Friday, September 18, 2009

Setting a great example?

Katherine Heigl, an actress from Grey's Anatomy, is adopting a special needs child from Korea. But is she ready for motherhood? Sharon Lawrence, who co-stars with Katherine Heigl, has no doubt that she'll be a great mother. Why? Because she's an autonomous, unimpeded modern woman:

Katie is a modern woman who will pursue her passions and not feel limited by anything, and that bodes well for motherhood. She is smart and happy and free of constraints of "Oh, I should do this, I shouldn't do this." She'll [set] a great example for the little girl. [Who 28 Sep 2009]

What's going on here? Sharon Lawrence wants to praise Katherine Heigl. She therefore needs to know what defines a good person in a modern liberal society. She gets it right: the highest attribute for a liberal modern is to be an autonomous individual. Therefore, Katherine Heigl is described as not feeling limited by anything and being free of constraints in what she should or shouldn't do.

But it doesn't end up sounding like a serious account of virtue. A person who does not feel limited by anything has been watching too much Oprah. In reality we are limited in countless ways: it would be difficult to operate in the world without an honest coming to terms with this fact.

And would anyone really want to live with, or be dependent on, a person who did not recognise constraints on what they should or shouldn't do? And would such a person really be a positive role model for a child?

I don't believe that Katherine Heigl is really the person that Sharon Lawrence describes her as being. It's difficult to accept that she really believes herself to be free of any limitations in life or constraints on her behaviour.

But the liberal account of good motherhood can't be helping much as an ideal.


  1. If wikipedia is to be believed, Heigl is married and her own sister was adopted from Korea.

    So, another way of looking at this: she will raise a child in a traditional home and she feels some actual connection to Korea.

  2. Anyone who thinks you can be autonomous, unconstrained, and "pursue your passions" AND be a good parent is a complete imbecile.

    The little girl doesn't want a "role model" of autonomous behavior. The little girl wants a MOTHER. A mother cannot be autonomous of her child, and a mother cannot be free of the constraints imposed by the child's needs. Nannies, government-provided or privately-paid, are simply no substitute.

    A truly "autonomous and unconstrained" person is in fact a selfish narcissist who has no business raising a child.

  3. If you can dream it, you can do it!

  4. I would say a completely unconstrained person is actually a sociopath.