The Imaginary Choice Feminist

by Tobi Hill-Meyer on May 14, 2015 · 6 comments

in Politics, Porn


afeminismmeansWhen I make porn I find it to be a positive experience. That is based on a wide range of factors that I’ve spoken and written about in depth over the past eight years. For one, trans women’s sexuality is greatly misrepresented in media and it’s important to me to be able to create representations of sexuality on my own terms. I also take great care to address and incorporate ethics into every level of production. My porn includes Audre Lorde references. My porn has been nominated for and won several feminist awards. My porn includes complex discussion of police violence, immigration politics, post-traumatic stress, and other social issues.

Yet, inevitably, I encounter individuals who point at my work and declare that it is objectifying on face—typically without having even watched it. Then they demand that I come up with a thesis worthy defense of my claim that making my porn is a positive thing. Anything I’ve already said or written in defense of my work is ignored. Any reasoning or argumentation about my informed decision to work in porn is lost. My argument is simply represented by my detractors as “because I chose it.”

Choice feminism is the idea that anything that any woman personally chooses to do is a feminist act. The most commonly given example of this argument is that choosing to do sex work—or to take pole dancing classes, be in porn, sext, fill in the blank—is empowering simply because a woman has chosen to do it and criticisms against perpetuating objectification are irrelevant.

The problem here is that in most cases women are simply trying to point out that they know their own lives and are making an informed decision. They are not claiming that any woman’s exercise of her agency is by definition a feminist act, but that denying a woman her agency is an inherently un-feminist act— especially coming from someone who doesn’t have a shared understanding of the context of that decision in her life.

It’s clear how disingenuous labeling someone a choice feminist is when you look at where this argument is applied. It’s pretty much only used by white middle-class feminists in reference to other women in marginalized positions. Trans women are told the decision to transition is really a patriarchal plot. Sex workers are told they are brainwashed into deciding to do sex work. Can you imagine these same voices indicting women who work at Starbucks, at Walmart, or any minimum wage job, demanding they defend whether or not their job is empowering? How often do they accuse women who are CEOs or politicians of making choices the patriarchy foisted upon them?

Look at the individuals these feminists target. When Megan Murphy wanted to criticize women choosing to pose naked for photos, how many thousands of women could she have written about? But she chose to write about Laverne Cox, a trans woman of color who said, “It is revolutionary for any trans person to choose to be seen and visible in a world that tells us we should not exist.” Murphy’s hatred was palpable as she denied Cox her womanhood and derided her body as “some cartoonish version of a woman.” Even if you believe that Cox’s photo spread in Allure magazine was disempowering, was it more disempowering than Murphy’s article?

atransphobicfeministAs Murphy was spotlighted for her anti-trans rant, many rushed to her defense with arguments against choice feminism. They ignored everything Cox said on the subject of her nude Allure magazine shoot and tried to make the argument be about a choice feminist straw person.

The most insulting thing about this process is how it denies any agency or even self-awareness on the part of those critiqued. When a porn performer defends their choice to work in porn, the reality is that most are very aware of the oppressive aspects of their work. After working in any industry long enough, workers develop a laundry list of complaints, shitty bosses, and violated workplace rights. Porn performers are no exception to this rule. But when anti-sex work feminists argue for the abolition of your industry and want to rescue you from your own decisions, it’s hard to defend your right to work in the porn industry while simultaneously addressing its faults. That’s how you end up with plenty of examples of women who—on the surface—look like choice feminists when they respond to these kinds of attacks. Yet the woman who’s been working in the industry for 5-10 years is always going to know more about her experience than the feminist critic whose knowledge about working in porn only comes from her perspective as a media consumer.

I want to be clear—choice feminism is a terrible concept. The idea that every women’s choices are innately feminist is overly simplistic, poorly thought out, and ignores the fact that some women choose to support racism, transphobia, and even misogyny. But while some individuals may genuinely believe in this premise, I’d be willing to bet that most of the time a woman is being criticized as a “choice feminist,” it’s a horrible misrepresentation and reduction of her position, and that her words are being distorted in the service of a rhetorical argument dismissing her decisions and the nuanced motivations behind them.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Savannah Sly May 14, 2015 at 5:28 pm

I’ve been wondering lately if it’s time for the word “feminism” to evolve into something else….its so broadly interpreted, and can be used to expound on perspectives that are completely contradictory. What are we to do? Tack on prefixes such as “radical”, “2nd wave” and “Choice”?

I’m dismayed by the whole anti-feminism shitstorm that cropped up (and continues to do so) on social media. When fairly uniformed masses of people reject the whole premiss of feminism because they’re reacting to a branch of it that is inflammatory, the baby is being thrown out with the bathwater. This is sad, because a lot of those folks would probably actually be on board with ideas of feminism that a lot of *us* here on *this website* subscribe to.

In our own sex worker community, there is sometimes need to phrase our identities differently, as not all erotic laborers identify as “sex workers”, and for a variety of reasons. I find that the phrase “Erotic Services Providers” can bring a lot of leverage to a discussion, and I use it frequently, along with the more playful and non-threatening “Sexy Professionals”. Maybe we need to consider rebranding the core values of feminism we celebrate?

Too bad “humanism” is already taken…though by the looks of this video and the multitude of stances taken via this group in the UK, they’re pretty close to summing up *my* thoughts on feminism.


Juniper Fitzgerald May 17, 2015 at 10:26 pm

“humanism” as a term ignores the reality of specific humans being treated badly under specific systems, so it wouldn’t be an appropriate replacement even if it were available, IMHO


Emberesque May 14, 2015 at 6:59 pm

Thank you for this. I didn’t realize there was a name for it, but “choice feminism” fits it perfectly. The worst part is how incoherent it is: I’ve heard lots of arguments that sex work is empowering because women choose to do it, but at the first hint that it’s not a perfect job, sex workers stop being empowered and start being victims again.

It seeps into a lot of places, actually. I think it has to do with the knee-jerk cultural response we’ve developed toward anything that looks like victim-blaming. If we say a woman has made a bad choice, that’s victim-blaming, so instead we say that it wasn’t a choice – it was coercion or internalized misogyny that made her do it.

Women can only make good choices, or else have no choice at all. It’s not a very empowering thought.


Brazen Lee May 14, 2015 at 10:43 pm

Perfect. Thanks!


Kagehi May 15, 2015 at 10:02 am

Stupid thing is, you get similar idiocy with any other job. I can’t count the number of times that some idiot has said, in reference to someone complaining about there job, “They ‘chose’ to walk in the door and apply for the position, didn’t they?” So… its always a “choice” to pick a shitty job? Well, except when it isn’t, either way, blame the victim of the corporate oligarchy and/or cronyism for needed to pay their bloody bills, so sticking with a job they hate, right? Either they chose the job, or they didn’t, if they did, then they don’t deserve to complain.

Me, I described it to someone as needing a car, being unable to find anyone selling one (or which I could afford) that wasn’t a lemon, then having some idiot tell me, “You chose to buy the thing right? So how dare you complain about it!!!”

Its the same BS double standard every place, just, with porn, you get the additional BS of certain parts of the population seeing it as, ironically, trafficking, so they get to treat you as a victim, right up until you say, “I chose this.”, then, your just one of the idiots complaining about a job you chose, whether or not you actually had any real choice in the matter of taking it at the time. Sort of like… joining a union, or something…

You are not “allowed” to have a problem with something you chose (thanks in no small part of a lot of delusional thinking about what choices you do have, by people who have never had to make a bad choice, or have edited those choices out of their own memory, aka Libertarians, for example), but, if the choice is one that either is, or someone things should be, or in certain contexts can be, or is associated with, in some manner, the illegal – well, then you can’t be a victim either, if you chose to work there. Its a lose, lose, lose situation, or something like that. It also, conveniently, for some people, makes it dang certain that the problems never get fixed, because, well, denialism 101 – it isn’t a problem, or if it is, then its not fixable, or if it is, its too expensive to fix, and on, and on….


Nix 66 May 15, 2015 at 12:49 pm

I think much of the “feminist” critique we’re seeing on SM is a critique of tits and ass. If I need to cover my body so that men don’t have sexual thoughts, so that I will be treated like a “person,” i.e. white man/unmarked, then the current proposition of “feminism” is the death of the Feminine. And the Feminine here, is simply the posed nude body. It’s also putting the onus on women to prevent men from wanting to fuck them, and that is literally impossible. In my experience, most men want to fuck most things most of the time. And it wasn’t sex work that led me to that conclusion. Rather, that conclusion led me to sex work.


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