Julie Bindel on Identity Politics

SHORT TAKES: February 13, 2016

By Kathy Scarbrough

From a BATTLE OF IDEAS panel 

“The Personal Is Political: Is Identity Politics Eating Itself?” 

Julie Bindel sums up quite well, and with humor, what The Personal is Political means and how its been stood on its head to create “identity politics.” Bindel’s critique of transgender identity politics has resulted in her being frequently de-platformed and her safety threatened.

Carol Hanisch’s 1969 essay “The Personal is Political”, described how women discovered what they thought were “personal problems” or shortcomings really weren’t.  Women sharing their life experiences in consciousness raising groups discovered they had much in common with other women, regardless of race, who one’s sexual partner might be or how wealthy you were. They realized their “failures” were often collective problems stemming from a power inequality between men and women and a system steeped in male supremacy.  These political problems included women not being taken seriously on their jobs, men taking credit for women’s ideas and presenting them as their own, constantly being judged and rewarded for physical beauty and always feeling that they fell short, a lack of sexual satisfaction in heterosexual relationships due to the foremost concern for male pleasure, having to do an unequal share of the housework and emotional work, not being listened to, and being guilt-tripped into putting men’s needs ahead of our own in the family, at work, or in a relationship. 

Bindel traces her understanding of the concept of the Personal is Political to a decade later in 1979 when she joined the Women’s Liberation Movement. But then, she says, 

the “identifarians”, the postmodernists…got hold of it and decided there was no material reality to being female anymore…so now you can decide any identity you like…and [she adds sarcastically] it helps if you are a man.

Bindel compares what activists did in the 1980s like “carrying placards and banners” vs. the inward looking discussions of identity that occupy vast amounts of online space today.

Back in the 80s battling through identity politics, we still achieved masses of stuff. But we understood that it actually was the class you fight for, rather than the class you were born into, that matters.  And we saw the changes that came about.  Now…these young men and women have decided that it’s all about their individual rights, not a collective movement. So their individual right is not to be hurt, not to be offended and to decide what they are…

Identity itself is not political, not about changing power relationships. One’s identity can help a person find others who face similar problems and can be a starting point for addressing those problems politically. But identity, applied personally, can destroy the notion of collective action, can lead to individualism and an embrace of personal victimhood. Identity, taken too far, becomes narcissistic.

Bindel’s statements were part of a longer panel discussion. Her comments were extracted and can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6quwPMrH1M 

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The entire panel and discussion can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33xMRpMQGrA. It was chaired by Claire Fox, Director of the Institute of Ideas in England, and in addition to Julie Bindel (journalist) were Andrew Doyle (a stand-up comedian), Sabrina Harris (technical author, long time gamer), Jake Unsworth (trainee solicitor) and Dr. Joanna Williams (writer on education and feminism).  Dr. Williams might be fairly characterized as an anti-feminist and even Claire Fox says at one point that she disagrees with almost all of Bindel’s ideas.  Still, interesting ideas were discussed.

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