My association with her goes back some twenty years, when I first began my graduate studies in philosophy as a non-matriculate student at the CUNY Graduate Center [in the fall of 1992]. My first class was ‘Social and Political Philosophy,’ taught by Professor Held. [During our first class meeting] on her reading list, I saw four unfamiliar names: Carole Pateman, Susan Okin, Catherine MacKinnon and Patricia Smith. Who were these, I wondered, and what did they have to do with the ‘public-private distinction’ (the subtitle Virginia had added to ‘Social and Political Philosophy’)? As we were introduced to the syllabus, Professor Held skillfully handled some questions: Why were these readings on the list? Why not the usual suspects? I was impressed, of course, by her deft location of feminist philosophy in our canon and its importance in exploring the public-private distinction, but I was even more impressed by the grace and firmness that she displayed in dealing with contentious student interlocutors.
I want to add a little more detail to this story--as well as a little follow-up; your mileage may vary with regards to your assessment of the topicality or relevance of these embellishments.
How we ought to understand the terms "civility" and "collegiality" and to what extent they can be enforced as professional norms are dominating discussions in academic journalism and the academic blogosphere right now. (So much so, in fact, that it's practically impossible for me to select among the literally hundreds of recent articles/posts and provide for you links to the most representative here.) Of course, the efficient cause of civility/collegiality debates' meteoric rise to prominence is the controversy surrounding Dr. Steven Salaita's firing (or de-hiring, depending on your read of the situation) by the University of Illinois only a month ago, but there are a host of longstanding, deeply contentious and previously seething-just-below-the-surface agendas that have been given just enough air now by the Salaita case to fan their smoldering duff into a blazing fire.
In the interest of full disclosure, I'll just note here at the start that I articulated my concerns about (and opposition to) policing norms of civility/collegiality or otherwise instituting "codes" to enforce such norms some months ago (March 2014) in a piece I co-authored with Edward Kazarian on this blog here (and reproduced on the NewAPPS site) entitled "Please do NOT revise your tone." My concern was then, as it remains still today, that instituting or policing norms of civility/collegiality is far more likely to protect objectionable behavior/speech by those who already possess the power to avoid sanction and, more importantly, is likely to further disempower those in vulnerable professional positions by effectively providing a back-door manner of sanctioning what may be their otherwise legitimately critical behaviors/speech. I'm particularly sympathetic to the recent piece "Civility is for Suckers" in Salon by David Palumbo-Liu (Stanford) who retraces the case-history of civility and free speech and concludes, rightly in my view, that "civility is in the eye of the powerful."
I expect many readers to be following the ongoing debate, prompted by a poll run by Leiter last week, on the (presumed) effects that blogs have had for professional philosophy, both at the level of content and at the level of ‘issues in the profession’. (Roberta Millistein weights in at NewAPPS, and I agree with pretty much everything she says; another summary at Feminist Philosophers.) Now, there is a sense in which I am personally not in a good position to have an opinion on this, simply because I haven’t been around long enough to know what it was like before, and thus to be able to draw an informed conclusion. But I can say that my very process of becoming a professional philosopher (not so much content-wise perhaps, but in terms of deciding on the kind of professional I wanted to be) was considerably influenced by reading in particular the Feminist Philosophers blog. Also, I won’t deny that my career as a whole has tremendously benefited from my blogging activity at NewAPPS and at M-Phi, both in terms of the opportunity to discuss my ideas with a larger number of people than would otherwise have been possible, and (more pragmatically) simply in terms of increased visibility and reputation.
But obviously, my individual experience (or that of other bloggers) is not what is under discussion presently; rather, the question is whether blogs have been good for the profession as a whole. This, however, is obviously a multi-faceted question; it may for example be read as pertaining to the quality of the scholarship produced, to be measured by some suitably ‘objective’ criterion. (As a matter of fact, I do believe that blogs have been ‘good’ for philosophy in this sense, for reasons outlined here for example.) But it may also pertain to the overall wellbeing of members of the profession, in which case the putative effect blogs will have had could be conceived of in terms of a simple formula: for each member the profession (I is the set of all professional philosophers), estimate the net gain (or loss) in professional wellbeing by comparing their situation before (wb) and after (wa) the advent of blogs; add it all up, and divide the total by the number of members considered.
Exactly 15 years ago today, I arrived in the Netherlands with a suitcase full of dreams (ok, maybe two), ready to start a new phase of my life, but having no idea I'd end up staying for so long. I still do and always will feel a strong bond with my home country Brazil (as BMoF readers of course know!), but looking back on these years, I realize I feel entirely at home here now. Perhaps the main turning point in my relationship with this country was the birth of my children, who were both born here, and who, for all intents and purposes (sadly, including rooting at the World Cup…), are basically Dutch. After they were born, I started feeling a visceral connection with this place, which I didn’t experience before.
However, it is not only because they happened to be born here and have lived here almost all their lives (except for 20 months living in NYC for my older one) that I feel this connection. More importantly, I simply see them happy and thriving, being given all the conditions they need to develop healthily and joyfully, and I am extremely thankful for that. And it’s not only my kids: the Netherlands is consistently ranked as number one at studies comparing the well-being of children in a number of developed countries.
Everyone’s next question is then: what’s the secret? How does one raise the happiest kids in the world? Obviously, the Netherlands is a prosperous country, with levels of social equality only to be compared to those in the Scandinavian countries, and that goes a long way of course. To start with, virtually every child here has access to health care, education, nutrition etc. (Which is not to say that everything is perfect! But even for what is not so good, it’s still probably better than in most other places.) However, there are more factors involved, and on the basis of my experience as a parent I would like to outline two of them.
Google the keywords “academic” and “mother” or “motherhood”, and you will find various websites with discussions about the baby penalty in academia for women. Representative for this literature is an influential Slate article by Mary Ann Mason, who writes “For men, having children is a career advantage; for women, it is a career killer. And women who do advance through the faculty ranks do so at a high price. They are far less likely to be married with children.”
As an untenured mother of two children, I find these reports unsettling. When my second child was born, several women who are junior academics approached me to ask me if it was doable, or how I managed to get anything done. They wanted children but were scared that it would kill their careers. How do children impact one’s work? This got me thinking that it would be good to hear the stories of philosophers who did manage to combine a flourishing academic career with parenthood.
To this end, I interviewed seven tenured professors who are parents. Six of them are mothers, but I decided to also include an involved father. I aimed to include some diversity of circumstance. Some of my interviewees have very young children whereas one respondent has grown children, she had them in a time when being a mother and a professor was even less evident than it is now. One of my interviewees is a single mother, who had her child in graduate school. One went to a first-round APA interview when her son was six weeks old, with a sitter in the hotel room. Two of my interviewees have special needs children, a fact that shaped their academic careers in important ways. I aimed also for geographic diversity—my respondents come from the US, the UK, Canada and The Netherlands—since countries and institutional culture differ in the formal and informal support parents receive, such as paid leave and childcare.
How can we combine the economic necessities of work with caring for infants? This dilemma recurs across cultures, and western culture is no exception. In a series of interviews with professors who are mothers (which I hope to put on NewApps by the end of this month), one of my respondents, who has grown children remarked about their preschool years:
"I was completely stressed out. It wasn’t just that childcare was expensive—and even with two salaries it was a stretch: It was insecure. If a childcare provider decided to quit, I would be left in the lurch; if my kid wet his pants once too often he’d be kicked out of pre-school [which had strict rules about children being toilet-trained] and I’d have to make other arrangements."
This concern resonates with many parents. It is especially acute among low-income, single mothers who struggle to find last-minute childcare to fit their employers' unpredictable scheduling. Also symptomatic are heart-wrenching stories about a woman whose children were taken away because she failed to find childcare when she had to go on a job interview and left them in a car, or a woman who was arrested for allowing her nine-year-old daughter to play in a park while she worked in a nearby fast food restaurant.
Can we learn anything from how other cultures solve the working mother's dilemma?
As I noted in an earlier post, preparing for a seminar on privacy and surveillance has given me the opportunity to learn more about any number of aspects of the topic – in this case (again) the feminist critique of privacy. To recap: on this argument, which is most commonly associated with Catharine MacKinnon (see the abortion chapter here for a succinct, 10-page version), privacy manages to be very bad for women under conditions of structural sex inequality. Because women are socially unequal, “privacy” manages to protect men, but not women. Wife-beaters, for example, get to hide behind the veil of privacy in the home to shield their conduct from scrutiny: “a man’s home is his castle.” (MacKinnon then answers the obvious question: why does patriarchy support abortion rights? The answer is that the availability of abortion removes the one last obstacle men faced in the complete social domination of women: the possibility of undesired pregnancy. So abortion rights justified on privacy grounds (as opposed to equality) end up being tools of patriarchy. But that’s a different conversation)
MacKinnon’s argument is a lot more subtle than it usually gets portrayed as being, but it’s vulnerable to some obvious objections. For example, Jena McGill, writing out of her experience working in battered women’s shelters, points out that privacy is the thing that women who make it to the shelters need most of all. If they don’t get it, their abusers are very likely to kill them and their children. One way of interpreting the implications of this point is to say that the value of privacy for women depends on where it’s claimed; once women leave the traditional patriarchal household, privacy suddenly becomes a lot more important as a concept.
At the request of the folks over at Hypatia, we're helping to publicize the open online forum they will be hosting in conjunction with their recently published special issue on Climate Change.
Here's the description the editoral staff at Hypatia provided for the event:
Policy makers have recently begun to acknowledge the disproportionate impacts of climate change on women and disadvantaged communities, but feminist analyses of the complex epistemic and political dimensions of climate change, as well as its causes and effects, are urgently needed. Hypatia recently published a special issue on Climate Change that initiates a necessary conversation that will deepen our understanding and help identify promising opportunities for positive change. Feminist philosophers Chris Cuomo (author of Feminism and Ecological Communities: An Ethic of Flourishing) and Nancy Tuana (author of Feminism and Science) have invited scholars and activists working at the forefront of feminist climate justice to share their perspectives.
Yesterday's post about the the extent that mainstream feminist thinking is implicated in trans exclusinary radical feminism generated some great comments. In particular, my impression that Women and Gender theorists overwhelmingly defined gender differences as being in the contingent realm of culture and sex differences as being in the realm of nomic necessity was mistaken. However, nobody took up the main point I was trying to make (and it should be clear that no one has an obligation to do so) so I'll try to frame it more generally.
First, with respect to gender, it's not enough to problematize the gender/sex distinction merely by arguing that sexual difference itself is imbued with cultural and epigenetic factors. Has the debate gone beyond that sort of generic culturally relativist move? It was not clear from the comments. The challenge by Serano and Garcia is in part from the other direction; denying that aspects of gender difference are in the realm of nomic necessity leads to other forms of oppression. From Sullivan's post, the denial of this by many feminist activists involves systematically ignoring or dismissing the testimony of many trans people, and this suppression accounts for much of the acrimony between TERFs and transgender people.
Second, the gender/sex issue wasn't a little bit orthogonal to the problem I tried to pose, which was that much feminist theory (at least the stuff I studied seven years ago) wasn't able to navigate a Scylla and Charibdis between politics of identity and difference. Serano and Garcia argue that even recent feminist theorists (who are aware of the danger) end up denigrating femininity and telling women that they should have traditionally masculine traits. But if the alternative is Carol Gilligan or Glover type theory, no thanks. Glover critiques the "final girl" in horror movies (the last possible victim who survives and kills the killer) as a "male adolescent in drag" in part because the final girl has "masculine" attributes such as planning and use of reason. As far as infantalizing condescension goes, this is about on par with pesticide companies giving pink teddy bears to women with breast cancer.
A few months ago some of us discussed Julia Serano's book Whipping Girl, which argues that a lot of mainstream feminism ironically enforces the Aristotelian view that masculinity is healthy and normal and femininity is artificial and harmful. The chapter on gender in Tristan Garcia's Form and Object makes a similar argument with respect to some academic queer theorists who (according to Garcia) end up excoriating people who don't cowboy up and take responsibility for their own gender.
If there is a problem here it has to do with a calim that is taken to be almost analytically true in many Women and Gender's Studies classes. It goes like this. The division of sexes is a biological notion, and hence tied up with nomic necessity in some manner, while gender division is merely cultural, and hence highly variable and contingent. But the biology doesn't really support the presupposed views about biological sex (there are more than two genetic sexes, and the leap from genetic to genital sex requires at the very least lots of epigenetic factors we don't understand, and there are more than two genital sexes). And the view of gender as entirely cultural involves systematically ignoring what a lot of transgender people such as Juliana Serano have to say about their experience (and perhaps some of the relevant biology as well).
A recent post by Andrew Sullivan chronicles how this debate has gone beyond academia and is actually become poisonous in the activist community, pitting trans exclusionary radical feminist ("TERF") activists against transgender activists.
I’m teaching a course on privacy and surveillance this fall, and one of the things I’ve been doing is reading up on aspects of privacy theory that I didn’t know much about, such as the feminist critique of privacy. The basic feminist argument is that “family privacy” has been historically used as a cover to shield domestic abuse from legal scrutiny (and not only against women – see this disturbing Supreme Court case about a stepfather who beat a four year old into serious and permanent cognitive disability; the Rhenquist Court argues that state social services had no enforceable obligation to intervene because of family privacy). It is in this context that I ran across Reva Siegel’s (Law, Yale) fantastic article on the way that claims of domestic privacy emerged out of the collapse of a husband’s legal right to “chastise” (beat) his wife. Siegel’s larger purpose is to study the ways that legal reforms can serve to “modernize” status regimes, a process in which old hierarchies are given new justifications and (perhaps) weakened, but not eliminated. It’s not that the legal reforms don’t achieve anything – it’s that it’s very, very difficult to dismantle regimes of social privilege, and that (as Foucault noted), power always entails resistance.
Here, I want to focus briefly on the move from chastisement to privacy, because I think it suggests something important for our understanding of biopolitics. As Siegel outlines it, the basic story is that, over the course of the nineteenth century, a couple of groups made substantial inroads into the old common law right of chastisement: temperance groups used stories of horrific abuse of women by drunk husbands to advocate banning alcohol, and feminist groups use the same stories to advocate for the banning of wife-beating. The feminists eventually won, and a pair of state supreme court cases around 1870 (one in Alabama and one in North Carolina) emphatically – perhaps a little too emphatically – pronounced wife beating to be the unwelcome vestige of a primitive, bygone era.
Anyone who spends a modicum of time on the internet will have been exposed to the recent hashtag battle opposing #NotAllMen and #YesAllWomen, so I don’t need to rehearse the details here. What I think is significant is that there may well be a sense in which both camps are right: it may well be the case that the proportion of men engaging in the more extreme forms of sexism and violence against women – the limit cases being sexual assault and rape – is relatively small, while the proportion of women being victims of these assaults is very high. There is no contradiction between the two.
Indeed, a 2002 study mentioned in this recent Slate article (which Eric W also linked to in a recent post – btw, it’s Eric’s post that got me thinking about this issue) on the sexual histories of college men found that ‘only’ 6% of those interviewed had attempted or successfully raped someone. But the catch is that there was an average of 6 rape attempts per perpetrator. So the math is simple: in a population of 100 college men and 100 college women, if 6 men are rapists but each engage in rape attempts 6 times during their college years, then it is perfectly possible that 36 of the 100 women, so more than a third of them, will have been the victims of successful or attempted rapes. (Naturally, there may also be cases of men sexually assaulting other men, but it seems that, in the college population in particular (as opposed to the prison population, or among younger male victims), the wide majority of cases is of male perpetrator and female victim.)
Over at Feminist Philosophers, they've posted the CFP for a conference on Diversity in Philosophy that, I'm proud to say, is being hosted and co-sposored by my alma mater, Villanova University, along with Hypatia and the APA's Committee for the Status of Women.
The conference will be held at Villanova on May 28-30, 2015 and the deadline for submissions of 250-500 word proposals is January 1, 2015.
More info and the full CFP follows after the break.
Another sad loss this week: psychologist Sandra Bem, a pioneer in the empirical study of gender roles, passed away on Tuesday, May 20th. Here is the most complete obituary I could find so far, which details nicely her scientific contributions and the practical impact they had in gender policies. For example, it was largely based on her scientific work that the infamous practice of segregating classified job listings under "Male Help Wanted" and "Female Help Wanted" columns was finally abandoned, after a 1973 decision of the US Supreme Court ruling against the practice. (The case was against a particular press, but within a year all other newspapers in the country changed how their classified ads were listed.)
There are many other aspects of Sandra Bem’s life and work worth mentioning, but let me focus on two of them. As an undergraduate in 1965, she met Daryl Bem, then a young assistant professor, and a romantic relationship between them began. (Yes, there are successful stories too, apparently…) Initially, she did not want to get married, as this course of events seemed to preclude the professional path she had in mind for herself. But Daryl was not deterred, and so together they agreed on an arrangement that would allow her to flourish professionally, and which would basically consist in what is now known as equally shared parenting – an ideal that many couples aspire to, but which remains a challenge to implement (speaking from personal experience!). The ‘experiment’ was largely successful, and Sandra narrates all the ups and downs of raising two children (a boy and a girl) on this model in her 1998 book An Unconventional Family. (I’ve been meaning to read the book for years, and now may well be the time to stop procrastinating.)
Some years ago, at the end of an evening that probably involved more alcoholic beverages than it should have, I found myself as a member of a small party of four, composed of two colleagues (and incidentally, good friends) and one PhD student (all three male). As the conversation progressed, I ended up saying things that were somewhat sexually explicit (as some readers may recall, I don’t shy away from talking about matters pertaining to sexuality – see a recent lecture of mine on the science of female orgasm). To be clear, what I said could not have been construed as ‘flirtatious’ in any way, but the next day I came to deeply regret the whole episode. My reasoning was as follows: had I been a male individual, and had the student in question been a female individual, what I said would have been undoubtedly inappropriate, by my own lights. (Similar considerations could be offered concerning interactions with colleagues, but I was particularly concerned with the asymmetry between me and the student).
This episode led me to formulate and since then apply a principle of parity to regulate my behavior in professional situations: not to say or do anything that would be construed or viewed as problematic, had I been a man dealing with (especially more junior) women, be they colleagues, students etc. Until then, I would on occasion make remarks during class (e.g. ‘here, size does matter’ when talking about some issue pertaining to model-theory) which seemed to me to be ok (and in a sense, even a ‘political statement’ in some way), but which would not have been appropriate if uttered by a man. I do not make such remarks in class anymore.
A petition is circulating online asking Gov. Bill Haslam to veto SB 1391. The bill would modify the Tennessee criminal code to allow for criminal assault charges to be brought against women who use illegal narcotics while pregnant, should their drug use lead to harm or death for the fetus or child. These charges carry a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. But the bill is so badly written, it could affect all pregnant women in Tennessee, whether or not they use drugs, should something go wrong during their pregnancy. In effect, SB 1391 threatens to criminalize pregnancy in Tennessee.
Policy analysts and political commentators across the world have voiced their concerns with SB 1391, arguing that it could have far-reaching consequences (Reality Check, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Daily Beast, and NPR). Even some pro-life groups recognize that SB 1391 could incentivize abortions for women who use drugs, since women risk up to 15 years in prison by continuing their pregnancy, especially if they are unable to access drug treatment programs (All Our Lives).
If we really want to support the flourishing of children in Tennessee, then we need to move beyond the pro-life/pro-choice framework to seek reproductive justice for everyone, based on “the right to have children, not have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments” (SisterSong). For example, rather than punishing women who use illegal drugs while pregnant, we should be extending the Safe Harbor Act to support women who use either prescription drugs or non-prescription drugs to get the treatment they need, and to stay clean for the sake of their families and themselves.
The Supreme Court today heard oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case, in which the craft store chain is suing for exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. According to Hobby Lobby, it has religious objections to certain forms of contraception, and so should be exempt from the mandate on First Amendment grounds. According to Dahlia Lithwick – who is usually pretty good at this sort of analysis – the oral argument didn’t go well for the government. Conservatives on the court were signaling their support of Hobby Lobby, and Justice Roberts even has a way to apply the case narrowly (by declaring that only tightly-controlled or family-run companies can make the religious-objection argument). This case has broader implications than it might look like on the surface.
The news has just been released that Rev. Fred Phelps, founder and lifelong shepherd of the Westboro Baptist Church (in Topeka, Kansas) has died at the age of 84. I find it difficult, I confess, to summon the normal human compassion that usually accompanies news of another's death in this case, largely because Phelps dedicated his life to broadcasting his rejection of-- not to mention enlisting others, including children, to stage carnival-like circuses around his rejection of-- what most people would consider even the most minimally-decent exhibitions of human compassion. Fred Phelps was one of the most infamous, outrageous, dishonorable and genuinely despicable hatemongers of my generation. And, what is more, Fred Phelps' hate was as ferocious and vicious as it was blind. Through the prism of his delusional and evangelical abhorrence, the Westboro congregants en masse considered themselves justified in casting an unjustifiably wide net of Judgment. Caught in that net were many: ranging from bona fide innocents against whom no reasonable person could or ought cast aspersions, like Matthew Shepard, to a whole host of other "collateral-damage" victims of Phelps' quasi-political positions who found themselves the inadvertent and inauspicious targets of his his flock's detestation.
I say again: I find it very, very difficult to summon the normal human compassion that ought to accompany the news of Fred Phelps' passing.
Nevertheless, these are the moments when our inclination toward Schadenfreude, however deeply affirming and deeply satisfactory indulging that sentiment may feel, ought to be on principle squelched.
Jonathan Martin - the player for the Miami Dolphins who left football, at least temporarily, as a result of relentless locker room bullying - has prompted some voluminous soul-searching. (Whether it leads to meaningful action remains to be seen.) I want to suggest that there have been two profoundly wrong assumptions made in most coverage of this case, and end with a conclusion about how we, and he, should think of Jonathan's Martin's own behavior.
Trigger alert: discussions of misogyny, abuse, bullying, etc. below.
Earlier today, the campus announced that Professor Andy Cowell will head our philosophy department at CU-Boulder. Professor Cowell is a professor of French literature and a former chair of two departments, French and Italian and linguistics. This change was made to improve the climate in philosophy for our faculty, staff and students and, specifically, to improve the climate for women.
We have made these changes based upon the recommendations of the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in a recent report that we are making public today, as well as on evidence gathered from faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students in the department. That evidence points directly to the need to create a stronger, more inclusive environment in the department for women as scholars and students, that prevents acts of sexual harassment and discrimination, and that allows faculty to work together in a collegial environment of mutual respect.
This article by Laurie Penny on women and short hair, which in turn is a response to another article claiming that women with short hair are ‘damaged’, has been making the rounds on the internet (H/T Gillian Russell on Facebook). It makes a number of very important points concerning ideals of femininity, and the kind of policing that women are submitted to, by men and women alike, concerning their appearance.
Wearing your hair short, or making any other personal life choice that works against the imperative to be as conventionally attractive and appealing to patriarchy as possible, is a political statement. And the threat that if we don’t behave, if we don’t play the game, we will end up alone and unloved is still a strategy of control.
(There is a lot of serious, interesting scholarship on hair out there (not only restricted to hair that grows in heads), which I am not able to address here – but do go check it out, for example this book).
I’ve had fairly long hair for most of my life, but when I was 17 and a bit of a capoeira fanatic I had my hair cut really short (I felt all that hair was in the way for my capoeira moves). Reactions were mostly positive (including my boyfriend at the time), but one comment I got was epic. The guard at my high school (!!) deemed himself in the right to comment on my new haircut, in fact to ask a question: “Is this a penitence?” Why else would any woman want to wear her hair so short?
After a recent move and going through my storage facility, I came across the following memo (below the fold--click to enlarge) among some of my late mother’s things. The date is February 19th, 1958, and the author is Nobel Prize winner Polykarp Kush. My mother was then a graduate student in Physics at Columbia University. Do read it for yourself in all its blue mimeographed glory, but the money line is, of course, “If your personal lives are of such complexity that they require a continuing contact with family and friends in time that should be devoted to a serious concern with physics, I very much doubt that you have the makings of a good physicist.” I heard my mother joke about seeing this memo posted in her lab at least a half-dozen times, but I never knew she kept a copy of the memo for fifty years! She left physics with a Masters degree and returned to graduate school to get her PhD in data analysis in the late 70s. She always told the memo-story as if it were a knee-slapper (“Physicists in those days were such characters!”) and she never really mentioned the climate for women as a reason why she left Physics.
Exactly one year ago I finished off my blogging year with a post on gendered atrocities, focusing in particular on the Newtown shooting and the widely discussed gang rape in India. At that point, the hope was that these two events would at least not have been in vain, and that they would stir changes in the right direction. It seems that this did in fact happen in India, where the horridness of rape was given much more attention in the aftermath of the event, which triggered a firestorm of protest. (As for mass shootings and gun control in the US, to my knowledge nothing much seems to have changed since last year...)
And now, looking back on 2013, what strikes me as an absolute lowlight of the year is again something gender-related, at first sight of a much lesser degree of gravity – but only at first sight. One of the biggest hits of the year, Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’, is nothing short of a badly concealed rape apology (read the lyrics for yourself here). That millions and millions of young (and not-so-young) impressionable people should be exposed to the truly disturbing message of the song is very, very worrisome. The catchiness of the song (yes, I’ll admit to its catchiness, which is really the merit of singer, co-writer and producer Pharrell Williams -- who, unlike Thicke, is a talented musician) only makes it worse, as it results in millions of kids singing ‘I know you want it’, ‘good girl’, and other horrific bits of the text. (It is particularly surprising that the three singers all seem fairly adjusted, family-oriented people; but what doesn’t one do for success…) The video is equally appalling, featuring three scantily clad female models interacting in unflattering ways with the three fully clad male singers (I’ll just mention hair-pulling and puffing smoke on one of the women’s face – see the video for yourself if you have to. Oh, and there is also an uncensored version!).
There is a serious gender problem in philosophy in the Netherlands. In the 11 departments of philosophy the numbers of permanent staff members are roughly the following: assistant professors: 110, of which 25 are women; associate professors: 45, of which 5 are women; full professors: 65, of which 7 are women (I have not included part-time professors; this data is based on the websites of the departments). You may think that this just indicates that women have to work harder to get advanced positions at Dutch universities (i.e. that the problem is only theirs). But there is sufficient evidence now that a gender bias is built into the system. This implies that men are part of the problem and that they will have to take their responsibility. The solution is not easy though. It requires a package of measures. What can we do?
It is always good to raise awareness, but what really helps is to move beyond awareness-raising with a few very simple institutional measures that can be implemented right away. Why not make it a rule that 30% of all invited speakers at conferences are women, or that 30% of the papers in special issues are by female philosophers? The Board of the Dutch Research School of Philosophy (OZSW) will discuss such measures for activities organized by the OZSW later this year. There may of course be exceptions to this rule, but these exceptions need to be justified. Similarly, we should stick to the rule, formally adopted by many universities, that selection committees should include at least two women.
Last year I had twoposts up where I compared genital cutting in males and females, and claimed that ultimately there aren’t any real, substantive differences between the two cases. The posts provoked heated reactions, as could have been expected on the basis of the reactions that anti-circumcision advocates usually receive.
Well, today I came across an article by Rebecca Steinfeld over at The Conversation that says everything I would like to say on the topic, but much more eloquently: 'Like FGM, cut foreskins should be a feminist issue'. In particular, she discusses why our perception of genital cutting of boys is so different from our perception of the same practice with girls. I copy some passages below, but everyone should really read the whole thing! (And yes, I’m ready for more heated discussion in comments. But let me just be clear that my issue is with the genital cutting of non-consenting children; what consenting adults do with their genitalia is none of my business.)
But this isn’t a harm competition. It’s about how FGC [female genital cutting], often referred to as female genital mutilation because it’s widely seen as a violation of women’s rights and a form of oppression and sexual control, is easily accepted when that girl is a boy.
Recently (in a satirical context) I endorsed the proposal that we should pay no attention to the boy-wonders in our midst. I really think we do a disservice to our community and to philosophy by focusing on boy-wonders. 'Boy-wonder' is a sociological term. In what follows I remain agnostic about the intrinsic merits of young philosophers (male or female) who just happen to be or appear to be fantastically good at philosophy.
I define a 'boy-wonder' as follows: a male -- aged 20-28 -- who is quick on his feet, precocious, often with gifts in formal areas of philosophic, and annointed as 'the next big thing' by Some Important Philosopher(s) (SIPS) at a top department.* Words like 'genius' and 'brilliant' are often used in this context. (Often SIPS and their boy-wonders are dismissive of other people's contributions.) Philosophy is by no means the only discipline that has 'anointed' boy-wonders (economics does, too), but we like them a lot. By this I mean that boy-wonders do not only show up in the inflationary context of letters of recommendation, but they also impact the sexist mores in philosophy.
I offer seven considerations to rid ourselves from the whole set of practices that involve boy-wonders.
The Feminist Philosophy Archive Project project began when the Association for Feminist Ethics and Social Theory (FEAST) and the Society for Women in Philosophy (SWIP) wanted a way to handle SWIP archives, dating to 1971. While the SWIP archive is the immediate goal, the ultimate goal is an inclusive and international Feminist Philosophy Archive (FPA).
The coordinators of FPAP are Samantha Noll of Michigan State (email), and Christina Rawls of Duquesne (email); the advisors include Alison Jaggar, Joan Callahan, Ann Garry, and Sandra Harding. A website is in progress but a listserv is already in operation. To join it, please send an email to: LISTSERV@LSV.UKY.EDU and in the body of the email include the message Subscribe FPAP .
[My wife is a physician-PhD, so I doubt I am an impartial observer here.--ES]
In reality, medical care during pregnancy seemed to be one long list
of rules. Being pregnant was a good deal like being a child again. There
was always someone telling me what to do, but the recommendations from
books and medical associations were vague and sometimes contradictory.
It started right away. "You can only have two cups of coffee a day." I
wondered why. What did the numbers say about how risky one, two or three
cups were? This wasn't discussed anywhere.
The key to good decision making is evaluating
the available information—the data—and combining it with your own
estimates of pluses and minuses. As an economist, I do this every day.
It turns out, however, that this kind of training isn't really done much
in medical schools. Medical school tends to focus much more,
appropriately, on the mechanics of being a doctor--Emily Oster in WSJ [HT Diana Weinert Thomas via Facebook].
Oster's editorial is a pre-publication to a commercial book. It's supposed to be provocative. Indeed, it 'ticks off' all the 'right boxes:' babies, a desire for self-ownership/autonomy ("Pregnant women...want to assess risks for themselves and make their own best decisions"), rejects scientific over-reach ("fuzzy science and half-baked research"), embraces the good life ("a glass of wine every now and then, plenty of coffee, exercise when I wanted it") etc. Her editorial also offers a glimpse into the eugenic ideals of the new epistemic elite: "the other big concern with alcohol [consumption during pregnancy] is low IQ" of the child. (Fetal alcohol syndrom is not just about IQ.)