The Personal Is Not Political

“The personal is political” is a slogan of the student movement and the second-wave feminist movement from the late 1960s. It’s a way to remind yourself that your personal problems are connected to larger social and political structures. That is, if you change those social and political structures, your personal problems will go away.

It’s easy to see how such way of thinking can lead to wanting the state to solve all your problems. Are you a bored housewife? Make the state fix it. Somebody made you feel uncomfortable? Make the state fix it. However, I don’t think the slogan is purely bad. It’s reasonable to differentiate between purely personal problems, and those tied up with politics.

Say you can’t get laid, but it’s illegal for you to buy sex. This is both a very personal problem, and directly caused by politics.

Say you need an abortion, but it’s illegal where you live. This is also both a very personal problem, and directly caused by politics.

Yes, it’s reasonable to differentiate purely personal problems from the political and personal ones. And in my opinion, separating yourself from politics is also more mentally healthy. There is you, and there is the outside world. It’s comforting to know you have this personal space that’s reserved only for you, and no one else can control it. I believe taking “The Personal is Political” to extremes means that you always question whether your personal actions fit your ideology. Does using makeup aid the patriarchy, or hurt it? Does being fat and naked attack the patriarchy’s beauty standards, or does it just give the male gaze what it wants? Talk about performance pressure, and never truly owning yourself. It’s a way to overrate how much the tiniest of your actions affect the outside world, while you pointlessly dissipate your own energy. It’s mentally spinning your wheels. At least, this is the impression I got from many online feminists. One reason I’m writing this post is this quote by an autistic butch lesbian feminist with a BA in Women’s and gender Studies: ( )

“Other times, honestly, I just don’t like to think about my gender as a conscious political undertaking at all. I know that “the personal is political.” I know that no action or belief can possibly be apolitical because every social institution on every scale is steeped in ideology. But sometimes I just get so tired. Sometimes I want to just be.”

Indeed, why not just be?

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10 Responses to The Personal Is Not Political

  1. Well said. One of the problems we have in the world today is that the personal has become political. That kind of thinking does a lot of harm in the world and it creates a great deal of knee jerk emotionalism. So today when one speaks of political issues, they are likely to get people shrieking at them hysterically, as if one has now caused some deep personal offense.

    What you’ve said here is very true, “There is you, and there is the outside world.” People who understand that are a lot happier because they realize that the entire world does not exist just to offend you personally 😉

  2. Liz says:

    “Say you can’t get laid, but it’s illegal for you to buy sex. This is both a very personal problem, and directly caused by politics.

    Say you need an abortion, but it’s illegal where you live. This is also both a very personal problem, and directly caused by politics.”

    While true…wouldn’t the more appropriate and reasonable response be the demand to “get politics out of my bedroom!” ?
    “The personal is political” paradigm BRINGS politics into the bedroom. Just my opinion, of course.

    • True. But once politics have been brought into your bedroom, your personal problem is also political, even if you didn’t want it to be that way. But yes, someone else had to make personal into political, for you to have these problems.

  3. Matthew Chiglinsky says:

    There is no way to just be. Every decision you make means something. Makeup is a decision to try to impress the people around you. Being naked, on the other hand, is a decision in the opposite direction, to ignore the feelings of the people around you. (Being fat on purpose is just foolish. It will make you sick.)

    I think maybe what you’re getting it is whether feminist women are expressing their own true beliefs or simply conforming to the artificial narrative invented by feminism in order to demonstrate what great feminists they are. Are they being real or pretentious?

    It reminds me of the way Fox News covers the news, always with a sort of paranoid bias against liberals. Feminists often seem to have a similar paranoid bias against men. Like if I tell a woman to put clothes on, I’m trying to protect her from the reality of rape, but she gets resentful and says I’m supporting “rape culture”, as if it’s so easy to reprogram the way men think on an unconscious level. Clothing is the simpler solution to the problem. I’m being practical.

    • Sure, social contexts affect us all. But so what? The last thing we need is an idealism where we have to act as if no one is around, and live up to that new standard. Feminists often complain beauty standards are impossible and push girls to be perfect. But apparently feminism can in itself induce unhealthy perfectionism. Perfectionism is an sickness. “Just being” is the opposite of that.

      For example, I’m an introvert and lengthy exposure to people can tire me and annoy me. “Just being” for me would be to aknowledge that and to structure my life accordingly, not to deny that social situations have an effect on me. It’s being practical. I listen to my nature.

  4. Matthew Chiglinsky says:

    I would like to see a conservative/libertarian version of feminism, where women solve their own problems instead of expecting the government to do it for them:

    – Instead of stricter rape laws, learn self-defense.
    – Instead of abortion and free contraception, stop having sex.
    – Instead of equal pay laws form labor unions that demand equal pay.
    – Instead of maternity leave from your employer, marry a man who makes more money or get a different job that won’t be so bothered when you take time off.

    • Nice idea, although I would replace your second point with “Pay for abortion or contraceptives themselves”. That is, if the tone is more libertarian. If you can’t afford it, save up for an abortion, and make the guy pay for the contraceptives (or save up for them, ask for a donation… whatever).

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