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Legislation and Societal Attitudes: Still a Love-Hate Relationship
by Mo Convery, L.B. Graham, Jessie Payson, Chelsea Phillips and Claire Pomeroy

In a nation currently divided along political and ideological lines, many inadequacies within public policy and legislation have become poignantly clear. This book addresses the inconsistencies which arise when societal norms are used as the foundations of public statutes which place pressure within the private realms. This system of legislation based on this ideal of normalcy allows the needs of individuals to be neglected and repressed when balanced protection under the law is necessary. This unbalanced value of normalcy is constantly perpetuated through the basic political rhetoric and past laws which politicians and lobbying parties present. It is only when legislators are able to identify this reliance on normalcy and respond accordingly to a changing and diverse society that the laws will be most valid. Most importantly, several questions concerning governmental roles must be raised. When is it appropriate for the law to invade the private realm and support "normalcy"? Concurrently, how are laws monitored? What happens when the law goes too far or reflects the values of only a specific group? This balance between the values public normalcy and private rights is most fragile. As students and valuable citizens, it is our responsibility to reflect upon this role of the government and to monitor the programs and rhetoric that it presents.

Current legislation, such as that on abortion, and social movements, such as the feminist movement for equality, have led to a blurring of the division between public and private. Abortion questions the public/private division of the law, creating an unsettled debate over to what extent legislation can regulate a person's private life. At the same time, the feminist movement questions the societal division of public man, private woman. Both lead to a confusion as to where and when the state can intervene in the lives of its citizens, especially when it comes to the perpetuation of "normalcy." It is this "normalcy" that is responsible for the repression of women by the public man/private woman binary. By deconstructing the link of man/woman with the public/private through legislation and social movement can, in turn, become a reconstruction of the public and private spheres to create a gendered equality in both.

On the other hand, when is it necessary for the public to invade the private?
This is the case when examining international systems of public health. There has in the past been a great rejection of the private experience in the name of public health efficiently. In 2004 the WHO publicly addressed an extension of health analysis in the 2004 WHO World report on Health and Violence. As illustrated in the report, the increased levels of personal discussion of the private experience allowed for the development of complex partnerships between once marginalized groups. Form this; public health officials were able to gain a greater understanding of the root causes and possible methods of prevention. Focusing on individual cases not only addresses groups of people who might otherwise be neglected, but it also presents a more complete and diverse view of the problem at hand. Furthermore, legislation was able to reflect this diverse collection of ideas and experiences is necessary in creating statutes that are most appropriate and efficient.

Pro-life arguments of the "right to life" exemplify the merging between the public and private spheres. Lauren Berlant describes the convergence of public and private as "the intimate public sphere," in which citizens are defined not by a common civic duty, but instead, by a shared morality. In this "crisis of citizenship," with no one quite sure of where s/he stands in relation to the norm, and everyone forced into an identity politics, the fetus represents the ideal citizen utterly vulnerable and in need of government protection. Pro-life arguments describing fetuses as the ultimately silenced, victimized minority capitalize on shifting meanings of citizenship to find a place for the fetus within it. For example, this blend of public and private is what allows George W. Bush to interchange the phrase "right to life" with "culture of life" so easily, creating a nationality supposedly unified over a concern for fetuses.

The current landscape of the workforce has been shaped by a gendered division of labor resulting in the devaluation of traditionally female occupations. It is essential to examine the historical waves of feminism in America and the social and legislative ramifications of the movements in order to understand the modern realities of gender in the workforce. The First and Second Waves of Feminism challenged the very philosophies at the core of the tradition of men working outside the home and women working inside the home. Such traditional norms have weakened, but there is little governmental support for those people who are either economically forced or simply choose to live outside the established custom. In the case of modern workforce equality, legislation reflects social attitudes and is necessary to enforce new practice.

Boundaries of public and private are permeable and constantly shifting. One of the Supreme Court's roles in legislature is to define and protect the bounds of privacy. In the case of adoption, the normally private decision to have a child is forced into the public realm. Background checks and intense scrutiny of potential parents invades rights to privacy on the grounds that it is in the best interest of the child. In January, the American Civil Liberties Union is hoping to come before the Supreme Court and strike down a Florida law banning homosexual individuals and couples from adopting. The ACLU is representing four men currently involved in the foster care system, and will argue the case on the grounds that the law is being used vindictively to express disapproval of a lifestyle choice, which is unconstitutional and violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.

In our current political atmosphere it is vital for politicians and citizens alike to understand the intricacies which lie within the relationship of public and private. Most importantly, the power which these realms of identity hold and the repercussions of placing one above another must be thoroughly understood. We as a community body have the power to shift and dissolve the boundaries of public and private through legislation and social movement. In understanding the details of these boundaries, we will be able to utilize them for these purposes.


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