Knowing the Body: The Personal and the Political Forum


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Readings for Week Two
Name: Gus Stadle
Date: 2004-09-03 12:43:54
Link to this Comment: 10742


Hello Everyone.

In the coming week we're looking at some literary and visual texts based in personal experience. I want to open the floor with a couple of general questions.

How are the personal elements of these texts responding to forces, conventions, and/or contexts that mute or obscure certain experiences and issues (both individual and collective)?

Do you think that issues of gender and sexuality demand an appeal to the personal in some form?

Conversely, what sorts of limits do you see in the political value of "personal" representation?

Note that to respond you'll have to do some thinking about what you mean by "political"--and we may all have different ideas about this.


personal and political
Name: Rebecca Ma
Date: 2004-09-05 10:25:51
Link to this Comment: 10779

The understanding within the social sciences, in its attempt to create itself as a science, such as physics, is that objectivity can only be achieved through the absence of the personal elements of the investigator within the work produced. Not only does this method of objectivity limit the investigator to pose questions that can only be measured through observation, but it also blocks the entrance of experiential knowledge into research. Thus, the personal elements within these texts challenge the forces that attempt to diminish the legitimacy of experiential knowledge. Although the Women’s Movement in the US began with a more inclusive group of people, the establishment of Gender/ Sexuality studies within the academia has produced some feminist theorists who seek to limit the voice of feminism to those with formal higher education. Yet the study invariably appeals to the personal in some form because without the details of the lives of individual women, a collective theory becomes a groundless abstraction that’s meaningless to politicize. The only limit that I see in the political value of personal representation is the difficulty in quantifying personal experiences without loosing the details.



Name: LB
Date: 2004-09-06 09:59:51
Link to this Comment: 10780

The "personal" and the "political" describe antithetical spheres when the "political" refers to anything beyond the private household life. Woolf's argument for contributing money towards rebuilding a college for women is that the college will get the "daughters of educated men" out of the house (the private, personal sphere) and prevent the women from giving support to their fathers, husbands, and brothers in favor of war. According to their socialized roles, women remain in the private home where they are only capable of influencing the men of their family. Men, on the other hand, work in the political arena where they have daily contact with the public (i.e. people outside the home). Woolf supports the education of women beyond them being "restricted to the education of the private house." Women could learn to directly impact the political world if they were educated in it (a rare opportunity for many women). Class also plays an interesting role because women working outside the home have the power to stop working and therefore influence the political realm, of course they compromise their economic stability.


Political vs Personal Identity
Name: Mo Convery
Date: 2004-09-06 14:53:42
Link to this Comment: 10782

When addressing an issue of identity, such as gender and sexuality, within a social and political enviroment, there must be a strict balance between reliance on personal narrative and a collective association. First and foremeost, in creating or joining a collective identity there is power; strength in numbers. Whether right or not, the more individuals associated with an identity, the more valid or "normal" it becomes. For issues such as gender and sexuality which have not always been understood or accepted, the group identity helps to create a social niche. In her essay "The Breakfast of the Bicultural Mind", Moraga discusses the negative personal implications and social frustration that comes in lacking a "social niche". Personal narratives, on the other hand, help to keep a sense of humanity and individuality within the political enviroment. Those who relate to this identity relate to many others as well. The personal narrative can also create a "poster child" which individuals both within and outside the collective identity can relate to one on one. However, in making a personal stance about one's identity, there is the risk in demeaning the powerful collective identity. The more indiviudals that place themselves outside the social identity, the fewer voices are together behind the larger implications.


Allowing the personal to be political
Name: Gilda
Date: 2004-09-06 15:19:10
Link to this Comment: 10785

I agree with LB that the political is what happens “beyond the private household life.” To me, the political also means the ways in which we express/perform the thoughts, beliefs, and experiences we have in the personal. Therefore, the political should be an expression/performance of what happens within the personal. This seems to confirm what Anne said on the first day: “the personal IS political.” However, I think the personal is not always allowed to become political—and I have a lot of questions about what happens to the relationship between the two when this is the case.

Woolf talks about women not being able to make their personal experience, beliefs, etc. political because of the way we were (and, sadly, in some ways still are) restricted from participating in the world outside the home (i.e. the realm of the political.) Although issues of gender and sexuality are very much seen as political today, there’s a great need to pay attention to their personal aspect. Because there are women still relegated to the home and queers still forced to remain closeted, the political is yet to be enriched by the beliefs and ideas of those who don’t have their voices heard and don’t have access to the political realm.


Personal and Political
Name: Marissa Ch
Date: 2004-09-06 16:26:43
Link to this Comment: 10787

I have always agreed with the argument that the "personal" and the "political" spheres were created in part to separate the public and private life, and in doing so creating acceptable boundaries for women. The word "sphere" makes one visualize a circle, which in a way created a virtual fence around what was expected from women. Education was one of the only ways for women to break free from this encompassing sphere.



Name: Sara Ansel
Date: 2004-09-06 16:39:46
Link to this Comment: 10788

The personal is increasingly become the political today. When thinking of some if the issues being tossed around in the political realm, there is a growing trend of issues effecting the private sector as opposed to the more traditional issues such as health care and taxes. I am thinking specifically of issues such as abortion, gay rights, and civil rights. It is as impossible today to avoid the topic of the war in Iraq as it is to avoid the topic of gay marriage when discussing a politician's platform running for office.
Woolf represents the bridging of these two realms that are so intertwined today. She is calling for women to act within their private lives (going to college) and thus make a political statement. It is when women and citizens as a whole are able to recognize the link between the two realms of politics and the personal that the knowledge of your own empowerment becomes ingrained. However daunting this realization may be, it is one that Woolf strived to bring about.


Sex, Death and Religion
Name: Chelsea
Date: 2004-09-06 16:57:12
Link to this Comment: 10789

"I am stuck between witnessing and coming out." It's interesting that Warner uses this language. He is aknowledging the tendency in our culture toward naming and labelling. It seems to me almost uncontrollable: as a boy, he experienced politically about what most people would argue is a private matter. Standing in a mall witnessing to shoppers is politicizing (and by that I mean making a definitive public action which incorporates one into a publicly labelled sphere) a personal identity. Although he has made a seemingly extreme journey to what could be called the flip side of his first personality, he is still caught in the cycle of claiming a personal thing publicly, thereby politicizing it.

In order to work toward progress and the recognition/equality of a marginalized group, does that group ask its members to place themselves on the public/political alter? Is there an element of self-sacrifice inherent in playing this game? This game played out of necessity, not for fun, but for the larger (and future) good.



Name: Beth
Date: 2004-09-06 16:57:16
Link to this Comment: 10790

Virginia Woolf talks about the education of women and how despite their advances, women still do not stand on equal footing with men in the world, including in the "political" world. In order to advance as a "woman in a man's world," the women have to meet the standards of the men and adapt to a "political" world that they have not had an equally active part in creating. On page 18, Woolf refers to women collectively as "we" and men as "you" and says, "Though we see the same world, we see it through different eyes." This cannot be denied, but no one shares the exact same set of eyes with another human being. There is no one way of seeing the world if you are a woman; everything is personal and affected by individual experience. The "personal" experiences of women have always been undervalued by society as a whole but to speak of the collective experience of women often silences the individual voices. The issues of gender and sexuality can be very personal and are often based on individual perspectives and experiences. One person's definition of what it means to be a feminist may be quite different from his/her neighbor's or even his/her sibling's. Woolf states of women, "They can act, and think for themselves. Perhaps even they can influence other people's thoughts and actions" (6). However, this does not mean that all women feel the same way about politics or war.


political personality
Name: Deborah
Date: 2004-09-06 16:58:21
Link to this Comment: 10791

My ideas on the personal = political have been slowly churning around and only peices surface to my mind that can be concretely articulated. I remember studying this subject, that the personal IS political, 2 years ago in Anne's inaugural Thinking Sex class, and I could not wrap my brain around the concept. It has taken personal experience to appreciate the actuality of the subject: for example, I have various personal bumper stickers on my car, exclaiming my personal philosophies and politics, and I wonder if, when being honked at, are people responding to my driving? Or my politics? I also have a handicap placard on my car...and I wonder whether that has an impact on how people react to me, or the image they have of me, those whom do not or cannot know me. I realise that just by virtue of being who I am...gay, democratic, disabled, female, young...I am making political statements that have effects on myself and the people around me. I think by embracing your personal self, or selves, or the self that is you right now, and exclaiming it, or not, creates politics that are reacted to by those outside yourself. Being personal, to me, excludes being part of a group...being a subsidy of an exisiting label...it is the incosistant, individual personal identities we are and portray that create different political statements. What does it mean to be a male in a feminist classroom? What does it mean to be strait when talking about issues of gay rights? What does it mean to be any majority in the context of oppression? Do they not have the right or privilage of being political due to their own personal? I still struggle with this concept...I had difficulty swalling the shorter readings, how angry and searching Cherrie Moraga was about the politicized responses to her race/lack of definitive race, how matter of fact Michael Warner's biography of Pentecostal upbringing...to me, acceptance of self means ownership of self. I own my on actions, I do NOT own other people's reactions...so, to be personal, and real, is sometimes to be political. It seems simple to accept this, and to search not for ways to control other people's thoughts or reactions to me but my own personal growth and self actualization.



Name: Jana McGow
Date: 2004-09-06 17:02:55
Link to this Comment: 10792

Cherri Moraga explains that she has concluded that her “writer’s journey is not strictly wedded to my individual story” which she defines as the marriage of her parents who are from two distinctly different cultures. Society puts TONS of labels out there to categorize people, and so we in turn often use those same categories to define ourselves. Moraga tries to find something that defines her that is “older” than her and even older than her parent’s cultures. She seems to feel very limited by her personal knowledge and inability to look at the world and write about it in a “colorblind” way. I think her point is interesting….do the categories help us become more specific as far as who we are? Or do we need to find something more general to allow us to be who we are without any kind of pre-conceptions.

As far as sexuality goes, I hate it when Britney spears and people are like, “I was finding my sexuality” What does that mean? Aren't we all born with a sexuality? Do you need to put on a short skirt to find your sexuality, isn't it just there? i guess that's more personal than political.

Placing people in groups can seem to help you politically in some ways, but eventually you are going to get problems. Putting all feminists together….but only straight feminists or only white feminists may allow feminists to become more prevalent in politics, but those left behind will be even more alienated than before. It’s like political parties. I’m glad that we only have 2 major parties because it gives the one I choose more strength, but at the same time, I find myself frustrated that neither party fits all my needs or beliefs.


Blending
Name: Mar
Date: 2004-09-06 22:09:32
Link to this Comment: 10794

In my opinion, the personal and the political are hard to separate. The edges blur and bend, especially when they come in contact with sexuality and gender. What is intimately personal, one's gender, for example, can become political. In Woolf's time, women could not receive the same education as men, a political action, due to their gender, a personal aspect. This still happens today: we can judge people as much by personal aspects as by political ones.

In Woolf's time, women were denied many things very publicly due to their gender. Today, many still lose "political" battles due to personal aspects, though we may not be as public or overt as the turn-of-the-century British. In America, especially, we pull the personal into the political. One modern example of such an occurence was when Ms. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of Britain. Many men beneath her complained that she was bossy and controlling, despite the fact that she was, indeed the boss. These self same men did not voice the same complaints when the worked under a man with the same personality aspects.


Warner and Me
Name: nancy
Date: 2004-09-06 23:53:40
Link to this Comment: 10795

Having not done the Woolf reading yet, I feel compelled to fill some space (is this guilt for procrastinating?)

I find Warner's assertion that "since the early days of Methodism... it has been commonplace to see enthusiastic religion as sexual excess... as an unrecognized form of sexuality."

This reminds me so strongly of an experience I had at age 15. I had just moved to a small, religiously-driven town in Georgia, and a new friend invited me to a "church picnic" at her (Methodist) church. Rather than actually being the fried-chicken and baked beans sort of event I had imagined, I found myself kneeling in a pew while a man who spoke/sang the praises of the Lord invited "those among us who have not given their hearts to Jesus to surrender them and live not another day outside His glory."

Many of the people who had migrated to the front of the church began yelling, waving their arms, and calling out various "amens". I was scared, and started to cry. The man at the podium noticed my crying and decided that I must have seen Jesus, so he announced it to the congregation and invited them to come lay hands on me, which freaked me out even more. The strangest part was the pleasure everyone seemed to be getting out of my "being saved". The unwanted intensity and physicality of it all felt so wrong and violating. I don't think I am bold enough to suggest what I may be hinting at, so I'll let Warner do the talking for me. (see above)





Political vs. Private Concerning Sexuality and Gen
Name: Bree Beery
Date: 2004-09-07 13:46:36
Link to this Comment: 10796

In sitting down to answer this seemingly simple question, I find myself conflicted between the definitions and thoughts on the issue of political vs. private, especially when concerning the matter of gender and sexuality. To me, the political is just another word for the actions, credences and experiences we carry out beyond our personal lives. Our political sphere does not even have to be reflectory of our personal sphere, in fact most of the time the political is merely just a facade of an idealized private life. What most often happens in society, even today, is that people try, although not successfully to seperate their personal sphere from their political sphere for fear of being categorized or unjustly labeled as something negative. Yet what one must realize is that no matter how much they try to distinguish between the private and the poltical is that they are essentially one and the same thing and our personal will eventually become equated with our political. Even in modern society the personal always somehow becomes blended with the political; whether it is concerning the rights of women, homosexuals and minorities or whether it is just the newest sex scandel of the week. What I think Virginia Woolf is trying to say in "Three Guineas" is that women, need to realize the power of their lives as personal and need to somehow realize that because their personal is blended with the political, if they take control, they can parlay their power into the poltical.


More thoughts on when the political isn't personal
Name: Gilda
Date: 2004-09-08 02:05:48
Link to this Comment: 10798

I’m coming back to post about something I’ve been thinking about since Sunday, when I attended both Quaker meeting and Catholic mass. By identifying with one religious group (or deciding to not identify as religious), we’re making a political statement. However, our belief in a higher power (or lack thereof) is about as personal as can get. Since Quakers as a group believe in non-violence, someone saying “I’m Quaker” might lead us to believe that she’s a pacifist. However, that person might not agree with that particular tenet of the Quaker religion, but still consider herself a Quaker. At meeting this Sunday, a woman talked about the Iraq war and at one point said “whether or not we believe this war is right,” implying that some people in the room might agree with the war, even though they are Quaker.

When I identify myself as Catholic, especially nowadays, people might interpret that as political statement that implies that I have certain views on abortion, gay marriage, and premarital sex that are espoused by the Catholic Church. That, however, is not the case. But I still choose to call myself Catholic, for (here we go again) personal reasons.
Even if we decide to label ourselves (what Moraga seems to have so much trouble with), our labels do not mean the same to everyone. So what do we do? Do I have to go around calling myself “a pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, feminist [the list goes on and on] Catholic,” or “a Catholic, but not really”?


some (deep) background
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-09-08 13:12:30
Link to this Comment: 10803

Wanted to add, if anyone's interested, the two references I mentioned in class yesterday,
as perhaps-useful background for better understanding Moraga's claims:
La Malinche and
Julian Jaynes' The Origin of Consciousness in the Break-down of the Bicameral Mind



Name: Claire
Date: 2004-09-08 21:48:25
Link to this Comment: 10806

I know, I know, this is quite a delayed posting, but I needed some time to digest the readings along with everyone's comments, and then integrate those with my own thoughts on the personal is political.

I am still not quite sure if I have come to terms with what "the personal is political" really means. Does it mean that everything we do, everything we are can then be taken up in a political forum? I first started to think of very obscure things that are pretty personal, that I would never think of as political. Take, for example, the idea of being a nose-picker. How is that a political action and/or statement? However I then thought about all the extremist groups, or even about the social dynamics of third grade, and realized that, while not "outlawed" through state law, nose-picking is an action which is condemned by society.

So, I may have gone a little off point here, but through this thought process I was able to determine, in my mind, how the personal and political are linked. Due to the categorization of people based on their sexual orientation, race, gender, nose-picking preferences, every individual person is able to be slotted into specific places in society. We each have our own individual reactions to being categorized in this way, but the strength of a singular voice of protest is very weak in comparison to the voice of the categorization. The one voice, the voice of the individual, is lost to the voices proclaiming stereotypes.

In the readings we read for Tuesday, we listened to three women speak out against their categorization. Each woman, through their writing, was able to express their personal views. In our class, however, especially in the case of Moraga, there were several people who disagreed with the personal view of Moraga. In the clash of these views, what was once personal (the definition of self as biracial/bisexual, or in the case of Moraga, denying strength to these terms) has entered into debate and has become political.

I am not sure if, in the end, I have made my point. As you might be able to tell, I am still struggling with the idea of having our personal identities stripped of us when in the context of larger society. It is in voicing ourselves as people, our "personal" sides, that we then make the personal change into political.


holding the self (more?) lightly
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2004-09-10 14:56:12
Link to this Comment: 10817

I apologize for arriving so late to class on Thursday, and regret missing what (I think) I missed...

I found myself entering a conversation-in-progress in which you all were exploring a possible congruence between Michael Warner's Pentacostal-born understanding of self-transgression/self-realization/self-dissolution/self-rupture and Buddhist cautions against attachment to self, where the advice is not to hold it tightly, to doubt its fixededness, even its realness. That association came as quite a surprise to me, was both of interest and of use as a possible correction/alteration of an opposition (I thought) I understood, between the Christian valorization of the fate of the precious individual soul, and the "light holding" action/inaction of Buddhism.

Along these lines...some of you might find this essay on BUDDHIST MEDITATION AND PERSONAL CONSTRUCT PSYCHOLOGY, written several years ago by a Bryn Mawr senior named Phouttasone Thirakoul, a useful introduction to both Buddhist thinking and a branch of western psychology which stresses active generation and regeneration of self.


the political is personal
Name: Jessie
Date: 2004-09-11 22:49:39
Link to this Comment: 10822

The phrase “the personal is political” I think would read better the other way around: the political is personal. I understand this phrase as connoting the far-reaching influence of political activity, to the extent of even questioning the separation of a “personal,” private sphere. It doesn’t necessarily mean, the way I read it, that a “personal” action (such as deciding whether or not to shave your legs) will immediately reverberate into public forums and change the way our system is run.
Rather, the way our system is run dictates whether or not we decide to shave our legs, to stick with the same example. Our personal stories reflect and illuminate the political system we live in, as the authors of the past week have demonstrated with their first-person stories of identity within a political context.

Virgina Woolf excellently links this idea of political actions and personal behavior, problematizing the idea that the two fields are at all independent. Personal behavior such as formal dress, she points out, has political repercussions, such as creating hierarchy, which are eventually realized in war. “We can say that for educated men to emphasize their superiority over other people, either in birth or intellect, by dressing differently… have their share in encouraging a disposition towards war.” Likewise, the government that results from such emphasis on hierarchy effects our personal lives. For example, in the public sphere, women own no property. This results in “very considerable differences in mind and body” – considerable personal differences. Woolf’s linking of the personal and the political is further emphasized with the very form of her book: a personal letter with political meaning. This form also emphasizes the idea of an ongoing conversation –much like the personal/political interchange.



Name:
Date: 2004-09-12 22:24:38
Link to this Comment: 10825





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