Blogroll

Become a Fan

« Minds on Monday: Games, Art, and Evolution II | Main | A Plea for Transparency in Data »

12 March 2012

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341ef41d53ef0168e8b9d1da970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Vincent Hendricks Sexism Controversy: Interview:

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Mohan Matthen
1.
Let me also point out that the criticism ended, even in the U.S., as soon as it became public that I did this as part of a charity initiative . . .
The key mistake I made was to fail to clarify where the photos came from and what purpose they were serving.
Really?

In any event, and aside from the above, a reasonable statement of regret.

Catarina Dutilh Novaes
2.

A statement of regret for sure. But personally, I don't think the fact that a charity was involved in the whole story makes that much of a difference. Imagine a comedian who puts together a show to raise funds for, say, cancer research, but then during the show tells nothing but racist jokes. The fact that it's a fund-raising event changes nothing wrt the non-acceptability of the racist jokes, which remain equally racist. Mutatis mutandis, I don't see the connection.
Anyway, thanks Brit for translating the interview, I think it is important to have Vincent's version of the story available to all here.

Berit Brogaard
3.

Yeah, that clearly didn't happen. Here is the Danish line:

"Lad mig dog ligeledes henlede opmærksomheden på, at så snart det blev klart offentligt – også i USA, at jeg deltog som en del af et velgørenhedsinitiativ forstummede kritikken.".

I am not sure I can come up with a better translation.

Neil
4.

There are two separate issues. Should we blame Hendricks over this? And: should we condemn what he did? He comes off in the interview as very naive. ("When I interact with people I see them as individuals before I see them as men or women". No implicit attitudes for this guy!) He genuinely doesn't seem to understand how images and actions can shape the environment in which people act so as to harm them. He needs an course in psychology, with special attention to stereotype threat, and a course in feminism. I see this as a teachable moment! It would be great if he, and others, came to understand how these actions are harmful to women (and, quite possibly, men too) independent of his intentions in posting the pictures and independent of any connection to a charity.

Berit Brogaard
5.

I agree with you that that would be deeply problematic. Reminds me of Ari Shaffir. Donating the money to charity doesn't take away the racism from racist comedy. I think there might be ways of portraying the pictures in a funny or politically effective way, for example, by adding a title to the effect that there still are only 20 percent women in philosophy.

Helen De Cruz
6.

Nowhere in the entire interview does VH say that the pictures actually *are* sexist, he just says they are "perceived" as sexist, and that the whole thing was a misunderstanding of what was meant as an ironic statement. However, he also also points out that he put the photos on his own website as advertising for his class, and that he "also wanted the course to have some appeal to young men who read these kinds of magazines but who rarely sign up for logic courses". Does he appeal to these young men's sense of irony?

Berit Brogaard
7.

Yes, we should condemn what he did but possibly forgive him for what he did. It appears that the Danes don't really understand what is at stake here. As Mikkel Gerken pointed out to me, "a common response [from Danes] is the 'only-puritan-americans-have-a-problem.' "

Here is a translation of a commentary on the interview (thanks to Mikkel Gerken for the pointer): "Why the fuck should I care what ridiculous American Bible-belt blockheads think?" ["Hvad fanden rager det mig hvad latterlige Amerikanske Bibel-bælte klaphatte mener?”]

Neil
8.

It surprises me that in a country like Denmark, which on most measures in one of the most equal societies in the world, there should be such a difficulty in understanding that worries about the presentation of women have no intrinsic link to sex. I don't think the images would be any less problematic if they depicted women as doing the photocopying for the class or making the tea. It is not sexual objection that is the problem; it is the removal of intellectual agency that matters.

Mohan Matthen
9.

To be fair, he acknowledges that the charity involvement is irrelevant to the offence: "It is, of course, reprehensible if charity work adds to chauvinism or sexism, racism or other prejudice."

Reinhard Muskens
10.
I don't think the images would be any less problematic if they depicted women as doing the photocopying for the class or making the tea. It is not sexual objection that is the problem; it is the removal of intellectual agency that matters.

Mmm... Can you point us to at least one protracted and heated debate among intellectuals about pictures of women making tea (or similar)?

Neil
11.

Reinhard, I made a claim about what makes the images problematic. How would the absence of the kind of debates you mention bear on the truth of that claim?

In any case, I can point you to many, many other instances in which images of women like those mentioned are condemned (and in which they have been subject to 'debate' too; that is, well-meaning - or not - idiots have come out and said "it's just a joke"). I won't give you individual examples. You might start here:

http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/category/objectification/

Reinhard Muskens
12.

I should also have quoted the part about the 'worries'. There may be images of women making tea that people find problematic, and there may be debate about those images, but in my experience such debates seldom get heated if there are no bare navels involved. Perhaps you have a counterexample to that general observation, and then I stand corrected.

Michel X.
13.

I don't recall anyone being mollified by the "it was for charity!" line. In fact, I don't recall that defense being raised in the first place. Even if my memory is faulty, I can confidently say that it doesn't change anything from where I sit: the images are just as unacceptable, especially as advertising for a course.

Neil
14.

You may be right that the 'debates' don't get so heated when the objectification is not sexual. The hordes of people who want to denounce American puritanism don't descend to fire it up.

Simon
15.

That he resorted to using such provocative pictures to promote (or advertise, since some manipulation is involved, namely "speaking to the male instinct" whether that is to be taken ironically or not) his course only demonstrates his deficiency as a pedagogue to attract students. Of course, this also raises the issue of the perceived relevance (or appeal) of logic and philosophy as a whole.

Berit Brogaard
16.

Yes, it is puzzling to me (who was born in Denmark) that most of the Danes don't understand what the issue is.

Anna Johnson
17.

All he regrets or apologizes for here is that people got offended, not the sexism of the pictures. On the other hand he comes across as sincere and well-intentioned. I agree that it is appropriate to condemn the pictures and criticize his response, while at the same time cutting him a break personally since he doesn't seem like a misogynist.

Lisa Pelot
18.

This is a non-apology, which amounts to "I'm sorry people perceived something erroneously". He did not say he was sorry for the sexism that is displayed in the form and content of the photos, but rather blames the people who see it for what it is.

Wayne Myrvold
19.

His regrets involve, not what he did, but that what he did was recognized as sexist. The last line is telling: he says that he doesn't want to be perceived as a male chauvinist, not that he doesn't want to *be* a male chauvinist. No hint in this that he actually understands what is going on.

Another telling line: "I also wanted the course to have some appeal to young men who read these kinds of magazines but who rarely sign up for logic courses. " He doesn't explicitly add, "...and I gave no thought whatsoever to the effect on potential women students," because that would involve more thought about potential women students than he seems capable of.

Am I the only one who is reminded of the scene in the movie This is Spinal Tap, in which the band is puzzled by why anyone finds the cover to their album "Smell the Glove" offensive? I can almost hear VH ask, "What's wrong with being sexy?"

Rich Booher
20.

"...I don’t think the charity initiative youmeshopping.dk or magazine Connery.dk intended these photos to be an expression of sexism."

Well, I also doubt that it is part of the *intent* of most purveyors of sexist imagery to express sexism. That this is given as a defense of this is mind-boggling, given that it comes from someone who is extremely intelligent in many other ways.

I also really doubt that the Denmark/US contrast is as stark as it gets presented here. There are certainly men's magazines in the US filled with sexist images and the creators and readers of such magazines would balk at criticisms that they propagate sexism. In fact, I am willing to bet that such people make up a much more sizable portion of the US population than those who would condemn such images as sexist.

Likewise, I am sure that there are people in Denmark who would react strongly to these photos. I have, in fact, known some Danes whose views on such issues would be much less like Hendricks' and more like his critics'. It just seems that such members of Danish society are neither taking logic courses nor working in the department where Prof. Hendricks works. There is probably a reason for that.

JCK
21.

My question is, in the whole of Denmark, in the whole of Europe, not to mention elsewhere, is there not *one* woman philosopher who is qualified to hold the position of full professor in VH's department? Which has not a single female professor on its faculty. (Though apparently the chair has initiated some gender outreach efforts, and Bravo to the chairperson and his team for that.)

It is clear that VH doesn't understand the situation---the idea that putting up "sexy" pictures for the guys as a way to lure them into logic---and by the way, as a female logician who may very well be teaching logic to those young guys, um...what are they doing for me exactly? (And lets not get started on the issue of female logic students.) Anyway that this kind of explanation is offered, together with the charity thing...not too good.

But on the scale of what goes on, the harm that VH has done, has, in the end, been minimized by the outcry. In fact, posting these photos seems to have damaged him much more at this point, than it has anyone else. (And sorry to presume to speak for those who disagree, this is just my feeling.) So lets stop singling him out. VH's transgressions are great grist for the mill. But he has apologized, after a fashion, that is to say, in the way that he can, given how he understands the situation at this point. And that is a good thing.

The problem is the general culture. VH is just one person. So for those who are outraged by this episode, especially the men, I would say to you: get the conversation going in your departments.

And, people, do the math:

The figures on the comparative situation of women philosophers in American universities in contrast to Europe are striking. Is it a coincidence that the conversation about these issues has been underway in the U.S. for some time?

ChrisTS
22.

Indeed. That line about appealing to young men really struck me. I suppose the highly sexist beer ads of not-that-long-ago also were intended to appeal to young men.

Danish Student
23.

Prof. Booher, I frankly doubt you are in a position to know (or make guesses about) the sentiments of all Danes taking logic courses or working at Hendricks' department. In fact, as JCK mentions, some of Hendricks' colleagues have (unrelated to this incident) initiated gender-outreach efforts with the full backing of their chair.

While some Danes do, it is true that many Danes do not react as strongly to the pictures as the international philosophical community has.

But at least among the co-students I discuss these pictures with, this is not because they deny the existence sexism or cannot recognize the sexist nature of the pictures when it is pointed out. Rather, it is simply not what they initially focus on. They find the pictures silly, daft, or embarassing, but they tend to doubt that the sexism in the pictures will have much effect (in the academic context at least), and so it is not that aspect of the pictures which is salient to them.

Why Danish students react in this way, is a seperate question. A big influence, I believe, is that many of the worst problems of sexism has come a long way towards being resolved in Denmark. (Or that's at least how most Danes perceive it). This, on the other hand, tends to lead many Danes to underestimate the effects of remaining, more hidden forms of bias.

I think JCK is just right to point out that a more systematic discussion of things like implicit biases, hostile environments, etc. is lacking from Danish public and academic discourse.

Towards remedying this, I really think it is unhelpful when commentators speculate about aspects of Danish culture which they are in a bad position to know about. This will only bolster the tendency among Danes to write this whole controversy off as an outburst of American puritanism, rather than open up minds to the problem that may be present in Denmark.

Furthermore, I think it is important to realize that the underlying reasons or causes for the problems in Denmark (which JCK rightly points out) may be different than in e.g. the US.

Anna Alexandrova
24.

Brit, thanks so much for translating this!It is good to get VH's perspective.

The most upsetting thing is to have the opposition be identified with the so called American puritanism. Being neither American, nor puritanical, I find this especially insulting. But to be fair to VH he does not pander to this myth.

Rich Booher
25.

"Towards remedying this, I really think it is unhelpful when commentators speculate about aspects of Danish culture which they are in a bad position to know about. This will only bolster the tendency among Danes to write this whole controversy off as an outburst of American puritanism, rather than open up minds to the problem that may be present in Denmark. "

First off, I'm not sure that any person is in a position to make accurate statements about cultures based solely on their own personal experience - whether these be their own culture or a different one. Societies are far too complex for that to be an effective way of understanding them.

Second, I was not speculating about the whole of Danish culture, nor was I saying that the cultural attitudes of each country are the same. Rather, I was calling into question the speculations about both Danish and US culture that have been made in this episode on rather shaky grounds.

NurseTTG
26.

"It is not sexual objec[tifica]tion that is the problem; it is the removal of intellectual agency that matters."

Well said.

NurseTTG
27.

"he has apologized, after a fashion, that is to say, in the way that he can, given how he understands the situation at this point. And that is a good thing."

Well, yes. He is, I like to presume, doing his best. What strikes me is how poor the lauded professor's "best" is. The question is not whether he is trying, but whether his attempts belie an underlying sexism that taints his (and others', because of his influence) intellectual pursuits.

Danish Student
28.

Without getting side-tracked into a discussion about social cognition, let me just clarify myself on two points:

First, my response was in the first place to your assertion that "It just seems that such members of Danish society [who react strongly against the pictures] are neither taking logic courses nor working in the department where Prof. Hendricks works". I think I am in an excellent to position to know that this is false.

Second, I wanted to highlight a third possible reaction to the pictures apart from those you mention (reacting strongly against them or denying the existence of sexism), which I have encountered in many of my co-students: Acknowledging that the pictures are sexist, but being unworried about their potential harm. I think I can also know something about that by talking to my co-students.

But overall I think we are in agreement. If we (regardless of nationality) want to do something constructive about gender balance problems, we should rely on much more systematic evidence than just our personal experience.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Categories