Reconstructive Tasks for a Liberal Feminist Conception of Privacy

By McClain, Linda C. | William and Mary Law Review, March 1999 | Go to article overview

Reconstructive Tasks for a Liberal Feminist Conception of Privacy


McClain, Linda C., William and Mary Law Review


INTRODUCTION

If liberal conceptions of privacy survive appropriately vigorous feminist critique and re-emerge in beneficially reconstructed forms, then why haven't more feminists gotten the message and embraced, rather than spurned, such privacy? If liberal privacy survives feminist critique, does it face an even more serious threat if contemporary society has both diminishing expectations of and taste for privacy? Does the transformation of the very notion of "private life," due in part to the rise of such new technologies as the Internet and its seemingly endless possibilities for making oneself accessible to others and gaining access to others, suggest the need for liberal and feminist defenders of privacy to rethink the value of privacy and whether it is, indeed, indispensable for citizenship and a good life? Finally, if privacy is indispensable, is it consistent with liberal principles to force people not to surrender their privacy, even if they wish to, just as liberal governments force people not to surrender their freedom?

These are important and intriguing questions raised by Professor Anita Allen's elegant essay, Coercing Privacy,(1) to which it is a pleasure to respond. In this Essay, I state my substantial agreement with Allen's proposition that "[f]eminist critiques of privacy leave the liberal conceptions of privacy" (or the idea that government should respect and protect a degree of inaccessibility to persons and personal information) and "private choice" (or the idea that government ought to promote decisional privacy concerning important decisions with regard to friendship, sex, marriage, reproduction, religion, and political association)"very much alive," and that various forms of privacy and private choice, appropriately reconstructed, are beneficial to women and are helping women gain greater control over their lives.(2) Elsewhere, I have defended privacy against feminist and civic republican attacks, as an important principle and value, and I have maintained that liberal feminism is a tenable and attractive position.(3)

In Section One, I ponder why the critique of privacy continues to be a staple of feminist legal scholarship, notwithstanding the valuable work done by Allen and other liberal feminists to engage constructively with such feminist critiques and point to the possibility of an egalitarian, liberal feminist conception of privacy. I conclude that, to strengthen the case for such a conception of privacy, liberalism and liberal feminism should carry forward three reconstructive projects, each of which follows from Allen's defense of privacy. These three reconstructive tasks are enriching liberalism's normative account of the value of privacy, defending some form of a public/private distinction, and arguing for governmental responsibility to engage in a formative project to secure the preconditions for enjoying privacy and exercising "private choice" (or what I will also call autonomy or decisional privacy). I sketch the contours of these three projects, considering the resources available for their realization (including the legacy of the Reconstruction Amendments(4)).

I agree with Allen that reconstructed liberal privacy survives feminist critique.(5) I am less persuaded, however, by her suggestion that it may not survive society's reduced "expectations" of and "tastes" for privacy(6) and that, accordingly, government may need to shore up this erosion and "impos[e] privacy norms to undergird the liberal vision of moral freedom and independence."(7) She defends such regulation as "consistent both with liberalism and with the egalitarian aspirations of feminism,"(8) and suggests that all of us--liberals, feminists, and nonfeminists--should be worried "by the optional and challenged character taken on by personal privacy."(9) Of particular interest to Allen, as a feminist, is that some women have little taste for privacy and engage in self-exposure or objectification, offering up their privacy for consumption by others.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Reconstructive Tasks for a Liberal Feminist Conception of Privacy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.