From the moment we are born, we have no say in which categories we will fall under in society. I didn’t choose to be female, Mexican American or part of the middle class. Whether I like it or not, these three aspects influence the level of freedom I have in my life. I’ve always had to “act like a lady,” face inevitable discrimination for being “brown,” and worry over how many presents I could ask for before Christmas. It is obvious however, that one couldn’t possibly make these sorts of decisions in the womb. For that reason, in the United States for example, society is built so that once a person becomes of legal age, he/she is “free” to make whatever choice is deemed fit. But how much “freedom” do we really have? Our parents and society both try to mold us into who they want us to be. So we are under their influence when we make decisions, which can arguably be seen as having little freedom. Even if we claim that our decisions are made solely according to our own desires, there is another aspect in free choice to consider. Much of the time, there is negative reaction from others to some of the choices people make. Gay couples are criticized for choosing to marry. Transgender individuals are shunned for wearing clothes that don’t seem to fit their assigned gender according to society. What then is freedom and free choice? I believe the two together are making a choice—with parental or societal influences as only considerations and not determining factors—and not facing any sort of judgment for it, be it wearing a certain style of clothing or marrying someone of the same sex. With this in mind, I find that we don’t have as much freedom as we think we do.
There is such a thing as free choice—but free choice does not exist for all people.
For women in our modern society, free choice does not exist. This is true for many reasons. The first and foremost is that women, as Shulamith Firestone explains in her writing The Dialectic of Sex, are restrained by the “tyranny of their reproductive biology.” They are subject to their “biological destiny,” the family. The expectations placed on women, as well as the limitations, make free choice an impossible concept. While women’s freedom has increased over time, modern society places more expectations on women that limit their free choice. They are expected to have successful careers, maintain the household, and take care of children. These expectations are severe limitations on free choice. Almost any decision that a woman makes is guided by the fact that she is a woman and any choice can be limited by this fact—which makes it inherently unfree.
Firestone, Shulamith. “Conclusion: The Ultimate Revolution.” The Dialectic of Sex ; the Case for Feminist Revolution. New York: Morrow, 1970. 233. Print.
Aside from free choice constituting the ability of individuals to pursue their goals and present themselves through any manner they wish to choose, I would like to propose that free choice should also include the freedom from judgment that adversely affects an individual. Women in society are often forced into limiting dichotomies; is she a slut or a prude? Is she domesticated and maternal or career-driven and emotionless? For instance, many women feel they have to choose between raising a family and pursuing a career. Even in family structures where a male partner shares a good deal of the housework, “women… know that the world is watching and judging. If the toddler’s clothes don’t match…, if the house is a shambles, it is seen as her fault,” despite two parents having authority in the household (Belkin 6). Double standards are still widely enforced in society. Fredrik Friberg, who works part-time to help take care of his daughter, noticed that he “gets complimented on how much I help at home,” while his wife “gets no such gratitude” (Bennhold 7).
Women are often perceived in a very one-dimensional manner and furthermore, they are often criticized regardless of which end of the binary they fall into, as seen by the aforementioned working mothers. An essential part of feminism for me is the ability to exercise free choice without dealing with the subsequent criticism of others. I hope that we can work towards our society where true free choice and freedom from judgment is a reality for all individuals.
Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” 2008.
Bennhold, Katrin. “In Sweden, Men Can Have It All.” 09 June 2010. Web.
Throughout this unit we have discussed various choices a person might have to make. Often a person’s decision reflects submission to societal norms and values, rather than on an individual’s preference and agency. For example, a mother who initially chooses to give birth naturally may be told during labor that a certain medical procedure would be best for the baby. At that point, does the mother truly have a “free” choice? Choosing not to undergo the procedure appears selfish to society. The mother, internalizing society’s high valuation of medical science, feels she must, under the pressure of a professional, abandon her desires and adjust them to meet societal expectations (“The”). Similarly, when two full-time working parents decide to have a child, women often choose to take on more than half of the domestic duties because it is accepted they are more suited for domestic chores (Belkin). However, there is no biological reason that a woman can use a washing machine better than any man. Thus, the couple’s choice is not one of free will but one shaped by a society that makes them feel that choosing otherwise would be a waste of innate womanly traits.
Of course, there are limitations in which a person’s choice could be considered free such as what to eat for dinner. However, analysis of big life-style choices often indicates that an individual’s perception of what options are available and the value of each are dictated by society and are not truly free. I believe that, when making big decisions it is nearly impossible to choose with absolute free will. Norms, values, and expectations are omnipresent so a lifestyle choice is not just judged by society but also by the decision-maker, who has absorbed and internalized those same values.
Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All”” NYTimes. The New York Times, 15 June 2008. Web. 29 Nov. 2013.
“The Business of Being Born”(2007)
“Do you think that humans have free choice?” I asked a friend last night after stewing over this topic for a while.
“No,” he replied assuredly. “Did you get to choose what race you were born into? Who your parents are? Who your first friends were? I don’t think so.”
To discuss whether humans have free choice or not, we must first start from the fundamental question: what is an individual? To me, an individual consists of one’s values based on his or her past, experiences, and surroundings. And thus, according to my friend, since a majority of our values are built during our childhood years in which we had no control over, all of our future actions are culturally and societally impacted, indicating a lack of free choice.
But I disagree. I was born into a conservative Chinese family that values tradition—without choice. The concept of “shared parenting,” in their view, is simply absurd. The historically developed gender roles are so finely deep-rooted in their minds that any alternative path is deemed preposterous. Does that mean I naturally have the same views as well?
I actually did, but only for the first few years of my life. As I grew up, I always knew that dad brought home the money and mom took care of the family. But our personal value systems are not set in stone after a certain age. After exposing myself to people outside my family friend circle and going through formal education, the way I viewed the world most certainly changed—giving me the power to make my own informed choices.
Belkin writes, “the single-most-predicative factor of how equal a couple will be…is how equal their friends are,” and despite the lack of choice regarding our birth, we are free to decide how we spend the rest of lives and who those moments will be spent with.
Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” NY Times. 15 June 2008. Web. 01 Dec 2013.
As we talked about the history of women’s housework in class, it became ever more clear to me that even in the increasingly progressive, egalitarian world we live in, in which more women have careers than ever before, the female role in the house has not changed very much. Today being Thanksgiving simply gave me another opportunity to witness this issue – that females are maintaining their housework responsibilities, even if they are also climbing the corporate ladder.
After reading Belkin’s, “When Mom and Dad Split it All”, I started to wonder if there will ever actually be free choice when it comes to gender norms in parenting roles, or will families forever be somewhat restricted by the more traditional male and female parenting roles that have existed in society? In Belkin’s article, parents attempt to allot equal housework and childcare responsibilities to mothers and fathers, thus generating “equal parenting”. Even though some families were able to maintain this equity in parenting, the majority could not. I even witnessed this today on Thanksgiving – even though all the fathers in my family attempted to lend a helping hand, in the end it was the mothers who did the majority of the housework – cooking, baking, serving the table, cleaning up, looking after the children, etc. In the majority of situations, men may have good intentions, but women end up doing more of the housework, which is what led me to asking – do we actually have free choice? Or will women always end up doing more labor in the house? Is this because women just have a lower tolerance for letting dirty dishes accumulate in the sink? Are women simply better at cooking? Or born with the ability to bake pies? I don’t think so! These questions all demonstrate the impact of the culturally constructed notions of women’s roles in the house, which helps us understand how we are limited in our free choice when it comes to gender roles.
Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 15 June 2008. Web. 29 Nov. 2013.
Free choice is something that many people, especially in America and other Westernized countries, like to believe they have, but exactly how free are our choices, especially when it comes to issues of gender? We have discussed in class how much of an influence media and advertizing have on the general populace, which is why issues of representation in the media are so crucial. However, when confronted with so much advertising, and the reinforcing of gender stereotypes such as those faced by children being raised as genderless when they entered school, it seems like the choice to exist outside of the gender binary, and its stereotypes, is not one that can be freely made. Society fights back against those choices. Similarly, how free are we to make choices when it comes to shared parenting and housework? With lower pay and societal expectations that a woman’s job is less important than her husband’s job when it comes to the home life, the choice to fight these gendered expectations and pressures becomes far from a free choice and is instead a choice that one must struggle for. There is very little “free choice” and options in the gendered sphere of life that one can easily make.
Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share it All?” New York Times. 15 June 2008.