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Study Notes

Feminism: The Personal is Political

AQA, Edexcel

Last updated 6 Nov 2018

The second-wave feminist Carol Hanish is credited with the slogan “the personal is the political.” This remains one of the most celebrated phrases from an ideology that boldly recasts the focus of traditional ideologies towards the private sphere. This well-known phrase encapsulates the various attempts made by feminists of all persuasions to raise awareness of how the private realm serves a very deliberate political aim.

Feminism is at heart an ideology that seeks to politicise the private realm. In doing so, it attempts to highlight the subordinate status of women and thereby challenge the traditional dominance of the male within the home and the family. Feminists have also sought to emphasis the political importance of lifestyle choices made by women (notably reproductive rights within the United States).

The redefinition of that which we should consider political is one of the lasting legacies of the feminist movement. Hanish should therefore be viewed as part of a wider movement for social change and one that has undoubtedly broadened our consideration of that which falls under the realm of political ideas. It may also have served to empower women from the confines of cultural and social expectations of femininity (particularly in the context of motherhood and the domestic realm).

Adopting the phrase ‘the personal is the political’ is part of the broader aim amongst feminists to break down the traditional dichotomy between the public sphere and the private sphere. This is based upon an understanding that gender expectations can both reflect and reinforce the power imbalance between men and women. As such, that which is traditionally considered to be in the private realm should warrant the same degree of attention as other more conventional considerations. It is only by doing so that females can escape the stifling confines of that behaviour which is expected of them.

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