“The personal is political“ has been recognised as the definitive slogan for second wave feminism. The slogan highlights the connection between personal experiences and the broader socio-political structures. A plethora of women from all walks of life participated in consciousness-raising sessions, raising feminist concerns and discussing oppression in the patriarchal structure. However, these sessions were shunned away in the mainstream as mere personal therapy. Carol Hanisch’s contested this in her 1969 essay. “Women are messed over, not messed up!” is perhaps one of the most memorable and quotable lines in her essay. She asserted that these sessions were hugely political. Concerns raised through these meetings must be paid attention to and treated as political, she argued. These “personal” concerns were indeed, outcomes of systematic forms of oppression.
Cynthia Enloe, in her book titled Bananas, Beaches and Bases (1989), claims that no one – women or men – can be seen solely as a “worker”. Everybody has specific roles to play – being a mother, father, husband, wife, brother, sister, and so forth. Each such role is inherently political. Enloe’s aptly states that the political, i.e. persisting power relations create a discernible impact upon our private lives, which we believed to be isolated from the outside world. In the context of feminism, this implies that the overarching patriarchal structure becomes a key deciding factor in our private lives.
The crux of Enloe’s argument lies in how we understand the public sphere, which is rooted in concepts defined in masculine terms. From how one understands “citizen” to a “sovereign state”, the connotation remains masculine. She argues that US’ foreign policy and America’s overt tendency to romanticise capitalism stems from the entrenched idealisation of extreme masculinity. This also means the female experience often gets neglected. The international arena is treated like a dangerous place where men must act as “protectors” of women. Cooperative policies are often seen as being “gentlemanly”, whereas risk-taking as seen as manly assertiveness. Thus not only is there a negation of the female perspective, but a subordination of the feminine itself altogether.
One can extend Enloe’s arguments to the Sabarimala issue. Many women can be seen as being against the entry of women into the temple. The right has used the example of these women to further their own agendas. It is important to note that just as men can be feminists, women can support the overarching structure of patriarchy. Perhaps one of the biggest critiques to Enloe’s theory may be seen in whether she makes the mistake of treating men, as opposed to masculinity, as the culprit (Jones, 2001, p.171). Many women don’t see the issue of Sabarimala as being one for gender equality, but instead women’s entry into the temple being seen as anti-tradition. These traditions are often oppressive, archaic and were put into place by men themselves many years ago.
One must then wonder – if the public sphere is inherently patriarchal in nature (in 2019 India at least), then how do we escape it? This is a much more complex problem to solve. It is the same problem that motivates politicians to make public statements protecting rapists – stating that if women did not want to be raped, they shouldn’t have gone out alone at night.
Works Cited Enloe, C. (1989) Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Hanisch, C. (1969). The Personal is Political. Retrieved from: http://www.carolhanisch.org/CHwritings/PIP.html
Jones, A. (2001). [Review of Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women’s Lives, by Cynthia Enloe], Contemporary Politics, 7: 2, 171-175. Retrieved from: http://adamjones.freeservers.com/enloe.htm.