Feminism is Defined by the Belief that “the Personal is Political.” Discuss.

Feminism is Defined by the Belief that “the Personal is Political.” Discuss.

Note: One of my duties in the various places where I teach is to show students how to write essays – something most young people are not nowadays taught to do. What I like to do in class is to choose a question at random, discuss possible approaches, and then dictate an answer one paragraph at a time. Some of these answers are very short. Some amount to small dissertations. In this latter case, the students take turns at looking on-line for the information we decide is needed. It they cannot find it, I show them how to change the structure of what has already been written, or to strike out in a new direction.

It is a “writing masterclass” approach that makes use of my own strengths, and is often a welcome alternative to formal teaching. It fills up a long morning session. Everyone learns something, and the more attentive will improve their final grades by at least one step.

Here is an example of the finished product. Do not take it as a statement of personal opinion. It is an answer produced for a specific question, and it bears in mind what a possibly unknown examiner will appreciate, and what can be written to incorporate the sources found in class. SIG

PS – If anyone wants to engage my services as a teacher of these skills, please click on the image to the left. Though they are my niche subjects, Greek and Latin are not my exclusive focus as a teacher. I do much else besides.

Introduction: The common core of feminism, before about 1970, was that women should have the same political and legal rights as men and that they should not be denied the same economic opportunities – eg, “equal pay for equal work.” Since then, however, a strong divide has emerged within feminism, and some feminists believe that male oppression (patriarchy” is deeply rooted in the structures of the established order.

Point 1: For the radical or “second wave” feminists, patriarchy begins in the structures and assumptions of heterosexual monogamy. Girls are conditioned from an early age to accept the primacy of boys. By the time they are young women, they are wholly enslaved – so much so that they cannot recognise their chains. Two key texts of this kind of feminism: “Fat is a Feminist Issue,” Susie Orbach (1978), “The Beauty Myth,” Naomi Wolf (1990) The first argues that women are made to feel bad about themselves if they grow fat, and so they give in to other forms of oppression. The second argues that male oppressors have created an ideal of female beauty that cannot be achieved, but that women are encouraged to aim at by starving themselves. Because women on starvation diets are incapable of standing up for themselves, both pornography and the advertising industry are key supports of patriarchy.

Therefore, the personal is political. Dieting is not a personal choice. It is an acceptance of patriarchy. Being fat and not bothering to wash or use sanitary towels are revolutionary acts that tend towards the true emancipation of women.

Point 2. Perhaps the most prominent of the second wave feminists was Andrea Dworkin, who became notorious for her writings on sex. She did much to expand definition of rape from unwilling sex with threats of violence to any kind of sex that does not involve explicit prior consent. She also popularised the idea of “political lesbianism,” and insisted that heterosexual sex is not oppressive only when women are on top and the man has only a weak erection. She was also strongly opposed to the free availability of pornography, claiming that it “objectified women” – that is, made them into objects of male lust that demeaned them as individuals and encouraged rape and other forms of sexual abuse. For the same reason, she supported the suppression of prostitution and other forms of sex work.

Point 3: However, not all feminists stand within this tradition. Both Germaine Greer and especially Camille Paglia continue to insist that feminism is achieved by a programme of political and legal equality. They strongly reject the idea that the political is the personal. Germaine Greer has become steadily more conservative since her “Female Eunuch” was published in the 1960s, and she has been banned from speaking at various British universities on account of her alleged “transphobia” or unwillingness to accept that men who change their sex are really women. Camille Paglia stands close to the American libertarian tradition. She believes that, once obvious political and legal discriminations are removed, there is no fundamental conflict between men and women. She also strongly supports the right to publish and enjoy pornography and the right of women to become sex workers. She is a lesbian who believes that sexual orientation should be a matter of personal choice.

Conclusion: A movement tends to be defined by its extremes. In this sense, feminism is often seen as a movement dominated by the ideas of Orbach, Wolf, Dworkin and others of their kind. However, it is possible to make a list of liberal feminists much longer than just Greer and Paglia. There is a division within feminism, and it is not true to say that it is defined by the belief that the personal is the political.