Three essays in Freedman and Holmesâ€™s collection The Teacherâ€™s Body: Embodiment, Authority, and Identity in the Academy center around pregnancy. All three essays call into question dominant narratives and conceptions surrounding pregnant bodies. Noting the dis-ease of others around her pregnancy, Amy Spangle Gerald explores how being pregnant affects her authority as a teacher and scholar, arguing that itâ€™s important for pregnant teachers to talk about pregnancy in the classroom. Kimberly Wallace-Sanders explores pregnancy through the lens of the public-private distinction, exploring how a pregnant body erodes this distinction, making her private life public. Allison Griffon extends Wallace-Sandersâ€™s focus on the public/private dichotomy by noting the ways in which pregnancy reinforces certain normative heterosexual scripts.
Griffonâ€™s discussion in particular helps us to understand the ways in which privacy, including the privacy of our bodies, is publicly mediated. She questions her own complacency in the narrative that women can be successful despite pregnancy (203) as well as the normative heterosexual narratives that she works in. Citing Robyn Wiegmanâ€™s â€œOn Being Married to the Institution,â€ she notes that public enactments of family-making, such as pregnancy, exclude certain kinds of experience and have a certain privilege of being legitimate in public (205). This is a nuance missed by Wallace-Sanders, who rightfully sees pregnancy as disrupting the norms of the public/private distinction but overlooks the ways in which her body is already public. She writes that â€œMy body threatened to reveal my secret and make my private life publicâ€ (190) and that she, her husband, and their expected baby â€œwere becoming a familyâ€”in publicâ€ (189). These statements imply that our bodies and families are a priori private until a woman becomes pregnant. What Wallace-Sanders misses that she was already becoming a family in public: dates, engagement, marriage are all public in many ways. The ability to have a family in public is predicated on the heterosexual privilege to claim that your family is a private matterâ€”a privilege that Griffon understands is not available to many in society.
My point here isnâ€™t to simply point out Wallace-Sandersâ€™s heterosexist assumptions about privacy, but rather to call into question the humanist notion of a private body altogether. Other essays in this collection give us hints that privacy is publicly mediated: certain diseases is disabilities are private because of public shaming, while others are forced to be public because of visibility; students interact with teacherâ€™s bodies differently, respecting bodily boundaries differently based on perceived sexuality, for example.