Editorial: The Personal Is Political?!


political and social setting. They feel personal, and their
details are personal, but their broad texture and character,
and especially the limits within which these evolve, are
largely systemic. In this sense, the contribution of the New
Left was to say that we suffer a "totality of
oppressions," systemically based, entwined, and all
needing to be eliminated via a "revolution" in
existing institutions, and the creation of new liberating
ones.

The "personal is
political" therefore meant that our personal lives are
in considerable part politically delimited and determined so
that improving our personal experiences meant we must
collectively address political relationships and structures.

Later, others took the phrase
to mean that the choices we make personally have political
implications. Big deal, you might say. Obviously the choice
to be an activist or not or to support this or that political
project has political implications even though it is
personally undertaken. But this meaning of the phrase went
further to say that all the choices we make, even the ones
that seem totally apolitical and personal, have political
implications. The choice to wear make-up or not, to watch TV
or not, to eat this or that or not, to wear this or that item
of clothing, to use a bank or not, and so on, is personal,
but it is also political.

This is true enough, and has
some explanatory power and informative value, but then
something strange began to happen. In essence, the most
telling and instructive meaning of the "personal is
political" was slowly turned upside down to mean that
the political, the social, the economic, and the cultural
derive from our personal choices. The key thing for each
individual to be concerned with in being political is, then,
to be personal in the "correct" way. Dress right,
eat right, talk right, look right, consume right, so that one
is the best person, politically, that one can hope to be.

The "personal is
political"— meaning that personal outcomes are
largely a product of systemic relations and of structures
beyond each individual that need to be addressed—came to
mean, instead, that all political phenomena arise from the
accumulated personal choices of individuals, so that what
needed to be addressed to win better circumstances was
primarily people’s personal choices.

This trend is partially
embodied in many sides of contemporary thought and activism,
not least, for example, in elements of what is called
"third wave feminism," "identity
politics," "food politics," "lifestyle
politics," and so on. We urge a reconsideration.