This recurring feature, curated by Pilgrim Soul, directs Harpy readers to important feminist thoughts and concepts as spoken by some of her favourite feminists on and off the web. The appraisal of the value of these snippets is, of course, entirely Pilgrim Soul’s, and does not necessarily reflect the views of other Harpies. Feel free to discuss in the comments here.
I’m going to try to revive this feature yet in this time of my Feminist Writer’s Block.
As you know, one of my bugbears lately about feminist discourse has been the seemingly endless focus on the self. I mean, look, obviously I don’t have an issue with people building up their own self-esteem, but I frequently feel like we’re stuck there, like we’re always talking about ourselves, and it’s starting to eat at me. (I think this is due in no small part to the fact that in Canada getting too big for your britches is a sort of cultural sin, to the extent we even have a culture, but I digress – I mention it only to admit a bias.) So I picked up my trusty bell hooks, and lo and behold, she articulates it nicely:
Over time the slogan “the personal is political” (which was first used to stress that woman’s everyday reality is informed and shaped by politics is necessarily political) became a means of encouraging women to think that the experience of discrimination, exploitation, or oppression automatically corresponded with an understanding of the ideological and institutional apparatus shaping one’s social status. As a consequence, many women who had not fully examined their situation never developed a sophisticated understanding of their political reality and its relationship to that of women as a collective group. They were encouraged to focus on giving voice to personal experience. Like revolutionaries working to change the lot of colonized people globally, it is necessary for feminist activists to stress that the ability to see and describe one’s own reality is a significant step in the long process of self-recover, but it is only a beginning. When women internalized the idea that describing their own woe was synonymous with developing a critical political consciousness, the progress of feminist movement was stalled. Starting from such incomplete perspectives, it is not surprising that theories and strategies were developed that were collectively inadequate and misguided. To correct this inadequacy in past analysis, we must now encourage women to develop a keen, comprehensive understanding of women’s political reality. Broader perspectives can only emerge as we examine both the personal that is political, the politics of society as a whole, and global revolutionary politics.
From Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, 2nd Ed., pp. 26-27.
Now, I know that the standard point here is that often, what women are writing about, and what women are agitating about politically outside the sphere of their writing, are not always the same thing. And I’m not trying to claim that they are. But I think there’s a trap involved in spending a lot of time on the self that limits what you can do, politically, for other people.
I don’t know what the solution is here, because I’m loath to tell anyone to quit speaking, but on the other hand, I feel like I ought to be committed to breaking through that wall.