Sunday, March 4, 2012


In my first class of Sexuality and the Law, we (surprisingly, maybe) didn't talk a whole lot about sexuality itself, or the law as it applies to sex-- instead, we discussed one of the foundations behind a lot of law that intersects with sex-- privacy!

Privacy is actually a pretty interesting idea to discuss, in a legal sense-- in today's world, there's the idea that we have a right to privacy, a right "to be left alone", as Justice Brandeis put it. The question is, where is this right coming from? In Con law, we discussed privacy in a few contexts, but the one my biased mind remembered was Roe v. Wade, and the whole penumbra of privacy concept-- though the penumbra was also discussed in the earlier Griswold v. Connecticut case (about birth control for married folks!). On the privacy penumbra viewpoint is... messy. The idea that we MUST have a right to privacy, because without it we can't actually enjoy the enumerated constitutional rights-- especially the ones granted in the first amendment.

My first class made the whole privacy notion a lot more clear. We discussed cases dealing with sending kids to private school and wiretapping, and an old law review article by Brandeis, as well as the evolution of privacy from an interpretation of tort law to a constitutional right.

I could keep chatting and regurgitating and talking about the idea of privacy as a legal right-- the right to be let alone-- on the same level as freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but instead I'd rather think about the implications of privacy-- why we value it, and how we used to value it, and how it's changed. Why isn't there a right to privacy in the constitution? Did people just... not care? Did they think it was a given? Or did the think it shouldn't be a right? What seems essentially human to think about it?

Views on privacy seems especially complicated in the digital age, because we have sites like Facebook and Myspace where people post all sorts of seemingly-private information-- but I don't think that means that they don't value privacy. Rather, it seems that they do value privacy, but use these sites to control their public image-- while still have a ridiculous expectation that these sites will remain private to parents, employers, and others in positions of authority. At the same time, people de-tag pictures of themselves, only put up photos they feel comfortable with, and don't share a lot of their private feelings and actions. The difference here is more a level of privacy between old and young, I think, rather than an idea that privacy itself is no longer relevant.

Take gossip and scandals, for example. They aren't interesting just because they're about friends or public figures-- they're interesting because they dip into privacy, and reveal hidden contours of a person, or events that are normally not shared. Or diaries-- the more public a diary is, the less it is likely to discuss emotions in ways where the settings and participants are identifiable-- and when they do, feelings get hurt and relationships get strained. If there was no expectation of privacy, the child or parent whose faults are exposed in a memoir would have no reason to be hurt, yet that hurt happens all the time.

So, privacy seems linked to both an expectation of trust in others, a sense of safety and security, and a concern for how others will judge us. I think privacy is an inherent value-- we feel the need to keep things to ourselves, even if our reason tells us that we don't need to, and that thinking that way is silly. I take myself as an example-- I try to keep away from really identifiable interactions with others on this blog, because A. I feel that talking about it would violate their privacy, their ability to be in control of their public image, and their trust in me, and B. I feel a strange sense of... ickyness, in sharing such details of my own life with the world.

Not everyone is this way-- Heather Armstrong crosses typical boundaries of privacy in a revealing and extremely popular blog that talks about her life as a mother, blogger, woman, and wife. She's wildly popular-- in large part because of the depth of sharing she does. People can relate, and they like the in depth scenes of life they get, the descriptions of "private" family moments, the stories about emotions, childbirth, and her battles with mental illness-- but she's a rare woman with skin of steel, who gets hate mail in good proportion with her popularity.

Privacy feels like a right, whether it is legally or not. People cry "Big Brother" when online movements get monitored, or when grocery stores send coupon suggestions based on purchase history. We don't live in a communal, open society-- we have inner selves, and live in small family units, and the details we share with others seem to get larger and deeper as emotional connections get closer and closer. And at the core of it all, we want to keep something to ourselves-- some secrets, something private that belongs to us, and us only-- it seems like privacy is part of what makes us who we are, distinguishable spirits in the mass communications of humanity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You bite off a lot in a single post...are you sure this isn't all you think about? The additional layer of privacy that complicates things, especially in this age, is that people can follow similar acts or behaviors, and yet, have wildly different views of how it affects their own privacy and those of others (e.g. posting pictures on your Facebook page). So what is prurient to one person is simply de rigeur for someone else with no filter to the outside world...where do you err on the side of caution vs. extert your right to share. I don't know.

I am very careful with what I share and very interested in what other people share. And, I am even more cautious with what I say about other people.

Having said all this, I think I am more intrigued about the female orgasm.