You can't choose that! It's just the oppression talking!

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Women who decide to stay home with the kids or wear high heels often get into the same kind of trouble as black people who want to live in all-black neighborhoods. Some folks see them as voluntarily oppressing themselves when they choose to do what their male or white oppressors would want them to do.

Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon explains it so even I can understand: "'Choice feminism' is a derogatory word that feminists use to describe it when a woman wants her patriarchally approved compliant behavior to be declared perfectly independent of social influence, even when it is obviously not. . . . The most common form of it is, 'Feminism is about having choices and therefore my decision to submit to my husband/get breast implants/totter around on high heels and giggle is beyond analysis.' We’ve all invoked choice feminism out of misplaced guilt about our personal unwillingness to analyze our own choices."

Of course, her partisanship is showing. It's one thing to ask whether those who make conventional choices have really thought it through. It's bogus to answer the question for them, as Marcotte does, and state that no woman ever seriously analyzed her choices and then chose the "conventional" way.

For women in this bind, the pressure is mostly social, not legal. For black people it can have more drastic consequences. In Chicago, the ongoing Gautreaux case forbids the Chicago Housing Authority from building any new dwelling in ghetto areas unless it builds a corresponding dwelling in a nonblack area. Since the agency barely has the money to build anything, this will make it very difficult to build even a small amount of replacement housing in, say, the former Robert Taylor Homes neighborhood.

Gautreaux was brought 40 years ago on behalf of CHA residents to bring about integration, and some of that has been accomplished. Meanwhile, today's public-housing residents often want to continue living in their public-housing neighborhoods, even if they are segregated--and act accordingly. At the Henry Horner Homes, 75 percent of residents chose to stay in renovated quarters rather than move away. (Details in chapters eight and nine of the new book Where Are Poor People to Live?  The only online summary I have found is very brief. This 2000 commentary by David Ranney and Pat Wright is also relevant.)

But Gautreaux's doughty lead attorney, Alexander Polikoff, has the same attitude toward these residents' choices as Marcotte has toward women who stay home with their kids: they don't really mean it; generations of oppression have distorted their own desires. In Polikoff's view, "The risks of homelessness for some displaced families is not a reason to rebuild our high-rise enclaves." And his view counts for a great deal--since the court case continues, he basically holds veto power over where replacement housing gets built (outside of Horner, Cabrini, and ABLA, where deals of various kinds have already been cut).

Polikoff and Marcotte come off as condescending, but they're not all wrong. Having been taught to fear and obey does affect your mind--and there's a real-world price to pay for being an uppity woman, or the lucky black person who gets to integrate Hebron.

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