Is The Personal Political?

Feminism is a social and political movement and also is an ideology that aims to analyze gender inequalities. It has been searching for equal political and social rights for women through aiming to define and establish legal grounds for women rights. By most of the scholars, feminism is recognized within three different waves from early 1830s to mid-1900s. The first wave often refers to gain political power by women to change sexual, economic, marriage, productive, etc matters. The second wave feminism seeks to underline critics of patriarchy, woman’s role as a wife and a mother, and it also differentiate sex and gender as social construct and biological. Lastly, the third wave of feminism rejects the idea of universal female identity and also focuses less on laws and political rights. On the contrary, it focuses more on individual identity. Throughout modern history, different types of feminism has been created such as liberal, radical, socialist, cultural, post-modern feminism, etc. This paper aims to analyze one of the distinctive slogan that was used during second wave feminism ‘The personal is political’ on the basis of post-modern feminism with comparing other movements and approaches in feminist ideology.

One of the main movement along with feminism is postmodern feminism that is linked to postmodern theories. It differentiates itself from modernist polarities of both liberal and radical feminism. Diversity is a main key driver that is to say multiple social roles and different realities are on main focuses. Also, this approach rejects essentialism.

Gender is described as an act that can be seen as rehearsed. In one hand, there is a clear distinction between political and personal. On the other hand, private and public clearly differentiate from one to another. As a result of such a distinction, a status quo is created and designed to script personal acts through hegemonic social conditions. This discipline claims that gender has been constructed by patriarchal order. Gender can be derived from different social stratifications.

In the late 1960s, feminists started to insight a discussion to underlines interpersonal interactions of male and female. During this period they used a slogan ‘the personal is political’ or ‘the private is political’ to express that political conditions and gender inequalities have significant impacts on women’s personal experiences. Carol Hanisch, a famous American feminist, asserts that power relationships can be related to individuals (particularly woman) personal experience therefore men who hold power can easily abuse an oppressed woman. She states that ‘women’s’ personal behavior is of political significance’. Carol Hanisch believes that women are not guilty for current status quo and should spend more effort to get rid of from that satiation and should re-gain independence. She says; ‘Understanding that our oppressive situations were not our own fault — were not, in the parlance of the time, “all in our head” — gave us a lot more courage as well as a more solid, real foundation on which to fight for liberation (Hanisch, 1969).

In addition, our personal preferences and priorities do not only shape our experience and feelings but also political and social settings and boundaries limits such feelings. In my personal opinion; individual’s personal lives are politically determined and are structured. Regarding this dimension, individuals should be unified and should address political power and social formations. As Hanisch expresses that ‘political struggle or debate is the key to good political theory. A theory is just a bunch of words — sometimes interesting to think about, but just words, nevertheless—until it is tested in real life. Many a theory has delivered surprises, both positive and negative, when an attempt has been made to put it into practice (Hanisch, 1969). Therefore, there is a clear connection between private and politics and ‘the personal is political’.

One of the main criticism of postmodern feminism depends on feminine and biological body identification of woman. On the contrary, radical feminists agree that division of labor among society directly causes by sexual inequalities. Women have been delegated to domestic tasks where male are attached to politics, philosophy, art, etc. Therefore, women should also question the distinction between personal and political divisions. As radical feminists, I personally believe that women should work collectively in order to re-structure the current practices reflecting patriarchal rules. Society plays a crucial role on women’s subordinated position in male dominated family structures. There are some certain instruments that keeps women at home with some mind sets depend on cultural and social pressures. As a result, women are not able to make rational choices about their own future and life due to such pressures and boundaries. An important parameter illustrates that women are responsible of taking care of family and home as an unpaid labor. However, unfortunately they become more dependent to their husband on the basis of economic concerns. Thus, this reality creates some limitations for women to participate in daily life dynamics and realities. It is the era of insisting to speak up for women in order not to accept mistreatment at both workplace and home. Rather, it is the time to have intensive debates and sharp reactions.

The second wave of feminism has not only reflected a new form of radical feminism but also has pointed out remarkable shifts on the politics of liberal and Marxist feminism as well. The personal is political slogan also holds some fundamental challenges to terms ‘politics’ itself. For instance ‘Radical feminism can be seen within the context of second wave feminism, lasting from 1968 to 1973. ‘‘ A strong autonomous feminist movement, named Women’s Liberation Movement emerged as the ideology of radical feminism in the United States with its claims for the emancipation of women, but also the more prosaic and long-standing campaigns were revitalized as equal pay claims and movements for changes in laws and to provide for equal opportunities’’ (Moi, 1985). Women contribution to work force, labor, politic and so on rely on a ground where you can sustain equal right, law and opportunities for women. In addition, regarding the development of educational and communicational capabilities and providing new opportunities of identity creation, women who are active in politics may become able to support and claim equal rights for women as well (Caha, 2008). Therefore, with the emergence of second wave feminist era, radical feminism has directly reflected a new phase in women right with using influential slogan ‘‘The Personal is Political’’.

In conclusion, start from early 1960s with emergence of second wave feminism, personal situations and dimensions have political effects and ‘Personal is Political’ slogan directly reflects these political implications. Unfortunately, there is an unescapable conflict between human beings which leverage the advantageous of males over females. Thus, this conflict should be clearly understood to provide oppression of woman. In contemporary world, our personal choices is connected with political, social, economic aspects. Therefore, this significant feminist criticism and theory is crucial to understand cultural, institutional and power relations of gender. Patriarchy should not be considered as the center of power and male supremacy in society should be decreased to avoid woman oppression. Thus, woman’s role as wife and a mother cannot be accepted as the only responsibilities. Society with its unique context should differentiate sex and gender as social and biological constructs.

Written by Müjgan Çağın



Hanisch, C. (1969). The Personal Is Political.

Moi, T. (1985). Personal is Political: A Theoretical Perspective.

Caha, O. (2008). The Same Actors with Different Voices: Feminisms with Diverse   Interests in Turkey (pp. 121).