These two positions are frequently portrayed as the only two options. If you express any concern that perhaps many prostitutes would have chosen a different career if they had had other financially viable options open to them, you're immediately placed in the second camp, and regardless of what you say, you're seen as believing that women are mindless little automatons who are incapable of independent thought. But if you advocate for sex workers rights at all, you're placed into the first camp, and thought to be ignorant and naive concerning the profoundly influential and constitutive nature of the culture in which we are all immersed. In this environment (which is fairly typical of the feminist blogosphere), people who take a moderate stance and believe both that women often choose sex work under coercive conditions and that it's the feminist thing to do to advocate for better treatment of sex workers, regardless of how they got there, are viewed as a walking contradiction, since they're trying to take two contradictory stances at the same time.
But of course, the two extreme stances are not the only positions you could take. In fact, thoughtfully navigating a path down the middle is the far more feminist approach, in my view. But for the purposes of this discussion, the relevant point is that you don't either have to believe that women are incapable of autonomous decision making because of their cultural environment or that every choice a woman makes is sacred and inviolable. Instead, you can view her as a competent rational being who is nonetheless under a great deal of pressure to follow the pre-set gender scripts set forth by her culture.
This issue concerning choice is exemplified by this version of the Kourtney Kardashian pregnancy story. Kardashian is careful to portray her decision to keep the baby as a completely autonomous choice:
Although Kardashian sought out the advice of others, she says it was her decision -- and hers alone -- that was the most important.However, many of the other things she says reveal that the pre-existing scripts about abortion we have - especially those that come from an anti-choice angle - were very formative and influential on her thought process. For one thing, a friend advised her to consult her doctor about "the risks and stuff," but when Kardashian did consult her doctor, it doesn't sound like he was talking about the medical risks at all:
"I really wanted to think it through for myself, and not hear what my sisters were saying, or what Scott was saying. Even though I took it all in, I wanted it to be my decision," she says.
My doctor told me there is nothing you will ever regret about having the baby, but he was like, 'You may regret not having the baby.'I, for one, don't know why a medical doctor would be the person you would consult about regret. Medical risks and possible complications? Sure. But it seems like this consultation had much more to do with morals and worldviews than medical procedures.
Further, according to the article,
Scott Disick, the baby's 26-year-old father, was supportive either way.But I'm not really sure I get what "supportive either way" means here. Elsewhere in the article we find this
He said, 'I really want you to keep it, but I will support you whatever you decide to do'and then this
I got so excited, and when I told Scott he was so excited. But I think if I had said I'm not going to keep it, I really think he would have pushed me into keeping it.which sounds more to me like "I'll support you either way but only if you make the choice I want you to make." It also sounds from the article like her sisters were in favor of her keeping the baby.
But beyond the immediate influence of the people in her life, the cultural scripts on abortion run through her description of her decision making process. These quotes:
"I do think every woman should have the right to do what they want, but I don't think it's talked through enough. I can't even tell you how many people just say, 'Oh, get an abortion.' Like it's not a big deal."and
"I looked online, and I was sitting on bed hysterically crying, reading these stories of people who felt so guilty from having an abortion," she recalls. "I was reading these things of how many people are traumatized by it afterwards."and
After scouring the Internet, Kardashian says she started to realize that an abortion wasn't an option for her. "I was just sitting there crying, thinking, 'I can't do that,' " she says. "And I felt in my body, this is meant to be. God does things for a reason, and I just felt like it was the right thing that was happening in my life."and
Kardashian says she did some intense soul-searching. "For me, all the reasons why I wouldn't keep the baby were so selfish: It wasn't like I was raped, it's not like I'm 16. I'm 30 years old, I make my own money, I support myself, I can afford to have a baby. And I am with someone who I love, and have been with for a long time."tell us a lot about the positioning of abortion in her worldview. Kardashian assumes that having an abortion is always "a big deal" (um, not for everyone), that there is always guilt and trauma associated with it (which there probably is if you've internalized anti-choice views), that to have an abortion is to interfere with God's plan in your life, that this is the kind of thing you can "feel in your body" but still portray as a carefully thought-out decision, that, if abortion is ever justified, it's only in cases of rape, or when the mother is very young, or poor, and that if these factors aren't in place and you get an abortion anyway, you're selfish.
Given these assumptions, how could she have chosen otherwise? A "choice" that carries harsh social or financial consequences, or forces you to view yourself in a profoundly unfavorable way, is not a free choice. Given Kardashian's description of the situation, it doesn't appear that she could have chosen not to keep this baby and still retained her self-respect. And this is due to the well-used and familiar scripts that her thoughts concerning abortion adhered to. So this is a case where we all seem very eager to portray her choice as a completely free and autonomous one, in spite of the piles of evidence to the contrary.
On the other hand, it could be that this was the option she was already inclined toward, and she simply tapped into the existing scripts on this particular side of the issue in order to articulate and make sense of her decision to herself and to us, but that if she had been inclined toward the other option, she would have tapped into the opposite script. Either way, the existing scripts and dominant cultural attitudes play a huge role in this decision-making process, and the image of the entirely dependent, autonomous rational agent making a completely free and uninfluenced choice doesn't work well here. Once again, personal "choice" turns out to be this complex thing that cannot be easily placed into one category or the other ("completely free" or "entirely coerced") but is instead a subtle interplay of cultural forces and personal desires. And we, as feminists, would be better served by dropping the oversimplified extreme views and working toward a more realistic and complex understanding of choice and autonomy.