Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Personal and the Political

On Friday, one of my self-appointed bridespeople and I stopped at the Sect. of State's office so she could transact some business there (before we picked up the other self-appointed bridesperson and headed out to look at fabric, which we did for a little while, then we got bored and found the chocolate shop that the second person knew about because he used to live nearby, and then a coffee shop where we hung out for awhile). The woman behind the counter who was waiting on us wasn't overwhelmingly comptetent, but she wasn't completely useless, either. The woman next to her jumped into our conversation, however, to offer personal information about her divorce, her brutal ex-husband, and so on. As J and I waited for our person to finish with her various copying and rubber-stamping and stapling operations, two people came up to the next-door woman's location. They were Mexican, and they apparently wanted to take a vehicle to Mexico, for which you apparently need some paperwork. Well, NDW got so incredibly rude that I just about jumped the counter. My favorite line? "I went to Mexico once. I came home after two days. I didn't like it. I like my own country." Okay, thanks for sharing. Asshole.

Which leads me to observe, once again, that privilege is invisible to those who possess it. I can speculate on the privileges I garner from a (white, often racist) world merely by being white (and not just white, but, in the middle of February, the palest non-albino in the vicinity), but, really, I have no clue what it's like to live it on the other side of that on a daily basis. J and I are female and white, so we share so much with NDW that she must provide us with details of her life experience. But two young Mexican men, at least one of whom isn't speaking English all that well? They aren't worthy of her time, attention, or respect. Similarly, at a neighborhood bar I used to frequent, the men would say shockingly racist things to me or in front of me, because they assumed that, given my skin color, I would of course agree with those observations. It was always a challenge to figure out which battles to fight.

In any case, it was a truism spawned by the women's liberation movement of the 1970s that "the personal is political." I continue to see the evidence of that, and I continue to see the establishment (to resurrect an old term) continue to pretend that it's not relevant. I continue to see the establishment contend that (a) "real" politics is about political power or some such, and (b) women don't have the stomach for such matters, seein' as how they're busy with the babies and all. Witness, for example, the firestorm that occurred when Kevin Drum repeated the (apparently every-three-months) lament that There Are No Women Political Bloggers. As you can see from the responses he posted, quite a few female bloggers took exception to his proposition. (My personal favorite: Brutal Women's comment that "the fucktards are back." My second favorite: norbizness. And, of course, Echidne, who is always entertaining.) This is like the fights I had in graduate school about What do you women WANT, anyway?

"Do you want us to change the rules?" they'd ask, "because that means you're saying you can't compete by our [i.e., the real, important, and objective] rules and you want some kind of special exemption, like having to do fewer pushups or something." And so many of them just could not see that, at least in some cases, and often very subtly, the rules themselves contained judgements about what was worthy, even as the rules were not, in fact, just some objective arbiter of quality.

Take, for example, gymnastics. Men's gymnastics is scored in such a way that you're not going to get very many very young (e.g., 15-year-old) men. You must be strong (in ways that young men typically cannot achieve, because they have not finished growing) in order to perform on the rings, for example. Thus, the rules privilege adult-type strength. Women's gymnastics, on the other hand, puts a high premium on activities that ensure a lot of immature or small women. Fully developed (even if not particularly large) breasts and hips are going to get in the way of flinging yourself around uneven parallel bars. Thus, the rules privilege small, barely adolescent female bodies rather than adult female bodies. You could change the scoring such that women's gymnastics privileged moves that required adult strength, for example, or adult proportions (I don't know how, exactly, in part because I don't know enough about gymnastics, but work with me)--then you would see more adult women, or, at least, women in their late teens and early 20s, rather than women who are barely high-school age. (And, of course, with all of these athletes, it turns out that a lot of training in a single sport isn't so healthy after all.) In short, that is, the rules in part determine what the participants must be like in order to do well. Those rules are not set in stone. The same is true for every other arena of life. The rules are not irrelevant, or completely arbitrary, or even (necessarily) a plot to keep some people in or out of power, but they DO shape what must or cannot be done in order for the players to succeed or even be recognized as players.

And one of the rules is, if it's personal (which I think often means, "if a man wouldn't write this"), then leave it out.

Hunter Thompson ignored that rule, too, even if the "personal" stuff he included was Manly.

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