What does it mean to have free will? Is it merely to have a choice available to you [Ref. 1]? Or is it the freedom to make that choice and feel no judgement or pushback?
I grew up with parents that let us kids make our own decisions. I’d say they let us make age appropriate decisions but that’s a loaded statement if there ever was one… so to rephrase, my parents taught us to make decisions and then stepped back and let us fly or fall or, as I’ve found is usually the case with decisions even as an adult, stumble through. They did their best to not judge but support, even if our decisions directly disagreed with their own choices. In other words, we had the reality and not just the appearance of free will.
I never realized how rare this was, maybe I still don’t know because I see explanations all around and I feel the need to give them myself. What’s interesting is how I feel the need to justify having a low end car to save money – clarifying that I’m saving for vacations – when talking with well-off friends, and I feel the need to justify – or not mention – having splurged on heated leather seats when talking with friends who struggle to get by. It’s the same car, just different social circles and expectations. When was the last time you felt the need to justify a decision or lifestyle to a friend? A coworker? A loved one? And can it really be called free will if your choice is judged and pressure placed to choose a particular way?
My car falls firmly into the category of “first world problems”, yet we all have our own “car” as it were. What is your “car”? It can be as sneaky as “keeping up with the Jones’” or as blunt as being told “no, you can’t play with the boys”.
That second one happened in my 8th grade P.E. class [Ref. 2]. We had 8 girls, of which I was the only athlete, and about 20 boys. I had played soccer for over 9 years at this point and knew the gender separation our teacher insisted on was not reasonable from a skill standpoint. So when it was the boys turn to play I just… played. Stepped out onto the field and played. There were some complaints, and some boys wouldn’t pass to me, but enough would and no one stopped me. Rather like what women in the STEM [Ref. 3] fields experience today. I was allowed to play, or at least not stopped, but what about the boys? Were any of them able to NOT play? And if I took the ball from one, would he be made fun of because “you got beat by a girl”? Never mind that I had training he didn’t have. Never mind that I had athletic aptitude he didn’t have. Never mind that gender didn’t actually matter in this case. Our instructor took the lazy way out, the social expectations way out. The double standard that boys are athletic and girls are not way out and effectively set us all up for failure.
I had limited free will, the boys had none. These ideas can and do co-exist. The free will to choose not to play – or to choose to play! – for both genders needs to be addressed for gender equality to prevail. Because free will starts with having the choice, and grows with that choice being one where either outcome is socially acceptable.
1) Free Will: free and independent choice; voluntary decision
2) PE: also known as physical education in the public school system, which in my experience usually consisted of gym teachers attempting to teach game rules to kids who 1) already know them or 2) don’t care and will stand in the middle of the playing field gossiping
3) STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math.