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Pre-2008 Posts

Carol Hanisch, “The Personal is Political”, Attacking Women, Carnival of Feminists 17, and What the Heck

Second Wave Poster, Chicago Women's Liberation Union

I've been doing some reading about the origins of the idea of the personal being political, provoked by Bitch|Lab who has seemed to be interested recently in making the point that radical femininsts, or feminists, just in general, misunderstand what Second Wave feminist Carol Hanisch meant when she wrote what would become the classic essay, "The Personal is Political." 

I've been patiently waiting for the 17th Carnival of Feminists which Bitch|Lab has hosted so I could find out, at last, specifically how and why she thinks feminists are misunderstanding or misreading Hanisch.  Alas, I was sorely disappointed today, because no such specifics are provided.  All we learn is that Bitch|Lab wants to have Hanisch's children and grandchildren and that feminists get Hanisch all wrong– evidently, feminists other than Bitch|Lab.  Except that we never hear how they or we are getting it wrong, or why Bitch|Lab gets it right, we only find  Bitch|Lab suggesting thither and yon that radical feminists are just as wrong as they can possibly be.  In comments like this one, for example, she basically reams out Robin Morgan and Catharine A. MacKinnon (and Twisty), calls the excellent book Radically Speaking a joke, then proceeds to castigate radical feminists for "attacking women."  (!)  In another comment a little further down she footnotes to Carol Hanisch, having lifted from Hanisch's intro an example Hanisch used of the way conflicts played out amongst Second Wavers as to tactics and strategies, the inference being, again, that Bitch|Lab and Hanisch are somehow on the same page about these things and all of these other Second Wavers and radical feminists are just so darn wrong.  While I am very sure feminists are getting "the personal is political" wrong all of the time, because I see it all the time, there is no way to evaluate the issues because Bitch|Lab never actually offers her own view or her own critiques. 

Anyway, my search was interesting and fruitful because I came across a really interesting and recent feminist forum on the subject of the political being personal entitled, Hanisch Forum on the Personal is Political held from May 26 through June 11, 2006, and described as follows:

From May 26 through June 11, 2006, "The 'Second Wave' and Beyond" hosted a special forum among scholars and activists led by Carol Hanish and inspired by her article "The Personal is Political" and the new introduction published below.  Please read the discussion in the archives (with comments by Carol Hanisch, Judith Ezekiel, Chude [Pam] Allen, Ariel Dougherty, [Margaret] Rivka Polatnick, Kimberly Springer, Stephanie Gilmore, and Cathy Cade). 

Here is an example of one of Hanisch's comments in the forum, dated June 1, 2006 (note:  "WL" and "WLM" are acronyms for "Women's Liberation" and "Women's Liberation Movement"):

I have to admit to being a bit flabbergasted by the direction of this discussion of "The Personal Is Political" as racist and/or excluding Black women. I have been aware of many attacks on the what is called "Second Wave Feminism" by the ensuing "Waves" (particularly in Women's Studies) as white and middle class, but I wasn't aware that it was now going after some of the cornerstone ideas of our movement.

I did run into it personally a few years ago when a Women's Studies student writing her thesis on Redstockings asked to interview me. In preparation I asked to see an outline of what she was planning to write about. Her thesis was that Redstockings was a single issue group which, by choosing to focus mainly on abortion, was an example of the racism of the early WLM. It wasn't stated that bluntly, but that was the essence. When I tried to explain to her that she was wrong on both counts, she got very defensive and huffy. When she told me that since I had been a mere biased participant and she was the impartial scholar more qualified to interpret history, I decided not to do the interview. The facts didn't matter to her; she would put her own spin on it.

I think part of the problem, not only with WL but also with Black liberation and the Left, is that they have become too centered in the academy. It's where a good many former activists fled when the '60s movements began to fall apart. (I too considered it, but I never got there.) I've only dipped my toe into the academic waters, but what I see is a great disconnect to the discussions going on there and the on-the-ground ongoing organizing and theory work, limited as it may be in today's anti-radical, anti-activist climate. The old saying about "angels dancing on the head of a pin" comes to mind, but I think it's much more insidious than that.

I can't help but wonder from whom this attack on the WLM from within the academy and other intellectuals comes from and why. I see it as part of the political attack to discredit the radicalism that rendered such change in the 1960s and early 1970s. Some seem to be building their careers on this stuff. In feminism, advocates claim that they "liberated" (or at least advanced) the early WLM from its terrible racism and classism. In some cases this seems to be a substitute for actual involvement themselves in any movement organizing activity. Organizing words on a page is one thing; organizing real people quite another. If they were in the fray instead of critiquing it from above it all, perhaps they would see that such false theory actually feeds the separatism that already exists by spreading untruths and rumors about women's liberation. It also makes it more difficult for us to do real self-criticism on the issue. There is admittedly a lot to work out, but it won't happen in an atmosphere of "Gotcha." Not all mistakes of a racial nature are racism. Some are just mistakes of ignorance, like the white women at the Sandy Springs Convention who thought Black women have no history of feminism and therefore wanted to exclude them because they were afraid their only interest would be in anti-racism. Somebody did a good job of burying Black feminist history, too.

The attack on us has been so successful in large part because the truth is actually the opposite of what they claim. That is, we WERE and STILL ARE so concerned about race and class that we easily fall into a paralyzing state of angst over it that PRECLUDES doing the real work of organizing anything that will actually be effective in pulling down the INSTITUTIONAL lynchpins of male supremacy OR racism and capitalism. The new "multiracial feminists" seem to rarely engage with the various institutional basis for oppression.

When I read the charge that the WLM was only "secondarily concerned with racism" I want to say, "Of course, it's the WOMEN'S liberation movement, stupid." I can't imagine anyone complaining that the Black movement is only "secondarily concerned with feminism." The old bugaboo that women must always put their own needs last is still alive and well in 2006. Oppressed groups need organizations to represent their interests. The struggle to end racism needs its own organizations to do that just as the struggle to end male supremacy does or the struggle to end capitalism does. At the same time, these organizations have a responsibility to make equality within the organization as complete as possible.

I realize what I've just written does not directly answer some of your specific questions but I must stop for now. Below is an excerpt from a speech I gave at a Women's Studies Conference in 1999 which might be helpful, and we can pick up again any questions you still have (as well as new ones, no doubt).

"Today many feminist historians are accusing the early women's liberation movement of having been racist. …

"Although we were racist in the sense that all Americans are racist because one can't fully escape it in a society where all white individuals benefit from racism and its institutions, which have so much more power than the individual. We are all compliant to some degree, whether we want to be or not, just as all men are compliant in male supremacy whether they want to be or not. But there are degrees of racism just as there are degrees of sexism.

"When I read articles by the Jenny-come-latelys to feminism criticizing us for being racist from their own theoretical ivory towers, I want to ask them what THEY have DONE to combat racism. Have they risked their lives and careers, as so many of us did, and many instances still do, to fight racism? We did something about racism, we didn't just talk about it, though we did plenty of talking, too. Somehow I never hear any convincing examples from our critics of just HOW we were racist, except that the WLM was mostly WHITE.

"In the late 1960s almost every woman I knew in the WLM was concerned that our groups were mostly white and we would have greatly preferred to have been in well-integrated groups because we knew the theory we were developing would be more complete. The only exceptions I can think of were women who were afraid that Black women weren't feminist, that they would take over our groups and have us all fighting racism instead of male supremacy. This comes from an ignorance of history and not just on the part of white women. It has only been in the last 10 to 15 years or so that the great historical contributions of black women to feminism have begun to be uncovered or rediscovered and disseminated, and that dissemination remains largely in academia, which is not where most women live.

"Our inability to form integrated groups was based in the reality of the times that there was a great surge of Black Nationalism taking place that prevented it. Black women were under enormous pressure, in many cases, to stay away from those "white women's groups." They also were understandably quite reluctant to criticize black men in the presence of white women who often did not fully understand their dilemma. We had to accept this as a fact of life, though at the same time we tried to make common cause whenever we could. For example, When I was organizing for women's liberation in Gainesville, Florida in the early 1970s, a judge who had made some very horrendous racist and sexist rulings was up for appointment to a U.S. District Court. Women's liberation joined with the local black liberation organizations and SDS and held marches and rallies and protested his appointment from all angles. I think we helped stop his appointment and the joint action was able to forge bonds between the groups at a period of intense Black nationalism.

"I think it worked because each group was clear and upfront about why it opposed this judge and none tried to jump in front of everybody else and claim the spotlight. We live in a very opportunistic society and there is opportunism and competition in movements as well. Some people are more serious than others; some want liberation while some want to publicize themselves or enjoy the celebrity position of a rebel. That certainly plagued the movement in the 1960s and it still exists today. We have to think through what is best for reaching our big goal. Learn when to step back and know when to step up to the plate. Know when "in your face" works and when another method might be more effective. Revolution is an art as well as a science. When we are not artful and scientific in our approach, we make enemies of potential allies.

"Anyway, because of such attempts to build unity, the leader of a regional Black Power organization invited a group from Gainesville Women's Liberation to meet with its Black women's caucus. It was a very interesting meeting in which we discovered that not only were we dealing with many of the same male supremacist problems, but that our demands for solving them were more similar than different. The meeting confirmed our belief that black women were perfectly capable of taking care of business, whether inside of, or separate from, our so-called white groups.

"This accusation that women who get together in a feminist group that is all white, whether the members want it that way or not, are automatically racist is very simplistic and destructive. A few years ago I tried to organize a local women's liberation group. We had about 25 women at the first meeting, none of whom were African-American, though a few had been invited. A white woman got wind of this and came to our meeting demanding that we discuss why there were no black women in the room. After we discussed it extensively and could come up with no way to change the situation — she had no solutions either — she left, self-righteously saying she would not be part of any group that did not have people of color in it. Her disruption left many of the women feeling guilty and unable to deal with the situation and they didn't return. Even for those who remained, the spirit of the group had been broken and it soon fell apart. This needless confrontation contributed to its demise.

"The fact is that we still live in a racist and highly segregated society and women's liberation cannot solve that problem single-handedly. The same women who accuse us of being racist will heatedly criticize Stokely Carmichael for his semi-public off the cuff comment that "the position of the women in SNCC is prone" while not bothering to mention a white Abby Hoffman's more public and equally sexist remark that "The only alliance I would make with the women's liberation movement is in bed." I should tell you that not only did Stokely Carmichael do dishes in the homes that hosted civil rights workers in Mississippi, his Black power theory had a profound and positive influence on our own theory. Many men, black and white, have supported women's struggle through the centuries."
Posted by Carol Hanisch at Jun 01, 2006 13:49 | Permalink

Maybe I'm missing something but it seems to me that Bitch|Lab is engaged in, and has been engaged in for some time, precisely the same attempts to discredit Second Wave radical feminism which Hanisch is describing right here.  So what's up with dedicating the 17th Carnival of Feminists to Hanisch?  Why, at the very least, isn't there some attempt to actually engage Hanisch's ideas, theories, and incredible body of work?  "I want to have your babies" does not qualify, in my mind.

Those who want to know what Hanisch's views are should, in addition to reading her essay and introduction linked above, visit this link, and the links on this page.  I am going to be writing a blog post on this topic and I hope others will, too.  If we are going to talk about what Hanisch meant in her essay, let's talk about it!

On a related but little different note, many feminists believe that the notion of the political being personal in a feminist context originated with a black woman, Claudia Jones, who, in her 1949 essay "An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!" (originally published in Political Affairs  and republished in Words of Fire: An Anthology of African American Feminist Thought, New York: The New Press, 1995) wrote:

"This means ridding ourselves of the position which sometimes finds certain progressives and Communists fighting on the economic and political issues facing Negro people, but 'drawing the line' when it comes to social intercourse or inter-marriage.  To place the question as a 'personal' and not a political matter, when such questions arise, is to be guilty of the worst kind of Social-Democratic, bourgeois-liberal thinking as regards the Negro question in American life; it is to be guilty of imbibing the poisonous white-chauvinist 'theories' of a Bilbo or Rankin." (1995, p:117)

According to Editors Marable and Mullings in the book Let Nobody Turn Us Around: Voices of Resistance:

"(Jones') remarkable historical analysis, clearly articulating the triple oppression of race, class and gender, anticipated the race, class and gender theorists of the 1980s and '90s. She analyzed the important role of negative representations of African American women, presented an early formulation of 'the personal is political' and called for the organization of domestic workers."

In her new introduction, Hanisch is careful to say that she didn't title her essay "The Personal is Political," that she thought the title might have originated with Anne Koedt (author of the classic book of essays on radical feminism entitled Radical Feminism).  The concept of the political being personal was born in the grass roots, grew up in the Marxist, leftist, womanist and feminist counterculture movements, and was refined and deepened in the consciousness-raising groups of the 60s and 70s.  It belongs to all of us as feminists, as part of our history and as central to our movement.  It can't be shut up to any woman's definition of the term, even the women who might have originated it, or to those who popularized it as a notion or theory, although it is critical that we do understand the way the term evolved and its defining moments, and so what Carol Hanisch writes is so important, to all of us.  Which is why I'd have liked to see some actual discussion of the notion itself, and which is why I, myself, will blog about it.

Heart

Discussion

22 thoughts on “Carol Hanisch, “The Personal is Political”, Attacking Women, Carnival of Feminists 17, and What the Heck

  1. Thanks for such in-depth information. You highlight the complexity that many want to turn into easy stereotypes.

    Posted by Marcella Chester | June 22, 2006, 10:29 pm
  2. Hi Heart,

    I’m not an instructor, so the entries are other people’s interpretations. But, as I point out, Carol Hanisch, herself, is very unhappy — and says so — with the assumption that “the personal is political” means that you can ticket or fine women for their personal behavior and tell them they are not really feminist, falsely conscious, male-identified, etc.

    Here are _my_ relevant posts on the topic:

    http://blog.pulpculture.org/2006/02/26/what-do-you-call-it/
    http://blog.pulpculture.org/2006/03/22/feminism-its-a-process-not-a-product/
    http://blog.pulpculture.org/2006/05/01/hanisch-new-intro-personal-political/
    http://blog.pulpculture.org/2006/05/14/mills-power-elite/

    Enjoy!

    Posted by Bitch | Lab | June 22, 2006, 11:34 pm
  3. Heart,

    You’re welcome to read my discussions of Radically Speaking on the topic, “No More Ms Nice Bitch” since I have been engaging it for the past week or so. I picked it up to understand more about how radfems addressed the topic of racism, and how they responded to the criticisms from the 80s and early 90s.

    I will continue the series, possibly next week. My father fell ill this week and I’ve been quite ill myself, so I haven’t been able to keep up with it.

    I think, if you’re fair, I’ve done nothing but read and read the theories you espouse, to try to understand your arguments and actually engage you.

    E.g., I just told a friend that her arguments are freedom of choice and so forth are meaningless. Because you and other radfems have a completely different notion of freedom. It’s not that you don’t like freeom. YOu have a different understanding. It’s not that you don’t like choice, you have a different conception.

    Now, if I’m willing, I think you need to be fair and read everything I wrote and point out where I _was_ fair to the radfem position. At least I’m basing it on published work, instead of just taking guesses at it.

    You and I will _never_ agree and I don’t want you to agree with me. But I do expect that I’m allowed the same dignity.

    Posted by Bitch | Lab | June 22, 2006, 11:40 pm
  4. Obviously I can’t speak for Bitch|Lab, but I think the phrase the personal is political has been misused. Not by radical feminists, but by the general public. I think it has been twisted round so it implies that there are individual solutions to political problems, rather than collective solutions to problems that have been portrayed as individual, but are actually political in nature. I think the twisting of this idea is trying to discredit collective action, because that is where our strength comes from.

    I agree with everything Carol Hanisch says about the academisation of feminism, even though I personally have done some academic study of the women’s liberation movement. But I tried to find out why things happened the way they did, rather than judge the participants, which is an important difference.

    I’m not convinced that some of the examples she gives aren’t racism though – in particular the idea that black women wouldn’t be feminists strikes me as a racist one. But it wasn’t held by all feminists, and the history of the relationship between the southern freedom movement and the women’s liberation movement should be clear to all involved.

    Posted by Maia | June 23, 2006, 12:04 am
  5. Hey, I learn so much from you heart. You give so much to think about and figure out. I have a university degree, but my real education has been from women who do not have one. Theory is one thing, but the lived praxis is another. I often think of what Virginia Wolf said about the daughers of educated men. What will we do with what we know? Will we try to advance all women or just think we made it and fuck the rest? I have seen the “fuck the rest’ and it not what I want. I have seen such strength in First Nations women and yet they see me as the enemy. This is my experience in Canada in the little city I live that has just been declared by a commission that it was founded on the theft of land from the First Nations peoples here. I thought about this. What does that mean? What if I have to give up what I have because of this?
    Wow. Then it gets bigger. I have been a party to this theft and I did not know it. Now I understand why city council has been so nice to the chiefs around here. I did not get it at first, because this city is very “redneck”. Why all of a sudden the shift? Very interesting. The personal is political.

    Posted by rhondda | June 23, 2006, 12:11 am
  6. I dunno, I suppose I’m not being fair because I haven’t read the Bitch | Lab
    texts or even really studied this one…I came across it almost by chance…but this seems like a pretty sane post to me, and I like the quotations. The reason I am commenting at this moment is to say YES to Hanisch’s comment on the problem of academic women’s studies. I have often felt that this academic ‘field’, in the form in which it has been constructed, has little to do with either feminism or with scholarship. I realize it is sort of sacreligious to say that, but Hanisch dared to, so I’ll pipe up too.

    Posted by Professor Zero | June 23, 2006, 12:48 am
  7. I will be back to respond more fully, but for now I just wanted to say that I'll check out your posts Bitch|Lab. My issue has been that you have fairly consistently criticized radical feminists in particular, and me specifically, well, not me, personally, but my views, but it's been very clear to me that you didn't understand what my views, or the views of various radical feminists, were. It seems like maybe you are changing your mind some now in that you're thinking my conception, or the radical feminist conceptions of "choice" and "freedom" are simply different from yours. I don't know that that is really true, but I'm glad you're thinking about it a little differently than you have in the past, because it's been unnerving for me to be randomly reading around the blogosphere and to come across posts you've written which were so unfavorable to radical feminists and to me and to feel frustrated not knowing where all of this was coming from, what you were basing your criticism on.

    Maia, I know what you mean — I was thinking that some of what Hanisch describes is racist, too. I think I would put a bit finer point on some of the events she described as far as whether they were racist or not.  Racism isn't just active dislike or prejudice or bigotry, it's also that narrowness that has us, as white people,  putting ourselves in the center of everything and not even considering that we are not the plumbline or the standard by which everybody else's lives, thoughts, contributions, realities are understood or measured. :/  Then again, she gets at some things that are so important to consider and that have been working around in the back of my mind for a long time, but I haven't quite gotten to writing about them yet, in part because I have to really try to remember, go back, back, back, and I don't really trust my memory and there isn't much around to refresh it!

    But her point about the influence of black nationalism on the Second Wave is such an important one. She is so right– there were really strong taboos in place in almost all black activist organizations at the time against having white people in the organizations and against having black women especially participate in white women's organizations. In those days, early 70s, late 60s, there were members of the Black Muslims very visible everywhere, and I mean everywhere in progressive circles. They were nationalists and separatists and while they were cordial to white progressives, they kept their distance. I always remember the publication the Black Muslims handed out on street corners and at events. I was hurt by it as a young woman because my husband was black, my kids were biracial and so I knew I was, not only in the eyes of white racists but in the eyes of Black nationalists and separatists, a transgresser, not in a good way, a violater. Anyway, there was a huge, two page image on this paper; on one side it said in huge bold letters, "The Shame," and there were silhouettes of a white woman holding the hand of a little white girl. I wasn't positive, but I thought the shame that was being alluded to was the immodesty and lack of dignity of the woman and the girl. On the other page it said, similarly in huge, bold letters, "The Disgrace," and on that page were silhouetted a black woman holding the hand of a black girl and they were dressed just like the white woman and girl.  The message was that it was disgraceful for black women to be doing what white women were doing and to be teaching that kind of thing to their daughters. In those days, Black Muslim women wore veils and distinctive garments and were very much separate, as were the men, who wore suits and ties. This was not a localized thing at all, Elijah Muhammed and the Black Muslims were very much a force to be reckoned with. Anyway, white people were not welcome at all at the meetings of Black Muslims and this was true of many other organizations. My first ex had been a nationalist and separatist and was a Black Panther, but once he hooked up with me he got the boot. Neither of us was welcome at meetings of the Black Student Union at the University of Washington, and in general, fraternization or collaborating with the enemy, meaning white people, was viewed as really wrong and wrong headed.  If you took up romantically with a white person, you were out.  And this really did figure in with the feminism of the Second Wave, just as Hanisch describes there. Black women, black feminists, often, though not always — there are important exceptions — did not want to be part of white women's feminism. White women often *did*, just as Hanisch describes, though, do whatever they could to support the Civil Rights movement and black feminism even though they were (understandably) mistrusted and held at arms length by many black feminists. The point Hanisch makes is really good, too, that it's only in the last 10-15 years that we are learning about so many of the writings and contributions of black feminists and womanists, after many years of scholarly work and research to bring this work back to the forefront. In those days there was no internet– all we had were the mainstream media, television, radio (which were hostile to us as progressives and feminists) and our underground publications, which were catch-as-catch-can, and, of course, word of mouth, and our own journals and diaries.

    So it's very frustrating, this widespread Second Wave bashing that goes on, especially in academia but elsewhere, too, on the basis of our racism. Like Hanisch said, we were and are racist if we are white, as all white people benefeit from racism and can't avoid being touched by it, but we actively resisted it and hated it. Robin Morgan's Sisterhood is Powerful, which I think was written in 1970 or somewhere around there, contained many contributions of black feminists and feminists of color as did similar anthologies, like Koedt's Radical Feminism. This is one example of the way the Second Wave and our ideas and views and writings get erased, but it's one of many. But it fits into this discussion in that we were supposed to talk about the personal being political and Carol Hanisch's views but never really did, there is just this idea floating around that Hanisch got it right, young feminists now get it right, but radical feminists and especially Second Wavers got it wrong and still get it wrong. Huh?Bitch|Lab, what you said there about that is a prime example of what I mean. I have gone out of my way and will find my latest remark (which I wrote in the last week or so) to say, over and over again, that the personal being political has *nothing* to do with feminists imposing specific sets of opinions and views on other feminists. When feminists do that, that is totally wrong and at odds with the historical understanding of the personal is political. I keep saying that but you keep not hearing me. What I think happens is that the mere expression of a point of view — just a Second Waver/radical feminists saying, "I have problems with blow jobs" — somehow is understood as an attempt to impose that view! Stating a view is not an attempt to make my personal or political, another woman's personal or political. It's just throwing my view into the mix. But repeatedly we get accused then of trying to force our views somehow.

    So true what you say there, Profacero/Professor Zero. One of my college daughters who is a Women's Studies student took a class this year in which the first couple of classes, taught by a feminist woman, emphasized the "violence" and man-hating of radical feminists and the Second Wave. (!) When my daughter challenged this repeatedly throughout the quarter she got nowhere. Her instructor insisted that the Second Wave/radical feminists were violent, aggressive, manhating, racist, transphobic, and especially, passe. Sooooo 60s.:/ The instructor's position also was that sex-based oppression is no longer an issue! Her focus was on gender-based oppression which she defined very differently from sex-based oppression. Well, if you don't think sex-based oppression is an issue anymore, you are definitely going to find fault with radical feminism! But my daughter, who is 19, was repeatedly just floored, not only by this instructor's statements but by her absolute unwillingness to entertain any other perspective.

    Rhondda, yeah– I have good friends, radical feminist women, in academia, and they rock the house, but always to the degree that their feminism is something they live and breathe, as opposed to something which is academic to them. In the 80s my second ex and I bought a house which, as it turned out, was on the Puyallup Indian Reservation. There was a clause in our title insurance pollicy that said if the tribe asserted treaty rights, we weren't going to be covered. I hated it that the house was on the reservation and that the land was probably purchased — if it even WAS purchased — for pennies. Not many years after we moved into that house, the Puyallups did assert treaty rights over the Puyallup River and some amount of the river bed and banks, and the city was forced to negotiate a deal with them which I thought was good but sure was not adequate.:/

    Well, this is all over the place– I just wanted to respond to some of the good thoughts here. I will be back.

    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | June 23, 2006, 12:33 pm
  8. One thought while I'm thinking about it– the personal is political is about what is done to me because I am a woman under male heterosupremacy; in other words, it's about my subordination, my subjugation. It's not about what I do. So one misuse of the notion of the personal being political is to assert that having whatever sex I want to have in my personal life is political in the sense that Hanisch means. It may *be* political, but it isn't an example of the "personal being political," because that is about what is done to us under male heterosupremacy because we are women.

    Heart

    Posted by Heart | June 23, 2006, 1:00 pm
  9. It seems like maybe you are changing your mind some now in that you’re thinking my conception, or the radical feminist conceptions of “choice” and “freedom” are simply different from yours.

    …Wow. You really do need to read those posts. This is not a new premise on her part.

    Posted by piny | June 23, 2006, 1:54 pm
  10. Back then (and still now) “the personal is political” was taken by me to mean that various problems which women had and which they thought and were told were just private and personal to them were, in fact, shared by many, many women and were part of the overall structure of women’s oppression. In those days, very little was available to the general public by way of information about women’s lives and there was even less support, so most women just suffered privately and in isolation from others. There was never any prescriptive component vis a vis “correct” or “incorrect” behavior that I got from “the personal is political”.

    Posted by Branjor | June 23, 2006, 2:06 pm
  11. piny, I have approved your post; however, given that I have approved your post, I expect that any post I make to your blog in the future will be approved (I have never, that I know of, ever, posted an inappropriate post or comment anywhere on the internet, including to your blog, and I don't intend to start), that if I link or trackback to your blog, my links or trackbacks will appear, be approved, and that if and when you create blog posts (especially to attack me, totally mischaracterizing my views and attributing to me views I have never held, as you have in the past, more than once), you will *link* to whatever you are referring to that I have written and to my blog just in general and will approve my responses.

    Let me know whether this is acceptable to you. I think it's common blogosphere courtesy and I think that if I extend it to you, it has to work both ways. I won't approve any more of your posts until you let me know this will work for you.

    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | June 23, 2006, 4:58 pm
  12. Branjor, that's exactly what I think "the personal is political" means, I think that's what it's always meant, and I think that's what Carol Hanisch meant by it.

    I wrote something right along those lines in my Feminist Hierarchies post of a few days ago, to wit:

    Challenging what goes on in women's beds, especially heterosexual women's beds, is central to radical feminism, and that is because from time immemorial, girls and women have been harmed in our beds at the hands of men who were having sex with us. For millennia, we told no one about that harm. We didn't utter a word, because it wasn't proper, or because we were scared, or because we thought we were the only women on earth this was happening to, and we were ashamed, because we thought we deserved whatever was happening to us or because we were told we deserved it by the men violating us. It is finally talking openly about what had happened to us in our beds as girls and women at the hands of men, recognizing that we were all experiencing similar violations, which gave birth to the Second Wave. We realized what had happened to us in our personal lives, including sexually, was not just personal, it was also political. And the solutions to violations, we also realized — and were empowered by the realization — were to be found not only in the personal, but in political action and activism. We weren't alone. We had one another.

    It doesn't mean telling women that they should make sure their personal lives conform with feminist politics of some kind. That's an individual solution to a systemic, structural political problem and individual solutions don't solve class problems. For one thing. For another thing, it's this that is, as Hanisch says, turning "the political is personal on its head."

    Claudia Jones said the same thing when she said that progressives of her era couldn't draw a line and refuse to deal with issues of interracial marriage and similar issues, because black women were being oppressed in these areas and the oppression was not "personal", did not have to do with people's "personal lives" only, the oppression was *political* oppression. In other words, it's not going to work to bracket off the so-called "personal lives" of oppressed people as though political subordination and subjugation don't extend into those very personal lives.

    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | June 23, 2006, 5:18 pm
  13. Skipped whole comments *sorry* but just need to say bitch|lab isn’t qualified to comment in my book because there is little or no evidence of feminism there. Lots of patriarchy pleasing….but no real feminism.

    Just a thought…the personal is political for men too, right? Has bitch|lab read the stuff some men post on her blog?

    Keeps this feminist away for starters.

    Posted by witchy-woo | June 24, 2006, 4:34 am
  14. Well– I know what you’re saying, witchy-woo; at the same time, and with respect, I can’t disqualify any woman from commenting? I think there is no end to that, once we begin it, and I think we need each other way too much to do it. I think I need to listen to what Bitch|Lab has to say, however far apart we are from each other.

    In one of my first blog posts, Feminist Alliances, I talked about this.

    You know, I have taken a buttload of shit from ALL quarters, over the 12 years now that I’ve been online, because I am not a purist. I never will be. I get in trouble with my radical feminist sisters for continuing on in alliances with. for example, women who are into SM, who sell sex toys or who are what they would describe as “sex positive.” I get in trouble with my womanist friends because my radical feminist sisters are so often effing racist and won’t for one moment cop to their racism– just arrogant as all get out (pisses me off, as you can see). I get in trouble with just about all of my feminist friends because I open my arms to women fleeing fundamentalist religion, even if they are still religious women, and because I believe Christian women can be feminists. I get in trouble with my queer feminist friends because of my views on transgender and political lesbianism, and I get in trouble with my radical feminist friends for having allied with transgendered women. I get in trouble with my Christian feminist friends for being relentlessly pro-choice. I get in trouble with my radical feminist friends for my views about birthing, breeding, and the maternal, just in general. I get in trouble with dykes for talking about lesbianism as a choice. I get in trouble with hets for talking about lesbianism as a choice. I get in trouble with everybody for being too hard on men. I get in trouble with lesbian separatists for not being lesbian separatist enough and with nonseparatist for being a separatist in the first place. I get in trouble with Michfest womyn for being too political. I get in trouble with non-Michfest womyn for going to Michfest to begin with. I get in trouble with revolutionaries for the kinds of revolution I’ve waged in my daily life. I get in trouble with nonrevolutionaries for advocating for a lifestyle that will cost them way too much. I get in trouble with everybody for partnering outside of my race.

    Anybody in any of the aforementioned groups could decide that because I disagreed with them, I wasn’t qualified to comment on whatever. I could say the same about them.

    I just can’t see that. I don’t think, as women, we can afford to think that way.

    Thanks, witchy-woo, for getting me thinking and writing about this.

    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | June 24, 2006, 11:44 pm
  15. Poor Carol Hanisch. She seems never to be able to escape the spin of misinterpretation, regardless of the time.

    Thank you so much for this post, Heart.

    Posted by Edith | June 25, 2006, 8:08 pm
  16. First of all, Heart, I want to say that I appreciate your engagement here, and your willingness to listen and hold dialogue; there are too many people who won’t do it at all.

    Regarding this:

    Challenging what goes on in women’s beds, especially heterosexual women’s beds, is central to radical feminism, and that is because from time immemorial, girls and women have been harmed in our beds at the hands of men who were having sex with us. For millennia, we told no one about that harm. We didn’t utter a word, because it wasn’t proper, or because we were scared, or because we thought we were the only women on earth this was happening to, and we were ashamed, because we thought we deserved whatever was happening to us or because we were told we deserved it by the men violating us. It is finally talking openly about what had happened to us in our beds as girls and women at the hands of men, recognizing that we were all experiencing similar violations, which gave birth to the Second Wave. We realized what had happened to us in our personal lives, including sexually, was not just personal, it was also political. And the solutions to violations, we also realized — and were empowered by the realization — were to be found not only in the personal, but in political action and activism. We weren’t alone. We had one another.

    It doesn’t mean telling women that they should make sure their personal lives conform with feminist politics of some kind. That’s an individual solution to a systemic, structural political problem and individual solutions don’t solve class problems. For one thing. For another thing, it’s this that is, as Hanisch says, turning “the political is personal on its head.”

    Claudia Jones said the same thing when she said that progressives of her era couldn’t draw a line and refuse to deal with issues of interracial marriage and similar issues, because black women were being oppressed in these areas and the oppression was not “personal”, did not have to do with people’s “personal lives” only, the oppression was *political* oppression. In other words, it’s not going to work to bracket off the so-called “personal lives” of oppressed people as though political subordination and subjugation don’t extend into those very personal lives.

    ***

    …I think I get it, where this is coming from. (fwiw B|L just wrote a substantial post taking some of us to task for what she sees as a misuse of the words “agency and choice,” which is making me rethink a few things).

    The problem I’m having, particularly wrt what I’ve been seeing all over the Intrawebs recently, is that–

    well, maybe it’s this, or partly this:

    that, this is partly the group psych influence talking, but I’ve found it to hold true in any convo which includes personal and particularly highly charged material: that “challenging,” or confrontation, is something that’s probably best used sparingly, if at all. Some people never use it; I…think it can be helpful occasionally, in certain circumstances, done in certain ways. But, assuming one is trying to do it in the context of having dialogue with a friend or ally (as opposed to taking on an enemy); more often than not, I find, it does more harm than good. *Even if it might turn out you’re right.*

    I mean, to put it in a context that’s slightly away from feminism per se, I could see someone who’s clearly showing every physical and verbal sign of immense, repressed rage. But if I ask, gently,

    “Are you angry?”

    and person responds between clenched teeth, “NO! no. I’m not angry at all!!!”

    …then, unless I know the person well enough to know that further confrontation/direct interrogation about her internal state is something she’s okay with, I’m gonna back off. Because to do otherwise would be 1) invasive and 2) counterproductive, as chances are excellent that she’ll just get further defended and hostile.

    The other thing is, regarding the quoted part, it’s great and so important just to validate “hey, this is happening to me, too, or, I feel this way, too; I thought i was the only one.” No doubt. Thing is, it applies across the boards, to all sorts of experiences and feelings: people who are kinky, people who know themselves to be gender-fluid, people who like all kinds of stuff that’s been disparaged by mainstream society as well as their chosen feminist communities.

    so, you know, it’s kind of not cool when someone says, essentially, “Your feelings are valid, because I can relate; but hers, I don’t relate at all, so clearly they’re invalid”

    …which is pretty much what happened in the BJ debacle, imo.

    Posted by belledame222 | June 26, 2006, 7:07 pm
  17. Hey, belledame222, you are so right that once people get defensive, dialog effectively ends. I agree, too, that direct, personal challenges aren’t all that helpful for the reasons you list. At the same time, I think challenging something in a blog post where you (generic “you”) are not naming anyone or addressing your challenge to a specific person or group, you’re just throwing something out there– I don’t know, that seems different to me. If we can’t do that, I’m not sure how we can do feminism or progressive politics or politics period. I think we have to say things like, “When you say (whatever), that is racist/classist/transphobic/homophobic,” even though people reading who have said the whatever might get defensive and might react poorly, because that’s important information, an important idea, and for racism/classism/transphobia/homophobia to end, ideas like that have to get out there circulating.

    I am not sure I’m following your last couple of paragraphs. I know I didn’t read as widely as others in the whole internet bj debate, but I didn’t see people saying that feelings are valid if I can relate to them, but they’re not if I can’t? Having said that, then we have to get into the whole discussion of the part feelings play in political discussions. Whether we can relate to someone’s feelings or feel they are valid or not is one issue, and it might be something we want to talk about, but the politics of particular acts, who benefits from those acts, who doesn’t benefit, and why, and how, that’s a different discussion which I think we often need to have for its own sake, no matter the feelings that are stirred up or who thinks whose are valid and so on.

    Of course, I could have totally misunderstood what you were saying there, and if so, I apologize, argh.

    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | June 27, 2006, 5:48 pm
  18. piny, I have approved your post; however, given that I have approved your post, I expect that any post I make to your blog in the future will be approved (I have never, that I know of, ever, posted an inappropriate post or comment anywhere on the internet, including to your blog, and I don’t intend to start), that if I link or trackback to your blog, my links or trackbacks will appear, be approved, and that if and when you create blog posts (especially to attack me, totally mischaracterizing my views and attributing to me views I have never held, as you have in the past, more than once), you will *link* to whatever you are referring to that I have written and to my blog just in general and will approve my responses.

    Let me know whether this is acceptable to you. I think it’s common blogosphere courtesy and I think that if I extend it to you, it has to work both ways. I won’t approve any more of your posts until you let me know this will work for you.

    Before we go any further, why don’t you tell me why you’re implying that I’m censoring your comments? I do link to your blog when I discuss you. I do approve your comments when you bother to make them.

    This isn’t courteous behavior on your part. If you have concerns with linking, you could have brought them up on my blog when you had them. I’d really appreciate some specific instances here.

    Posted by piny | June 28, 2006, 11:03 pm
  19. piny, I went to Feministe and looked for the post I’m recalling and I couldn’t find it, but it’s been a while. It was one in which you took me to task for something at great length but you didn’t link to what I’d actually said anywhere in your post. A couple of your commenters, or at least one of them, mentioned it as well, asked how come you didn’t link, and you responded that you doubted I’d even want you to link, or something to that effect. After that time, a couple of times I linked back to something you’d posted, and my link never showed up that I saw.

    If you didn’t approve my comments or links, I wouldn’t think you were censoring me– I would just think you didn’t really want to hear from me on your blog, which would be your prerogative. I wouldn’t have brought up my concerns about your linking practices on your blog, because that’s your blog. Whom and to what you link are, again, imo your prerogative. Also, if you aren’t going to approve my comments, then it’s hard for me to voice my concerns! The only reason I commented about it here is, you posted here, and it wouldn’t feel right to me to approve your posts if I can’t feel reasonably certain you’ll approve mine as well.

    Having said all this, I did see that I’d posted to your blog a while back and had forgotten that I did and that post posted just fine. I am not sure how I forgot that but I did.

    Well, I did not mean to be discourteous, just direct.

    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | June 29, 2006, 7:15 pm
  20. piny, I went to Feministe and looked for the post I’m recalling and I couldn’t find it, but it’s been a while. It was one in which you took me to task for something at great length but you didn’t link to what I’d actually said anywhere in your post. A couple of your commenters, or at least one of them, mentioned it as well, asked how come you didn’t link, and you responded that you doubted I’d even want you to link, or something to that effect. After that time, a couple of times I linked back to something you’d posted, and my link never showed up that I saw.

    …Are you talking about this one, in which I said in as many words that I was waiting for you to tell me whether or not you wanted a link? If you saw it, and had other preferences, why didn’t you reply?

    http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2006/04/13/yay/

    The one where I quoted everything you’d actually written on your own?

    I have no idea what links of yours haven’t shown up. I have approved all of them whenever they’ve been trapped in moderation. Again, it would be much easier to identify them if you’d comment on them when they fail to appear. There has been at least one response in which you’ve failed to link back; I’m not sure whether that’s because you’d prefer a trackback not to show up or because you forgot.

    If you didn’t approve my comments or links, I wouldn’t think you were censoring me– I would just think you didn’t really want to hear from me on your blog, which would be your prerogative. I wouldn’t have brought up my concerns about your linking practices on your blog, because that’s your blog. Whom and to what you link are, again, imo your prerogative. Also, if you aren’t going to approve my comments, then it’s hard for me to voice my concerns! The only reason I commented about it here is, you posted here, and it wouldn’t feel right to me to approve your posts if I can’t feel reasonably certain you’ll approve mine as well.

    Comments you make to me–or emails you send me using the email address you have–are perfectly visible to me. People frequently ask if there’s a problem with their comments when the moderation cue is hypersensitive or just temperamental, and I address those concerns as soon as I know about them. When we ban people, we announce it. That’s common blog practice, and common blog courtesy, on both sides.

    Having said all this, I did see that I’d posted to your blog a while back and had forgotten that I did and that post posted just fine. I am not sure how I forgot that but I did.

    Well, I did not mean to be discourteous, just direct.

    The direct approach would have involved asking me about the issue as soon you perceived it as one, not letting it go until you can’t point to any specific example.

    Posted by piny | June 29, 2006, 11:06 pm
  21. piny, yes, that’s the thread and I think it speaks for itself. You didn’t link to me. I pointed to a specific example which I could not find. You quickly found it. As to the rest of your comment, I’ve explained my thinking very carefully. That’s your blog. There was no reason for me to call you out on what you do in your own blog. If you bring stuff here, want to talk to me here, want to comment here, well, that’s completely different. This is my blog.

    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | June 29, 2006, 11:15 pm

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