To Choose or Not to Choose: A Politics of Choice
Hill, Steven, The Humanist
Postmodernism, at its best, stands for multiculturalism, decentralization of power, and the emergence of new foci of power other than the white heterosexual male paradigm. At its worst, postmodernism degenerates into a New Age naivete and shallowness that tells us "don't worry, be happy," "we create our own reality," and that promotes notions of "free choice" and "liberty" stripped of any analysis of power imbalances or historical context.
A shallow "politics of choice" has crept its way into gender politics, acting as a wedge to slowly pry apart the integrity of the feminist analysis of society. It threatens to turn feminism upside down, transforming it from a liberation movement into one that caters to a libertine sensibility pursuing simply the cause of liberty--the ability to do as one wishes. Bestselling authors like Naomi Wolf and Camille Paglia, as well as MTV feminists and sexual liberals like Madonna and Suzie Bright, have elevated the cant of free choice and individual liberty to a new plateau, issuing a challenge to the perceived "prudery" of traditional feminists.
Yet these two movements--one for liberation, the other for liberty--are very different, aiming for very divergent outcomes. Oddly enough, this liberal/libertine feminist philosophy of free choice has more in common with the laissez-faire, free-market economics of the Bush and Reagan administrations than any civil libertarian or sexual liberal would care to admit. In curious ways, left meets right.
What's wrong with liberty, an inquiring mind might ask? What's wrong with the "freedom to do as one wishes"? Isn't that one of the great philosophical underpinnings of democracy racy in the United States? Of course it is, which should be enough to alarm any person seeking justice and equality. In the name of liberty--free choice and free enterprise--slaves were shipped from Africa, Native Americans were massacred and their land stolen, and women and children were held as the property of the male head of household. In the name of liberty, as late as 1868, a North Carolina court upheld the "rule of thumb" standard, which said that a switch used for beating one's wife must be no wider than one's thumb. ("The violence complained of would, without question, have constituted a battery, if the subject had not been the defendant's wife:' ruled the court.) White male liberty has almost always come at the expense of women, children, and ethnic minorities; white male Iiberty has usually been the antithesis of womenss liberation.
Despite the passage of more than a century--as well as the sweat, tears, and triumphs of grass-roots feminist activism--nineteenth-century modalities of liberty still linger into our modern age. A good portion of our contemporary constructs of liberty and free choice springs from the nineteenth century and its tradition of classical liberalism. Central to this tradition was the view that "that government governs best that governs least' " We can see the descendants of classical liberalism today in two disparate groups: free-traders …
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Publication information: Article title: To Choose or Not to Choose: A Politics of Choice. Contributors: Hill, Steven - Author. Magazine title: The Humanist. Volume: 53. Issue: 3 Publication date: May-June 1993. Page number: 3+. © 1999 American Humanist Association. COPYRIGHT 1993 Gale Group.
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