In honor of the transition from Black History Month to Women’s History Month I want to explain this classic feminist idea: the personal is political.
People who say they have no interest in politics are at best apathetic and naïve and at worst complacent and heartless. Every single decision you make is political. From the huge life decisions you make–if and who you will marry (if you are legally able) and what you do for a living–to the miniscule, seemingly insignificant daily choices you make–what you will (or won’t) eat for lunch and which websites to log onto–every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Everything you say or don’t say, everything you do or don’t do, is all political. Choosing to marry an attractive person of the opposite sex but the same race and work only to make money have an impact on you, your family, your community, and your society. Choosing to eat only locally produced, fair trade, organic vegetables and log onto change.org also impacts every aspect of your life and the lives of those around you. I am not, yet, advocating for any particular choices. I am merely hoping to show you what power you have. Once you understand the responsibility that comes with being able to choose, it’s up to you to make the right choices for you.
To explore the power choice has, I want to examine two areas of life: partnership and food.
Most people living in the United States and following the marriage equality debates around the world understand just how political choosing a partner can be. While I do believe that who one is attracted to may be instinctual, who one choses to partner with is entirely political. Now, I know that this argument can and will be used to claim that LGBTQIA individuals should just suck it up and choose an “opposite sex” partner, (if that exists–see the Wiki discussion on intersex) but this is definitely not my intention. In fact, I would argue the opposite, that those who have the option to, and support equality, should choose a “same sex” partner if only for political reasons. Obviously this is extreme but there are other partnering options individuals can choose while remaining true to the person (or people– go here for more info) they are genuinely attracted to.
One option “straight” people have to show their support for equality is to be vocal about it: have an opinion, tell people what you think, correct people when they make crude or ignorant statements. Another is to use gender-neutral language when talking about a partner; this shows that gender/sex is not the most important aspect of your relationship, and confuses people who think they know you are “straight.” Examples include saying spouse instead of husband/wife if you are legally able to be married, or partner instead of boyfriend/girlfriend if you are not legally committed. Many hetero couples also honor marriage equality by refusing to wed until and unless marriage equality is enacted. On the other hand, some people will only marry in places where marriage equality is the law, thus supporting the legal and economic state of equality. Choosing marriage, monogamy and one-on-one partnerships is political. The choice to reproduce, or not, is also an extremely loaded, highly politicized decision.
The food one eats and has access to is also political. If you cannot afford to shop at WholeFoods and buy most of your groceries from a WalMart, that is political, both for you and for society. Classism can wreak havoc on equality debates, especially when discussing speciesism. See this blog for a great discussion on classism from vegans. Merely being able to cut one entire food group (meat) from your diet is a luxury for many Americans who can barely afford to feed themselves and their children. Knowing where your food comes from, understanding the impact this item has had on the environment, and the people and animals affected by it, can severely change the choices you make. If what you’re eating is processed, where did the original ingredients come from? are they doused in chemical fertilizers and pesticides? who farmed them? were they paid a living wage? did they have any other work opportunities? When you start questioning everything you will begin to make choices that reflect what you care about, if you have that privilege.
I recently stopped eating chocolate. I am not a vegan, or even vegetarian. I do not eat meat often because it is expensive and I am poor. I do eat eggs regularly though, because they are inexpensive and readily available. Living in Turkey and not speaking Turkish my ability to know the source of my food is lessened. However, local bazaars are a wonderful place to buy fresh produce from small family farms. Unfortunately at the moment I cannot usually afford to buy from the farmers who say they use organic practices. My partner and I eat a lot of store-bought pasta and bread. It’s cheap and it keeps us alive and it is produced in Turkey where the minimum wage is somewhat livable. For now we have to take the chance that the pesticides used on the wheat fields won’t kill us. Small amounts of chocolate was one of the few luxuries I used to afford myself on my meager budget but recently I re-taught myself what damage the cocoa industry does to both the people and the environment. Watch this if you’re interested in learning about the oppression of the adults and children trafficked into work in the cocoa industry of the Ivory Coast and Mali. Once I learn which brands of chocolate that are sold here use fair trade labor I may go back to my chocoholic roots. If you live in the US here are some good chocolate options for you. Remember, every choice you make is political.
The ability to choose or not is also very political, as evidenced by the abortion debate in the US. Many feminists argue that women who are forced into prostitution because they have no other options except starvation are socio-politically being denied the right to choose. If you have the privilege of options, in any circumstance, weigh your choices carefully, for they affect you and everyone and everything around you profoundly. If you choose to take strategic nonviolent action and participate in a boycott of Hershey’s, you are recognizing your own power. Your personal decision will have an effect on the political climate of that company. And that company’s politics may affect you personally. (The Hershey’s plant in my hometown shut down and moved to Mexico after 41 years of being made in California, putting nearly 600 people, and their families out of work.)
The personal is political. Your choices matter, exercise them responsibly. You have a voice, you have power, you can make a difference. And you will if you choose carefully, and understand the political repercussions of your decisions.
Join me tomorrow (and every day in March!) to kick off Women’s History Month! Tomorrow’s discussion will be about Arab American and Middle Eastern American women’s activism in the United States. Any thoughts, links, and resources are welcome!