What is choice feminism?

Choice Feminism is the Philosophy that any choice a woman makes is inherently a feminist one, due to the fact that she made it. For example, if a woman chooses to put a full face of makeup on every morning, choice feminists believe the action benefits the feminist movement simply because that woman is choosing to do so. A woman's right to full autonomy, essentially, is more important than the broader search for equality.

Choice feminism is an expression of female autonomy, and many women find this unlimited agency empowering.

Yet many feminists would argue that wearing makeup contributes to an industry designed to make women feel the opposite--disempowered and insecure. Beauty advertisements feed on female insecurity by telling women that they need to be augmented or fixed. In this sense, wearing makeup seems obviously anti-feminist.

For choice feminists, the broader implications for women or for feminism are disregarded. This perspective focuses on the positive aspects of an action--the empowering expression of female agency--rather than analyzing the negative impacts on feminism at large.

Is choice feminism good for individual women, the feminist movement, or both?

The jury's still out on whether or not choice feminism is good for the movement--it's up to each individual feminist to decide what her own style of feminism looks like.

In some cases, an oppressed person must feel empowered before she can be a "good feminist" in other ways. For example, if a woman is too insecure about her appearance to go outside without makeup, she certainly can't join feminist protests without it.

That being said, choice feminism can seem like a cop out to those of us who take our feminism seriously.

If a woman can do whatever she wants and still consider herself a feminist, then what does it mean when women truly inspire change? For instance, Gloria Steinem should not be considered on the same level as Kellyanne Conway, a self-described anti-feminist, just because both women are empowered enough to make their own decisions.

Conway's choices led to Donald Trump's election as America's president, despite his reputation as a pervasive sexist, while Steinem wrote literature on second-wave feminism in the late twentieth century. Calling Conway's presidential campaign feminist is laughable, yet choice feminists believe that her autonomy makes it such.

Are you a bad feminist if you make anti-feminist choices?

Many feminists believe that there is no such thing as a "bad feminist." Women are complicated, and their decisions can both bolster and detriment the feminist movement writ large. That said, if you feel passionate about a movement and its goals, it makes sense to do what you can to turn those goals into reality. So if you want to stop big corporations from making women feel insecure, you probably shouldn't support the makeup industry--but you aren't a bad feminist if you put a little mascara on for a date.

The problem of choice feminism is a classic distinction between utilitarianism and deontology, two conflicting philosophical perspectives. Think of them like this: for deontologists and choice feminists, the means are more important than the end goal. For utilitarians and anti-choice feminists, the end always justifies the means.

So while a deontologist believes that a woman's personal empowerment precedes her obligation to the feminist movement, a utilitarian would say that one must make the decision which creates the best outcome for the most people. In this case, the one which aligns with the feminist movement and creates a more equitable world for women is the utilitarian decision.

So what should I do?

The choice is yours: and remember, you don't need to make the same decision every time. While you may want to curl your hair or apply blush before a job interview, you can wear your natural face to the Women's March. Society is rooted in a patriarchy, and it's difficult for women to exist outside of its vast influence. If you want to be a good feminist, you should make the choices that empower you--but keep in mind how your decisions affect other women, too.