It’s personal: Hannah Ryan

It’s been a big year. Six days of strike action at USYD, leadership challenges in Canberra, a Federal election looming, a close and fierce USU election, and now deals are being forged for the upcoming SRC election.

These are the battles of traditional politics, the kind that can be plotted out on a left-right spectrum. They are fought by two sides, characterised by loud debate, antagonism, and rhetoric. Powerbrokers dream up alliances, crunch the numbers, analyse the contingencies.

But there’s a different kind of politics. It’s not determined by preference deals and negotiations. You can’t influence it by doing the numbers or fostering cults of personality. Rallies are no use. The people in the backrooms don’t care about it. They’re part of the problem. It’s the politics of the personal.

“What do I care about Vietnam?” asked Dieter Kunzelmann, a West German activist, in 1967. “I’m having orgasm troubles!” He believed that engaging in hard politics was futile until he had confronted and overcome his own repression. His outburst recognised that how we live privately matters, not just to ourselves. The private sphere isn’t just private, it’s political. And the flipside is that how we operate in the public sphere, the culture we produce together, has a powerful influence on how we live privately.

It’s no less true in 2013. In recognition of this, eighteen women of Sydney Uni have volunteered their vulvas for the cover of this edition. These women are angry that parts of their bodies are taboo, unable to be represented realistically in the public sphere, yet also – ridiculously – subject to standards of beauty. They have made this most traditionally private part of their bodies public in order to tell Honi’s audience that they reject the cultural policing of their bodies.

Another brave woman writes, on page 12, about her abortion. While her choice to terminate her pregnancy was a personal one, it was also a political act, a decision made in defiance of the orders of groups like LifeChoice, who told her how to behave, and told her that what she was doing was deeply wrong.

On page 14, Xiaoran Shi goes to Kings Court, the brothel just across the road from USYD, rarely discussed because of the ‘private’ nature of the service it peddles. On page 15, Stephanie White explores the problems we have with talking about sex, particularly in the way we conceptualise virginity, and the way this can influence how we behave in the bedroom, even when nobody is watching. Language and silence affect our understanding and performance of our own sexuality.

This edition of Honi also presents stories about how culture can force queer people to hide and risk their health (page 12) and to deny their sexuality, even to themselves (page 10). In some places, like Russia and Malaysia, public ideas of right and wrong can intrude so greatly into the private sphere that intimacy is criminalised (pages 8 and 16).

Being political isn’t just about standing on a picket. This week’s Honi tells personal stories, reveals cultural structures, lifts veils and opens windows, exposing the private, and encourages you to live in defiance of the cultural authoritarianism we are all subject to but largely blind to. The personal is political.

Hannah Ryan
Hannah Ryan is an editor of Honi Soit. She is in her sixth year of a very protracted Arts/Law degree, having studied History and German. She was a reporter for Honi Soit in 2011 and 2012, and is pretty proud of her typing speed.