The politics of personal experience

When I write, or speak, or even think about something that has happened to me or something that I do or have done, it is always in a wider political context.

Sometimes I don’t understand all of the political implications until much later. But if I speak or write or think about it, I do understand that it is connected to something bigger and representative of more than just me.

We are each individuals, but we do not live in bubbles. The things that happen to us, the things we do, are all part of a larger collective paradigm. The more oppressions a woman has to deal with on a daily basis, the more likely she is to realize this from an early age.

(The moment of realization doesn’t happen to everyone, of course, but oppressed people seem more likely to make these connections — “I am poor/nonwhite/female/disabled/homosexual/etc, and people who are poor/nonwhite/female/disabled/homosexual/etc all seem to be treated in [x] ways more often than people who aren’t …” — earlier and on their own. Even if they don’t name them as such or make a connection to a political movement, even if they invest time and energy denying the facts, they do notice.)

So while it’s real and great and necessary to talk only about theory, whenever I bring personal experiences into it, that’s a way of giving examples to theory. Proving it in a small way, if you will. Because I know I am not alone. I am not special. I am not the only one these things happen or have happened or will ever happen to. There is a connection. There is an explanation.

If even one other woman can read or listen to what I write or say, and draw a connection to her own life, and have that moment of realization that she isn’t alone either, then that is why I am here. That is the bridge to theory, which is hopefully then a bridge to further change.

Personal change is also political. Women have written that actions like eschewing beauty practices or purposefully and deliberately foregoing PIV intercourse are “individualistic” solutions, but I really question whether those women know what “individualistic” actually means.

Naturally, we as feminists and radicals should also seek wider change, but smaller changes often make wider changes easier.
For a not-explicitly-feminist example, recycling and “going green” (in the actual sense of the term, not the marketed consumer sense) are personal choices — but they add up to something larger. It’s not the same as dismantling the industries that pollute, but we would still be much worse off as a whole if no one recycled and everyone used pesticides/chemicals.

Even if a woman’s changes positively impact only her own life in the short term (for example, if she stops loathing her natural body, if she reduces her risk of getting cancer from the chemicals in hair dyes and cosmetics and/or cleaning products, if she breaks the cycle of sinking valuable energy into trauma bonding/contraception/illness/potential impregnation/etc), if these changes are in line with larger, radically feminist change, that is still positive, and that is definitely still political. If nothing else, it indicates — if to no one but ourselves — that change IS possible.
And since we do not live in our own private vacuum-sealed bubbles, other people do notice, and it does often become a learning moment. If that positively impacts at least one other person — if another woman learns that she too can break the cycle — then we are accomplishing something.

It might sound like hippie bullshit, but we’re all connected in some way. And just because it sounds like hippie bullshit doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

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6 Responses to The politics of personal experience

  1. Mary Sunshine says:

    Building to a critical mass makes a difference, however slight. Witness the recent Komen / Planned Parenthood events.

    • joy says:

      Which was so long overdue for so many reasons … !

      The Komen issue indirectly inspired this, and the term ‘critical mass’ was definitely on my mind while I was writing.
      Maybe people think radically feminist choices are individualistic because they misinterpret the supporting arguments as all-or-nothing: “If you enjoy having PIV/are unwilling to quit makeup/etc., feminism is OVER because of you!”
      In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Feminism can never be over as long as women are still subjugated, and unquestioned hetero intercourse, femininity practices, etc., are all symptoms of that subjugation. As I understand it, the more women can get on board with treating these symptoms, freeing small or large parts of their minds and helping to free other women’s minds in the process, the closer we can come to finding enough strength in numbers to tackle even larger problem/s.

      If it helps anyone to think in militaristic terms, I guess I’m talking about building a radically feminist “army”.

  2. nuclearnight says:

    I’ve got no patience for those who call eschewing patriarchal practices ‘individualistic’. How can you ever expect women as a whole to stop doing these things if you can’t. The point is we don’t have to.

  3. Bev Jo says:

    For all to stop evil, each must start. We don’t even have to necessarily DO anything to make enormous changes. Saying “no” alone accomplishes so much.

    It’s important to go deeper with each idea. I see so many trying, but they end up being stuck after they first stage. They want to support the enviroment, but don’t object when “environmentalists” with power clear cut enormous numbers of trees “for the environment,” or destroy a beautful lake and all the plants and animals who lived from the lake because they are “restoring the environment.”

    Susan G. Komen is a business that makes money off women who have or who are afraid of cancer. They literally increase cancer in women by supporting mammograms. I’m sure many good women are involved (probably those volunteering for free, like the women I met at the creepiest breast clinic imaginable in Oakland.)

    It’s so important to go further, to question each idea, saying, group, etc. that seems radical or feminist. And notice where those who are really radical are silenced, censored, ridiculed. “Feminists” who bully and ridicule instead or disagreeing with honesty and integrity, and who use classism and racism to bully, are not feminists. I was horrified a few weeks ago when Lierre Keith and her beautiful book were just ridiculed in an attempt to destroy her and her work. The attackers made no sense, misquoting her. When some of us tried to question what they were doing, we also were bullied and taunted. I still do not know what that was about, but those who did it will continue, and so that is one way to learn who to trust and who to be wary of.

    But too many are so horrified at the cruelty that they give up. There ARE good, true, kind, caring, and radical Feminists and Separatists.

  4. Jennie says:

    We are all connected as women. “Each one teach one..” and before you know it the world changes!

  5. Jennie says:

    As usual, thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. You are right-if one woman reads your blog and identifies with it and learns something from it-then you have made a difference. I feel better with every entry I read that you have written. I am not alone. I relate to SO many things that you have said and felt that it’s amazing. I don’t feel as crazy as I once did thinking “Gee, am I the only one who x has happened to?” We are all oppressed in some way as women. Our stories must be told and our voices must be heard! Thank goodness for the internet and blogs! (especially yours!) Thank you!

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