The Personal is Political

I think it is deeply important that we recognize how our actions in everyday life either work to perpetuate or challenge the social structure of oppression. The phrase "the personal is political" applies with equal force to the feminist, vegan, antiracist, queer, trans, and other liberation movements.

Veganism is a good example of how consciousness-raising about our everyday actions is important to challenging the structure of oppression and exploitation. Veganism takes everyday "personal" actions (e.g., eating, dressing, and recreating) and calls out the political dimensions of these actions. It reveals how eating, wearing, and otherwise using nonhuman animals is not a mere "personal" act, but a dimension of exploitation and human privilege. It makes a connection between the personal action and the political structure of our society.

Because our everyday lives are in so many ways lived in opposition to the established social structure, both vegans, queers and trans people are often portrayed as anti-social extremists. It seems that just being open about who we are is enough make some nonvegans and straight people very uncomfortable. We may even hear complaints from family and acquaintances who ask, "Why can't you just be normal?" Of course, normal means conforming with and adhering to the norms of the dominant social order. The very request that we be "normal" is proof that the personal is political.

One of the challenges we face in anti-oppression organizing is continuing to assert the importance of actions in everyday life to opposing the status quo, especially in the face of co-option. Our anti-oppression work is often at risk of being absorbed and depoliticized. We're often told that in order to be "effective" we need to be "normal."

Vegans are urged to promote veggie burgers and not ask about ingredients when eating out with nonvegans. Veggie burgers represent an attempt to emulate the norms of a meat-centered society, whereas eating a salad or other vegetable (i.e., "side") dishes are thought to make a vegetarian diet look bad. And asking about ingredients calls attention to the political nature of eating; it's discouraged for the very fact that it might make nonvegans feel uncomfortable.

Similarly, queers are urged to promote gay marriage and not question established gendered norms. Marriage represents an attempt to emulate the legally binding monogamous coupling expected under heteronormativity, while other types of relationships are thought to make gays look bad. Also, being transsexual or otherwise questioning gendered norms calls attention to the political nature of social interactions; it, too, is discouraged because it might make cissexual or gender normative people feel uncomfortable.

Yet, it is the very fact that nonvegans don't have to think about what they eat and wear, that straight people don't have to think about their intimate relationships, and that cissexual and gender normative people don't have to think about their dress, expression, or pronouns, that makes challenging what is "normal" and "personal" so important. Of course these people feel uncomfortable, they're being challenged to think about the very things their political status allows them to take for granted. Questioning these unexamined privileges is a necessary precondition to change.