Was it a contradiction for Jodie Foster to come out as gay in a speech about privacy?

In her speech at the Golden Globes Jodie Foster said that she values privacy above all else. She even repeated the word: Privacy. In the same speech she also officially announced to the world that she is gay and acknowledged her mother who has dementia. Is it oxymoronic to praise privacy while revealing intimate details about your life? Actually, no.

Webster’s Dictionary offers multiple definitions of privacy which can be summarized as

  1. the quality or state of being apart from company or observation;
  2. freedom from unauthorized intrusion; and
  3. secrecy.

There isn’t much there that meshes with such a personal speech. Luckily, I have several privacy policy books that can offer further insight.

In Database Nation, Simpson Garfinkel extends the definition of privacy in this way,

“Privacy isn’t just about hiding things. It’s about self-possession, autonomy, and integrity.”

Foster’s speech was an act of self-possession, autonomy and integrity; therefore, it works with Garfinkel’s definition.

In his book Benjamin Franklin’s Web Site, Robert Ellis Smith defines privacy as

 “the desire by each of us for physical space where we can be free of interruption, intrusion, embarrassment, or accountability and the attempt to control the time and manner of disclosures of personal information about ourselves.” [emphasis mine]

In giving her speech Foster was fully controlling the time and manner that her personal information was disclosed, so her speech also works with Smith’s definition of privacy.

Perhaps the best argument for Foster’s speech being an act of privacy is David Brin’s book The Transparent Society. The controversial argument that Brin set forth is that greater transparency protects freedom and also privacy. As he states,

“Transparency is not about eliminating privacy. It is about giving us the power to hold accountable those who would violate it.” [emphasis author]

Applying the transparent society premise to the Golden Globes speech is to note that before coming out publicly Ms. Foster’s sexuality was subject to conjecture and rumor and the prying cameras of paparazzi. By going public she has taken away the threat of people finding out her secret because it is no longer secret. The argument is that her life will be under less unwelcome scrutiny because of her openness.

Privacy means different things to each individual person. Some may think it’s odd that I’m a privacy policy specialist who has a blog, but I control the content of my posts, which maintains my privacy. Similarly, Jodie Foster said exactly what she wanted to say and, perhaps more importantly, didn’t say anything she didn’t want to say. Her speech was a perfect exercise of privacy protection.

“Here’s to the next 50 years.”

If you enjoyed this, you may also appreciate my posts on Facebook privacy and how a typo can reveal your personal information.

For good stuff between posts, subscribe to the Listing Toward Forty Facebook page here or follow Kim Z. Dale on Twitter here.

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