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"Each of us must come to care about everyone else's children. We must recognize that the well being of our own children is intimately linked to the well being of all other people's children. After all, when one of our children needs life-saving surgery, someone else's child will perform it. When one of our children is harmed by violence, someone else's child will commit it. The good life for our own children can be secured only if it is also secured for all other people's children. But to work for the well being of all children is not just a practical matter-- it is also right!" - Lilian G. Katz, Phd.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Personal is the Political

The Personal is the Political

This is the paper I just turned in for Women’s Studies.  I got a 96 on it!

Is “The personal is the political” just a cliché?  It is a phrase still in use today, often as the start of a diatribe against feminist politics.  What is the significance of this phrase and what did it mean to the feminist of the 60’s as compared to what it means to the feminist of today?  Society has changed significantly since the second wave of feminism of the 1960’s and our perception of the phrase has changed to match this societal shift.
What is feminism?  According to Wikipedia, “Feminism is a diverse collection of social theories, political movements and moral philosophies, largely motivated by or concerning the experiences of women, especially in terms of their social, political, and economic situation” (Feminism, 2005).  Modern feminism has a focus on gender inequality and women’s rights, interests and issues.  Feminism as a social movement has a long history starting in The Enlightenment and developing as an organized movement in the 19th century (Feminism, 2005).  What is known as the “Second Wave” of Feminism developed out of the 1960’s social movements, such as the Civil Rights movement, student movement and anti-war movement. (Mandle).
It was during this second wave of the 60’s that the phrase “The Personal is the Political” got its start.  According to Mandle, “It captured the insight that many of what were thought to be personal problems possessed social and political causes, were widely shared among women, and could only be resolved by social and political change.”  As O’Sullivan put it, “…politics did not stop at the kitchen sink or bedroom door.”  The phrase evolved as a response to the criticisms of women’s claims for justice and equality.  Women activists were accused of reducing the effectiveness of the fight to correct the issues of racism and imperialism by worrying about personal issues (Mandle). Their response became the cry “The Personal is the Political.”
The feminist movement began to focus on increasing women’s choices.  The issues addressed included “reproductive choice, educational and occupational options, legal rights, as well as sexual orientation and personal relationships” (Mandle).  The intent was to give equal opportunities to men and women and to end the sexism which was present in societal institutions and attitudes.  The movement of the 60’s made many gains towards this end.
While there were many gains and women enjoy much more opportunity now than they did in the 60’s, discrimination against women still exists.  In the 1980’s there was a “backlash” against the women’s movement, as it was seen as too radical and progressive.  Women started experiencing what is called the “second shift” where they work full time jobs and assume all of the childcare and home responsibilities as well (Mandle).  Worldwide, women work more than men, when both paid and unpaid duties are taken into consideration.  Women own only 1 percent of the world’s wealth and earn 10% of the world’s income (Feminism, 2005).  Has feminism really made any progress?  Modern scholars are asking that question currently.
Feminism came from the challenges faced in women’s personal experience.  It ran across the difficulty that every woman’s experience is different.  What is deeply personal and political to one person may not be to another.  According to O’Sullivan, “The problem was that a movement for change got lost in these debates.  The political positions we had started to hone as socialist feminists, radical feminists, revolutionary feminists, lesbian feminists, liberal feminists and black feminists in the mid-’70’s became snarled up in moral assertions of correctness.”
According to Cullen, to younger generations- the new feminist- “The Personal is the Political” means “.. I self-define as a feminist; feminism is a political stance; therefore, any and all of my actions have political import and significance.”  It is a statement of individual action, not collective.  Cullen quotes Baumgardner and Richards, “In reality, feminism wants you to be whoever you are – but with a political consciousness.  And vice versa: you want to be a feminist because you want to be exactly who you are.”
As we reach the middle of this decade, the list of changes since the 60’s and 70’s continues to increase.  Young feminists, young women, live in a world of constant change and individuality is a quality that is valued.  The change in the connotation of “the Personal is the Political” reflects that.  This change also reflects on the strengths and weaknesses of the second wave of feminism.  Women have a freedom to create change.  Our personal lives become the basis of our political selves.  That is now the meaning of “The Personal is the Political.”
Cullen, Dallas. The Personal is the Political: Third Wave Feminism and the Study of Gendered Organizations.  Retrieved September 15, 2005 from
Feminism (September 6, 2005).  Wikipedia. Retrieved September 15, 2005 from
History of Feminism (June 22, 2005) Wikipedia. Retrieved September 15, 2005 from
History of Women in the United States (September 12, 2005).  Wikipedia. Retrieved September 15, 2005 from
Mandle, Joan D.  How Political is the Personal?: Identity Politics, Feminism and Social Change.  Retrieved September 15, 2005, from
O’Sullivan, Sue.  Passion, Bitterness and Feminism.  Retrieved September 15, 2005 from

[Listening to: I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That) - Meat Loaf - Bat out of Hell II: Back Into Hell (12:00)]
[Reading: Peace Is the Way : Bringing War and Violence to an End (Hardcover) – Deepak Chopra]