Politics Are in the Details

Amanda Jane Bradley

The personal is political.  Every action is an ethical action.  These lessons, produced in part by
feminism, are not new.  However, for how many people on the planet have they sunk in? And,
among those women made aware of these notions, how many agree with them? Furthermore, of
those who agree with these notions, how many put them into practice in their everyday lives? Once a
woman accepts the notion that the personal is the political, she quickly realizes that, in her daily life,
she has taken on a massive responsibility.  This realization puts her under a great deal of strain, unless
she is lucky enough to be surrounded by like-minded people.

When I first began thinking in terms of my every action’s being political, my life utterly changed .
For example, my newly acquired husband would leave socks, shoes, empty food bags, and who
remembers what all scattered about our apartment; I began to realize that he expected me to pick
them up.  If I refused to play housewife and pick them up, because they were his responsibility, then I
would be bothered by the mess and clutter.  The question became which was more important to me –
a neat living space or training my husband to keep up his end of the bargain in maintaining a decent
household, perhaps letting the place go to pot?

The more I thought about training my husband, the more irate I got.  I thought, “Why should I have
to train my husband?”  He should just know this by now; it’s a matter of human decency.  If you
have a roommate – you pick up after yourself regularly.  We kept separate bank accounts after our
marriage; I didn’t change my last name; we did our own laundry.  All of these things seemed
acceptable to both of us; in general, my now ex-husband is a pretty enlightened guy.

However, upon the instant we were married, I was suddenly responsible for remembering birthdays
for both sides of the family, for buying gifts and sending cards, and writing thank you notes.  That’s
the wife’s job – the woman’s job – after all.  Suddenly, he was standing in front of the refrigerator with
the door hanging open, yelling out, “Honey, where’s the ketchup?”  How had he found the ketchup
when he lived alone? Had the Bachelor Angel visited him?

I was responsible for shopping, cooking and preparing the food and drink when we had guests over.
I was responsible for a lot of things that I didn’t particularly want to be solely responsible for on all
occasions.  Shouldn’t we be taking turns? I’ll end my complaint (and point) here, because my ex-
husband and I are still good friends; he is an important person in my life.  However, marrying him
made me realize how concretely laid along gender lines certain duties are within relationships, even
today.  Especially within marriages.

Aside from relationship issues, once I considered my every action political, I began to wonder about
things like whether I should wear a short skirt or lipstick when I went out with friends.  Was I
purposely making myself an object of the male gaze if I did so? Did I secretly enjoy being an object of the
male gaze? Or was it simply fun to dress up and go out?
All the lessons my mother had taught me
came to mind.  She taught me to shave my legs, she taught me to wear the works in makeup –
foundation, powder, eyeliner, eye shadow, lipstick.  To this day, my grandmother (also near and dear
to me) regularly says, “You need to accentuate your eyes with some makeup.”  Blithely following
these lessons, did I realize what I was doing in high school and part of college?

I think the moment I began to realize the implications of such things occurred in college when a
friend’s boyfriend said to me, “I didn’t take you for a person who wore nail polish.  I wouldn’t have
guessed that.”  I remember immediately feeling, although I didn’t think of it precisely enough at the
time, that I had adopted the wrong politics.

Now, in my thirties, as friends marry and have children, the questions become more complicated and
weighty, as do most things the older one gets.  Should the mother work? Will daycare harm the baby? If
someone should stay home, then whom shall it be?
 Why don’t we have a community of people to deal
with this situation of working mother and father?

Most American women in their late twenties and early thirties have become quite accomplished at
what they do, and may make more money than or as much as the husband, so financial
considerations begin to determine what happens in this instance.  I have several female friends who
have taken several different approaches – they are stay at home moms, freelancers, women who go
straight back to their jobs after maternity leave and opt for day care, and some are mothers with stay-
at-home dads.  The point is that these decisions are political decisions.  What with divorce rates as
high as they are in America, and studies showing how devastating divorce is for children, these are
extremely important decisions my friends are making.

The only solution I can see  for contemporary feminists is to accept that the personal is political and
that every action is an ethical action, and to work toward creating a society that better accommodates
the fact that patriarchal rule is nearing its end.  We must work toward creating a society that better
prepares men (and women) for new roles in a new society.  I would even go so far as to say that
marriage may be on its way out and perhaps should be.

If communities were created wherein the naturally nurturing personality within a relationship (either
male or female) took care of the children, then the working partner could work without guilt.  Too, in
these new communities, if people didn’t feel so tied and bound to remain with one person for the rest
of their lives (whether their personalities and interests changed along the way or not), children would
know a community of caregivers who did not feel so burdened, embarrassed and guilty if parents
had to split up.

Marxist feminists argue for a more equitable distribution of goods and work, suggesting that this
equitable distribution would allow all people to derive happiness from their work.  Virginia Woolf
argued long ago, in A Room of One’s Own, that men must have the competitive, warring drive bred
out of them as much as women must have the passive, acquiescent drive bred out of them; and that
it must be a conscious endeavor at first, because there are so many thousands of years of patriarchy
behind us.

However, global feminists argue that a truly good life would place more emphasis on and create
more time for human relationships.  In fact, global feminists think the only way we’ll reach the point
of depending upon relation rather than individualism is by listening to and reading about one
another’s stories – across nations and within our own borders. I agree with this notion.

Having listened to the many varying opinions of Indian American, Asian American, and black
American women friends and students, and having read as often as possible the opinions of women
from non-western countries over the years, it seems to me that everyone should be listening to these
disparate stories, should have access to them.  This learning aspect of growing toward a peaceful
world in which we no longer need the word “feminism” is improving slowly in American schools,
while not at all in huge portions of the world.  The move toward a more communal society, one in
which everyone has a place with which they are content, remains a distant prospect.  But anything
worth fighting for was, at one point, a distant prospect.

If we remember that the personal is the political, if we aim toward listening to other women’s stories
and ideas, and working through these stories and ideas with cooperative men, we may one day be
able to reach the goal of the global feminists without falling into ethical relativism – taking some
lessons from both Third World countries (such as a privileging of community) and First World
countries (such as the horror of rituals promoting harm or death).  Looking at the personal as
political, and at every action as an ethical action, forces one to think through what is best for America
and the world – for the women and men who will benefit from these efforts.