Examples of Coercion

In my first year of law school as a writing exercise we had to analyze “coercion.”  At what point do the conditions presented become so slanted as to render one party helpless to make a choice?

It’s a little paternalistic to assume that conditions could deprive someone of choice.  We’re all subject to the same underlying facts, the same desires, etc.  If one party is more susceptible to pressure than another, whose problem should that be?

Lately for some reason I keep seeing examples of debatable public “coercion.”  A lot of it is my trawling the internets for femme topics, stuff that speaks more directly to women.  But even a lot of feminism, I’ve said before, is somewhat a solipsistic response to imaginedly-coercive conditions.

With disclaimers that I’ve no firm position on which of these are coercive and which not, here are some examples:

Kate Harding’s “fantasy of being thin” reminds me of our sort of paternalistic fear of fat.  Is the push for calorie labels really just a response to coercive market conditions?  Or is it a real health initiative?  Is the “thin culture” coercive?

These Dove ads speak for themselves: Beauty is subjective.  When I was much younger I remember reading that beauty has a lot to do with proportionality — eyes:cheeks ratio, etc.  How much (intellectual) control do we have over our conclusions w/ re to beauty?

And finally, Burqa Barbie.  Barbie has in some ways (on a small scale) represented in the US what the Burqa represents abroad. As long as women make choices — to wear a Burqa or heels or get plastic surgery — it’s not for other women to judge.

When the message “you are imperfect” becomes so pervasive as to undermine women’s ability to choose, then we should stop permitting — or, indeed, requiring — messages that continue to reinforce that coercive message that really hurts women.

I’m so ignorant about Hijab feminism, but the whole “coercion” question is really interesting–see a great video here (WordPress, why are you so coquettish about embedding?!).


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