In 1969, Carol Hanisch, a feminist activist, responded to criticisms that women were bringing their personal problems into the political arena by writing her essay “The Personal is Political.” She argued that many of women’s personal issues were, in fact, caused by systematic sexism and oppression. Therefore, the process of sharing and analyzing personal experiences was not simply a form of therapy, but actually a political act.
We’re half a century away from the beginning of second-wave feminism and the birth of the civil rights movement. But the “personal is political” argument still begs discussion. The art and entertainment world has increasingly married individual expression and political protest. For example, Beyonce’s Lemonade serves as an intimate look into her marital life, but it’s also a bold portrait of black womanhood and a statement supporting the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Beyonce’s pride in her culture and her womanhood is very much personal, but expressing that pride in an album is a far-reaching and influential action. The LGBTQ+ rights movement also uses personal expression in political protest, from queer dance parties outside Trump’s White House to “kiss-ins” opposing the persecution of gay men in Chechnya. Sometimes, just living happily and proudly as a LGBTQ+ person, in a world that often disapproves, is a revolutionary act.
So, the personal is political, but it often goes the other way around. Women have faced tightening restrictions on their right to control their own uteruses, and trans people have been prevented from using the restrooms that match their genders. These policies address not only contentious issues, but also the intimate personal lives of countless people. The world of identity politics and social justice is particularly replete with this personal/political conflict, which has been fought over since Supreme Court Justices Warren and Brandeis defined the “right to privacy” in 1890.
As the ideological makeup of the Court threatens to shift, as the number and visibility of LGBTQ+ citizens increase, as the severity of police brutality and racism comes to a head, the personal and political will continue to merge. So many of us watch and nervously wait for changes in our power over our bodies, our relationships, our lives. For now, pride and cooperation are our personal political weapons.