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  • Writer's pictureChiara

Personal and Political

Updated: Jun 26, 2022

Reflecting on the personal and political aspects of the project, I feel as though the political dimensions could be stronger.

American Feminist Carol Hanisch's essay The personal is political which popularised the slogan during the so-called second wave of feminism in the 1970s clearly attributed the cause of women's problems to the power structures which oppressed (and continue to oppress) them. She argues that women meeting together to discuss their common ills are engaging in the political act of consciousness raising, and not merely "therapy". In my own experience it took years of professional therapy and medication (with a trauma-informed psychiatrist) to get to the point of being able to begin to articulate the political dimensions of the violence I have experienced. I had to find ways to deal with my fragmented memories and intrusive flashbacks before I could consider my experience as part of a political system. This in part is why my project has been divided into two parts: the stronger, more public work constructed with the participation of others and the more tentative and private work made with my own hands alone.

Feminist psychiatrist Judith Herman argues in her book Trauma and Recovery, that the definition and diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is itself tainted by political power structures. PTSD was finally recognised as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders only after agitation by (male) veterans of the Vietnam War. Complex PTSD (cPTSD) as experienced by (mostly) women who have suffered pervasive violence within relational and domestic settings has yet to be formally recognised by the American Psychiatric Association which publishes the manual.

The limitations on what I could achieve within the institutional setting of the university is another aspect of my dilemma. At first the need to obtain written consent and to ensure anonymity to my participants went against the grain. I came to understand the wisdom of this approach, however there is a residual sense of being silenced by these formal structures. My project has taken the actual and symbolic imprint of women's hands to express political solidarity without having room for their personal experiences. I might be able to mitigate this limitation by increasing the number of participants. Having a great number of anonymous (but real) contributors could convey the political dimensions of women's experiences in a way that only half a dozen (plus me) struggles to do.

I also realise now that in thinking about the project I have conflated the political (sociological) causes of my trauma with my tentative strivings to express political responses to trauma. Obviously the two are closely related, but it's worth thinking about their differences two. My political responses are strongly influenced by my traumatic past and the fragmentation and fear which I still experience.

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