“The personal is political” said the women in consciouness-raising groups I started going to after reading “The New Feminism” in the August 1970 Ladies’ Home Journal. Historian of consciouness Karen Rian explains the slogan:
Women have discovered that the details of personal life are not just a matter of individual inclination or innate characteristics. Rather, our lives—our attitudes, desires, intimate interactions, etc.—are shaped by social structures. And because social structures such as the family, media and public education are characterized by a multitude of power imbalances, our personal lives and relationships are also characterized by inequalities and power imbalances.1
And politics is how power gets used. Carol Hanisch, who wrote the 1970 paper titled “The Personal is Political,” explains: “‘political’ is used here in the broad sense of the word as having to do with power relationships, not the narrow sense of electorial politics.2”
Judith Butler elaborates: “’The personal is political’ originally meant that personal life must be seen in political terms AND politics must be shaped from personal experience. Too often the latter part of the definition has been ignored, and personal life has been asked to conform to political correctness.3”
Which way you think of this conundrum affects your perception of reality. …Well, as does everything you think, actually.
So some spiritual teachers declare that reality is entirely in one’s mind, or entirely created by mind. Since it’s true that our perception of reality is shaped by what we pay attention to, there is truth to the notion of mind over matter.
But you can take that too far. If we believe we can manifest whatever we focus attention on, if we ignore what we cannot affect, we risk shutting down a deeper and more useful relationship to others and to the world.
Buddhism uses a concept of ”Two Truths:” one understanding of reality which is ultimately true, and another which is indispensable in everyday life, but ultimately only provisional. One of the paradoxes I love about Buddhism is that both of these “truths” are in fact true. This presents a challenge to the rational mind. But we are more than our rational mind.
1 Linden, p. 46.
2Hanisch, “Personal is Political” in Notes from the Second Year: Women’s Liberation, ed. Firestone & Koedt (New York, 1970), 1
3 Butler, “Lesbian S & M: The Politics of Dis-Illusion” in Linden et al., p. 171.