In this essay I want to chart some of the ways that choice has been articulated around women. In the West, choice is the benign bedrock of our society. Be that in regard to the consumer imperative of choice to the all-pervasive political philosophy of self-fashioning, it is not possible not to choose (pace Jean-Paul Sartre). But while choice is everywhere, it only becomes visible and malignant as a problem when attached to women and increasingly, it seems, to young women.

The theoretical questions underpinning my analysis of safe and not safe choices concern the conflicting cultural modes that privilege genealogical subjects, on the one hand, and, on the other, autological or self-fashioning discourses (to use Elizabeth Povinelli's formulation). In broad terms, genealogical forms operate on various modalities of constraint, operated by community. The promise of liberalism was and is that of freedom, of subjects released unto their own making. Choice, I argue, operates within this frame to demarcate cultures of constraint versus those of freedom, and challenges strict notions of safety and risk. Drawing on research in Australia and Hong Kong, it appears that within very different contexts young people may be blurring these distinctions through their self-formulation of their own genealogical communities of friendship and intimacy.

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