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February 19, 2004

Is the Personal Really Political?

Dear Friedrich --

Remember that slogan, "the personal is the political"? Is there anything that brings back just how gruesomely un-fun the '70s could be? Lordy: a decade when everything had to be interpreted politically: how you dressed, how you ate, what you read, which movies you saw, how fond you were of oral sex. Thank god we're over and past that accursed compulsion.

Well, maybe not entirely: I was surfing around and ran across a couple of "personal is political" webpages. Here's a Jane Fonda-esque feminist site. And here's an editorial from the ultra-lefty Z magazine decrying the ways in which the slogan is, in their view, being misused these days. Time to take it back from The Man, no doubt.



posted by Michael at February 19, 2004


Wow! Something exists! It must be on the verge of subjugating us all!

Posted by: Cryptic Ned on February 19, 2004 5:50 PM

As a fairly old-school feminist points out, the last gasp of this rather silly idea occurred with the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, in which it became clear that the politicization of the personal was a tactical ploy rather than a matter of principle:

Still, there is something to the point that feminists did not participate as fully in the public discourse on this issue as they might have. This reflects, in part, a self-conscious decision, made early on by organizations like NOW, the Black Leadership Forum, and many others, to treat the Clinton/Lewinsky/Starr matter as an inappropriate subject for public scrutiny given that the core concern was a private affair between two consenting adults. In other words, they concluded that as long as Clinton’s sexual dalliances fell short of the high legal standards set for showing sexual harassment or rape, the details of his social life should remain sheltered from public scrutiny. The general opinion seemed to be that real progress for women is best ensured by having a “pro-woman” president like Clinton in office, however disappointing his personal choices might be.

If interested, you can examine her rather convoluted logic attempting to re-vivify this creaking horse at

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 19, 2004 8:20 PM

What do you think is not absolutely accurate about the notion "the personal is political"?

I would have thought to use your blog as a prime example of the truth of the statement. :) No?

Posted by: David Sucher on February 20, 2004 12:57 AM

The personal can be political, yes, but only under a totalitarian regime. Cf. Stalin, Hitler, Ceaucescu, Castro, Pol Pot ...

It took a long time for most Gay people in the US to realize that, pace feminism, we really wanted the personal not to be political anymore. Unfortunately, we're encountering some very angry resistance to that idea.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on February 20, 2004 5:31 AM

Cryptic Ned -- Ain't it always the case!

FvB -- Clinton/Lewinsky did seem to turn the corner, didn't it? All of a sudden lefties were talking about someone's sex life was his/her own business, not an argument we heard much back in the '70s, god knows. Tks for the link, too. Gruesomely fascinating.

David -- You unreconstructed '60s person, you!

Tim -- My own political goal is to get politics to back off from the personal realm, though I may be more suspicious of the usual "liberal" approach to accomplishing this than you are...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 20, 2004 12:15 PM

My own political goal is to get politics to back off from the personal realm, though I may be more suspicious of the usual "liberal" approach to accomplishing this than you are...

What's "liberal" about trying to get repressive laws repealed or overturned? If we succeed, individuals have less governmental regulation than before. Surely a true conservative would be happy about that. I guess you could say we're taking a "classical-liberal" approach (perhaps in spite of ourselves, inasmuch as our goals are often at odds with our rhetoric). But that would redefine the term "liberal" to mean "conservative/libertarian" -- and do we really want our political labels to go through the looking-glass here?

Most Gays and Lesbians think the government should stay out of individuals' personal lives. But Gay men like lower taxes, while Lesbians tend toward increased governmental spending. (Incidentally, I am told this pattern is common among Straight men and women, too.) This is why most Gay men I've met, from coast to coast, have told me they would vote Republican if the GOP would only be a little more welcoming -- and why most Lesbians I've met think Gay men are selfish pigs.

Posted by: Tim Hulsey on February 20, 2004 4:33 PM

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