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True Meaning of the Feminist Slogan 'The Personal is Political'

Renuka Savant Jun 9, 2019
'The Personal is Political' was an oft-heard slogan during the second-wave feminism period in the 1960s. But what did it actually mean? This story has all the answers.
"Feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It's about making life more fair for women everywhere."
― Gloria Steinem
The feminist movement, be it the first-wave period of the 19th and early 20th century or the second-wave period of the 1960s, is probably the most misconstrued emancipation movement in the history of mankind.
To this day, it remains abundantly clear that no one, absolutely no one, really took the effort to hear the voices behind the protests―gender equality in the truest sense still remains a pipe dream for women across the world.
While the first-wave feminist movement successfully campaigned for women's suffrage, it was during the second-wave period in the 1960s that the issues got really close to home.
The debates became centered on women's sexuality, family values, women in the workplace, their reproductive rights, marital rape, and domestic violence―issues which affected women from all walks of life, all over the world.
The slogan 'The Personal is Political' urged women to come together in order to bring attention to these issues, and find strength in numbers. Let's take a look at the meaning and origin of the phrase.

Meaning of 'The Personal is Political'

The term as such gained various interpretations as its reach grew; however, its basic ideal remained constant. 'The Personal is Political' sought to forge a connection between each woman's personal problems with the structure of power in society.
By linking these two, it aimed at motivating women to come together and fight the political structure, which had a major hand in enforcing oppressive laws that promoted gender inequality.
Due to this slogan, women who were suffering in silence, were encouraged to come together in groups to discuss instances of blatant sexism which formed a part of their daily routines. The discussions used to be centered on previously unmentionable problems like domestic violence, marital rape, and the woman's right to make decisions regarding her body.

The Carol Hanisch Essay

Carol Hanisch, a well-known figure in the Women's Liberation Movement, wrote an essay elucidating the significance of women's self-awareness groups from a political perspective. It was published in Notes from the Second Year: Women's Liberation in 1970, and had several reprints and mentions during the course of the Movement.
Hanisch wrote the essay as a member of the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF), a group working for the cause of women's rights in the South. The essay as she wrote it was titled, Some Thoughts in Response to Dottie's Thoughts on a Women's Liberation Movement. 
It was a response aimed at a memo drafted by another staff member, Dottie Zellner, who expressed a view that the self-awareness or conscience-raising groups only amounted to therapy. She further questioned if the new Women's Liberation Movement was even really "political", if at all.
In 2006, Carol Hanisch clarified that the title 'The Personal is Political' was not created by her. She credited the title to Notes from the Second Year editors, Shulie Firestone and Anne Koedt, who featured the essay in their publication.
Hanisch further went on to explain that the context of the term "political" was to be taken in the broad sense―referring to power relationships, rather than that of electoral politics.

In her essay, Hanisch commented on the parallels drawn between these political gatherings of women and therapy sessions.
She disagreed with the use of the word "therapy" to describe these sessions, as it would imply that the gathered women suffered from some kind of an illness, and sought "therapy" through these meetings.
When in reality, all these women did was raise questions which bothered them―topics ranged from the consequences of economic inequality in a household, to women choosing to remain childless in a marriage―which were answered and analyzed by the women present. The idea was to collectively evaluate problems and come up with solutions as a group.
Thus, Hanisch really seemed to have pushed the cause of these group sessions, and their contribution to the Women's Liberation Movement. In time, the slogan underwent a considerable number of interpretations and even attracted criticism along the way.
And although it may not have a specific origin, it is safe to say that 'The Personal is Political' represented the second-wave feminism movement like no other.