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“You Must Avoid Politics”: A Pending Death Sentence

Being told to avoid politics is like being told to drop dead. Perhaps that seems harsh. But one of the main and most celebrated insights of feminism is that the personal is political.

My basic reading of this important feminist lens it is that everyday life is political, or shaped by institutions, mores and norms that are historied and socially constructed. It’s not only the public sphere of mainstream politics that is political – rallies or parliament meetings or insurgencies or whatever. It is also the way that family life is structured, the way that work is structured, etc. The way that everything has come to be the way it is. As such, the small-scale, personal interactions of every day life are historied and political. Consider such things as the Politics of Death. The Politics of Food. The Politics of Water. Even these things that seem “essential” to human existence carry with them the complexity of their histories of conceptualization and their historied political shapings. Others have written far more eloquently on these topics so I will not elaborate on them here.

Casting life as political is a robust counter to essentialist thought, which has long been mobilized in order to justify “the ways things are” – often using long-since disproven but often-recycled arguments about human nature. Or someone’s “natural” place (for instance, a woman’s natural place is in the home). These arguments are often used by those who profit from “the way things are” ...