Wednesday, May 2, 2007

We Know: The Personal is Political

Perhaps it was to be expected that a tool built around the concept of an online journal and commandeered by the politically engaged would be of particular interest to those of us who have most deeply internalized the notion of personal as political, and perhaps it was inevitable that we would use this tool to make political activism as personal as it has ever been. When Carol Hanisch wrote in 1969 that "personal problems are political problems" and asserted there is "only collective action for a collective solution," she was just as certainly speaking to feminist bloggers as her contemporaries, despite the emergence of the blogosphere being decades away.

Now, as then, we continue to struggle to reconcile having blithely and distantly called "issues," even by many ostensibly on our political side, what feminist women generally call, collectively, life—and now, as then, feminist women attempt to bridge that gap by communicating the immediacy of "issues" politics with personal experience. It's a rather comfortable fit for feminists, by virtue of the nature of the blogosphere. To both celebration and condemnation, bloggers often make no attempt to hide our passion as we straddle a middle ground between activist and journalist, protestor and reporter—and, in their most frequent incarnation, blogs are authored by women and men with no immediate ties or access to major political power-holders, and so we, their authors, become our own best sources.

Feminist political blogging has thusly taken on a distinctly confessional aspect, as personal experiences with abortion, rape, marriage, childrearing, etc. become an important part of our political discussions as our bodies and choices come up for legislative consideration.

We know that it matters if male legislators have daughters, and we know that having more women in Congress matters, because the personal is political. Intuitively, we know that "getting personal" makes a difference, that the most effective way to undermine talking points about abortion is to counter the conservative straw-woman abortion-seeker, drawn with thick crayons as a ninny-brained trust fund slut who uses abortion as birth control and washes down RU-486 with a martini, with the real stories of real women who get abortions for a myriad of reasons. We know that relating our own personal, private, and sometimes painful experiences during a political discussion can have the effect of extricating the "issue" from the realm of the abstract, putting political theory to a real-life test.

We know that getting personal is the most effective way to stop people talking in theories when they're talking about the fate of the personal autonomy of half the nation, to subvert the aloof intellectualism, such comforting insulation that makes possible the clinical detachment necessary to consider what to do for "women," as opposed to this woman and this woman and this one, too.

We know that the experience of womanhood, commonalities so universal that any woman nods her head at their mention, are not self-evident to the majority of people tasked with making political decisions that affect us. We have spoken to men from whom a concept like a woman's body being treated as community property elicits nothing but a blank stare, a complete disconnect from one of our most basic experiences as women in this world. Many of us live with and love men who regard with some amusement the stereotypical mysteries of womanhood—the plethora of bottles, jars, and contraptions that make a bathroom countertop look like a chemist's set, the fascination with shoes, going to the restroom in pairs, the stuff of jokes and sitcoms. But there is a whole unknown cultural experience of womanhood that is a mystery to them, too, much of which they don't even realize exists, until we tell them. We know that manhood is so easily substituted for personhood that making the political personal is essential just to convey how very different our lives are, even though they can look so very similar.

We know that the personal is political is even more powerful when it is not just the personal story of this woman or this woman or this one, but all of our stories together. We know that a cacophony of voices that cannot be ignored is the basis of the collective action that slowly, determinedly, inevitably yields the collective solution.

1 comment:

Jodi Selander said...

I just wanted to say that this post speaks right to the heart of what I'm going through right now.
I'm trying to create change and spotlight a somewhat unusual issue, although one that is important for women. It's been a long couple weeks and I can't write eloquently at this point, but please visit for details if you are interested. I would love to hear your opinion. Blessings, jodi