A long time ago, I read an article about wearing or not wearing a hijab. In the article, there was a term that described the fact that while, on paper, there was a choice, that decision would be so heavily influenced by one's culture that it was not really a free choice. So basically, something that is said to be a choice but really isn't.

Does anyone know what that term is? "Something choice," maybe?

So, to add more information I think it's more to do with free will. That you think you're making a choice but because that choice is so ingrained with cultural influences that choice is not really freely made. It may not be a common phrase (I've been trying to hunt down the name of this concept for years!), I quite like illusory choice which sort of fits although the illusory bit is not specific to it being culturally determined.

I think illusion of choice may be the phrase I am looking for, I think it will work in other contexts which is what I wanted. There has been a number of times I have wanted to use this concept in an argument about something else but have been unable to phrase it. I'll check out false choice too, thanks.

  • Can you clarify what sort of non-choice you actually mean. Are they being forced/blackmailed to wear a hijab? Have they been conditioned into wearing a hijab without even thinking they have an option? Are the negative consequences so bad that they have no practical choice despite no overt pressure? Or is wearing a hajib so much better that no rational person would choose not to do it?
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 19:56
  • 1
    There is de facto — but that doesn’t really apply to the word choice here. Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 3:29
  • 4
    I think "an illusory choice" is a great description, but I don't think that's a common set-phrase, which is what you've asked for.
    – JonathanZ
    Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 16:47
  • 1
    I'm not sure if this counts, but there's a slang term I've heard used before: voluntold. It's a combination of volunteer and told.
    – Gogeta70
    Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 23:01
  • 4
    I think "illusion of choice" is the commonly used phrase (instead of "illusory choice"), though that might not be what you're after if you wanted a phrase with cultural implications attached.
    – hiccups
    Commented Mar 24, 2023 at 2:14

10 Answers 10


It's Hobson's Choice.

A Hobson's choice is a free choice in which only one thing is actually offered. The term is often used to describe an illusion that multiple choices are available. The most well known Hobson's choice is "I'll give you a choice: take it or leave it", wherein "leaving it" is strongly undesirable.

  • 8
    The example isn't really "Hobson's choice". The idea is that there is no real choice (the alternatives offered are really not different). In "take it or leave it" the two choices are different. It may be that you are being forced into taking one (because the other is not real) but that's not "Hobson's Choice". Ford's "any colour you like as long as it's black" is a much better example. Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 10:45
  • 2
    (And, yes, I am aware that that you are paraphrasing from Thomas Hobson himself, but that's not how current usage would have it) Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 10:47
  • 1
    @FrancisDavey — Depends whether you insist on bespoke tailoring or are happy to settle for "off the peg". And when there are no bespoke tailors for the type of clothes you want you tend to be left with, well, Hobson's choice.
    – David
    Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 12:44
  • 2
    While this doesn't really describe the OP's situation, I suspect this phrase is what they're thinking of. There's also Sophie's Choice, where both options are totally unacceptable (in the original story she had to choose which of her children would be sent to the gas chamber).
    – Barmar
    Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 15:52

I think false choice can be used in OP's context. Here's the description of a book titled "Women and False Choice: The Truth about Sexism: How to Fight Sexism in the Workplace"

As women make life-career choices, they are constrained by cultural ideas, images and symbols that create the 'nurturance imperative' in their psyche. Women mistake this learnt nurturing behaviour, of putting others' interests before theirs, for natural instinct and make choices that are not in line with their authentic self. Women, in other words, unknowingly make false choices.

(Boldface mine.)

  • Given OP's elaboration on the context he's looking for, this seems more correct than the top answer. Commented Mar 25, 2023 at 13:35

From The Godfather... "I'm gonna make you an offer you can't refuse."

From Wiktionary, in the phrase's second sense, an offer that can't be refused is

(idiomatic) A threatening offer by one party for which the results of failing to accept are so unattractive that the other party is almost compelled to accept.


To me, a word you may want to consider is "non-choice," that is, a choice you're making that is no choice at all (I like to hyphenate it, but in the source I cited, it's non-hyphenated).

nonchoice (English) Origin & history non- + choice Noun nonchoice (pl. nonchoices)

An action or situation that is not a choice.

2009, Elline Lipkin, Girls' Studies: Seal Studies, page 8: The “choices” that children may seem to make when left alone with a roomful of toys can be realized as nonchoices in light of how much gender scripting they have, at remarkably early ages, already absorbed.


(Emphasis inserted by me.)

This being said, based on the example in @JK2's answer above, I'd say JK2's answer sounds more correct. On the other hand, I've never heard of the phrase "false choice," but I have heard of the term "non-choice" for situations similar to what you described.

  • By George I think you've got it! I've just found a paper which describes a situation very similar to my example as a non-choice
    – SnoringCat
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 23:37
  • @SnoringCat, TBF, the very first comment to your question, left by Stuart F, had already answered your question. Commented Apr 6, 2023 at 0:06
  • Yes, he did use the phrase, but I wasn't aware of it actually being a phrase without any context. You provided the meaning and context.
    – SnoringCat
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 8:37
  • Heh, that's true. No worries, @SnoringCat, hadn't been making a comment about you, but rather, had just been trying to give credit where credit's due 😂😊. Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 9:28

no alternative (collocation):

If you have no alternative, you only have one reasonable choice or decision to make.

I don't want to leave, but I have no alternative.


An alternative can be heavily weighted, or they can be slanted (e.g., marriage vs. destitution, in the 1800s) such that there appears to be no real choice in the matter.

Therefore, Jane had no alternative but to accept the proposals, as they came and went, from the rakishly handsome, the extremely amusing, the well-established, the old and decrepit alike.

They speak of culturally embedded choices, but sometimes it's practically a matter of life or death.


The term that comes to mind is a norm which refers to a principle or behavior that is generally observed (in this case, wearing a hijab) and socially enforced without there necessarily being a reasonable justification other than the preservation of the practice (not quite the philosophical definition, however). This distinguishes normative and positive, where the latter refers to principles or behavior that are justified logically in a rigorous manner.


A similar sarcastic slang term for this used in the U.S. Midwest is volun-told. This is more related to social obligations than making a choice as such, though.


It's called Coercion, therefore it is a coerced decision. The use of Duress and Coercion on a person takes away their free will in decision making.


The term "Double Bind" may apply to your specific example.

Powered by Oxford:

a situation in which a person is confronted with two irreconcilable demands or a choice between two undesirable courses of action.

  • 2
    Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 15:50
  • Double Bind usually implies that the individual in said bind recognizes both choices as viable, something that doesn't apply to the OP's example of a decision in which one choice is expected via socialization. Commented Mar 24, 2023 at 1:05
  • I've added a definition to help, which you're welcome to edit. I encourage you you to defend your answer. Please see the tour and help center.
    – livresque
    Commented Mar 24, 2023 at 2:22

The still used latin phrase 'fait accompli' may be relevant although not sure that it works for the example used by the OP.

fait accompli 'noun

a thing that has already happened or been decided before those affected hear about it, leaving them with no option but to accept it. "the results were presented to shareholders as a fait accompli"

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.