Free Will, Determinism, and a Brush of Semiotics

I wanted to respond to Jadey, but the word count got all long again so I ended up with a post instead of a comment.

Jadey writes, ” If instead the discussion is being broken down to agency vs. determinism, then I think that’s pretty reductionist and silly, as many commenters (at least on the Feministe thread) have pointed out.”

So A) Like Maia, I’m a structural person.

B) This comment is written from the perspective of someone in the US which is part of the colonial western hegemony, and is written as addressing other people in that situation.

So, I think the general “free will vs. determinism” argument is silly. Not because it’s offensive to imply that someone doesn’t have free choice, but because someone has both free choice and is acting within a culturally mandated matrix at all times. Both are always true. Culture is ubiquitous and largely invisible; constructs of gender are greatly, if not completely, culturally influenced; cultural influence is an enormous effect. We exist within a culture. We make free decisions within that cultural matrix, but we’re still within a cultural matrix. It is essentially–though not entirely, I suppose–impossible for a human to be outside a cultural matrix, the “wild children” aside, and those cases aren’t sociologically simple.

From what I see, the radical feminist argument that people’s participation in culturally influenced oppression is common and not entirely conscious is fully consistent with social science.

It’s not a condemnation of people who make those choices. It’s also not a suggestion that the individual making the observation is free of cultural influences. But if you look from culture to culture, especially where you try to avoid globalization effects, which is super difficult at this point obviously, you can see that we’re making basic assumptions, etc.

Obviously, we all make culturally influenced decisions constantly, and that’s a generally neutral thing, and as I said totally ubiquitous. I’m sitting on a couch right now—a rather culturally default thing for me to be doing with a laptop. Whatever.

The issue comes in when there are intersections between places where people want to influence culture and places where people are making culturally influenced choices, right? So, we all agree, I expect, that being racist is a culturally influenced choice—people aren’t choosing in a vacuum to be racist; even if they choose to be racist, they are choosing a racism that’s defined by our culture in specific ways with specific meanings.

OK, so I can make the choice to wear makeup. It is fun to apply shiny powders to my face. Of course, the fact that it’s fun is culturally mitigated, but whatever, so is the fact that I eat sweet things instead of sour ones when I want a dessert.

But femininity and culture are at a particularly important crux in feminist politics. Makeup is located there. (I keep choosing makeup as my example because it’s something I do and am ambivalent about.) So if we’re talking about modifying cultural influences around femininity and culture—to reduce stigma of femininity, to increase women’s equality—then we have to take the invisible, ubiquitous thing that is culture and make it manifest and discuss it.

If we look at class politics, there’s a crux where cultural influence and goods come into play. It is culturally influenced that we increase in status by accumulating rather than distributing goods. People can choose to do this. People can gain pleasure from this. I personally enjoy the fuck out of owning this laptop on which I am currently typing. But if we want to come at this from a communist perspective, we also have to acknowledge that there *is* a cultural effect here, that I enjoy holding a new dress that is MINE at least partially because that’s something our culture says is enjoyable, and that even if I want to opt out of the gaining of status by accumulating goods, there are significant penalties for that. In a culture without a good safety net, I (in my neuroses and in my priviilege) count on my financial security to know that, in most emergency situations, my husband and I will be able to cope fairly easily. We pay a price for that security; we live somewhere we don’t like, where we don’t know anyone, and I have no doubt that it increases my unhappiness. But since I have the privilege of being able to conform to the cultural mandate of accumulating goods (from which there are, in addition to many privileges, also things that give me real pleasure, you know? We have the werewithal to travel, which I *love*)… and even if we did opt out of some of them, which we do hope to do, we’d still be in a privileged position because we had the *choice* to opt out. Some people don’t have that choice. And they’re coming at the subject of class privilege from a different perspective, with a different—and frankly, probably clearer—eye.

If you are a beautiful woman capable of performing heteronormative femininity, I certainly don’t begrudge you that. Many of my loved ones are beautiful women who perform—and enjoy performing—heteronormative femininity. (And while there are penalties for this, I am personally firm in the position that they don’t counterbalance the penalties for not complying. I agree that women can’t win, but I do not believe it’s an equally weighted scale. If you can get four poker chips and have to pay two poker chips, but I can’t get any poker chips, then you’re still getting an advantage over me even if neither of us can get the jackpot.) They get benefits from this and it’s pleasurable. And culturally mitigated. They choose to do those things because they are pleasurable, and because they get benefits—but also, dude, pleasurable. Owning a new laptop is pleasurable. Making yourself beautiful is pleasurable. One is choosing to do both of those things because they are pleasurable. But the choice is part of a system which increases the pleasure of the choice and which penalizes making different choices.

But some people can’t buy a new laptop. And some people can’t don the feminine gear and go into mainstream porn. And that does give you a different perspective on both systems.

And there are lots of things we can’t do, right? I also can’t throw a phenomenal baseball. But these two things—the purchase of expensive items, the performance of femininity—are located at political cruxes where class and feminist activism want to change things.

After things are changed, these acts may have totally different meanings. In a society where people have enough resources to cover their needs, plus at least some for recreation, where everyone can afford a laptop even if they have to make a choice between laptops and other recreational items—buying a laptop would have a different meaning. In a culture where the expectation is not that all women must be able to give a good performance of femininity, performing femininity will have a different meaning.

That doesn’t mean people choosing to perform femininity aren’t making a choice, aren’t gaining pleasure, aren’t having fun. But here’s where the term “choice” gets slippery (because language is like that, being all an imperfect tool), because that choice is culturally influenced because it’s made under duress, since choosing not to carries heavy penalties. LOTS of choices are made under duress or cultural influence and many of them are not controversial, or are controversial only at points—what I eat for dinner, for example, and whether it includes governmentally subsidized corn syrup, or beef, or chicken eggs, or (undigestable for large portions of the world population) cow’s milk. I don’t eat cat meat; there would probably be some cultural penalties if I did. Etc.

But where the culturally influenced choices intersect with the loci of political activism, then it becomes necessary to discuss what’s going on in more detail.

I think it would be helpful if people were willing to read the word “choice” as being the contingent, context-specific term it is, and let it be determined by the context of the writer. It’s a deceptively complicated concept. (If you live in a locked room, but you never try to leave so the lock never affects you, did you have free choice to leave? Etc.) And I think there’s a weird push and pull where the feminist dialogues around choice get pushed and pulled into different shapes and no one notices that anything’s changed because the word itself has stayed the same.

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24 Responses to Free Will, Determinism, and a Brush of Semiotics

  1. 1
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    A stored thought: I have a notion that privilege and pleasure have a complex relationship. Sometimes privilege, possibly most of the time, leads to things that just about anybody would want, like living on the upwind side of a city. Sometimes privilege is peacock’s tail– taking on burdens which no one would want (like clothes which make mobility difficult or impossible) except that they signify that you get to live on the upwind side of town. Sometimes privilege gives you things that I think some people like and others don’t, like going to big parties where display and gossip about status are primary activities.

    Part of what makes discussions of privilege fraught is that the upsides and downsides of what people need to do to get and keep privilege aren’t disentangled.

  2. 2
    Myca says:

    Speaking just to the false consciousness part of what you’ve written here, I think it’s perfectly reasonable. I also don’t know of any sex positive feminists who would disagree with the language of cultural influence.

    But the argument is often not, “Hey, we all engage in culturally influenced practices, and it’s a good idea to keep an eye on what that means, because some people are more able to do so legitimately than others, and some people are more able to do so period than others, and these behaviors aren’t entirely innocuous, etc.” Often, the argument is, “No women like giving blowjobs, and if you say you do you’ve been brainwashed.”

    And the thing is … it’s not that I think cultural influence doesn’t exist, god knows. It exists, and it’s everywhere. But when we try to apply it to the individual behaviors of individual people in a way which says “Your choice is less valid because it’s culturally influenced in a way which I think invalidates it,” or, “though you claim to desire x, you don’t really desire x,” I think we run into a serious problem of authority.

    What I mean is that desire is an essentially an internal state. In the same way that it’s more or less impossible for me to honestly report being in pain and be (not lying, but) mistaken, I think it’s impossible to honestly report desire and be mistaken. Of course, that desire can be culturally influenced. So can pain. That doesn’t make either one less real.

    So my problem, then, with the “You think you want this, but you’ve just been fooled into thinking that,” line of argument is twofold.

    First, it replaces a person’s judgment about their internal states with an outsider’s judgment about that person’s internal states. And, really, that’s no different than “You aren’t really gay, you’ve just been fooled by the gay agenda,” or, “that girl didn’t really want an abortion, she was just fooled by the abortion industry.” I’m not arguing that we’re never fooled into wanting stuff we wouldn’t otherwise want. Of course we are. I’m arguing that there’s not a useful way to translate that broad level structural analysis into an individual judgment … and that trying to do so is almost always sexist and insulting. As a practical matter, we have to take people’s words, because they’re in their brains and we’re not.

    The sexism comes in because in a patriarchal structure, it will be women whose choices are most susceptible to this second-guessing most often. You see this in radical feminism … the false consciousness arguments aren’t leveled at men, generally … they’re leveled at women, and in doing so become another way to push back against the self-determination of women. I’m not crediting anyone with bad intentions here … I think the reasons behind the arguments make perfect sense, and of course they’re not leveled at men. It all makes sense … but intentions aren’t magic, and the effect isn’t one I’m comfortable with.

    Finally, in terms of the “no women like X” argument, I’d just like to note that it’s what initially turned me off on radical feminism. I like many of the academic analyses that radical feminism has produced, their philosophical starting point is an interesting one, and I’m not particularly attached to pornography or prostitution. But when I am regularly reading descriptions of reality that simply do not match up to the actual real world, it’s hard for me to take it seriously.

    —Myca

  3. 3
    chingona says:

    And the thing is … it’s not that I think cultural influence doesn’t exist, god knows. It exists, and it’s everywhere. But when we try to apply it to the individual behaviors of individual people in a way which says “Your choice is less valid because it’s culturally influenced in a way which I think invalidates it,” or, “though you claim to desire x, you don’t really desire x,” I think we run into a serious problem of authority.

    Okay, sure, but the flip side of that is that any critique of negative cultural norm X is immediately met with the claim that you’re being so *mean* to people who do X. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the critique is directed at the norm or the social pressure or the commercial interests at stake. It inevitably gets taken as a personal attack on anybody who does —fill-in-the-blank. Probably the most ridiculous recent example was a Feministe thread about cosmetic labial surgery. I’m sorry but if we can’t critique the recent boom in advertising for cosmetic labial surgery, then I’m not sure we can critique anything.

    Radical feminists have hurt my feelings, too. I don’t wear make-up, but I am married with a couple of kids, which is not exactly a Twisty Faster-approved lifestyle choice. The thing is, in the larger discourse, radical feminists are so, so marginalized compared to, well, just about anybody, that it seems really misplaced to create this equivalence between “overwhelming mainstream social pressure” and “some radical feminist with a blog said something once.”

  4. 4
    Myca says:

    The thing is, in the larger discourse, radical feminists are so, so marginalized compared to, well, just about anybody, that it seems really misplaced to create this equivalence between “overwhelming mainstream social pressure” and “some radical feminist with a blog said something once.”

    Oh, I agree 100%, and no equivalence intended.

    I think we should be spending the vast majority of our time working to mitigate cultural influences that prevent authentic choices, and to create a world in which authentic choices are much more available. You’ll notice that I haven’t put up a post about “why are Radfems so darn mean” or anything. It’s just that I consider the “your choices don’t count because I said so” rhetoric part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

    Not on a broad level analysis, mind you, but on an individual level.

    —Myca

  5. 5
    Mandolin says:

    “It doesn’t seem to matter whether the critique is directed at the norm or the social pressure or the commercial interests at stake. It inevitably gets taken as a personal attack on anybody who does —fill-in-the-blank. ”

    I agree–I find this conflation very common and very frustrating.

  6. 6
    Myca says:

    There is unquestionably a difference between saying “women are under way too much pressure to find any sex act that wanders down the pike fun” and saying “no women enjoy blowjobs/spanking/whatever.”

    I agree with one. I disagree with the other.

    Conflation goes both ways. Treating a criticism of one as a criticism of the other is unfair.

    —Myca

  7. 7
    Mandolin says:

    Myca: Are you just pointing out that you think that happens? (I’m sure it does?) Or are you pointing to something in specific on Alas right now?

  8. 8
    Myca says:

    I thought you were referring to my post, and I was saying that I think that’s unfair.

    If you weren’t, I certainly apologize.

    —Myca

  9. 9
    Mandolin says:

    Oh. No, I wasn’t. Sorry. :(

  10. 10
    Myca says:

    :) It’s all good. Sorry for the knee-jerking.

    Eesh. I get so nervous talking about this stuff.

    —Myca

  11. 11
    Mandolin says:

    For the record, I agree that Twisty’s statement was facially inaccurate. (I still think there may have been some rhetorical stuff going on with that, but it doesn’t really matter.) The statement is obviously wrong on its face. It is only interesting in that:

    A) It’s an example of how something can be simultaneously fucked up and useful. IMO.

    B) It’s an example of how statements that are shocking because of their opposition to kyriarchical norms can call attention to those norms, even when the statements themselves are obviously inaccurate. So sometimes saying the wrong thing (all women dislike blowjobs) makes the right thing visible (blow jobs are culturally constructed as a dominance act wherein the person giving them is–again, culturally constructed–as demeaned by the giving).

    OK. I just went back and looked at her initial post which is significantly shorter than I remembered, either because other stuff got added to it later, or I was reading the post in context of something earlier. I remember an image being described–an advertisement where the male figure’s power was being shown by the way he dominated the female in the picture, who was hardly shown at all, in a way that suggested she didn’t matter except for the action. I don’t remember what it was being used to sell.

    Then the post itself–she’s using the words gagging and retching along with funk-filled bratwurst and… that was just so vivid… a penis can be a lovely thing, but… when the penis is down your throat and you don’t want it there, because the sex is coercive, in the ways relationship sex can be coercive, all those “gray” not-rapes-not-really-not-legaly things, where it’s easier to suck than fight… when your gagging and it hurts, and it’s not something you want or that you’d choose… and he’s mentioned how chivalrous he is because he doesn’t have you by the hair… and you know, without knowing you know, all of a sudden, the power dynamics of *gagging*, that here is a pleasure gained explicitly from someone else’s discomfort, that the center here–and I mean, here, not in another performance of oral sex, in this one–is that this is *not* a collaborative act, it is, as Twisty says, “sexbot drudgery”… at best, your gagging doesn’t matter to him, and at worst, it’s the point…

    Funk-filled bratwurst, retch, drudgery, gagging–they were the right words.

    They weren’t in the right sentence.

  12. 12
    Mandolin says:

    & we’ve talked about this enough in IM & in person and whatever that I’m sure we’re trying not to hurt each other’s feelings and I’m sorry if I did. & I feel like I’m derailing my own thread w/ the latest. But it seems like such a niggling knot. To try to untie.

  13. 13
    Myca says:

    & we’ve talked about this enough in IM & in person and whatever that I’m sure we’re trying not to hurt each other’s feelings and I’m sorry if I did.

    Totally, and me too. We’ve been around the track on this, but I did find these posts really fascinating, so I wanted to dive back in. :)

    I think that part of what’s going on is that, as part of the standard “damned if you do/damned if you don’t” nature of the patriarchy, the social messages around sex are not just “go be sexxxy and have lots of sexxxy sexxx all the damn time!” They’re both “go be sexxxy and have lots of sexxxy sexxx all the damn time,” and, “Sex is nasty and disgusting and if you have sex you’re disgusting and probably a whore.”

    Both are social messages. Both have enforcement mechanisms. Neither is good.

    People who have felt oppressed by the first may feel affirmed by messages rooted in the second, and vice versa.

    I think that a lot of what Twisty says that I object to is rooted in the second, and, since most of the people I’m close to have felt more oppressed by the second, I feel more affirmed by the first.

    I think that people who write about sex should be really careful not to write stuff that comes off as either, because both hurt people.

    My own personal vision of sex-positivity would involve a rejection of both of these messages, and instead an endorsement of the idea that the kind of sex you’re having ought to be enthusiastically consensual, mutually pleasurable, and negotiated honestly and openly with your partner, rather than the result of a one-size-fits-all sex package. And yeah, I also think that this is possible.

    —Myca

  14. 14
    chingona says:

    For what it’s worth, I don’t find it derailing because the problems and the confusion and the conversations going nowhere or going in circles usually happen at the level of individuals and of specifics.

    I’ve been the person making the cultural critique, and I’ve been the person defensive about my choices. Most of us have. It often depends on whose ox is being gored.

    Precisely because they can make people defensive, I think it’s worthwhile to be explicit about why it’s important to hear the strongly worded, aggressive critiques, even when they’re not totally accurate.

  15. 15
    Mandolin says:

    “I think that people who write about sex should be really careful not to write stuff that comes off as either, because both hurt people.”

    I kind of think that because I think hurting people is bad, obviously?

    But I also kind of think the wrong, but strongly worded, ideas can be important to have out there to discuss. Someone touched on this on the other thread (and chingona here… I’m getting confused at this point). I mean, to me… okay, I really don’t want to call out examples, because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But there was a sex positive blogger who was in this space, at one point, because you pointed me to her, and you encouraged her to be here. And she said things that were probably more offensive to me–to me, personally, about me and my personal sexuality–than the Twisty thing was to you; I’m guessing on scale, here, of course.

    But her blog was/is still kind of important. And I don’t think it’s an accurate description of the world, but it can be an important one to be out there. Full-throated. Its full-throated expression allows you to define yourself in concert with her descriptions of sexuality; it allows me space to see myself in opposition, but also in opposition to patriarchal norms.

    FWIW, I don’t think the pressure to be sexy and the pressure not to be sexy are opposed. The pressure is “you will do what you are supposed to do, which is context-specific, and you will do it for your duty and not your enjoyment.” People who reply “…actually, I don’t enjoy that, and I’m not going to do it” and people who reply “…actually, I’m doing that because it’s awesome” are violating the same edict. I’m not sure we disagree on this, fundamentally? But it comes down to my continuing belief that sex positivity and the radical feminist beliefs we have been discussing are actually based on inseparable ideas, and potentially even integral to each other.

  16. 16
    Maia says:

    So this comment is going to bounce around a little bit – with various ideas.

    I’m not sure I quite understand your class analogy Mandolin -so this may be a complete tangent – but it’s what I thought of.

    When I first heard of the idea ‘commodity fetishism’ – that we give objects power they don’t have as compensation for living under capitalism. One of my thoughts was “but they come to have power that they don’t have innately, because we give it to htem.” I’m aware that the power television has to make me happy is something that I consent to and construct, as well as it’s awesomeness. But we need to survive under the system we live in and joy is an important part of that. As is many of hte material and social things some women can get from feminity are the same.

    Which is where I come back to for all of this – I think it’s important to figure out whether we’re trying to understand the world or change it (the more we talk about the politics of sex the more I sound like a Marxist ).

    And I think a large part of the problem, a large part of hte reason people assume, whatever you say, that you’re promoting individual change. And that’s (I htink) because of the dominance of individualism, and that people can’t really conceive of collective change.

    My solution for this is that how individual women live their life should be off the table for feminist discussion – just like how individuals survive under capitalism shouldn’t actually be their fellow union members business (the only exceptions I would draw would be abusing other people and crossing picket lines). It should be assumed that it’s no one else’s business. And then if you talked about structural . Obviously that won’t happen (and when I advocated it I got a lot of blow-back – partly because of the way I went about it – but also because people thought I was criticising lifestyle choices) because some people – like Twisty Faster do believe that chance comes from the individual. But I think more open discussion about how we think change happens – might be the other solution – so that you’d know whether you were talking to someone who thought change could happen by individuals changing things.

    Myca – I find the Twisty derail interesting, because in the post that Clarisse originally extracted wasn’t responding to Twisty at all. She was responding to this post on xojane. Which in turn wasn’t talking about sex-positive feminism but what she called “choice feminism”. It was in turn responding to women who endorsed “Hot Chicks of OWS.” I would think it was pretty much self-evident that Hot Chicks of OWS was anti-feminist and promoting a narrow view of what is sexually acceptable, not just because the guy who runs it does not have women’s consent, but also because it presents women’s role in protests as being objects for the male gaze and because it shows such a narrow range of bodies as ‘hot’. I think that’s true whether or not women participate.

    I think the xojane post (which I broadly agree with the analogy – but find the conclusions inane – I’m not defending it as a post, but trying to explore the nature of hte debate) is not doing anything like what you describe here:

    “Your choice is less valid because it’s culturally influenced in a way which I think invalidates it,” or, “though you claim to desire x, you don’t really desire x,”

    This is absolutely an example of what Chingona describes:

    Okay, sure, but the flip side of that is that any critique of negative cultural norm X is immediately met with the claim that you’re being so *mean* to people who do X.

    Twisty isn’t (I’ve never read her – but from all reports). So I find the way she’s brought in by so many people quite mystifying. But maybe an example of the power of what she’s saying (which is I think part of Mandolin’s point).

    ******

    Just a final, and slightly unrelated thought – I wanted to respond to this:

    Many of my loved ones are beautiful women who perform—and enjoy performing—heteronormative femininity. (And while there are penalties for this, I am personally firm in the position that they don’t counterbalance the penalties for not complying. I agree that women can’t win, but I do not believe it’s an equally weighted scale. If you can get four poker chips and have to pay two poker chips, but I can’t get any poker chips, then you’re still getting an advantage over me even if neither of us can get the jackpot.) They get benefits from this and it’s pleasurable.

    Because I want to draw a distinction. There are acts that you do – and then there’s the way that your body is viewed in society. Whether or not you wear make-up, or high-heels or whatever is a slightly different issue from whether your successfully perform hetronormative femininity. The act of putting on make-up would be the same for me and for someone else – but the effect would be very, very different. I agree that while no woman’s body is OK – there are levels of not OK-ness and the scale is not equally weighted.

    But I’m less convinced of that when it comes to acts that women do. Because as well as coming with reward different acts come with a cost. To come back to the wearing make-up – which I don’t because I cannot put it on (although I have learned to do some things that are massively more difficult for me than other people – so I don’t know that I couldn’t learn). For me the benefits I’d get for wearing make-up do not out weigh the cost (which would involve time, money, extra time to learn, and less energy for other sorts of tasks which require the same sort of functioning).

    As a basic assumption – I believe we make the best decision we can at a time. So every woman’s strategy for navigating all this bullshit – is balancing costs and benefits and taking the things which has most benefits to least costs. And the individual decisions are super intersectional. My ability to go without make-up and the financial penalty not be unmissable is about my class position.

    Does that distinction make sense.

  17. 17
    chingona says:

    It is a little odd how much Twisty has come up in this, but just to clarify … I don’t think she is an advocate of individual action. It’s been a while since I read her regularly and it’s always dangerous to try to summarize someone else’s views, but she says, over and over again, that women don’t really have agency in a patriarchy. She’s very much a structure person. She ridicules femininity, but I don’t think she thinks that women who perform femininity are brainwashed. Rather, women who think that performing femininity is their free and voluntary “choice” are brainwashed. (Same deal with the blow jobs.) I get why people don’t like what she says or don’t agree with what she says. I don’t always like or agree with what she says. But I think it’s inaccurate to cast her as someone advocating individual, isolated action as a means to change.

  18. 18
    chingona says:

    But I also kind of think the wrong, but strongly worded, ideas can be important to have out there to discuss. Someone touched on this on the other thread (and chingona here… I’m getting confused at this point).

    I’m a little confused at this point too, and not entirely sure which comment or portion of a comment of mine that you’re referring to, but just in case, when I said that radical feminists had hurt my feelings, I didn’t mean that as an actual complaint. I just meant that there are plenty of things in my life that have been held up for critique by radical feminists and, hell, even mainstream feminists. This will probably seem to contradict what I said earlier about the value of individual experiences and perspectives, but I don’t think “not hurting feelings” should be the primary goal of any public thinker.

  19. 19
    Emily says:

    I have certainly been offended by radical feminists. When I first read Judith Butler in college I interpreted the work (don’t remember the title off hand) as telling women they couldn’t authentically be heterosexual, and I believe I told my professor that I wanted to throw the book accross the room while reading it. But that book was also prefaced by a biographical note clearly indicating that the author herself was married to a man and appreciated the role that he played in her life and her work.

    My sense of many radical feminists is that they very clearly INCLUDE THEMSELVES in the group of people who make choices that conform to patriarchal dictates and that their point is not that making those choices makes one bad/wrong/not really feminist but rather than those choices are not really “free/authentic” choices. For them or for anyone else.

    This is true not only for sexual desires and preferences but for decisions to work outside the home or not, decisions to take on a partner’s last name, the decision to marry and procreate. Saying “no woman makes a free choice to marry” is taken by many as a criticism of their choice, ie – women shouldn’t get married. But I think a lot of radical feminists would say – just because your choice was not systemically “free” does not make it the wrong choice for you and does not mean I think you should have done something different. It means that you made that choice in the context of a system in which you cannot know whether that choice was somehow authentically true to your essence as a person. It was what was right for you at the time, and good for you, but it doesn’t mean that the system isn’t still wildly f-ed up.

    I have read some of what Ren has to say about this in the context of sexuality and what (I believe) I heard from her site is that she decided at some point that yes, agreed, she cannot know where her desires came from and how they were influenced by the patriarchy but at a certain point what matters more is that they are in fact her desires, they are real, and it makes her life better to engage them and respect them than to endlessly analyze whether they are somehow politically “good” or “bad.” I actually think that is compatible with the radfem critique, but placing the emphasis of where this individual person wants to spend her energy in a different place than a radfem might choose.

    I find it common and frustrating that because these are such personal issues that women have been so shamed over from BOTH ENDS (this could be sexual desire, breast feeding or not, working outside the home, really, the same circle of offense taken and defenses raised happens in “mommy wars” discussions as is happening here) that we take offense at systemic critiques, interpreting them as personal attacks, when they’re really not.

    And to the extent that Holly’s repeatedly said that telling a woman her choice isn’t really her choice is patronizing, well, I think Holly and others who take offense believe that these writers are saying “your choice isn’t really your choice but my choice really IS my choice.” And what I think they’re really saying is “your choice isn’t really your choice, and my choice isn’t really my choice. None of us make truly free choices within this system that we have here, now, and you’re fooling yourself if you think otherwise.” That’s not saying that you don’t really know what you want (and I do).

  20. 20
    chingona says:

    So, I was going back through the thread to pull some quotes, and I couldn’t fit this into my response to Myca, but I just wanted to say that this is a really good way of putting it:

    FWIW, I don’t think the pressure to be sexy and the pressure not to be sexy are opposed. The pressure is “you will do what you are supposed to do, which is context-specific, and you will do it for your duty and not your enjoyment.” People who reply “…actually, I don’t enjoy that, and I’m not going to do it” and people who reply “…actually, I’m doing that because it’s awesome” are violating the same edict.

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  23. 21
    fff says:

    I don’t think it makes any more sense to say a person or animal or any thing else I’ve heard about has free will, chooses what it does, and/or is responsible for what it does than to say an electron does those things. These quotes from the Wikipedia article on free will are pretty much what I think:

    “He argues that the notion of free will leads to an infinite regress and is therefore senseless. According to Strawson, if one is responsible for what one does in a given situation, then one must be responsible for the way one is in certain mental respects. But it is impossible for one to be responsible for the way one is in any respect. This is because to be responsible in some situation “S”, one must have been responsible for the way one was at “S−1″. To be responsible for the way one was at “S−1″, one must have been responsible for the way one was at “S−2″, and so on. At some point in the chain, there must have been an act of origination of a new causal chain. But this is impossible. Man cannot create himself or his mental states ex nihilo.”

    ” The moral judgment that you shouldn’t have done X implies that you should have done something else instead
    That you should have done something else instead implies that there was
    something else for you to do
    That there was something else for you to do implies that you could have
    done something else
    That you could have done something else implies that you have free will
    If you don’t have free will to have done other than X we cannot make the
    moral judgment that you shouldn’t have done X.”

    “Honderich maintains that determinism is true because quantum phenomena are not events or things that can be located in space and time, but are abstract entities. Further, even if they were micro-level events, they do not seem to have any relevance to how the world is at the macroscopic level.”

  24. 22
    Robert says:

    “Man cannot create himself or his mental states ex nihilo.”

    Hmm. Maybe YOUR species can’t, but mine can. I can choose an emotional state and put myself in it, not without conscious effort, but pretty much at will. If I want to be pissed, I can just think about child abuse. If I want to be happy, I can think about last weekend with my daughter. Etc.

    Granted, you have to have input to the machine to make it output what you want, but even the most mentally barren but functional adult human has ample inputs available for such a process.