Freedom of Association is alive and well in Brooklyn
There’s yet another superhero film coming out soon, but instead of the endless Spider-Man or Batman retreads, Wonder Woman is being brought to the big screen.
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema has managed to call attention to its showing of the film by hosting several women-only screenings that will raise money for Planned Parenthood. Of course this has produced a needless shitstorm of controversy as any explicit expression of identity politics is wont to in these contentious times.
Raising hackles against the screenings is a lot of pointless blather. This is at best a cheap publicity stunt (that has so far worked brilliantly). If it really bothers you, you should be extra sure not to give the organizers the attention they crave.
And it obscures a larger issue that this gives us cause to address: Freedom of association is a universal human right.
It’s a right of all free people to live as they choose among whom they choose. It’s a building block of any community. Because just as a community of free people defines who they are, they also define who they aren’t. The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is not taxpayer-funded or given exclusive license of any kind by the government. It’s a private business. If it wants to ban men for a few screenings or a week or a year or forever, it can. There’s a distinct difference, not commonly understood, between the obligations of a publicly-funded entity and the rights of individuals.
Private businesses have a right to be as discriminatory as they like. You don’t have to let Mexicans into your house or fat people into your store. We agree that this kind of blanketed bigotry is morally wrong. There’s a quintessentially American value to want judge all people by their individual merits and not by some tribal calculus. But we all have the freedom to live however we want, and if that means being prejudiced, then that’s an individual’s right over their own private property and life.
Let’s use this as a “teachable moment” as they say, and point out that the same right women have to hold a women’s only event applies to both genders and any other personal classification you care to make. No one coming to the defense of the Alamo Drafthouse would have a leg to stand on should some of their critics hold a “men only” event. I don’t want to attend a sausage party movie screening just to make some kind of\ point, but if that’s your scene, have at it. In a free country, you have the right to be a bigot if you want to be, whether that’s based on gender, race or anything else.
Freedom of association is a universal right. That means if you believe in human rights, you have to defend the exercise of that right, even if you condemn the sentiment behind it. If you try to stop people from exercising their rights, no matter how virtuous your intentions seem, you are the villain.
I don’t think the powers that be at the Alamo Drafthouse hate men; in fact the owners are men. I think they are savvy businesspeople who managed to wring a ton of free publicity for their screenings of yet another superhero film. The public will likely forgive this strategically-timed chauvinistic bent; and they’ve won the hearts of a lot of women who may occasionally go out of their way to bring them business.
We will make some real progress if these screenings can make our more progressive friends “woke” to the fact that freedom of association is a great freedom to have and has to be protected.