Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Big Fish, Little Fish

This post is in response to a comment left on my post about the personalisation of the political – namely that feminists personalise issues because otherwise it’s hard to know where to start. I think this is a valid point. In other areas of life – say environmentalism, relationships to charity giving – we feel we cannot make a difference to the larger issue, so we try to make a difference in our immediate circle: carbon offsetting, volunteering at care centres, walking instead of taking the car. We feel we are making a contribution and it allows us to readily identify others who are prepared to make a similar contribution, rather than forcing us to face the difference between ourselves and (to take a wild example) those people camping outside Heathrow. Why should this not be an uncontroversial approach to feminism?

Making an individual contribution in the name of feminism is not controversial – I think we should definitely encourage people to do so. Some people may not feel comfortable going on marches or campaigning on a national level but they can still make a difference by refusing to laugh at misogynistic jokes, or through volunteering at their local shelter/rape crisis centre. My blog is part of *my* own individual contribution – how worthwhile or productive it turns out to be is sort of beyond the point.

However (yeah, you knew that was coming). Our approach to feminism in terms of localised/individual contribution does, I believe, differ from the way we approach environmentalism or charitable giving. With these issues, we hold in mind the bigger picture approach – we visualise, as we make the contribution, the world we are willing into existence – and we expect that battle to be fought at higher levels than ourselves; we are merely a lower tier in the overall fight. If we did not think this, we would not have to listen to Cameron blathering on about his wind turbine, nor would we care about the US and Australia opting out of the Kyoto treaty. With feminism, we are often urged to accept the smaller victories and ignore the wider issue because we can’t do much about it.

This seems wrong. Unless we have a clear picture of what we are trying to achieve large-scale, how can we judge the success of our individual action? Unless we see it as part of a wider movement, it seems hard to defend the idea that it is worthwhile doing it. It’s true that we might not be able to make much difference and that it’s hard to see where to start – but that need not always be the case. Facing up to the challenge of identifying what it is we hope to achieve in the wider world could make the whole thing a lot more manageable.


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