I received my Gold Card for road-service club membership the other day and feel somewhat ancient, as the Gold is issued for 25 years of driving your own car.
Like many other young women of the 70s, I rallied to the “personal is political” slogans of women’s liberation (later termed feminism), because I twigged to the connection between how males treat females in “private” (or personal) relationships, is mirrored in how males-as-a-class treat females-as-a-class in “public” (or social and political) relationships. The other popular stream of the thinking of my youth, was seeing the “personal is political”, as purely and strictly personal, in that the choices individuals make in their personal lives can help to change the world. It was believed that there is also a connection between the personal choices you make in life and the revolution you intended to help to create. ‘Living The Revolution Now’, was the hippy-trippy ideal of living your life in a way that helped construct how you would like the world to be, because that would help to make change. For feminism, this meant women became political lesbians, refused children as well as marriage, built all-women networks, communities, collectives etc, became veggie/vegans, gave up beauty practices and so on.
I never agreed with this approach as a feminist political strategy. Not then, not now. It can work very well for some individual women as ‘personal’ solutions etc – but not ‘politically’. On a purely personal level, I also disliked such romantic utopian visions. I just couldn’t get all excited about those lifestyles, though I well appreciate that many others do and I am glad they do exist. They are a very valuable option for those women who want to, can take up. But whether I was personally attracted to it or not, I never could see what political use any of it was.
The reason my years of driving brought this tangential connection to me, was that way-back-then – many women never learned to drive, or only ever drove their husband’s cars. For my generation, in my geographical space, a woman having her own car was a really a Big Deal. It was up there with the first generation of married women having their own bank accounts, or making a purchase without a male signing as guarantor. It signified an independence from men, that few women of that generation enjoyed. Now, all these years later, I am constantly told how terrible I am for driving and being environmentally uncool and leaving so many carbon-footprints… yadda, yadda.
Personal lifestyle ‘options’ ( I don’t like using the word ‘choice’) such as these are limited to a small population of the wealthiest western countries. For every woman who can disengage herself, or gain some measure of independence from patriarchy, or undertake resistance to it, through personal lifestyle options — there are thousands more women that patriarchy can, and will, force into the same old female servitude as they have done for millennia. For me, these forms of separatist options, meant separating not just from men, but also separating from most other women as well. While it may be the best possible solution for some women in some circumstances, I could not see any form of solidarity building in a political sense.
From a commonality of political understanding that all females are oppressed by all males with Female-Hatred underpinning the structures of female-oppression, to isms of ‘differences’ and policing individual women’s personal behaviours and lifestyles. Just like many of us did in school. Maybe the points we used to score hits against each other are different to the ones we used in girlhood, but the mechanism is still the same. Similar to other oppressed groups of human beings, this hatred can be internalised by individuals and sub-groups of the oppressed as Self-Hatred, and fully accepted as the norm for any given group. The generic social hate can then become wide-spread often projected onto others, as horizontal hostility, as in “othering” sub-groups of the oppressed population.
Such ‘personal’ strategies, has also done a lot to divide feminists into cliques, or in politics-speak – ‘factions’. Its as if each clique only cares about, and feels sisterhood with, other women who are just like themselves. Anybody who doesn’t fit the ‘standard’ forms of behaviour for any particular clique/faction, is excluded, shunned. The lesbian-separatist version of the church women’s sewing-circle, suburban housewives kaffee-klatsch, mums & bubs playdating, or neighbourhood women’s softball team . Methinx, these are all valuable in their own way, as precious womens ‘space’ for the nurturing of women’s culture, but it tends to stay within the clique, for the benefit of the clique, rather than expanding across women. Deborah Tannen in her work ‘You Just Don’t Understand’, described girls/women’s social networks as being constructed from “horizontal hierarchies”, of concentric circles, or ‘spheres’, based on degree-of-relationship with the centre, and very different from the pyramidal “vertical hierarchies” which males tend to construct, and which we are probably more familiar.
I started thinking the relational way that women operate and are socialised as girls-with-girls, can be our greatest strength – but also our greatest weakness. Perhaps when it comes to women-to-women relationships in the absence of men, there are more ways of seeing the “personal is political”. It could be fun to explore it anyway.
Or perhaps I just want an excuse to return to childhood, so I can re-start over again with Living The Revolution?