There has existed a correlation between the outward political realm and the personal lives of the American public since the very establishment of the United States. The intertwined nature of personal and political matters has culminated in a movement that holds a continuing influence into the modern day, aptly referred to as, “the personal is political,” an ideological result of 1960’s second-wave feminism. As suggested by the name of this ideological development, “the personal is political” essentially translates that that there are established connections between the personal lives of women and the existing political structures surrounding them. This cultural and political hegemony as maintained against women since coincides with the interconnections of race, class, and gender and the effects of the capitalist system on these institutions, thus maintaining both a dialectic and a materialist connection within this sect of feminist and social theory.
Of the many personal issues faced among women, one of the most touching, sensitive, and personal issues women have historically faced that hold political connections is the issue of sexuality and racism. The 1920s was a considerably eventful decade for the African-American population of the US, particularly referring to what is known as “The Great Migration,” wherein a myriad of black people made haste in the chaos of World War One and migrated from the southern US into the northern states in search of economic freedom not well known throughout the south. The experiences of black women in Harlem, NY throughout the so-called “roaring twenties” depict the status quo of race and gender in the Harlem society. It was in particular that this cultural status quo influenced the Harlem criminal justice system of the time.
Mabel Hampton was a young African-American woman living in Harlem during the 1920s, who herself garnered a great deal of experience dealing with Harlem police and their incessant racial bias. As an effect of the racial pseudoscience that was accepted as fact in the early twentieth century, the Harlem Police displayed an inherent racial bias in how they conducted their business. Due to the established double jeopardy of being both a woman and a person of color, the business of the police additionally contained a distortion of sexuality and the image of black women. Through a racially driven construction of sexuality, the “Jezebel” stereotype for black women had become to many a fact of life rather than a socially created falsehood. This pseudoscience acted as a drive for Harlem police to substantially target black women for charges of vagrancy, prostitution, and other racial and sexually related accusations, often without firm reason for suspicion beyond racist ideology. “Racial stereotypes led the police and Bedford administrators to view black women’s ‘sexual delinquency’ as natural, rather than judging the conduct of individuals.” In the case of Mabel Hampton, she had faced unlawful arrest on false accusations of prostitution by Harlem forces.
It is often that racism and classism go hand in hand within the criminal justice system, and so too is the case of Mabel Hampton in the 1920s. Tracing the historical basis of the ideological standpoint of “the personal is political” all the way back to the institutions of chattel slavery and Jim Crow, the perpetuation of racial stereotypes regarding black women has often resulted in the complete disregard, trivializing, or outright shifting of blame in cases of rape, violence, and other forms of sexual assault against black women throughout the United States. Through the nature of race, class, and gender in synthesis, racial stereotypes regarding the sexuality and sexual experiences of black women are reinforced through the outlet of dejure racism, which is essentially racism at the level of state and federal action. At one time it was considered a fact when one claimed that black women were “complicit” in being raped. This notion stemmed from the legacy of slavery and the evolution of white supremacy in the late 18th – early 19th centuries, in which the southern US in particular sought to perpetuate the myth of black women being promiscuous and immoral.
Beyond the realm of the police force itself, the court system acts as the highest form in which he personal side of life connects with the political. This dichotomy, in regards to the issues of the domestic variety, culminates often in the confines of the municipal court system. It was in the post-WWII era of the United States that the municipal system witnessed a rise in domestic abuse and other domestic cases being presented by black women. The dialectical relation between race, class, and gender is omnipresent in viewing the functions of the municipal court, coinciding the highly personal issue of domestic life and issues within internal relationships. Similarly to Mabel Hampton, the criminal justice system in terms of domesticity has held great effect on the personal lives of women.
The lens of criminal justice lacked a sort of consciousness in regards to class dynamic and economic material conditions, with one decision or another by the court resulting in an advancement of disenfranchisement and suffering. The double jeopardy of being black and a woman had culminated into a new form, one that may have intended to protect women and ensure at least some sense of security, however those intentions were lost in the actual application of the court methodology. The impotence of the municipal court, essentially, resulted in a myriad of women who went to such institutions were often dragged further into a world of economic hardship and abuse. This dichotomy is represented by he fact that; “Women who were financially dependent on their husbands were more vulnerable to abuse, and abuse could reinforce a woman’s poverty by injuring and isolating them.” This cyclic process of abuse was especially felt on the economic foundation of women and their domestic situation, for instance whenever black women facing abuse were able to look for a settlement within the court, there was a lack of planning to ensure a sturdy foundation of economic assistance. Women in these court proceedings were many a time granted what can be colloquially referred to as a “divorcee’s third,” in essence meaning that in deciding the amount of support a woman should receive, it was more often than not equivalent to a third of her spouse’s income. The income of the men in these court proceedings was usually on the lower side, meaning that the compensation given to these women had hardly put a dent into any of their financial or physical needs. To quote a woman involved in such a case; “When you take a man into court you hardly get enough to pay a babysitter.”
The diaspora of global capitalism directly effects not only women who were born and raised in the United States, it extends into the realm of immigration in synthesis with the link between race, class, and gender, in addition to the notion that “the personal is political.” The plight of Asian women throughout American history had been burdened immensely by the establishing of the Chinese Exclusion Act, otherwise known as the Page Act of 1875. Xenophobic through and through, the issue of a woman’s “morality” had ultimately become a great factor in creating and enforcing the doctrine of the Page Act. Similar to the white perceptions of black women, the orientalist views of white men treated Chinese women with nearly as little respect, a San Francisco politician even claiming; “As a class Chinese are intelligent, among the multitudes of Chinese women in our state there is not a wife or virtuous female in their numbers.” Designed to prevent the trafficking of women, the real world practices of the American consular had quite often been seen as humiliating by Chinese women who faced such interrogation. Due to the fear of lack of morality and the fear of prostitution rings being created, a plethora of Chinese women wishing to immigrate into the US were extended the burden of proving that they were not prostitutes or involved with prostitution.
Korean women who had immigrated to the United States in line with their marriage to an American G.I. additionally faced a dilemma blurring the lines between personal and political. The personal identity of these Korean brides were effectively under attack from the cultural and political standards held within the US. In order to properly “Americanize,” otherwise known as a form of assimilation, it was expected of Korean women entering the US to essentially forget and disown the entirety if not close to the entirety of her cultural and ethnic heritage, all for the sake of the satisfaction of an often controlling or abusive husband. These women who traveled from South Korea to the United States were practically forced to adapt to and eat solely Americanized food, with little to no access to recreating the food that they grew up with, citing Americanized dishes as “heavy, greasy, and bland.”
Korean war bride’s path of assimilation went beyond their diet (which in and of itself was detrimental to their physical health), it was often that the physical appearance of these brides was forced to undergo a change. Encompassing the Cold War hysteria that essentially fueled the Korean War, in addition to the racial pseudo-science that dominated much of 20th century America, a variety of Korean women had acted to alter the very appearance of their eyes to strengthen their ability of “westernization.” “Korean military brides were considered both cultural and racial threats to the U.S., which influenced many Korean women, especially those who wished to marry American soldiers, to alter their eyes in the 1950s.” An effort to “deracialize” themselves, Korean women sought to alter their physical features to appear similar to those of the white “race,” all in order to ease the process of assimilation and neutralize the racial “threat” to the American status quo.
Whereas Chinese women had effectively been barred from entering the United States due to the Chinese Exclusion Act and the fear of prostitution rings establishing, when Koreans had immigrated into the US they were met with cultural hostility and the forced erasure of heritage. Had the number of Chinese women been able to freely immigrate or married an American would they too have had to face the crisis of assimilation?
Race, class, and gender have acted in synthesis since the conception of race emerged through European Imperialism, and said synthesis saw a great deal attention during the Civil Rights Era. Women, particularly black women at this time, faced what is known as “double jeopardy,” essentially that they were subject to systematic oppression of being women and being African-American, both considered anywhere from second class citizens to absolute dehumanization. This systemic oppression more often than not affected the day to day life of these women, especially with Jim Crow ideology remaining the status quo of American Capitalism and the political structure itself. The instituting of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 aided in putting an end to the de jure racism and sexism targeted at black women, specifically Title VII of the Act. Title VII, effectively; “outlawed discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race.” It was thanks to the influence of Title VII that a system of affirmative action had been put in place, a system that sought to provide, at least in theory, a stronger sense of equality for African-American women (and men) in the field of employment. Despite the efforts of the mostly Conservative-dominated government in the post-Civil Rights era to undermine these affirmative action programs, such programs were and still are a necessity in the climate of American Capitalism in order to ensure, at least at some level, equal opportunity and economic strength for the African-American population.
On the note of governmental legislation, in the last twenty years there have been numerous incarnations of the Violence Against Women Act, originating in 1994 as a part of Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. The effectiveness of this act, however, has come into question on several occasions. In what can effectively be considered a precursor to the infamous Brock Turner incident of 2015-2016, a woman by the name of Christine Brzonkala had been the victim of rape conducted by two football players at VPI, the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, within the span of her first semester at this institution. The two men who committed this act had even boasted about their action, perpetuating the phenomenons of toxic masculinity and rape culture under patriarchal Capitalism. Furthermore, the two football players saw little to no repercussion for what they had committed, facing nothing more than a two semester suspension. This suspension, however, meant nothing, seeing as VPI had decided that such was “excessive punishment.”
It took until 2013, over a decade since the Brzonkala controversy, for the VAWA to include those within the LGBTQ+ sphere, and subsequently to include the plight of Native American women facing persisting discrimination. Within the racist institution of reservations, Native American women had finally been granted the ability to fight against sexual assault and similar actions that threaten the bodily autonomy of Native American women. As of 2013, the Violence Against Women Act “permits Native American women who are assaulted on reservations to press charges against non-Indians in tribal courts.” While this is certainly an improvement for the lives of Native women, this legislation had been long overdue considering the vast history of abuses and injustices committed against the Native American population since the first of the European settlers arrived on this soil.
History has not been kind to women, with women who fall under the thumb of white supremacy and patriarchal capitalism facing some of the most headstrong, excessive denial of basic rights and opportunities. “The personal is political” is something that describes the plight of women of color, immigrant women, and other such groups subject to the nature of patriarchal capitalism, in addition to the many injustices that have been perpetuated against other groups of women throughout history. The hegemony of Capitalism expands not only into the development of other nations, it expands into the daily lives of millions upon millions of women living in the United States.
Cheryl D. Hicks, “Mabel Hampton in Harlem: Regulating Black Women’s Sexuality in the 1920s,” in Women’s America: Refocusing the Past, 8th Edition, Linda K. Kerber, Jane Sherron DeHart, Cornelia Hughes Dayton, and Judy Tzu-Chun Wu (New York, Oxford University Press, 2016), 437.
Hicks, “Mabel Hampton in Harlem: Regulating Black Women’s Sexuality in the 1920s,” pp. 438-439.
Lisa Levenstein, “Hard Choices at 1801 Vine: African American Women, Child Support, and Domestic Violence in Postwar Philadelphia,” in Women’s America: Refocusing the Past, 8th Edition, Linda K. Kerber, Jane Sherron DeHart, Cornelia Hughes Dayton, and Judy Tzu-Chun Wu (New York, Oxford University Press, 2016), 650.
Levenstein, “Hard Choices at 1801 Vine: African American Women, Child Support, and Domestic Violence in Postwar Philadelphia,” 651.
“Chinese Exclusion: The Page Act and Its Aftermath,” in Women’s America: Refocusing the Past, 8th Edition, Linda K. Kerber, Jane Sherron DeHart, Cornelia Hughes Dayton, and Judy Tzu-Chun Wu (New York, Oxford University Press, 2016), 412.
Ji-Yeon Yuh, “Korean Military Brides: Cooking American, Eating Korean,” from Women’s America: Refocusing the Past, 8th Edition, Linda K. Kerber, Jane Sherron DeHart, Cornelia Hughes Dayton, and Judy Tzu-Chun Wu (New York, Oxford University Press, 2016), 641.
Claire Lee, “Uncovering History of Double Eyelid Surgery,” from The Korea Herald, Sep. 11, 2015
Civil Rights Act, Title VII, 1964, from Women’s America: Refocusing the Past, 8th Edition, Linda K. Kerber, Jane Sherron DeHart, Cornelia Hughes Dayton, and Judy Tzu-Chun Wu (New York, Oxford University Press, 2016), 745.
Violence Against Women Act, 1994, 2000, 2005, 2013, from Women’s America: Refocusing the Past, 8th Edition, Linda K. Kerber, Jane Sherron DeHart, Cornelia Hughes Dayton, and Judy Tzu-Chun Wu (New York, Oxford University Press, 2016), 757.
Violence Against Women Act, 1994, 2000, 2005, 2013, 758.
Jymee C is an aspiring Marxist historian and teacher with a BA in history from Utica College, hoping to begin working towards his Master's degree in the near future. He's been studying Marxism-Leninism for the past five years and uses his knowledge and understanding of theory to strengthen and expand his historical analyses. His primary interests regarding Marxism-Leninism and history include the Soviet Union, China, the DPRK, and the various struggles throughout US history among other subjects. He is currently conducting research for a book on the Korean War and US-DPRK relations. In addition, he is a 3rd Degree black belt in karate and runs the YouTube channel "Jymee" where he releases videos regarding history, theory, self-defense, and the occasional jump into comedy https://www.youtube.com/c/Jymee