As a third wave feminist, I was familiar with this phrase but I did not understand it. I did not know who coined it or wrote it, what it meant, and how it applied to me. I did not hold this statement close to my heart, letting it encompass and speak to the struggle in the late 1960s and 1970s as others may have. Back then, it was a challenge to nuclear family values and underpinned an idea that personal problems – like the struggle to access birth control and abortion, among other things – were also political ones. These struggles called for collective action to collective problems.
This was not my struggle and it was not my experience. I accessed birth control easily when I was a teen. I also had no difficulty obtaining safe, legal, and free abortion services when I was in my twenties. So how does this relate to me, a thirty-something white woman who lives in an urban area?
I am now a mother, who has struggled to find quality, affordable childcare. I manage a full-time job while doing a large majority of the housework. I have felt the pull between starting a family and advancing my career. I am a woman who has felt fear when being sexually harassed. Childcare, division of labour, gender parity – these are issues that affect me personally. But they are also political issues because they, and many other gender-based experiences, affect how women are able to participate in the world.
The personal is STILL political.
But what about everyone else? Third wave feminism has taught me academically about intersectionality, but how do we put it into real world practice? If we consider that “the personal is political” meant that the personal problems of other women compel our collective attention and action, then each of us needs to step beyond what is personal to ourselves and examine the issues and experiences that are personally important to other women.
Issues like missing and murdered Indigenous women, the struggle to access affordable birth control and legal abortion in rural and northern areas, and the intersections of race, ability and poverty need to be addressed. So how do we show these issues matter to women collectively?
We need to engage in the political process to create personal and collective change.
On April 19th, we owe it to ourselves and women to VOTE for issues that matter to women personally and collectively. While we can opt out of voting (and that is our choice), we can’t opt out of the fact that we are intrinsically connected to the structures we live in. This is why it is so important for women to exercise our right to vote, and to vote knowledgeably. We owe it to all women, especially to women with different struggles than our own, to educate ourselves on the issues and understand what the political parties are saying. We need to come together and revisit the idea that the personal is STILL the political.
After all these years, this statement can be the common thread that unites us all.