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The Personal Is Political

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!


Purpose and Meaning

Sexual equality symbol

Image via Wikipedia

I want to explain why I am so passionate about feminism and activism, and in particular feminist activism. This post will touch on two things that cause controversy both amongst feminist circles and the not-so-feminist: parenting and spirituality. First let me say that I in no way want to ruffle anyone’s feathers–my explanations for my choices and my feelings are just that: mine. I am in no way passing judgement on those who do not feel the way I do or make the same choices I make. This is about me, not you. I am fully pro-choice, so feel free to make your own. Please respect mine.

A considerable number of the people I knew from childhood and high school are now married and/or parents. This is not unusual, I am 25, the same age my mother was when she had me. The prospect of having children, however, completely terrifies me. I have no doubt that my partner and I would be excellent parents if we chose to procreate. Thankfully we are currently on the same page and do not foresee children in our future.

There are a great number of reasons–material, physical, and philosophical–we have decided children are not for us.

Let’s start with the material: If we can barely afford to feed ourselves, how would we ever be able to provide for a child what it deserves? Diapers, clothes, shoes, school and food for another person for at least the next 18 years are waaaaay out of our budget.

Physical: All of the women in my family suffer from terrible morning sickness throughout their pregnancies. I once calculated that over the course of her eight full-term pregnancies my grandmother would have spent more than two years doing NOTHING but vomiting. No, thank you. Also, weight gain, hypertension, gestational diabetes, stretch marks, incontinence, hormonal insanity and super-sensitivity to smell culminating in my vagina being ripped apart by a baby? Again, no, thank you. Nothing about not sleeping, constantly worrying, and wondering if we’re doing anything right sounds like fun for us.

Philosophical: This is the big one. For me, the world is too fucked up to bring a life into it, let alone a life that I would be responsible for. From sexism to racism to ableism to environmental degradation to militarization, etc. there are way too many things that I feel would need to change before I would be satisfied that the world my child would be delivered into would be one s/he could enjoy. My partner and I also do not in any way feel responsible enough to be parents and know that we are too selfish to dedicate our lives to a baby. (And there are far too many children in the world who are already in need of loving parents so if we did decide parenting is something we wanted to do, we would most likely adopt.)

“Wait until you turn 26!” I keep being told. “You’ll change your mind,” I hear. “One day you’ll wake up and not be able to think of anything but having a baby,” I am warned.

I do not believe in biological reductionism. I have never really *wanted* to have a child. Ever. And while I am completely open to the idea that that might change, I completely resent other people telling me how my mind and body will interact in the future. Especially the implication that as a woman my logic/reasoning will not be able to overcome whatever emotional/hormonal urge I may develop to reproduce bothers me. I have been told that once the “biological clock” starts ticking women feel they have no purpose unless they have a baby. This is the argument I hate most. This argument is also a slap in the face to women who want to reproduce and cannot.

Some people should reproduce and be parents and some… many, should not. Watch Animal Planet if you need any proof that maternal instincts are not universal. I have good maternal instincts but they are generally directed to wanting to cuddle with cute babies, human or animal (and then give them back to their parents). My instincts to care for people or animals who are smaller, younger and/or weaker than I am are expressed differently. I do know that I need to be careful that my need to help others does not manifest itself in ageist or ableist ways.

My life has purpose, without children. My purpose in life is to change the world. I have known this for a long time and have been working to fulfill that purpose for at least the past 10 years. To those who say I am young and idealistic, I say “Thank you.” I hope I will never lose my conviction that I am capable of anything I set my mind to. (Thanks Mom and Dad!) Certainly having a partner who supports me in every campaign I undertake and friends who gladly join me on my soapboxes bolsters my belief that change is possible.

Change is possible. This is the biggest lesson of strategic nonviolent conflict. To engage in SNVA one imperatively must believe this. Therefore, the purpose of my life is to use strategic nonviolent action to advance equality and social justice.

Obviously I am splitting hairs in distinguishing the purpose of life and the meaning of life but keep reading.

Many people, my family included, turn to religion or spirituality for comfort when life is difficult, and to answers when questions about the meaning of life arise. I, instead, turn to feminism and activism. I know many, many feminists who are also spiritual beings. I am not one of them. I am an atheist. As much as I have tried to be spiritual to “fit in” with feminist groups to which I have belonged, I am not inherently spiritual. I am intellectually interested in the paranormal–ghosts, spirits, astrology, witchcraft, etc.–but I do not feel or believe any of it. I believe in humanity. I believe everything, good or bad in this world, is the result of human actions and that every individual has a responsibility not only to this species but to the entire planet to do what is right and just. I feel very strong, real connections with people, but not any omnipotent entity.

I believe the only afterlife we attain is in the memories of those whose lives we have touched; so if you want a long afterlife, change the world. Make history. Cleopatra and Napoleon live on after death because they are remembered. If you want a glorious afterlife, change the world for the better. Hell for me would be being remembered long after death for damaging the world.  It is only fitting then, that in my need for an afterlife, I am trying to make history by working for gender equality.

For me the meaning of life is to help those around me as much as I am able. Working for justice and equality give my life meaning. I consider myself incredibly lucky; I think part of the reason for my optimistic worldview is the satisfaction I feel when I make an impact on someone’s life. To anyone wondering, “What’s the point?” or thinking about suicide I highly recommend volunteering your time to help those less fortunate than you. Also, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK to talk to someone who can help.

I know this has been a long post but I wanted to give anyone wondering some insight as to why I am so passionate about gender equality and activism: they give my life purpose and meaning.


Welcome to Feminist Activism

Feminist Activism will be up and running just in time for Women’s History Month- March 2011. Feminist Activism will be a forum for discussion of all gender issues but the focus of discussion should always be “What can be done to overcome this particular inequality?” Dialogues surrounding socially constructed gender roles, feminisms, sexualities, identities and, in particular, strategic nonviolent activism, are highly encouraged. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”- Rev. Dr. MLK Jr.

In honor of Women’s History Month the first week of March will be dedicated to activism used to advance women’s equality in the United States. The second week will have a focus on international women’s actions- including International Women’s Day, March 8th. During the third week of March nonviolent action that has been taken to eradicate violence against women will be discussed. Finally, the fourth week of March will cover a range of topics in which women have used strategic nonviolent activism to meet their goals, possibly including sexuality/reproductive justice, (dis)ability, the environment, indigenous women’s rights, and class. Any suggestions, recommended readings, links, or favorite feminist/equality-focused quotes are more than welcome.


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