel.


  2. Jason

    It’s a bizarre double standard that says that feminism can ruin a woman’s life. I can make a bunch of mistakes too, but it’ll never be feminism’s fault — because I’m a man, of course.

  3. It’s so necessary to look at feminism from the perspective that you’ve raised in this post. . . people tend to look at the negative space sometimes, rather than the positive space. The fact of the matter is that opportunities are more available now for everyone (including women). The gap is closing, rather than widening. And it’s that perspective that needs to be appreciated. I totally agree with you. Feminism haters do not understand feminism. Sometimes I believe that if everyone knew the true definition of feminism, then everyone would identify as a feminist. Or, at least I would hope.

  4. Boganette

    This is a most awesome post. I feel like clapping at my desk. Brilliant!

  5. Miss Edee

    so, so well said!!! i’m new to wordpress but i would love to repost if that’s okay with you. probably not today, but eventually. again, thanks for a well-written post.


    This is awesome. I agree that it is important not to blame feminism and that it isn’t going to cure every single problem, but recognize that it has expanded the opportunities available for women. Thank you for this post. It’s always nice to be reminded of how far the feminist movement has come despite certain setbacks.

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