DMRLW (No. 2): “The Personal is Political”

Dialectical Materialist Responses to Liberal Wokeness (No. 2): “The Personal is Political”


It is often that I encounter this mis-use of the concept “the personal is political” when liberals and new age maoists online defend their personal opinions or takes or lifestyle choices as a certain validation of its importance elevated to the level of political. That it is indeed, that my personal life, being political, is worth talking about. The source of the concept, Carol Hanisch herself, was never really concerned of personal troubles or personal issues or anything “personal” at all. “The Personal is Political” is found in her text in the context of another passage: “Women are messed over, not messed up!” Women, for Hanisch, experience womanhood in the patriarchal sense always already in the context of power relations

It is actually in the “broader“sense of being political — that is, framing in the context of power relations, as Hanisch herself would suggest — that liberals and new age maoists tend to miss the implication of Hanisch’s concept. Primarily because of class-privilege. The decontextualized “personal is political” becomes quite a marketing scheme: it sells privileged, intimate and private personal life as political. It only reeks of opportunism. It is also in this context of opportunism that liberals and new age maoists tend to find validation for their indulgence to commodity culture. As a supplement to New Age Maoist Aesthetics, decontextualized “personal is political” validates personal taste by presupposing mis-read (or opportunistic readings) of revolutionary theory into their preferred pop culture commodities without a sense of irony. Say, a Marxist validation of a Mariah Carey lyric without an actual Marxist analysis. Or a Maoist validation of pop punk without considering the historical implications of the genre. Decontextualized “personal is political” supplements commodity fetishism through its use of revolutionary rhetoric.

Worst implication of decontextualized “personal is political” is the opportunistic use of politics, political participation and/or the revolutionary movement in the production of representational commodities from highly privileged sources. Say, the use of protest footages in the film Never Tear Us Apart (Cinema One Originals 2018), which montage unironically supplements the metaphor of the closet “struggle” of the protagonist in the sense of an equation. That the main character’s personal struggles, regardless of his class-privilege, is equal to the economico-political struggles of the urban poor (protest footages on the film, as per the film credits say, came from Sining Kadamay — cultural arm of the urban poor mass organization, Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY)). It is in the fact that most commentators who liked the film liked it because of it’s “personal” aspect, says a lot about its use of protest footage as merely an extension of the personal rather than of the political. Don Jaucian noted on how the film will remind you that “the monsters we make ourselves are the realest of them all” invoking that it might just be the family, still, without taking power relations in the atomic unit of the family into consideration.

In her 2006 introduction for her classic essay, Hanisch realized how much of the writing still stand to time. From the basic aspects of the analysis (of the feminist critique grounded in class-analysis and critique of power relations) to the specific contradictions of their lives as women which rectification, resolution and error-correction is still an on-going process. It is in this weight that the passage “personal is political” rides: that it takes a kind of commitment to a political struggle for one to recognize that the fault is not within one’s head or the monster is not of one’s own making. The monster is as real as the great machines waiting to pulverize the what is left of the living community of San Roque in exchange of an extension of the lifeless Quezon City Business District.

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