Pornography has been a topic of interest to feminist philosophers and feminists in general for quite some time. (It has also been an important topic in aesthetics and philosophy of art, but here I will not engage with this literature at all.) I think it is fair to say that most feminists (philosophers or otherwise) tend to be critical of pornography and to view it as yet another form of oppression of women, for a variety of reasons. (For an overview, see Watson’s 2010 review article in Philosophy Compass.) But at least some feminists (e.g. Betty Dodson) have defended more favorable views of pornography, for example by recognizing that there is wide diversity under the general heading of pornography. Some say that there is no such thing as Pornography with capital P, but rather a range of pornographies, different instantiations of the general idea.
Let me state from the outset that I (feminist or not) identify with the second camp. I do not endorse the view that pornography is in principle, by definition, degrading (to women or others). So to define pornography as “the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women, whether in pictures or words” (as MacKinnon and Dworkin did in the early 1980s) is in a sense conveniently question-begging. Moreover, it seems to exclude from the realm of pornography manifestations which most of us would not hesitate to call pornography (say, a graphic sexually explicit encounter between two men).
Here I am, back from my vacation and trying desperately to catch up with the accumulated work and all the interesting events in internet-world of the last week. At NewAPPS alone there are quite a few posts I want to react to, in particular Eric’s post on the genealogy of genealogy. But let me start by commenting on the ‘hot topic’ of the moment, at least among philosophy geeks: L.A. Paul’s draft paper on how decision theory is useless when it comes to making life-transforming decisions such as having a child. Eric and Helen already have nice posts up reacting to the paper, but I hope there is still room for one more NewAPPS post on the topic.
Perhaps the first thing to notice, which comes up only at the end of Paul’s paper, is that the very idea of having children being a matter of choice/decision is a very recent one. For the longest part of human history, and for the largest portion of the human population (excluding, for example, some of those who took up religious vows), finding a partner and procreating was simply the normal course of events, no questions asked. (Indeed, Christian faith even views it as a moral obligation.) It is only fairly recently, possibly only towards the end of the 20th century, that having a child became a matter of choice at least for some people, in some parts of the planet. Contributing factors are the availability of contraceptive methods, and a wider range of life options which are now deemed ‘acceptable’, or at least more acceptable than before. (People who choose to remain child-free, in particular women, are still often looked at with suspicion.)
Res Philosophica has just announced a cfp "on the topic of transformative experiences for a special issue of the journal." The invited speaker line-up is fantastic. Papers are invited that explore "the implications of the possibility that certain major life experiences are phenomenologically transformative: that is, they are relevantly just like Mary’s when she leaves her black and white room." (For a refresher on Mary see here.) One of the invited papers, "What Mary can’t expect when she’s expecting," by the eminent metaphysician, L.A. Paul, was first called to my attention after my post on the lack of available vocabulary for the emotional life of fatherhood. Paul argues that:
[H]aving one’s own child is an epistemically transformative experience. If it is impossible for me to know what it is like to have the transformative experience of seeing and touching my own child, to know what emotions, beliefs, desires, and dispositions will be caused by having a child, and by extension to know what is like to have the emotions, beliefs, desires, and dispositions caused by having my child, it is impossible for me to gauge the expected value, in phenomenal terms, of having a child. If I cannot gauge the expected value of having my child, I cannot compare this value to the value of remaining childless. And if I cannot compare it to the value of remaining childless, I cannot—even approximately—determine which act would result in the highest expected value. And thus, on the standard model, I cannot use our ordinary, phenomenal-based approach to rationally choose to have my child, nor can I rationally choose to remain childless.
Now the point of the paper is not to argue that becoming a parent is fundamentally an irrational act; Paul allows that there may be ways of thinking about rationality far removed from standard rational choice models that can capture the rationality of such a decision. Paul's paper also allows that models that merely capture the extrinsic features of having children (predator-prey models in ecology, Malthusian growth models in economics and ecology, etc.) do a good job explaining or predicting observed regularities. Paul's approach is even compatible with the possibility that we can experimentally induce utility curves for prospective parents to estimate their willingness to pay for a child.
December 2012 will be remembered as the month when two horrific events took place: the Newtown shooting, which cost 26 lives (if I’m not mistaken), and a brutal gang-rape in New Delhi, which cost the victim’s life. (UPDATE: One of many, but for once the victims survived long enough to tell their story, and for once people listened.) In both cases, the events set in motion a wave of collective outrage, raising in particular the inevitable questions of how something like this could have happened, and what can be done to prevent similar atrocities in the future.
What do the two events have in common? One thing they have in common is the imperativeness of viewing both from the perspective of gender roles. With respect to the rape case, the gender dimension is immediately apparent, as rape is one of the most brutal and yet extremely widespread forms of male domination over women. But the mass shooting in Newtown, and in fact mass shootings in general in the USA, may (and should!) also be discussed against the background of gender roles. The fact is that virtually every mass shooting has been perpetrated by men (and in fact, mostly by white, middle to upper class males), and this is no coincidence.
I was asked the question in the title of this post during the closing moments of an Eastern APA job interview. I believe I stammered "that's illegal," but maybe I only thought of that response in the bar later. In reality the conversation continued with the Chair of the department after the interview and that was even less edifying. (I have shared more unprofessional interview moments here.) This by way of calling attention to our friends at Feminist Philosophy, who are having an important discussion about what to do in situations like the one I encountered. Those with wise council (I don't have any, alas) or in need of it should join in there.
A colleague in the discipline had warned me against the department with whom the 'are-you-gay-incident' occurred. (I was, in fact, trying to replace that person, but did not receive an 'on-campus-interview.') Given the deplorable situation on the professional philosophy junior/tenure-track job-market, we often forget that interviews are two-way encounters. Departments should be mindful that they are also 'selling' themselves not just to people desperate for a decent paying job in philosophy, but also to future professional colleagues in the discipline. I sometimes wonder if I will ever bump into the self-described "philosopher of economics" who asked me the question about my sexual orientation/sense of self. I imagine the conversation starts with, "Actually, we have met before. You may not recall..."
You have to be narcissistic and regularly tap into your inner anger to succeed at blogging. Given that professional philosophy has treated me extremely generously during most of my career, my blogging floats along happily on my narcissism. But sometimes what animates my blogging are the memories of the many unprofessional experiences undergone and witnessed....
A recent spate of all-male headlined conference announcements (note this one at Princeton here) made me reflect again on the mechanisms at work. Our friends at the GCC have been emphasizing the ways in which implicit bias and stereotype threat reinforce each other and, more recently, Brian Leiter has reminded us (rightly) that "sexual harassment is still the scandal of philosophy profession." Petitions (the call to action initiated by Martin Kusch and Mark Lance has almost a 1000 signatures; here is the official GCC petition; and an interdisciplinary one sponsored by Virginia Valian and Dan Sperber and friends) are not enough to solve these issues, of course. But I do not think that implicit bias, stereotype threat, and sexual harassment exhaust the pernicious mechanisms at work.
Recently, I wrote some young scholars who ended up hosting a resource-rich conference with a line-up of ten (mostly early career) males. (I wouldn't be surprised this particular conference also ends up being a special issue of a journal.) This surprised me because I had noticed the cfp and it explicitly mentioned blind review of abstracts, and had made no mention of invited speakers. Their response is illuminating because it shows how even selection designs that aim at quality can lead to unfair, gender-imbalanced outcomes without any malice or gender bias (I'll qualify this in a bit) at all:
From a call for papers, we have selected 7 papers (out of a total of 10 to be presented at this workshop). Possibly 7, but at least 5 (out of 24 submitted), abstracts have been submitted by women (judging on the basis of first names). All abstracts have been anonymously evaluated double blind by a pool of 30 reviewers (of which roughly half were authors that had submitted abstracts). The resulting rank order was arrived at by straight averaging, gender was not a factor in the decision. The group of authors selected remained the same irrespective of assigning weights (between 60/40 and 80/20) to reviewers’ scores or authors’ scores. We checked for gender only after the blog post [by the GCC] had become known to us. The best “female abstract” is probably on rank 11.
3 out of 10 talks are given by invited speakers. These had been planned before the call for papers. 2 of these are given by scholars from [our home universities]. These authors had been asked before the call for papers, as we seek to give precedence to work originating [at our home universities]. Prof. X is the one invited speaker external to the [home universities.]
While I have an impossible-to-find publication that argues there are fatal problems in Hume's account of the associative mechanism, I never doubted that we do associate. But this may have been the first time I felt the mechanism's existence as a kind of brute force that could overwhelm a prior disposition otherwise. But this realization did not please me; rather, I was reminded of another fact--I completely lack a vocabulary for the recently familiar feelings that accompany the recurring mixed joy-fatigue state. (Not all of these are joy.) Echoing Socratic midwifery, Hume famously describes the fate of his philosophical works with parent-child metaphors, but it occured to me that many of the philosophers (e.g., Plato, Hobbes, Spinoza, Hume, Adam Smith, Nietzsche) that I have been thinking about during the last fifteen years, or so, died childless (or at least without acknowledging their children). A few of them had very intense experiences tutoring young men, but their accounts of the passions do not offer me the concepts to name the feelings. Reading Rawls or other more recent philosophers and economist hasn't helped. Has, say, feminist philosophy made a difference on this score? It ought to, so I would love to hear from informed readers.
On January 13th 2012, a workshop took place in London bringing together the editors of some of the most prestigious philosophy journals as well as others involved in philosophy publishing (such as the area editors for CUP and OUP, among others). Podcasts of the talks and discussions have been made available here, and should be of interest to the NewAPPS readership at large.
One of talks (and accompanying Q&A session) has been quite extensively discussed since yesterday on Facebook and at a post over at the Feminist Philosophers. Thomas Baldwin, the editor of Mind, makes some statements concerning the ratio of women publishing in Mind which are worrisome, to say the least. Here are some passages (more passages transcribed here, courtesy of Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa).
(It is usually Eric’s job to comment on noteworthy features of various NDPR reviews, but this time he’s having technical issues with his computer and thus asked me to cover this one.)
Besides the underrepresentation of women at conferences and other academic events, here at NewAPPS and elsewhere we also talk about the possible negative consequences of all-male volumes (see an old post by me on this here). Now, one is starting to see comments on the gender distribution of volume line-ups also in book reviews, such as in this excellent DNPR review by Alisa Bokulich (Boston University) of The Continuum Companion to the Philosophy of Science, edited by Steven French and Juha Saatsi.
A second, problematic feature of this volume is that out of 20 contributors spanning the entire philosophy of science, there is not a single female philosopher of science included. While this omission may be understandable for a very small collection on a highly specialized topic, it is more difficult to excuse for a volume of this size and breadth. While I am sure this was an unintentional oversight, it is part of a disturbing larger pattern within the philosophy of science, and philosophy more broadly. Such omissions are particularly troubling when it comes to pedagogical works, such as this Companion, that are designed to help recruit the next generation of philosophers of science. These volumes then become not only a symptom of this problem, but also part of its source, by giving the impression that the philosophy of science is not a field to which women make significant contributions.
Because philosophy is one of the areas of the humanities with the smallest proportion of women faculty. Because I had thought when I was a graduate student that this would have changed by the time my generation had become full professors. ---David Stern (Iowa)
I have been struck by the asymmetry in the treatment of the former students whom I have known who have gone on to careers in Philosophy. Comparable work (in quantity and quality) does not earn the women nearly as much recognition as it earns men, measured by time to promotion and invitations to speak at significant and appropriate conferences.--Richard (Dick) Burian, (Virginia Tech)
A heated discussion ensued from my post on circumcision last week, which in turn was essentially a plug to a thought-provoking post by Brian D. Earp at the Oxford Practical Ethics blog. The controversial point was whether circumcision is or is not to be compared to female genital cutting.
I’ve learned a lot from the different perspectives presented during the discussion; among other things, I’ve learned the terms ‘genital alteration’ and ‘genital cutting’, which now seem to me to be more adequate than either ‘circumcision’ or ‘genital mutilation’ to formulate the issue in a non-question-begging way (as argued here). And yet, I am now even more convinced that the analogy between male genital alteration and female genital alteration is a legitimate one – which (and let me say this again!) does not mean that there are no crucial differences to be kept in mind. That's what an analogy is, after all.
UPDATE: A much more detailed and extensive criticism of the National Post article here.
Some readers may have already seen the article at the Toronto newspaper National Post on Eric and Mark’s ‘modest proposal’. As much as it is rewarding to see the topic discussed in the Canadian press, there are a few reasons not to be entirely satisfied with the article. (Let me note that I am now voicing my own personal opinions, not NewAPPS’s ‘official’ position – there isn’t such a thing anyway!)
- As noted at a post and comments over at the Feminist Philosophers, it is somewhat disheartening that, apparently, it is only when male individuals put forward a proposal to improve the gender balance at philosophy conferences that it gets this kind of attention. Not enough is said [UPDATE - see comment below] on the Gendered Conference Campaign of the Feminist Philosophers, which has been running for years, and which is ultimately what got the whole thing started. (To be fair, let me also add that the reporter did contact me to comment on my old post proposing even more modestly that male keynotes could inquire as to the gender composition of the conferences they are invited to. On that day, however, I was offline the whole day, so I replied at the end of the day that I could talk to her the next day (I did not get a reply to that).)
- Sure, it is a newspaper article, but does one really need to use this kind of inflammatory language like ‘Gender war’? Although it is not a quotation, the text attributes the following words to Eric: “I will essentially launch a campaign to take you down professionally”. Now, anyone who has read Eric’s original message to the HOPOS mailing list knows that, although admittedly strong-worded, the message was nothing like this.
It is understandable that journalism is a fast-rotating business and that a reporter has to make do with what she/he has, but ultimately the article did not present an accurate account of the whole thing. It did make an effort to represent different sides of the story, but it failed to emphasize [UPDATE] some crucial components like the GCC. Just so that it's noted...
"A truly benevolent legislator always endeavours to make it the interest of each individual to be virtuous; and thus private virtue becoming the cement of public happiness, an orderly whole is consolidated by the tendency of all the parts towards a common centre."--Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Chapter 9.
The main point of Wollstonecraft's Vindication is, of course, to argue that "to render [women's] private virtue a public benefit," women must be granted (equal) civil rights. But she does so with a vocabulary that is clearly meant to echo and rebuke Mandeville's 'private vices, public benefits.' Wollstonecraft insists that a wise legislator can create the proper institutional framework in which all of humankind can sensibly and successfully pursue their interests in virtue and consequently serve the greater (and orderly not to say happy) good. Here I leave aside how much ongoing calibration ("always"?) a Wollstonecraftian legislative craftswoman must be asked to perform, and do some history of ideas on the sources of these ideas in Adam Smith.
We are having an interesting debate on the ins and outs of the Gendered Conference Campaign in this thread. I must confess that I sometimes do not even know where to begin, when I hear for the nth time that “it’s about the quality of the program, not about gender!” and similar arguments; but then I just try to run the usual replies for the nth time the best way I can (along the lines of how implicit biases make it so that judgments of quality are never ‘only’ about quality etc.).
This got me thinking: why do we still encounter so much resistance in some men (and women!) to the idea that something like the Gendered Conference Campaign is important? Two posts that I read today over at the Feministe blog may offer partial answers. The first one is about a study among top managers in the corporate world, and in particular how their private situation at home shapes how they view women in their professional environments: “Men with stay-at-home wives are more likely to be sexist in the workplace”. Here is a passage from the abstract of the article in question (‘traditional marriages’ is defined as marriages where the female spouse does not work outside of the home):
Justin E. Smith has an interesting post today on the history of orgasm, or in any case the history of conceptualizations of orgasm, going back to the early modern period. The short story is: when orgasm was viewed as a not-particularly-venerable bodily reaction, comparable to sneezing, it was a 'female thing'; when it began to be viewed as something 'cool', it was promptly associated with maleness. Somehow, I'm not surprised... But do go check out the whole post!
A few months ago, I had a post on a philosophy of mind conference in Bochum, criticizing their 100% male lineup of speakers (an otherwise very impressive lineup!). Today an announcement for the same conference was sent around, but now with two female speakers added to the program. I do not want to presume that the change was in any way prompted by my post, but whatever the cause, this is a good outcome!
(I also think that conference organizers who work towards redressing the gender imbalance of their conferences at a later stage deserve credit for their courage to do so; they are not afraid of being seen as ‘caving in’.)
The Stone had an interesting post last week by Amy Allen on the ‘Mommy Wars’. (For those not familiar with the term, ‘Mommy Wars’ refers to the ongoing bitterness between working mothers and stay-at-home mothers on which lifestyle is most suitable for mothers and children, and more in sync with the ideals of feminism.) Allen offers a compelling genealogy of how each of the two positions emerged from different responses to the dichotomies identified by second-wave feminism:
Much work in second wave feminist theory of the 1970s and 1980s converged around a diagnosis of the cultural value system that underpins patriarchal societies. Feminists argued that the fundamental value structure of such societies rests on a series of conceptual dichotomies: reason vs. emotion; culture vs. nature; mind vs. body; and public vs. private. In patriarchal societies, they argued, these oppositions are not merely distinctions — they are implicit hierarchies, with reason valued over emotion, culture over nature, and so on. And in all cases, the valorized terms of these hierarchies are associated with masculinity and the devalued terms with femininity.
One of the high points of my short trip to New York last week was attending a performance of Truth Values -- One Girl's Romp through MIT Male's Math Maze in Princeton (at the very kind invitation of Juliette Kennedy!). The play is written and performed by Gioia de Cari, who in the 1980s was a graduate student in mathematical logic at MIT, and is an autobiographical account of her experience at the time. In spite of proving a highly interesting result (published in the Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic), after three years (including an appointment as a teaching fellow at Harvard), she decided to quit graduate school and mathematics so as to pursue her interests in music and drama. The world may have lost a good mathematician, but it certainly gained a wonderful artist: the play is fantastic, extremely funny while also touching upon some very fundamental issues.
Why did Gioia de Cari leave academia? In fact, why do women leave academia? Coincidentally, today there is a blog post on the Guardian by Curt Rice, whom we’ve talked about before here at NewAPPS, reporting on a longitudinal study on women’s retention specifically in chemistry. Although some of the points emerging in this research are specific to chemistry, most of them generalize to academia more widely. It is interesting to notice that a general disillusion with the academic path seems to affect both men and women during their years as graduate students (grad school sucks for everyone...), but the blow is apparently considerably harder on women.
Via the Feminist Philosophers, a delightful piece of news:
A Brazilian airline said Tuesday that one of its female pilots ejected a passenger from a flight because he was making sexist comments about women flying planes. Trip Airlines said in a statement the pilot ejected the man before takeoff on Friday as he made loud, sexist comments upon learning the pilot was a woman. The passenger, who was not identified, was met by police officers at the plane and escorted out of the Belo Horizonte airport. The jet continued on to the state of Goias after a one-hour delay. The airline said it would not tolerate disparaging remarks made about any of the 1,400 women working for it.
That is beyond awesome! I'll be flying with Trip Airlines this July for the first time (going to Fernando de Noronha, aka snorkeling paradise), and I so hope I'll have this pilot! (Only once did I fly with a female co-pilot, and got all emotional about it...)
My 5 year-old daughter is currently a big fan of fairly-tales (well, she has been a fan for quite a few years). Almost every evening she asks me to read to her from a volume containing all the greatest hits in fairly-tale world (the usual Andersen/Grimm/Perrault stuff), in suitably slightly modernized versions. I must say that I find it excruciating: it is glaringly obvious that these fairy-tales do nothing to promote the healthy development of a child’s emotional self, both for boys and for girls. I know that there is a massive literature on the psychology and psychoanalysis of fairly-tales, but if anyone has ever said (as I’m sure someone has) that fairy-tales tap into deep archetypes blablabla, I can only reply: surely you must mean stereotypes.
Catarina's post has provoked a lively discussion on the inter-relations of sex, race, and class in feminism. This Nation post by JoAnn Wypijewski* recounts a conversation with Pamela Bridgewater, Professor of Law at American University. Bridgewater's goal is to pull reproductive rights from an anhistorical arena of choice and privacy and into the historical struggle for civil (political and corporeal) freedom. The key intersection here is to expand the view of slavery from that of a narrowly economistic focus on exploitation in commodity production to a perspective that includes that of the exploitation of female reproductive capacity in slave breeding.
As Bridgewater puts it at the conclusion of this excerpt from Wypijewski's piece: “If we integrate the lost chapter of slave breeding into those two traditional but separate stories [civil rights and reproductive rights], if we reconcile female slave resistance to coerced breeding as, in part, a struggle for emancipation and, in part, a struggle for reproductive freedom, the two tales become one: a comprehensive narrative that fuses the pursuit of reproductive freedom into the pursuit of civil freedom.”
Yesterday I came across an interesting article by Naomi Wolf (via Luca Baptista on G+). I am not always positively impressed by what she writes, and even this very article is somewhat uneven. But she presents a ‘genealogy’ of feminism as a doctrine/ideology which strikes me as prima facie plausible. Being a recent convert to feminism myself, I’d be interested in hearing what other, more seasoned feminists (both male and female) think of her proposed genealogy.
She argues that the two main historical and conceptual sources for the particular blend of feminism which became dominant in North America and Western Europe are the 19th century middle-class white suffragists in Britain and French existentialism in the mid-20th century (especially Simone de Beauvoir, naturally). This is how the first tradition is described:
Now that Eric has (duly) highlighted a conference on extended cognition with a very bad gender balance (11 men, 0 women), for the sake of fairness I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to another conference in the same area/topic which does have a much better gender balance, the ‘Distributed cognition and distributed agency’ workshop, taking place at Macquarie University pretty much as we speak.
A wonderful initiative that deserves support and participation. The link is here: https://feminist-philosophy-by-department.wikis.gdc.georgetown.edu/. Here's the intro:
This is a public site, and anyone can add or subtract information at any time. So, you should always double check to make sure that the information here is correct. If at any point in the future it becomes necessary to restrict access to the site, please let the administrator of the site know (firstname.lastname@example.org)! Also, if you would like to add information about a department that is not included on this list, please contact the administrator of the site to have the page added. Since the goal is to make the most up-to-date information available, we hope to keep the site completely open so that anyone can view the pages of this site, download contents, or contribute new files and edit pages.
We hope that people will see this as a collaborative and mutualistic project, an attempt to improve the available opportunities for people who are interested in feminist philosophy! So, please, feel free to edit and improve this site; but, also remember that philosophy can be done collectively and collaboratively, even if our disputes and disagreements sometimes generate contentious claims, spirited discussions, vehement disagreements, and trenchant criticisms!
A note from the administrator after the break:
At NewAPPS there is a healthy discussion over the scholarly origins of the recent debate on the moral equivalence (and permissibility) of abortion and infanticide. Ever since writing a paper on Hobbes and Cathrine MacKinnon in a seminar taught by Martha Nussbaum (way back when), it has been my view that Hobbes has a story about common moral origin (and permissibility) of abortion and infanticide in the state of nature. (To be clear, I don't have a view on the way Hobbes anticipates and differs from Tooley!) Below two passages (one from De Cive, the other from Leviathan). I admit that neither passage speaks directly of abortion, although the first passage suggests it in various ways.
"Amazons, have in former times waged war against their adversaries, and disposed of their children at their own wils, and at this day in divers places, women are invested with the principall authority. Neither doe their husbands dispose of their children, but themselves; which in truth they do by the right of nature; forasmuch as they who have the supreme power, are not tyed at all (as hath bin shewed) to the civill lawes. Adde also that in the state of nature it cannot be known who is the Father but by the testimony of the Mother; the child therefore is his whose the Mother will have it, and therefore hers; Wherefore originall Dominion over children belongs to the Mother, and among men no lesse than other creatures: The birth followes the belly."
The conference Interfaces of the Mind, taking place in Bochum in July, looks rather excellent except for one but crucial aspect: 13 invited speakers, all men. As far as I can tell, the only prominent female presence is the woman on the picture at the conference's website:
In much of Leviathan, Hobbes accepts the story of Adam's original sin: "Adam, if he had not sinned, had had an eternal life on earth" (CH. XXXVIII). But earlier, when confronted with the problem of evil (a problem that shakes "the faith, not only of the vulgar, but of philosophers and, which is more, the saints, concerning the Divine providence"), Hobbes very slyly, first, puts the denial of original sin in the mouth of Christ ("Neither hath this man sinned: nor his fathers"). Second, after re-affirming the meaning of the doctrine of original sin, he points out that humans are now in the same mortal position as animals, who could never sin. The implied argument is straightforward: if animal mortality is the result of no sin, why would the human kind be? (Elsewhere Hobbes also points out that immortals would overpopulate Earth.) Okay, with these thoughts in mind, we can now turn to Hobbes' audacious re-interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve: