The Edge Malaysia featured the Forum in their piece, When the private becomes public, today. This is how Melody Song the writer draws readers to consider the matter at hand.
It would be easy to say that the distribution of Elizabeth Wong’s private photos was a gross invasion of her privacy. Scrape beneath the simplistic judgement, however, and many more questions emerge: What is private and public? Who defines the private sphere? What moral justification is there for the private life to become public knowledge?
Dr. Sharon A. Bong brings refreshing multidisciplinary approach to the matter, with a specific focus on feminist and religious insights. I think amongst the panel she left quote a few memorable phrases like “Shamed but not ashamed” which forces one to relook at how this discussion on morality both private and public plays out.
I also think that broadening the conversation to include the voices concerning sexuality rights stretches us which is very needed when we want to narrow the focus on a given subject matter (in this case on the rights of privacy). There is always the bigger picture to consider. And how unintended consequences or ripples would be generated from what may seem to be confined to what’s of immediate concern from the front page of the papers.
Here’s the notes for Dr. Bong’s segment. Again please note these are notes, and once the Mp3s are up on both Friends in Conversation and the Micah Mandate, you would get the fuller picture and context on what was being said:
Christian and feminist standpoint
Hiding from Humanity, Digust, Shame & The Law- Martha Nussbaum
Shame & disgust feature very prominently at the core of the controversy that precipitated the public forum today. Human condition to feel shame & disgust at ourselves. Human frailty. At times disgusted with our physical appetites and lack of control of our own mortality.
Catholic viewpoint- born with original sin. Born with imperfection.
Challenge at how shame & disgust should not be used to regulate society from a legal perspective.
To shame somebody – would not think twice if a sex offender were shamed in public. School prefect- believed in shaming people who littered. Sign saying ‘Litterbug’- pick up rubbish during recess. Shame & disgust used emotively from a legal perspective to regulate public morality. Contradicts- because she feels in the first instance- evokes fundamental human dignity & respect. Play up on shaming and naming- operate from feeling of disgust- soon, will be part of a certain force that erodes human dignity and respect.
Divides us. Entrenches social hierarchy. Dangerous, insidious way- brand people as ‘normal’, others as ‘abdnormal’. Brand some as pure, some as impure. Some as moral and upright, some as immoral. Hugely problematic.
Tyranny of normal. So often, each of us expected to conform to what is considered as values that are normative- not questioned, a ‘given’. Regulation of sexuality at the core of this controversy. Regulation of female sexuality pretty soon leads to the defence of marriage as an institution. Why is a single woman a threat to the institution of the family? Because she is a sexual being. Sex only seen for pro-creation, reproductive features- extends the male progeny. Hostility towards single woman who is sexually active because she goes beyond, withdraws from male-control of a woman’s reproductive capacity. Whole sexuality which is not just about reproductive capacity.
Even to E Wong’s supporters, if had given informed consent to being photographed- would it be problematic? If want to eroticise her sexuality and it was consensual, would that be a problem to her gallant defenders?
If did not already have a track record of public service, would the same defenders be so quick to come to her defence?
Research currently doing- speaking to people in same sex partnerships. How do they fully live out their sexuality and while being Christian/Muslim/Buddhist..etc.. thank God she wasn’t gay. Would be more difficult for people to defend her.
Said in her press conference- her best defender- not ashamed of my sexuality as a woman and as a single woman. I have broken no law. Stand by fundamental principle in democracy that everyone has a right to privacy.
Bringing religion back into areas like sexuality, women’s rights and human rights.
Easier to talk about rights to privacy than sexuality rights. This controversy- sexuality rights at the core of this controversy.
While she is shamed by this, she is not ashamed of her sexuality. Powerful statement to be making.
As a Christian and feminist, these are not contradictory subjectivities. Always believed that religion is a source of affirmation of human dignity and human sexuality. Often, religion used to justify repression of sexuality and denunciation of dignity. Standpoint- believe that religion is a source of affirmation of intrinsic human sexuality and dignity.
In practising that, do our part of begetting heaven and earth. Christ came so that we could have life and have it abundantly.