Friday: Personal Choice & Feminism

I’ve been officially exercising again, a big change since I broke my toe four weeks ago. It’s been a painful four weeks and I’m not comfortable with the level of inactivity I experienced. As I grow older, I’m beginning to truly realize how valuable it is to exercise and actually take care of myself. The teenage lifestyle of scarfing down Skittles and Swedish Fish without a care in the world is over. Although, I did always recognize that it was unsustainable.

This morning, I woke up to find bird guts and feathers spread all over my office, which kicked me into high gear for enjoying my Friday. So we meet now: workout complete, meditation complete, massive cleaning project complete. The best part is it’s just after 6 a.m. How do people not like waking up early?!

I’ve been mulling over one of my biggest issues with “Hashtag Activism” the past week or so and coming to the conclusion that I really need to be done with the “mainstream” internet feminist topics. This isn’t about people like Tarana Burke and the #MeToo movement, which has a clear impact on not just spreading awareness on a major feminist issue, but has led to justice for victims of sexual assault. However, the few people who focus on issues like this can sometimes be crowded out by people online with generally good intentions who may not have clarity and nuance about feminist issues, so they apply broad brush analysis and understanding to what’s important in their world: whether not liking Sansa from Game of Thrones is misogynist, how many men they can and should have sex with, and other individual problems.

This quote from MindTheGap, a feminist blog from Cardiff, UK, explains Audre Lorde’s intentions when she said the personal was political:

First, it’s important to note that the phrase ‘the personal is political’ manifestly does not mean that everything a woman does is political or that all her personal choices are political choices. In feminist terms, the ‘personal is political’ refers to the theory that personal problems are political problems, which basically means that many of the personal problems women experience in their lives are not their fault, but are the result of systematic oppression.[SOURCE]

Taken out of context, and spread as a slogan decontextualized from the original work, “the personal is political” has come to mean whatever anyone projects onto it. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. I think the issue comes when people with explicitly anti-feminist agendas adopt phrases like this and propagandize anti-feminist beliefs using this phrase. A good example of this is “feminist advertising” of any kind in industries who rely on women’s low self-esteem to push products, yet may sell the idea that purchasing their particular product is more feminist than others. “Eyeliner sharp enough to kill a man”, and all that jazz.

Consumer choices have become “political” to some people, but they haven’t examined how a patriarchal society has impacted the more invisible parts of woman’s daily lives like division of labor in the household. Focusing on individual choices and our personal lives as our primary and individual concerns also removes the community aspect of feminism, where women with greater privilege can ally with less privileged women. If we think our work here is done when we purchase the correct razor, or watch the correct most feminist TV show, we don’t think about other people.

Lately, I’ve been disillusioned with a lot of the feminist conversations online which mostly involve lobbing hatred towards other women for likes and retweets and false communities that do nothing for our human need for interpersonal interaction, and leave room for despotic personalities to control political conversations in groups that they potentially know nothing about. (Not all black people, communities, islands, nations, cities, towns, and families are monolithic, so presumably, one person cannot speak for all of them.)

I’ve been discouraging myself to think of feminism as a form of individual expression. This rampant Western individualism is nearly invisible to people living within and practicing it. As such, I like drawing attention to this individualism within myself and considering whether there is a more ethical approach to social problems. It can’t hurt to consider ways we might be focused on our communities rather than ourselves.