Sex, death and choice

I stepped away from the internet and the TV on Tuesday this week, and returned on Friday. During that time the amount of information I saturated my mind with decreased, and I was able to prioritise. Two pieces of information took precedence, and both were about choice.

The first was Terry Pratchett’s documentary about assisted suicide. Coincidentally, I had just researched Digitas for a writing project, and on a personal level it was very strange to see the place I had just read so much about. The programme affected me deeply, and made me think about how much choice we actually have, and how we give it away, either voluntarily or implicitly through agreement with societal structures.

I was stunned to see that, although Terry was giving a personal view, there was a lobby against assisted suicide immediately, as if we are passive dopes, sitting in front of the TV and having our minds influenced fully by programmes. Although we are influenced by the media and by various other mechanisms, ultimately we make our own choices. There are people invested in assisted suicide and those against it. There is also an off switch on every TV, and the realisation that another person’s view is not ‘truth’, but merely an opinion.

The second incident is the almost comical rise in middle-aged, high-status men making ridiculous statements about how women dress, and how women should be treated. Postfeminism has meant that the rationalisation and manipulation of feminism, based on the coupling of choice with blame, has deemed men and women ‘equal’. According to those who have perpetuated post feminist thinking, women have what they want – so don’t ask men to open doors for you now, women. Don’t form groups asking to be admitted into male majority careers such as science, technology and engineering as, well, you know, we’re all equal now so we should be recruiting both men and women at an equal level.

This pseudo-equality simply does not exist, and I base this on two pieces of evidence: statistics that only 12.3% of science, engineering and technology jobs are occupied by women, and, two women per week are killed by an ex or current partner. Both these pieces of fully researchable evidence (because they are real) are serious and affect our lives. The comical aspect arises when some men (and some women) appear in the media and tell us something that contradicts what is right in front of our eyes. Or, worse, mistake their opinion for truth. How we wish to be treated is entirely subjective; it’s an instinct.

I am a feminist, yet I still like people being nice to me. In context I would open a door for a man just as I hope a man would open a door for me, and I’m sure many men do not connect every act they do for women with how they dress or if they are a feminist. The whole point of feminist thinking is about the value of difference, and the choice to do anything a person chooses to without oppression. I would wager that no feminist objects to another person’s opinion – it’s when this is presented as fact that it becomes patronising. Again, it’s about choice, and about other people assuming that they know better than your own personal preferences.

In the media this misogynistic outpouring it is both shocking and laughable, in everyday life it matters little. In fact, because I didn’t hear the latest outburst about men apparently being ‘victimised’ by women who wear scanty clothing until today, I’m several days behind everyone else’s outrage. No matter what anyone says, I’ll quietly choose how I want to live. I’ll choose from the options available myself, within the morals and ethics I have drawn from a varied life, and I’ll dress how I please because I don’t need anyone to decide this for me.

Ironically, both these high impact issues are untimely endowed with no choice whatsoever in terms of that they happen anyway and are set. You cannot choose your sex and you cannot choose not to die. Of course, there are qualifications to this, in that there are transgender programmes and assisted suicide that help people to have better lives or deaths according to their personal choices. The nub of the matter is control: these zeitgeisty aspects of life are loaded with politics and ripe for those amongst us who feel the need to tell others what to do and normalise using their own personal baseline. What those controlling people who set values and try to impose them on others never seem to realise is that this behaviour is transparent and the issues fleeting: we know what they are up to and we shake out heads, shrug our shoulders, or, the more militant amongst us, protest. Then we make our own decisions.

Sex and death are the basis of life, and it’s almost obscene to suggest that I don’t have a choice on how I live that life, and that someone else will decide for me. Some people may need guidance and structure, but ultimately don’t we choose for ourselves? There may be UK laws to prohibit assisted suicide for very good reasons; however, we can choose to fly to Switzerland and do it anyway. There is a huge misogynistic society out there, still believing that women are chattels who can given away and who should be grateful being treated nicely or allowed to work in a male dominated career; however, we can choose to live the way we like and the social reality is that, despite attempts to normalise and regulate, people will do and live how they please.

So, although we cannot choose the basic elements of sex or death, we have a choice about how we express both in life. The question is, do we make quiet personal choices based on our own life experiences, or do we work to influence others and create a fleeting and meaningless zeitgeist, the whirling centre of which moves on to the next newsworthy outrage before we can process it? I sense that rather than descending into postmodernism, feminists (both women and men) have moved to a position where, instead of having to qualify the equality concept in terms of media opinion, it has become an inherent instinct.

Choice is an option we automatically choose and do something about, which in my mind is a step towards freedom, but we certainly aren’t there yet.