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Saturday, 9 November 2013

Choice: The Patriarchy Matrix

Image: Two shiny pills, one red, one blue

Trigger warning: discussion of genital surgery, offensive sex worker tropes and stereotypical beauty

Since I was elected as the SU's Women's and Marginalised Genders' Officer, is has become almost impossible for me to go a day without discussing feminist or otherwise political issues. I talk extensively to both people who are roughly on the same page as myself and those who have very different opinions. I try to explain my point of view rationally and calmly and put in my best effort to empathise and understand other's views. It's not always easy, but I think that's what we owe each other.

The recurrent theme over the last ten days or so has been the importance of 'choice' or 'free will'. An interesting example of this is that because women choose to have cosmetic surgery it's none of Feminism's business and those of us who think it's often harmful should go back to burning our bras, thanks very much. On the flip-side, all of feminism is based on enabling choice, accepting all voices and not dictating good and bad. Occasionally, this means I get stuck between a rock and a hard place, and no simple answer in sight.

Why? I'll try not to get too existential on you, but this is the question I often come up against: Do we, or do we not, we have free will? Are our choices completely our own? Spoiler alert! Probably not. The argument goes that we are essentially a sophisticated machine - our 'wiring' (genetics, childhood,...) is meant to pre-determine how we respond to any given situation. We have awareness, but all our thought processes and actions are a result of our previous life and genetic material. 

Imagine your brain is spread out over a pool table in the form of pool balls. The order, number, colour of the balls is due to your genetics and previous experiences. For some reason (chance, god,...) a red pool ball drops into the middle of the table, hitting some other balls, and setting of a chain of collisions and movement. Some balls ricochet off the sides and crash into others, some drop into the pockets, some are completely unmoved. If you record all this and play it back slowly, you can see that everything that happened was due to the position of the balls at the start. The black ball was already teetering at the edge of a pocket, the green ball was missed by the red ball by a few centimeters. If the red ball had been slightly further left, it would have hit the green and possibly not affected the black. Etc. This view is called determinism.

Determinism is difficult to deal with in our society, because he hold people accountable for their actions. We obviously couldn't do that if we accepted we had no free will. So let's 'zoom in' a bit and just say that it doesn't matter whether we have a free will or not - in the sense that the we can move our pool balls around ourselves without outside interference: Choice.

I know, I know. Bear with me.

So, what remains? The fact that we all have a certain set-up before something in the world happens to nudge (or make us choose to nudge) our marbles pool balls. If we grew up being told that there are no black swans, we'll choose to assume that any black swan we see isn't a swan. If we're taught it's not alright to steal, we'll choose not to take anything without paying for it. And if we're taught we should be a good person and that a good person helps others in need, we'll choose to give money to charity or support a friend going through a rough patch.

Now imagine we were taught that there are only two genders and they depend on what genitals you were born with. Imagine we were taught that people who have sex for money are bad lowlifes, full of disease, and to be avoided at all cost. And imagine if we were taught pretty women have a BMI of 20, symmetrical faces, small noses, white skin, medium to large tits, long hair and hairless legs... Us women would feel bad if we had small breasts, or a big nose, or dark skin, or love handles and we would perhaps choose to pay someone to 'fix us'. Because we've been taught being pretty is important and good.

As Nimco Ali from Daughters of Eve said at the recent ULU Sexpression event: "No woman just randomly wakes up in the morning and goes 'I think I'd like to cut off my labia today'. And yet thousands have labiaplasty every year." Without porn, without recurring, harmful portrayal of women and other marginalised groups in the mainstream media, making the choice of taking a scalpel to perfectly healthy parts of ourselves would seem ludicrous. That kind of behaviour only appears to make sense if we are trying to achieve an ideal. Unfortunately, that ideal is a fictional construction propped up by a desire part us from our money.

So. A fight for feminism or a triumph of freely-made decisions? You tell me. The one thing discussions over the past two weeks have made clear to me is how much getting active in Feminism is like Neo taking the red pill in the movie The Matrix. Once you've seen the Matrix, you can't unsee it, and you notice it everywhere. The difference between The Matrix and the real world is that once we see the Kyriarchy Matrix, we can all be Neo.

Alexandra Sophia, 2013-2014 Secretary

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