Images of Intimacy in Feminist Discussions over Private/Public Boundaries

  • Pauline Johnson


When in the late 1970s Foucault announced that “freedom in the liberal regime is not a ready-made region which has to be respected… [i]t is something that has to be constantly produced” (Foucault, 2008, p. 65), he was reflecting on a self-misunderstanding at the heart of liberalism that a spirited feminist critique had already begun to disclose. When a nascent feminism tried to put liberal descriptions of “natural” private freedoms to its own uses, it discovered that they depended on repressive gender ideologies. Its response that “the personal is political” sometimes meant attempting to do away with the distinction altogether (Firestone, 1970). For the most part though feminists have recognized that the separation between the private and public spheres is essential to modern individuality and so vital to its own concerns (see Blatterer, this volume, Chapter 5). Rejecting those feminisms that “would abandon the distinction between private and public entirely,” Beate Rössler makes the point that “the difficulties associated with the liberal distinction between a public and a private sphere are not so categorical that the distinction becomes problematic in principle” (2005, p. 23, original emphasis). The challenge now is to reconstruct private freedoms that promise release from the gendered productions that underpin a liberal faith in their “givenness.” My paper critically reviews some episodes in feminist controversies over how to redescribe the freedoms of private life and offers its own contribution.


Public Sphere Private Life Private Sphere Gender Ideology Normative Continuity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2010

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  • Pauline Johnson

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