Friday, 7 February 2014

Freedom to Choose

"I have a Dream: That People Will View a Picture Like This and Not Think It's a Big Deal." If you haven't seen it yet, I encourage you to read this piece by Doyin Richards on

Why did Doyin Richards' photo and his piece prompt such outrageous and shocking reactions, from racist outbursts, to jealous tirades? Why do we either ooh-and-ahh over a photograph like this one or treat it as a pariah, an object of our disdain? Might we get comfortable with (even indifferent to) men and women actively parenting and/or working in a variety of forms? When will it be at last okay for anyone to do or be anything (within the confines of law)?

A lot of writers in women's literature end up writing, intentionally or inadvertently, about choice, the ways in which and extent to which we do or do not have it. Is a world possible in which every human being (of any gender identity) has agency, the ability to determine (at least to some extent) his or her (or zer) own destiny? Plenty of days, when I look around me, I do not see a world like that.

Erica Jong, in "How different the history of world literature might look if mothers were writers too," writes:
"The very fact that no generation before ours has really been in a position to challenge the lie that creativity and generatively are one and the same makes us privileged beyond any earlier generations. And that privilege rests almost entirely upon motherhood remaining optional for us. It is the key to all our freedoms--even the freedom to dwell seriously on the meaning of pregnancy and childbirth" (62). 
The privilege of choice, if it must be a privilege, is surely the key to all our freedoms--everyone's.

It seems to me that granting more citizens of humanity more choices (or some choices at all) is not necessarily to diminish the choices enjoyed already by others. To allow girls to study and go to school isn't to withdraw boys from school. To allow women to choose to have children or to work or both isn't to withdraw those freedoms from men. To make the world safer for women and girls, hundreds of thousands of whom are raped and beaten every year on this planet is not to deny abusers freedom; no one should be free to rape or abuse. This is why we have justice systems and universal declarations of human rights.

Giving more people more choices also do not necessitate that every individual will make the right choice (if there is such a thing) or even a good one. Imposing certain choices or kinds of choices is tyranny.

Francise Prose in "Other Women" says, "Gender doesn't confer moral superiority, nor the opposite, needless to say" (172). Most feminists I've ever met, read, or known believe that women, like men, are complex, imperfect human beings, flawed but entitled to certain inalienable rights like their human brothers.

Right on, Doyin Richards, for helping us complicate and make plural our understandings of masculinity and femininity, of parenting and loving children, of liberating ourselves and others around us from failures of the imagination.

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