The Freedom To Be Left Alone

I support the healthcare reform in this country. But I almost changed my mind after reading this very unintelligent defense of Obamacare:

This morning in America’s highest court, freedom seems to be less about the absence of constraint than about the absence of shared responsibility, community, or real concern for those who don’t want anything so much as healthy children, or to be cared for when they are old. Until today, I couldn’t really understand why this case was framed as a discussion of “liberty.” This case isn’t so much about freedom from government-mandated broccoli or gyms. It’s about freedom from our obligations to one another, freedom from the modern world in which we live. It’s about the freedom to ignore the injured, walk away from those in peril, to never pick up the phone or eat food that’s been inspected. It’s about the freedom to be left alone. And now we know the court is worried about freedom: the freedom to live like it’s 1804.

I actually want all of these freedoms that are listed here. I don’t care whether food “has been inspected” because I have no idea what that even means, but the freedom not to pick up the phone is mine, and you can’t take it away. And the freedom to be left alone is completely fundamental to my happiness.

I also do not recognize any obligations to anybody other than the ones stipulated by my work contract and my lease agreement. Everything else I do for people is an act of free will and not an obligation of any sort. I take care of my husband when he gets sick or has problems. I support my relatives and friends and always offer them any help I can. But I do not do that out of a sense of obligation. I do it because that’s what I feel like doing at every given moment. If anybody tries to suggest to me that I have to care, help or assist, they will discover very soon exactly where they can shove their expectations.

I obey the laws of the land as part of my social contract with society. That, however, is also an act of free will on my part since I chose to live in this country and have not been forced to do so by anybody.

What the author of this quote fails to realize is that freedom from community and shared responsibility is one of the defining (and, in my opinion, one of the best) characteristics of a modern society. In the pre-modern, deeply patriarchal world, a human being belonged, first and foremost, to his or her family, clan, and community. Those of us who have grown within such a communal model know how incredibly stifling, disempowering and miserable it is. And in the Western world, the reality of 1804 is much closer to that model than the reality of 2012. There is absolutely nothing modern about promoting a return to a system where the rights of an individual are overrun every time in favor of the needs of the community.

I want to remind everybody that women do not tend to fare extremely well in societies where community reigns supreme. Reproductive rights, for instance, can only be defended successfully on the basis of the respect for individual rights, individual bodily integrity, and right to privacy.

I want this country to have a better system of healthcare. But I’m not giving up my right to be left alone with my phone off the hook for the sake of that.

There Is Nothing Like Experience

I used to be young and naive. I took every job announcement completely in earnest. Today, however, I’m old and cynical. Whenever I see a job announcement like the following:

Applicants should submit: (1) Letter of application; (2) CV; (3) Names and addresses of three referees; (4) Syllabi of courses the applicant has designed and taught; (5) Proposed syllabus or curriculum plan for a freshman-level writing sequence that addresses the Warren College Writing Program’s goals (see web site) as well as the needs of a diverse group of students, instructors, and staff; (6) Article length writing sample (7) Summary of past or potential contributions to diversity in a personal statement.

I immediately realize that this place has an internal candidate and applying there is a waste of time. These elaborate ads that ask the candidates to provide the Moon, the Sun and the neighboring galaxy are aimed at giving the search committee an excuse to reject everybody who applies and just hire the internal candidate. At the end of the search, they’ll just pass the curriculum plan you have worked so hard on creating to the internal candidate as a hiring bonus.

Sadly, I only acquired this experience after being a candidate in such fake searches. I remember a campus visit where a compassionate recent hire kept trying to give me hints that my efforts to impress the search committee were completely useless. Of course, I had no idea what he was trying to communicate to me and felt devastated when I discovered that nobody had even been considering hiring anybody else but the internal candidate at that college.

Daily Dose of Annoyance

There is this series running on a blog in my feed where “feminists” explain their brand of feminism in the form of an interview. The series is a constant source of hilarity mixed with annoyance for me. See, for example, the most recent interview:

In addition, becoming a mother certainly enhanced, if not changed, my definition of feminism. Practicing attachment parenting, becoming a nurturer and essentially a stay-at-home mom, certainly shoved me into a more feminine way of existing that I had perhaps not been able to fully embody. After all, feminism is not about women being treated like men, but about both men and women being valued equally and choosing their own role. For me, this role of mother forced me to face the ways that I placed more value on the parts of myself that were more masculine. Appreciating equally my feminine nature has been a challenge, yes, but a useful exercise.

Got it? There is something called “a feminine nature” which consists of becoming a housewife and a “nurturer.” There is also a lot of blabber about “true nature” and “essence.” This is such an open and unapologetic brand of essentialism that I’ve got to wonder whether this “feminist” has read a single book on the movement she claims to belong to.

Also observe the suggestion that it is not possible “to fully embody a more feminine way of existing” without being a housewife. And, of course, a mother. Because as we, feminists, have been trying to demonstrate for centuries, women who are not mothers are not real women. Oh wait, that wasn’t feminists who promoted that idea.

I especially love the part where the interviewee states that feminism is not about women being treated like men. It’s super cool to have all of the rights, yet none of the responsibilities of men. “I want to be treated with respect as a valid human being, yet I will sit here being all truly and essentially feminine and refusing to bear any financial responsibility for myself and my own child, while you go out and try to make a living. Because I’m a woman, and my duty in life is to get married and make babies. Of course, men get married, make babies and then also have to slay themselves working like dogs to keep their wives and babies. But, hey, each gender should have its own sphere in life ’cause, you know, faaaaayminism!” That’s a pretty nifty gig. And then people ask why feminism is losing relevance for many people. What a surprise, given the basic hypocrisy of such “feminists” as this one.

Isn’t that fantastic, folks? One can now happily accept all of the stereotypes about the “true essence of womanhood” as motherly, nurturing, completely dedicated to the family and having no professional and social life of one’s own, finding one’s entire value in life through the role of a wife and a mother and sell this as some kind of an especially “spiritual” feminism.

As I read this idiotic interview, I was constantly reminded of the image of womanhood promoted by the propaganda machine of the Catholic Fascist dictatorship of Franco in Spain. The dictatorship was passionately dedicated to destroying all of the feminist advances of the Second Republic. It never stated that women were inferior to men, of course. The anti-feminist beliefs promoted by the dictatorship revolved around the idea that women were particularly spiritual and sensitive beings who didn’t need to debase themselves with things like a professional and social realization. The true nature of femininity, the dictatorship said, was all about nurturing, mothering, and practicing the special and precious femininity of housewives.

If this interviewee spent a little less time blabbering about spiritual nurturing and true femininity, maybe she’d get a chance to educate herself and find out that her “feminism” is in no way different from the ideology of one of the most anti-women regimes of the XXth century.