Perspectives on Politics


Choice Feminism and the Fear of Politics

Michaele L. Fergusona1

a1 University of Colorado at Boulder. E-mail:


Choice feminism is motivated by a fear of politics. It arises in response to three common criticisms of feminism: that feminism is too radical, too exclusionary, and too judgmental. In response, choice feminism offers a worldview that does not challenge the status quo, that promises to include all women regardless of their choices, and that abstains from judgment altogether. Moreover, it enables feminists to sidestep the difficulties of making the personal political: making judgments and demanding change of friends, family, and lovers. Yet judgment, exclusion, and calls for change are unavoidable parts of politics. If feminists are not to withdraw from political life altogether, we have to acknowledge the difficulty of engaging in politics. Political claims are partial; we will inevitably exclude, offend, or alienate some of those whom we should wish to have as allies. The political concerns and dilemmas to which choice feminism responds are very real. However, we can take seriously the political motivations behind choice feminism without withdrawing from politics. Instead, we need to complement an acknowledgment of the political dilemmas facing feminists with a celebration of the pleasures of engaging in politics with those who differ from and disagree with us.

Michaele L. Ferguson is Assistant Professor of Political Science and junior faculty affiliate with the Women and Gender Studies Program at the University of Colorado at Boulder ( She is co-editor of W Stands for Women: How the George W. Bush Presidency Shaped a New Politics of Gender (Duke, 2007)


The author would like to thank the Department of Political Science at the University of Colorado at Boulder for generously funding the 2008 conference on Women's Choices and the Future of Feminism that supported the development of this symposium. In particular, she would like to thank Lorraine Bayard de Volo, David Mapel, Celeste Montoya-Kirk, Steve Vanderheiden, and Bozena Welbourne for their participation in the conference. She also thanks the Center for the Humanities and the Arts at the University of Colorado at Boulder for a Faculty Fellowship that supported her work on this project. She is grateful to Jill Locke, Laurie Naranch, Karen Zivi, and the other symposium participants for the conversations that provoked her to write this essay, and the critical feedback that made it better.