I was reading recently about the inception of the second wave of feminism. How the ( attempted) burning of bras, aprons, and other implements of patriarchal oppression finally brought the political home to meet the personal, the private. And how that wedding of the political to the personal made the movement powerful, loaded it with the passion women have used for years to fuel and endure their personal lives, whatever their choices and options. The author went on to explain how, for third wave feminists, this marriage (if you’ll pardon my usage) of personal and political was less clear, less distinct. The author implied that the difference between second and third wave feminists was the view that the personal was in fact political.
And then I started thinking about my own life, my own goals. I was probably a feminist before I knew what the word was, thanks to the strong women in my life and my family, and the loving and sensitive men around me. I have been fortunate enough to have never felt the dark forces of patriarchy imposing so heavily upon me that I refused to call myself a feminist. I found economics as my calling after several failed attempts at various schools of study, and am fortunate enough to be able to shape my study of economics with a hearty feminists attitude. And now I am in the process of trying to get into a graduate program for economics. Which of course mean I have to clarify and reclarify my goals in the most powerful language I can muster, so that an unseen panel of academics and bureaucrats will let me sink myself further into debt while working my ass off for a few more years. Somehow, it always seems to come out soft, compared to how strongly I feel.
It actually hit me when I was painting a deck in Syracuse, Indiana. Trying to save up a couple of bucks, I found my self thinking about all of this while I watched four separate teams of service providers (myself included) toil at a family’s summer house in the hot sun. And that’s when it hit me. You may not know it by looking at me in my paint-stained shorts and dirty hair, but I want to get my PhD in Economics. You may not know it by looking at me painting this bourgeois whore’s deck, but I want to work for an NGO and help some developing nation create jobs, commerce, and independence by using the skills and resources they’ve honed for generations. You may not know it from looking at the globs of paint and dead bugs wedged inside my sports bra, but I want to be the next chairperson of the federal reserve board, because I realized a long time ago that I had too much conscience for the presidency, and have decided I could do far more at the Fed. And then I started thinking about the things I would tell my young cousins when I was completing my PhD and doing my research and traveling to new and interesting places. And hopefully, through hearing my stories and seeing what I’ve been able to do, they would be emboldened to make better, more fulfilling decisions for themselves, in their lives. And counsel their friends to buck the standard. And be an example to other young women on the street wondering whether to play it safe and get married in college, or make a run for it and try a semester abroad. And my decisions would reverberate throughout society, in a rocking feminist way. And I would carry that kernel of knowledge with me wherever I went, and It would inspire me to continue to make the right, strong choice, even if it wasn’t an easy choice.
And, to me, that is the definition, the quintessential truth, to the feminist maxim that the personal is political.