Politicising the Personal and Personalising the Political

I hate to say it, "the personal is political" peeps, but: Bored now!

It is becoming painfully clear that whatever depths there could be under this remarkable approach to the theoretical aspect of feminism, they are no longer being plumbed and the entire approach has descended into that gross nadir of flagrant wankery; political hipsterism.

The trouble with hipsterism is that the entire approach to politics is inherently intertwined with a short sighted consumerist view of life, whereby you are what you consume and hence your politics are reliant on consumption because political action is based solely around consuming in a ideologically puritan fashion.

The trouble arises from this approach when people who cling to it fail to note that by basing political action on and around the act of consuming, a movement quickly becomes inexorably tied to consumerism to such an extent that the gradual destruction of consumerist society, something necessary for any counter-cultural progressive movement, becomes impossible, and as such, the methodology and ideological framework through which consumerism oppresses everyone who's not a member of the Top Cat culturally white male bourgeois class.

A good example of this is the latent (not to mention occasionally overt) fatphobia among certain sections of the feminist community.

One of the crucial aspects of consumerist culture is that social status is defined primarily by consumption of goods - the more expensive the better. This is one of the nastiest little aspects of it because it works both as a means by which to inherently exclude the working class from the great bourgeois liberal game of "social mobility" - that ideal by which the bourgeois society promises every member of the working class a golden pony, and then blames the working class for the bourgeoisie's own suppression of golden ponies for their workers under the banner of boot-strap economics. Naturally the upper classes themselves dine on freshest imported golden pony every night as a reward that they give themselves for successfully exploiting labor during the day, while the middle class eat any scraps that get quaffed their way - and also to pressure the working class into consuming beyond their means, leading inevitably to debt and ruin that inevitably profits the bank owners and lenders and further acts to oppress the already screwed over.

That last point extends further though, because a major aspect of consumer culture - in fact it's pretty much the entire raison d'etre for the damn thing - is aimed primarily toward getting those least able to overspend to overspend, and the flip side of justifying the poverty of the consuming poor by the consumer culture that made them poor, is that it must in fact demonise the act of over consumption, while at the same time setting the normative level of consumption at an extreme of pointless nik-nak buying wastefulness that is not only not called "over consumption" when the upper middle, and just plain upper, classes consume at that level, is also the minimum standard of consumption required to participate in the pan-proletariat society.

Where the fatphobia comes in is that, obviously, it overtly involves the demonisation of consumption - often framed in the language of vegetarians and vegans along the lines of "bad" consumption rather than "good" (i.e. empowering eggplants versus patriarchal pork) for the purpose of glorifying the less obvious consumption involved in gym fees, exercise equipment or just plain spare time (the greatest luxury of all) not to mention the highly rarefied and often overtly expensive nature of diets favored by fad dieters and the various veggie sects to regulate their caloric intake while suppressing their hunger.

But more subtly than that, is the assumption that consumption can ever really be placed into categories of "good" and "bad", when clearly the whole system of consumerism is inherently fucking evil.

That's right, there is no real difference between going to your fancy ass gym or eating "too many" happy meals, the problem is not that you might get fat consuming one, the problem is that consumption of happy meals or going to a fancy ass gym are both things that are required of people in a consumerist society to gain the ability to participate in that society, to be considered a person who's problems and personhood can be acknowledged and accepted as "real".

This underpins many of the criticisms of consumer bullshit by feminists in recent months, what really irritates feminists - and not necessarily on a conscious level, hence the propensity to simply react in a flailing, spasmodic way to such things - upon seeing yet another fucking lipstick lesbian in 6 inch heels on the TV or in magazine ads is the tacit societal implication of that imagery, the implication that this is what you need to buy, and (according to hipsterist social theory at any rate) hence be, to be a "real" woman, and the societal pressure created by consumer culture and placed upon women to strive endlessly in prusuit of being this artificial and intentionally unachievable ideal of womanhood is what is really being bitched at by feminists, but because the hipsterisation of feminist critiques of consumer culture obfuscates the true bone in our throats, what comes out is these tirades against the evils of high heels and suchlike, which, if nothing else, just sound plain silly to all those who haven't yet had their consciousness raised higher than their bosoms.

Which isn't inherently bad either of course, the out and out sterilisation of progressive thought in the name of "down to earth" politics by mainstream left-of-center conservative politics is twice as evil, but that's no excuse for missing the crucial point behind those critiques and focusing on nothing but the most utterly superficial aspects of patriarchal society, and ones that only really affect those who are of a highly privileged social class at that.

This is where "the personal is political" comes in.

You see, the problem is not the phrase or the idea, but rather the interpretation of the idea through the hipster feminist's eyes. The core of all hipster thinking is that each person is defined primarily in relation to the consumer society, good people consume in good ways, bad people shop at walmart, and consumption is therefore not itself evil - not even an unavoidable one - but rather a neutral action through which revolution may occur. This is all a classic example of deeply ingrained nuspeek esque doublethink because, as an outpouring of capitalist society, the consumer culture is aimed squarely at turning consumers into something that is in turn consumed by the capitalist system - it is the debtor society, it is the society of implicit and (go on B|L, tear this assertion apart) inherent "haves" and "have nots" - and of course warping the thinking of the consumers so that they tacitly accept the hierarchical thinking that is necessary to maintain the various oppressive systems in every aspect of their lives - bad shoes, good shoes, better shoes, best! - in such a way that what is considered "good" and "bad" is inherently defined in such a way as to exclude the working class from being able to consume "good" things and thus ending up being labelled "bad" by the movements (which are always made up at first by those with the freedom to rebel that is granted to them by their social privilege) that claim to be fighting to free from their oppression.

And the nature of hipsterism is such that this focus on "good consumption" is extended past the point where capitalist consumption ends and out to where personalities begin, so that even sexual preferences are viewed as another form of "consumption", and to which there is again applied the "good" consumption/"bad" consumption dichotomy.

This is "politicising the personal", and it's rise among feminist social theories is, imho, pretty much the reason why there does seem to be a certain stalling, a certain sudden lurching lack of progress in the past 15 years or so with regards to the freedom and equality of women in society. For while even deeply consumerist centered feminism can lay the ground work from which more highly developed and intelligent theoretical frameworks can be built, those theories must be allowed to be built, and the nature of hipsterism is inherent exclusivity - You're not a real fan/feminist/poc/woman/man/homosexual because [insert pharisee thinking and equivalent to biblical literalism here] -

Fortunately there is an alternative, one much used during the second waves' initial bursting out all over society, this is the alternative view of "the personal is political"; "personalising the political".

What that means is that, instead of making every little choice, every teeny tiny little thing we do, a grand microcosm of the Great Struggle Against Patriarchy, every little struggle against patriarchy is relevant to the greater feminist struggle.

But what exactly, Oh Milly Von Cuntsure, does that actually mean?

Well it means we don't fuck around criticising high heels when we can more readily criticise the patriarchal aspects of high heels, and more importantly figure out when we do not have to criticise high heel, which saves us a lot of time we would have otherwise spent on completely pointless criticisms.

For instance?

For instance, there is no way that I can think of (off the top of my head) in which men wearing high heels could be patriarchal, also feminists with a sufficiently raised enough consciousness with regards to the struggle against patriarchy (E.G. one with an extremely well exercised blaming lobe) wearing high heels in a situation where they do not absolutely have to wear the damn things is pretty much beyond criticism because once you get rid of all the social bullshit surrounding high heels, all you're left with is their foot mangling aspect - and unless you can get lung cancer from wearing heels, then smoking is much more "patriarchal" if that's the lower standard by which such things are judged - and a woman has an absolute right to fuck herself up however the hell she likes upto the point where she's fucking other women over in the process.

And no, please god no, if you need a six mile high flow chart to explain how a woman is actually oppressing other women by doing something, I will have to cut you (with Occam's razor of course).

Of course to figure out whether and how something is uncriticisable, you need to first figure out what is readily open for relevent criticism, and why criticism of it is relevant in the first place. To stick with high heels for a second longer, what exactly makes criticism of them relevant to feminist thought in the first place exactly?

Well bizarrely enough it is only the intersection of oppressions that make highheels at all open to feminist criticism, that there is social pressure for women to wear those sorts of footwear over other sorts, or that society applies that pressure to wear them by creating a paradigm where the female leg is only "sexy" if the calf is all attenuated and stretched from women walking around on what amounts to tip toes all the time, is not nearly enough to justify feminist critiques of high heels specifically - kvetching about patriarchal social pressuring and the bullshit framing of female sexuality in a way that uses high heels as an incidental example of how such things exist and work in our society is a different thing from kvetching about high heels and using all that social shit to justify the critiques of high heels - nor indeed is the painful and occasionally crippling nature of them enough, only all three things, taken together and analysed as a single discrete method of oppression, where the social pressure in relation to the painful nature of high heels interacts to make high heels overtly oppressive even for those who do not want to find ways of feeling sexy about our bodies that doesn't involve wearing 6 inch heels and losing the ability to run or walk over a grate without falling over and breaking your ankles.

That isn't too clear actually, so lets get an example that clarifies what I'm saying - like the infamous burka.

Now critiques of burkas tend to take exactly one form strictly speaking - the oppression is in the cloth primarily i.e. the social bullshit surrounding burkas that states that not only will men, upon seeing the face of a woman, get boners and/or rape them, but that it is the fault of women if men are "driven" to this sinful behavior through the EEEVIL act of not covering every inch of their body from head to toe in the presence of men, is not nearly as evil as the mere act of a woman covering herself from head to toe in a piece of cloth - and this is the natural result of sloppy western centric thinking. You see, in western culture, the inclusion of women in society that extends beyond child care and the sex industry is conditional on women displaying an overtly femme sexuality at all times, and so something like hijab and burkas is viewed as the ultimate form of oppression by all too many western feminists because it forces muslim women to overtly refuse to display their sexuality and thus hijab observing women are excluded from society outside of child care and the sex industry because of the oppressive patriarchal conditions for female social mobility that is tacitly accepted by western feminists. Their critiques of hijab then focus on the cloth in exclusion to criticisms of the social aspects by which hijab serves to maintain and support the rape culture as it exists in the "islamic world".

So what critiques of burkas and hijab are valid, just ones that focus on the social aspects of hijab then?

Well even those are basically fucking useless, some pasty white girl, even if she wasn't, through the act of being willfully and with malice aforethought a member of the oppressive skin tone, inherently a symbol of western imperialism no matter how much futile and ultimately useless opposition to western imperialist adventures she performs, saying "burkas are Teh EEEEVILomgwtfbbq!!!11!! throw off your burkas oh internet accessing afghan wymyns!" is quite possibly the most insanely pointless statement ever (aside from the belief of many liberals that it's not really a protest if people aren't arrested and the sincere belief some people have that the democrats will, this time, not turn around and piss on the people they talk big about fighting for) because it's an extension of both hipsterist thinking - the problem of hijab is that burkas are a bad form of social consumption, and this logic is then extended so that the mere act of refusing to consume in that "bad" way is the be all and end all of radical politics for muslim women according to too many white women - and the imperialist notion that you can in effect liberate people from oppression by applying a counter force of oppression from an alternative direction - which as we're learning in Iraq and Afghanistan, falls over because people will always prefer native oppression to foreign oppression.

And so most criticisms of hijab practices, whether specific or general in nature, end up merely enabling and supporting consumerist and imperialist society rather than actually in any way helping to empower muslims women to find ways by which they can liberate themselves from the patriarchal thinking of hijab.

And through all this, it must be remembered that it is very much incumbent upon western feminists to not fuck around and apply western preconceptions of what constitutes "liberation from patriarchal hijab" when thinking about such things, because in all probability what will emerge will probably be some sort of "feminist hijab" to replace the old patriarchal sort by feminist muslims, and the problem white women will then have is that such forms of liberation will still appear as uniquely Other to westerners, mired as we are in patriarchal "raunch" culture, as the current form of hijab does.
This form of in house liberation by muslim women is of course something that will of course be mirrored in the replacement of "raunch culture" for a truly sex positivist culture - the nature of which is inherently feminist in nature, just as whatever form of "feminist hijab" will be inherently feminist, but the form will not necessarily be immediately recognisable to western feminists who have their own struggles, which occur from an entirely different starting point and will therefore reach entirely separate conclusions as to what actions and theoretical frameworks are necessary to enable the overthrowing of our lovely little greco-roman patriarchy rather than the islamo-semitic patriarchy of "the muslim world".

So how can you criticise burkas then?

Well the most important step to figuring out what sort of burka/hijab critiques are valid is to answer the first and most important question of all: Who the fuck do you mean by "you", exactly?

If the "you" is someone who has not actually been on the receiving end of cultural pressure to observe hijab, Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Critique, even if you're a muslim woman (let alone a muslim man, egads! You might as well be a white women for all it matters, because you're just another sort of oppressor), if you haven't experienced the social pressures and had to actually figure out a way to overcome the patriarchal nature of hijab then you are expressly speaking from a position of an outsider looking into someone's else's oppression, and the chances of you producing valid methods or ways of approaching hijab from such a position, from which women who are suffering under such oppression may be able to adapt such thinking and techniques to their situation and therefore be enable to liberate themselves (because all counter-cultural movements are inherently about personal liberation from cultural oppression, the movement being this emergent creature that occurs when such personally liberated people band together out of necessity to enable other people to liberate themselves and to counter the effects of a culture that is acting to suppress such liberation - personal liberation is consciousness raising), dwindles in proportion to your distance to the culture you're supposedly trying to defeat through your analysis.

If however the "you" is someone who is actively, either currently or very recently, struggling to overcome the social oppression inherent to hijab, then you ma'am, really should have spoken up sooner, because if the oppression you're critiquing, dissecting and working to overcome is personal, then your solutions and your methods of dealing are political - and this, fundamentally is what "personalising the political" means, it means taking our lives, and our reactions to our political struggles and placing them up as valid methods by which we may cope with it all, because oppressive systems have to be able to change and adapt in reaction to every possible individual who could exist, and hence the specific nature of our oppression, and therefore the specific nature of our liberation, ends up being uniquely tailored to us as individuals, and any counter-cultural movement has to be able to accept the infinite adaptations to oppression and the conversely infinite number of possible methods by which liberation from that oppression is possible without getting stuck on the pharisee-esque nature of hipsterist and other forms of reactionary thinking, wherby liberation and oppression is This, and only This, and is promptly left behind in the dirt as the oppressive system adapts the methods by which it oppresses people so that such thinking will inevitably become redundant no matter how valid it once was.

Counter-cultural movements have to avoid stagnation at all costs, because to destroy a system of oppression, that movement has to stay one step ahead of the oppressive curve, enabling the oppressed to liberate themselves faster than the oppressive system can change how it oppresses them until the entire edifice collapses as it flails wildly to right itself. A backlash is a good symptom of serious gains being made by progressive groups, it is conservative society's natural reaction to a weakening of it's oppressive hold on society to up the ante and try to suppress revolution through greater oppression.

"...and then you win."

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