Two excerpts from Michael Kaufman and Michael Kimmel’s book The Guy’s Guide to Feminism
Kaufman and Kimmel’s new book is a short, funny guide to the A-Z of feminist theory, intended for men new to feminism but open to the basics. In these two excerpts, they make light of the performative masculinity we call machismo, and explain the meaning of the phrase “the personal is political”.
Famous interviewer: Michael K-1, let’s start with you. What’s it like having such a big dick?
Michael K-1: Pretty awesome. Except when you’re standing up in front of a group of people and it comes out the bottom of your pant leg.
Famous interviewer: Now, Michael K-2, I read in one of your autobiographies that you actually felt an emotion once.
Michael K-2: And I’m man enough to say so. Yeah. I had one of those once. It’s a bitch, but I’d just had all my arms and legs slowly chewed off by this friggin’ pack of wild hogs and right then the waiter comes and wants me to sign the credit card slip and I don’t mind saying I was pretty pissed off at him.
Famous interviewer: Have you ever met a girl who didn’t want to get it on with you that second?
Michael K-1: Tell you the truth, it did happen once. I’d just met Mother Teresa for the first time and, I mean, I got no vibes from her at all. Strange but true.
Famous interviewer: What’s it like being the King of the Castle? The Boss of the Hoss?
Michael K-2: I wouldn’t have it any other way. I said to the wife when we first met, “To make good decisions, to be rational, to lead the way, you need balls.” Not figurative ones, I mean real ones. There’s something about the chemical composition of sperm that puts you in charge. Am I right? … I said, am I right?
Famous interviewer: Take it easy there champ. You The Man.
Michael K-1: Hey, wait a minute. I thought I was The Man.
Michael K-2: You got to be The Man last week.
Michael K-1: That’s because …
Famous interviewer (ducking for cover): But first, this important message …
THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL
Every so often a phrase comes along that captures an entire political philosophy. “The personal is political” is one of them. It means that politics is not just about what happens in government, but that our most personal and intimate relationships are also political. And it’s in our personal life that the intricacies of male-female power relations get acted out.
Don’t get us wrong. The opposite, “the political is personal,” is also true. What happens in the realm of politics (for example, enacting certain policies) is experienced at the personal level.
Here’s a sweet little example: Say you want to be a really involved father. The policies of your government either help or hurt your ability to do that. A country like Norway—with generous government support for both mothers and fathers to take paid leave to be with their children, with good national healthcare and good free education through university—enhance your ability to do that. A country that professes “family values” but doesn’t provide any policies to help you value your family? Well, not so much. The political is personal.
The personal is also political. How you choose to act in your family, how you and your partner negotiate parental responsibilities, how you divide housework and childcare—these are certainly personal decisions. But they’re “political” in the sense that they can support or challenge the existing arrangements between women and men.
You see, “political” has to do with relations of power. Not only in the corridors of governments, but in the hallways of your apartment or home. Does one person dominate discussions and decision-making? Do you have a relationship based on equality or is one person the boss? Are both persons’ needs, ambitions, and desires equally addressed, or does one person take precedence?
Changing the world depends not just on voting or supporting certain government policies. It also means we’ve got to make changes in our own lives. It’s not enough to believe in equality and then go home and expect dinner on the table and a wife or girlfriend who takes care of the children. Those personal decisions are political too.