My Personal is Political (But Not Too Personal)
Posted by Carley Towne
March 10, 2016
I’m a very private person. Like, exceedingly private. People describe me as reserved, even if I’m feeling really social. If I took one of those online personality quizzes, I’d get the “silent but judging you” result, but you’d never know because I’d never share it on Facebook.
Being a proud introvert can make being a woman who writes about reproductive justice difficult. Because if you take a look around the vast world of feminist blogging, you’ll notice that sharing intimate details of our daily lives is assumed to be a prerequisite to getting exposure. This approach rests on the faulty logic that to convince someone that being a woman in society can be difficult, uncomfortable, and demoralizing we have to expose personal experiences. Being a feminist blogger shouldn’t require that we bear our souls in order to convince some person on the internet that the issues we think are important actually matter.
This is not to say there’s not a long history of activists both within and outside of the feminist movement using personal narratives to change hearts and minds. The “personal is political,” first used by radical feminists in the 1970’s, is a powerful rallying cry that endures not just because it sounds like a snappy slogan. It’s powerful because it resonates with anyone who has ever experienced the intimacy of oppression and coercion. It’s not hard to see why it’s vital for activists in the feminist and reproductive justice movements to connect the personal injustices we face with larger structures of oppression.
But why has asking activists to share their personal stories become not just one of many useful strategies but a necessity to gaining an audience on many feminist platforms? I don’t feel compelled or comfortable discussing some of the most painful experiences that have ushered me into the feminist community. Don’t get me wrong, they exists and remain salient moments in my life. I just don’t want my legitimacy as a feminist blogger to be dependent on my willingness to divulge the deeply personal.
I think expecting women to constantly share is part of a broader problem of the demands placed on oppressed people. Those who endure oppression are continually expected to produce visible evidence that their experiences actually exist and matter. Being a feminist blogger who sheds light on the various ways that sexist, racial, classist oppression operates in the world already means doing a lot of undervalued intellectual and emotional labor. On top of that, we are also expected to poetically articulate the trauma that brought us to the movement. Ultimately this can become another way of transforming an important avenue of feminist outrage into more palatable and relatable language.
Now, I’m not saying that #Shoutyourabortion hasn’t done a lot to end the stigma around abortion care, I’m saying that sharing our personal experiences shouldn’t be the only way we are taken seriously. Issues we write about and talk about matter because we say they do, not because we’re willing to expose all of the personal pain living in an oppressive society entails.
Image by Steve Rhodes via Flickr