Thursday, April 20, 2006


A group of young women in Wellington have put together a feminist zine called Muse. I got a copy of the second issue today. There were some good articles, including an excellent one on Rosa Parks.

But bits of it left me with this weird annoyed feeling, and I realised, after thinking about it that this was actually the sympton of a much larger problem and it wasn't the fault of the writers of the individual articles, but a problem in the feminist movement, which seemed worth a post. (There was also one article that made me furiously angry, that I believe had no place in any feminist zine, and I may or may not write about that, depending on whether or not I calm down).

It was the most personal articles in Muse that I found so frustrating. As I was trying to think of a written response this bothered me. It seemed that every critique of the articles would become a critique of their personal life. Then I realised that that was the problem, that personal experience was being offered up as feminist analysis. And while I believe that personal experience needs to be a part of feminist analysis, it is not enough, on its own.

The problem, yet again, is the complete and utter misunderstanding of what the phrase 'the personal is political' was actually supposed to mean. I think feminists need to have a better idea of our history, the context in which ideas were developed, and what they actually mean.

The personal is political means that problems that seem personal can't be solved personally or individually, they must be addressed politically or collectively.

It is actually completely unsustainable to try and solve political problems on a personal level (it's also ineffective, but that's another rant). One of the articles actually articulates this really well, but her conclusion is one I disagree with.

The writer of 'Am I Still a Feminist' has found herself falling into more and more aspects of the traditional female role as she grew older:

But here I was. Living in domestic harmony with him. We both worked, so why was I rushing home via the shops in urgent need to get dinner on the table before he got home? And why was I putting on make-up after work, in order to sit at a dinner table?"
She thinks about this and comes to the following conclusion:
But today, I am brave enough in myself to make choices. Someimtes I want to cook the dinner, because I enjoy cooking, just as men do. [...] Sometimes I dress up a little - just as men do. I believe that making these choices and having the strength to feel comfortable with them, does not contradict my feminist values.[...]

And now I am strong enough to make choices from within, and recognise whether they are my choices - or have been imprinted upon my subconcious by patriarchal ideologies
The whole point of feminist analysis, the whole point of 'ther personal is political', is that that's not an either/or situation. The point is that it doesn't matter whether we do make dinner or don't make dinner, we can't make the choices in the same way men do, because our choices are constrained by the patriarchal ideologies that the author believes she can get rid of as an individual. Call me old-fashioned but I believe that no woman can be liberated on her own, and that we cannot find what our true choices would be in the society that we live in at the moment.

The point of feminism isn't to give you strength not to cook dinner for your partner, and it certainly isn't to give you strength to cook dinner for your partner. It's to analyse why you're the one who is supposed to make dinner in the first place, and fight back.


  1. Call me old-fashioned but I believe that no woman can be liberated on her own

    You could be called worse than that: a collectivist!

    Objectivists believe in individualism.

    What's the point of getting out from under the thumb of patriarchy if you can't gain individual liberation? Enlightenment is a personal achievement. If not, one simply trades one form of bondage for another.

    The point of liberty is not to cast off one particular form but to cast off collectivism in all its froms. Anything else is a con.

  2. Ha ha, female sexual predators! You've got trolls again, Maia.

    In 25 years of living together, my wife has never once given me the impression that she suspects she's the one that's supposed to make dinner. I think the author of the article's wrong to think that she's just "empowered" herself to decide it's her job to make dinner, but on the basis of personal experience I also think you're wrong that it's impossible for individuals to do anything about that.

  3. Oh yeah, the old "But I choooooose to dress sexy and scrub the floor and wait on my boyfriend hand and foot" thing. It annoys me too. I think it's symptomatic of the oddly-named, wishful-thinking phenomenon of "post-feminism", whose followers propose that everything women could possibly hope for has now been achieved, therefore there is no further need to make critical commentary on the beauty myth and subservience to men. I think it was Andrea Dworkin who commented "I'll be a post-feminist in a post-patriarchy." Damn straight.

  4. I partly agree with you- but on the other hand I like, and try to live by, the Ghandi principle "Be the change you want to see"- and that is part of what I understand by the phrase the personal is political. And its not that I think how I choose to live is going to take down the system- or that it is a substitute for taking down the system- but it is the one thing that is actually in my power to do in the here and now.

    With respect to feminism I have always found the encounter group aspects of some strands in it very off putting. If you want to have a discussion about policy and law reform- count me in, being informed about what goes on in the world- absolutely. But I'm not really interested in sitting around crying about my own personal oppression (which lets face it fairly insignificant compared to that experienced by the majority of women in the world- particularly in the third world)

  5. I've always found the discussion over who makes dinner to kinda miss the point. It's not about whether you make dinner for your husband, or he makes dinner for you, or you only eat take out, or split the chores, or WHATEVER other arrangement you come to.. it's about why you came to that arrangement, evaluating just how difficult the arrangement was and how "unorthodox" it appears, and breaking down the social structures and preconcptions that provide the expectation and the difficulty.

    Once they aren't there anymore, the question of who is making dinner and why becomes irrelevant.

    Personally, I cook my own food because I'm a vegetarian and I like my own cooking better than anyone elses. At my partner's request, I make twice as much of whatever I was going to make and he eats the extra. Then he cleans up after I'm finished cooking.

  6. John,-

    Individuals work together. Collectives are worked together.

    Libertarianism is a political state concern and has no judgements to make about sex, race, gender, or any of the primitive social politics prejudicial to these elements.

    Objectivism is another story.

  7. Hm. Ayn Rand-fancier, by any chance?

  8. Well what was your first clue!? :)