Sunday, 5 August 2018

Reconciling person, citizen, paid employee 1

It was a common saying of ‘second wave’ feminism that 'the personal is political' - that what happened in homes and ‘private life’ was not outside the sphere of politics, but reflected power arrangements in society.

We are still seeing that playing out, particularly in the sphere of work-life balance, domestic and family violence, and sexual harassment and violence. It’s been a long struggle to get these issues taken seriously, and the struggle continues. For example, recently the Age (3/8/18) had a front page story and editorial about violence against women. It was strongly worded, but it's certainly not the first time there have been such calls. Will it make a difference? I don’t know, but I am fairly certain that it is less acceptable for men to hit their wives than it was when I was young.

The struggle to show that the personal is political continues. The unfair burden of domestic and caring work on women, and family violence, still go on, but are no longer (I think) seen as just ‘private’ matters. In the area of sexual harassment and violence there is still a huge way to go, for example in that that most rapes are not reported to the police and there is very small chance of successful prosecution.

Most informed commentators agree that underlying this, there is a broader social problem of discrimination against women, of women being taken less seriously than men, as Jane Caro recently expressed it. Old patriarchal ways of thought still see men as more important. Kate Manne provides a useful discussion of misogyny as social circumstances that function to subordinate women, rather than some kind of individual hatred of women (see Down Girl, chapter 1).

Like most women, particularly of my age, I can provide many examples of sexual harassment or violence in my private life, particularly as a young woman, including being hit, or being groped in the street, to the doctor who made me walk around his room naked under the guise of a medical examination. One of the reasons I don't talk about this much is that it's demeaning, even or perhaps those things that seem minor and foolish. I think people would probably laugh at me if I talked about these things, or try to silence me from embarrassment. The shame - which should attach to the perpetrators - somehow seems to attach to me, to those who have experienced such things. Moreover, if we try to talk about such things, we are also likely to be seen as persecutors, as vengeful women who are trying to shame men who are basically 'good guys' who haven't done anything 'serious'.

This silencing of women, which Manne also writes about, is serious. Today, however, I want to discuss my experiences as a citizen, in that area between the ‘private/domestic’ and the 'public/paid employee'.

In that area, I've been active in recent years through discussion on blogs and on Twitter, over the longer term through participating in many protests and marches for more than 50 years, and, particularly in the late 1990s  and early 2000s, through being a member of political parties, and active in policy development and campaigns. In that area, I've experienced several forms of silencing and exclusion, which I find confusing and hard to analyse: are they about 'me' as a (difficult) individual, or are they about misogyny, in Kate Manne's sense? I'll start a new blog post to discuss this