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.
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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:
By way of contrast, let me just mention a very sensible proposal I heard the other day: a vibrator should be offered to every young woman reaching a certain age (which age exactly is at this point still under debate), in a government-funded project in the interest of public health. The owner of this great idea does realize that even in a fairly liberal country such as the Netherlands, this might be a bit hard to sell, but he is confident that at least some political parties will see the merits of the proposal.
I probably don’t need to remind anybody of the bad press that 'formal philosophy'* has gotten as of recently along the gender dimension. More generally, the area has the reputation of having an even worse gender balance than other sub-areas of philosophy, and some even say a particularly bad climate for women. (I wouldn’t subscribe to the latter though, as I’m not under the impression that it is substantially worse than elsewhere – and I do hang out with ‘formal philosophers’ quite a bit! But that's obviously merely anecdotal.)
As the discussion here developed I promised Catarina and Mohan I would write a post on snark, as my practice of it there has been the object of mild to severe disagreement.
So, in defense of snark, or at least in defense of my use of it on the latest Synthese thread, I would say that a blog discussion of professional misconduct is not a seminar room discussion in representations of gender, how to thematize power imbalances, the compatibility of sexual attraction and performance of intelligence, or anything else. It's a political exercise designed to change professional mores. So different conventions apply and it's legitimate there to use snark that would be out of place in a seminar room.
Friday 30th and Saturday 31st March 2012 / University of Dundee & Dundee Contemporary Arts
Dr Christine Battersby (Reader Emerita in Philosophy, University of Warwick)
Professor Tina Chanter (Professor of Philosophy, DePaul University, Chicago)
Professor Kerstin Mey (Director of Research and Enterprise, University for the Creative Arts)
The visual arts have a well-established history of engagement with feminism and gender issues. While artists have confronted such issues directly in their work, feminist theorists and philosophers have interrogated the gendering of vision as well as core aesthetic categories such as genius and the art/craft distinction.The ‘feminist’ label, however, can sometimes seem more of a trap than a call for liberatory practices.
This event takes as a starting point the idea that neither all artworks nor all theories informed by a gendered or feminist perspective will necessarily be focussed on what we might think of as ‘questions of gender’ or ‘women’s issues’. Where feminism succeeds is in making it harder to see women as simply determined by their sex or to reduce their work to a question of their gender. Many philosophers and practising artists who see their work as centrally informed by feminist or gendered concerns have moved beyond critique of masculinist traditions and paradigms to re-imagine bodies, identities, matter, space, time, ethics, power and freedom in radically new ways.
Those who endorse and practice the Gendered Conference Campaign are often asked: why focus on gender instead of other under-represented groups, such as people of color, disabled or GLBTQ philosophers? This question comes up so often that I thought it might be worth trying to formulate an answer to it.
First of all, let me submit that we should worry about under-represented groups in philosophy specifically and predominantly with respect to groups that have been historically oppressed. A friend half-jokingly asked me why I do not worry about the under-representation of skate-boarders at philosophy conferences; without having to resort to essentialism, I suppose we can all agree that there is an important difference in historical background here. That women, members of certain ethnic groups, disabled people, GLBTQ people, and specific other groups have a long and complex history of systematic oppression and social injustice, in particular with respect to education and academia, is (I suppose) beyond doubt. So no, it is not any random, gerrymandered under-represented group that deserves the same focus; there are long histories of inequalities for specific groups that we are trying to catch up with.
The announcement for the conference “Philosophy of Biology in the UK” has been circulated on Philos-L (as far as I can see, no website for the event yet). Sadly, it is yet again a conference with an all-male lineup of keynote speakers (five, to be exact). Since reading the announcement, I’ve been trying to think of UK-based female philosophers of biology, but (except for the two women involved in the organization of the event) could only come up with names of people working elsewhere (admittedly, not really my field, so there may well be obvious people I am failing to remember; plus, I was interpreting 'philosophy of biology' in a fairly narrow way). There is a good number of female philosophers of biology doing interesting work, but admittedly I was mostly thinking of people based in the US. (Notice however that one of the keynote speakers is listed with an Australian affiliation, so presumably the UK restriction is not that strict.)
So perhaps women are even more under-represented in philosophy of biology than in other sub-fields of philosophy, in the UK in particular. (I find it particularly puzzling in light of the fact that biology is actually an area with a much better gender balance than philosophy itself.) Does this make a conference with the title “Philosophy of Biology in the UK” and an all-male lineup of speakers more acceptable? I submit that it does not, in fact much to the contrary. Such a lineup not only reflects but in fact also reinforces the sociological phenomenon in question (if indeed it is a real phenomenon); it is precisely in situations like this that ensuring a non-all-male lineup arguably becomes even more important.
The Feminist Philosophers have series of powerful, moving and insightful posts on one female philosopher’s experiences with becoming infertile. Part 1 is mostly about her struggle to convince male surgeons to perform a surgery which would very much benefit her overall health, but would have the consequence of making her infertile. Part 2 is an account of her own feelings vis-à-vis her infertility after the surgery; as it turns out, having become infertile had much more of an emotional impact on her than she had anticipated. Part 3 focuses on how social interactions are affected by her infertility, in a world that is obsessed with female fertility and babies. Highly recommended.
Via Christian Munthe on Twitter, I came across this report by Curt Rice, the Pro-Rector for Research & Development of the University of Tromsø in Norway (the northernmost university in the world, they claim) on the results of their program to increase the percentage of female full professors. (The Feminist Philosophers were faster and already have a post up on the report.) The results are stunning:
The Board of the University has articulated a goal of having 30% of our highest academic positions occupied by women by the end of 2013. Our progress has been steady and salient. In 2007, 18.3% of our professors were women. In 2008, it was 20.1%. At the end of 2009, we had reached 22.4% and last year we were at 24.6%. Today, we have reached 27.4%!
A lovely story about a forerunner of the GCC, Renford Bambrough -- courtesy of Cora Diamond, but 'buried' in comments in this thread:
The point "there are tons of top scholars in this field who are women" reminded me of what Renford Bambrough once did, as editor of the journal Philosophy. There were then (as there are now) 'tons of top scholars' in philosophy who are women. He had some papers by women ready for publication in the next issue, and he saw that, with some other accepted papers, that had been scheduled for later publication, he could (by altering date of publication) publish an all-women issue. The point was to bring out that we don't notice an all-men issue of a philosophy journal. Publishing an all-women issue brings to our attention our failure to notice that all the authors of papers in some issue of a journal are men, our taking that to be just normal and unexceptionable. He should be regarded as an honorary posthumous member of the GCC. (The issue was vol. 53, no. 204, in 1978.)
In Brit’s post of today, the topic of making professional appearances while pregnant came up, and was further discussed in comments. Brit reported that she chose not to appear at conferences and give talks during pregnancy; Sara Uckelman and I both narrated our positive experiences as pregnant women at professional events. L.A. Paul then offered reasons why this is a real concern for women:
It isn't that people would be negative about your pregnancy to your face. It's that when you show up pregnant you are suddenly re-categorized as a mommy. Sure, as a mommy who does philosophy, but in effect as someone who is somehow less serious about philosophy, or less committed, or somehow less likely to produce good work. That's the discrimination that women fear, and I think it is a real fear.
I do not for a second doubt that this is a real concern, and everything I will say in this post must not be taken as indication to the contrary. Nor do I in any way intend to criticize women who, like Brit, prefer not to make professional appearances during pregnancy if they can avoid it. But… I wonder if by avoiding this kind of exposure, we are also not missing a chance to counter the stereotype described by L.A. Paul in the comment above. I remember once attending a talk by Alice Crary at the CUNY Graduate Center many years ago; she must have been at least seven months pregnant then. I remember clearly how absolutely marvelous it was to see her deliver a great talk with a huge belly (so much so that it was the first time I felt like being pregnant again – my older daughter was then just past her first year).
As readers may recall, several New APPS bloggers are committed to the Gendered Conference Campaign, which emphasizes the negative effects of conferences and other philosophical events (workshops, summer courses, edited volumes) with all-male lineups of speakers/contributors. Over the years, and thanks mostly to the good work of Jender and the other bloggers over at Feminist Philosophers, awareness of the problem has increased significantly; a few years ago, objections to all-male lineups were often seen as preposterous and absurd, provoking heated adversarial reactions, but now most conference organizers do seem to recognize the importance of the issue. And yet, it can be observed that there are still far too many all-male events being organized, even by organizers who are well aware of the problem. Why is that?
I’m on the road at the moment, so blogging will be very sporadic this week, but I wanted to highlight two articles I’ve read recently, which both show that we are far, far from being in a world where feminism is no longer needed. I am sometimes told that feminism is so passé, so 20th century, and some of the people who seem to be under this impression are very nice, considerate male individuals who have themselves lagerly overcome their sexism (for the most part at least). And because they have, the assumption seems to be that everybody else is in the same place now; they assume that everybody else is acting like them these days. But that’s of course an instance of sample bias, so it’s good to get a different perspective on things from time to time.
The first article is about sexual abuse and rape within marriage; it discusses in particular the situation in Norway, which is one of the 127 countries in the world that does not explicitly criminalize rape within marriage -- so most likely this is a rather widespread situation, certainly not specific to Norway. Towards the end, the article raises the possibility of a backlash to gender equality:
Why is sexual violence still so prevalent in countries where gender equality has made such gigantic strides? Some experts, like Ms. Kelly, argue that as a society moves to redistribute power between genders, there might be a transitional period where violence rises as the last expression of male domination.
As many of you have probably already seen, Rebecca Kukla has an excellent post up at Leiter’s blog on the effects of implicit biases, specifically as affecting hiring practices. However, as she is done with her job of guest-blogger over there, the post is not open for comments, and with Rebecca’s agreement, I figured it might be useful to have a discussion here.
Rebecca is making very good points about the effects of implicit biases in hiring practices, and in particular how hard (in fact, nearly impossible) it is to shield yourself from them if you are on the decision-making side of things. Now, as it turns out, one of the books I read over my vacation last week was Cordelia Fine’s A Mind of its Own(as mentioned before, co-blogger John Protevi and I are big fans of her work). One of the chapters of the book is ‘The Bigoted Brain’, and she discusses precisely some of the findings from experimental psychology (on the ways implicit biases operate) that Rebecca refers to. As she mentions, one of the surprising features of implicit biases is that, if you actively try to suppress them, they in fact re-emerge later on with additional strength. (In fact, it is not so surprising given that suppressing specific thoughts is likely to have a priming effect.) Here’s an excerpt from the book:
I’m just back from an extremely enjoyable family vacation in sunny Fuerteventura, which also means that I am swamped by a zillion work-related things that need to be attended to asap. I also want to resume blogging, and have a few posts already lined up in my head (in particular, one on the ‘climate for women’ discussion which has re-emerged), but where do I find time for all this? (One almost regrets going on holiday and forgetting about it all for a while, given the harsh conditions upon return!)
But anyway, today I came across two interesting links, via the New Scientist twitter feed, and thought it might be a good topic to resume blogging. As it turns out, Steven Pinker’s most recent interest is the history of violence, which he takes to be a privileged window for his long-standing interest in human nature (broadly construed). In his new book The Better Angels of our Nature, he claims that there has been a significant decrease in homicides and violent deaths over the centuries: ‘Humans are less violent than ever’. This becomes particularly clear if the death tolls of historical occurrences of horror are estimated on the basis of the human population at the time, and what the proportion would mean in terms of the current human population in the world. This was done by finding the per-capita death rate at the midpoint of the event's range of years, based on population estimates from McEvedy and Jones.
Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of women in science and technology. There are many reasons why one should engage in such celebrations, but for me the most important one is that inspiring female role models are still badly needed in areas that continue to be (for the most part) extremely male-dominated. This is no longer the case in e.g. biology or even medicine, but as reported earlier, philosophy remains one of the areas with the lowest percentage of PhDs obtained by women.
Therefore, I had suggested in a previous post that, in this spirit, we could give the Ada Lovelace Day a ‘broader’ interpretation and also celebrate inspiring female role models in other male-dominated areas such as philosophy. My own Ada Lovelace day post, however, will be about a scientist: Rosalind Franklin. I have personal reasons to celebrate Franklin’s achievements, as I currently hold a position named after her. A few years ago, the University of Groningen decided to create a university-wide program to promote the position of women among its faculty, and thus created the Rosalind Franklin fellowships:
In order to raise the presence of women at the highest levels of the institution, the University of Groningen has initiated the prestigious Rosalind Franklin Fellowship programme. Female academics who aim for a career towards full professorship in a European top research university, are invited to apply for tenure track positions.
They are Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, her compatriot Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakul Karman of Yemen, in acknowledgment of their nonviolent role in promoting peace, democracy and gender equality. From a NYT article:
The award seemed designed to give impetus to the cause for women’s rights around the world.
“We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society,” said the citation read to reporters by Thorbjorn Jagland, a former Norwegian prime minister who heads the Oslo-based Nobel committee that chooses the winner of the $1.5 million prize.
In a subsequent interview, he described the prize as “a very important signal to women all over the world.”
That's most certainly true! But I'd add that it sends an equally important signal to men all over the world as well. Indeed, there are all kinds of studies on how better gender equality in a society tends to correlate with a higher level of peace, democracy and quality of life generally speaking. What the exact causal relations are is not immediately obvious, but it seems clear that gender equality is good for everybody, not just for women.
This Ada Lovelace Day on October 7, share your story about a woman — whether an engineer, a scientist, a technologist or mathematician — who has inspired you to become who you are today. Write a blog post, record a podcast, film a video, draw a comic, or pick any other way to talk about the women who have been guiding lights in your life. Give your heroine the credit she deserves!
There are still a few days for everybody to think about ways they might want to contribute to Ada Lovelace Day; I already have a blog post lined up (in my head, that is...), and of course, the more the merrier! It would be great if we had many blog posts and other internet manifestations on inspiring female role models. And while the Ada Lovelace Day focuses specifically on 'techy' areas, given the poor gender balance in philosophy, it is clear that inspiring female figures in philosophy should also be part of the initiative, so let's talk about them too!
On the thread I'll open on Friday, I will also suggest that people put links of their contributions to Ada Lovelace Day in the comments section. Let's get rocking, people!
The White House today announced a series of steps that NSF will take to keep women from having to make a choice between work and home. "Too many women give up because of conflicts between their desire to start a family and their desire to ramp-up their careers," said John Holdren, the president's science adviser and head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. He said that flexible workplace rules are good for the economy because they attract better workers, reduce turnover, and increase productivity. "It's not just the right thing to do, it's also the smart thing to do," noted Tina Tchen, chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama and head of the White House Council on Women and Girls.
I have a friend who is a PhD student in Philosophy at a fairly known but not élite, large American university. She has been experiencing any number of forms of harassment, either from senior male professors more or less coming onto her, or fellow graduate students of a more 'fundamentalist' persuasion (yes, in the most common understanding of that term) being aggressive, at times borderline physically aggressive, or other faculty making jokes relating to her appearance.
The question is, where should she go for help (or less dramatically, 'support', 'advice', 'discussion')? I have stopped reading Leiter's blog a while ago and never was a frequent visitor to it (but I must say it is there I learned, sometime last year, of the astounding and shocking 'What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?' blog and its collection of tales, which has since been discussed here too). So, there is that blog, there is our own. Any other suggestions?
(I had asked, of course, if there were supportive female or male faculty members she could talk to, or graduate students with comparable experiences who might have developed 'survival strategies'; it's not clear if that is the case. I had also suggested she tell her story anonymously here or elsewhere, to shame the relevant parties - here the senior staff is probably more the issue - but she pointed out that they most likely are unaware of these blogs.) Thanks for your 2 cents.
...the evolutionary story behind female orgasm, that is. A month ago I had a post on female sexuality and the sensory cortex, where I also mentioned that my favorite theory on the evolution of female orgasm is the 'by-product' theory: "Women simply happen to share biology with men, for whom orgasm is important. It’s an accidental byproduct, like men’s nonlactating nipples." (source of the quote here)
But now a new study was published which offers evidence against this theory -- see here and here for details. As described in the Wired article:
So Zietsch and Santtila [the authors of the new study] devised a test. They surveyed 1,803 pairs of opposite-sex twins and 2,287 pairs of same-sex twins, asking them how often and how easily they reached orgasm. If female orgasm is evolutionarily connected to male, opposite-sex twins should have similar orgasmic function.
In other words, if the by-product theory is correct, being more or less orgasmic should 'run in the family', both among male and female individuals (since it's the male biology that has been 'selected for' and bestowed to the female kin). But... that's not what came out of the study:
Instead, while orgasmic function was genetically shared in same-sex twins — brother tended to share function with brother, or sister with sister — the relationship vanished in opposite-sex twins, though both share the same amount of genetic material. The underlying genetics, and thus the underlying evolutionary pressures, thus appear to differ.
That is, the mechanisms behind the selection of female orgasm may simply not be the same as those behind male orgasm, contrary to the basic idea of the by-product theory. But then what is the evolution of female orgasm? The new study does not have a positive story to tell.
Of course, even the researchers themselves warn that their results are not definitive; but this is the first empirical study that clearly goes against the by-product theory of female orgasm, which so far was considered by many (myself included) to be the strongest contender in the market. So now it looks like we know even less than we did before; the mystery deepens...
And just to break me out of the flirting with violence mood, I thought I'd link this just because it is cool, and creative, and feminist, and nonviolent. (Thanks to Bryce Huebner for drawing my attention to this.)
While in Brazil this summer, a friend lent me a book which I am reading now, A Historia Sexual da MPB (The sexual history of Brazilian folk music; as far as I know, it has not been translated from Portuguese), by Rodrigo Faour. It is above all a sociological and historical study of attitudes towards relationships and sex in Brazilian society through the prism of its music, most notably the lyrics, but also other elements such as artwork of albums, dancing styles etc. So far I am really enjoying it, also because the author clearly has a feminist agenda. He notices for example that, up to the 1960s, the main themes in Brazilian music were impossible love stories, heartbreaks, and so forth; either in the Romantic-troubadour style of the inaccessible dame or in the spirit of women as mean, vicious creatures. Needless to say, until then, songs were composed by men in 99% of cases. It is only in the 1970s that a generation of female singers and composers helped introduce a new conception of what it is to be a woman in Brazilian music, thus changing its general approach to love and sex.
I imagine that very many philosophers will have two near-instantaneous reactions to this:
and "But of course I don't condone such actions, or call for their implementation in place of courts, laws, etc."
But here's what I would love: for someone to make a serious argument or, better, do a serious empirical analysis, of the relative merits of two such systems.
System A - the current judicial-prison system that we have in a country of your choice.
System B - a system in which the mothers of everyone affected by a crime get to decide what to do with the person they identify as the criminal, no questions asked.
I'm prepared to grant that there would be some avoidable viciousness in System B, as well as some innocent people who would be punished. This is obvious, but unlike serious philosophers, I don't think that observation settles the question. As an unserious philosopher - in the Chomskyan sense - I want that to be stacked up against the millions of African Americans caught up in the prison system for using drugs, the crimes that are committed precisely because the criminal was brutalized by the prison system for a prior vastly less serious "crime," the massive costs of various sorts implicit in the current system, the systematic inequalities based on wealth in a system in which the quality of one's lawyer is crucial. That is the "serious" way to approach the problem is to note the potential problems with the vigilante-mom solution and simply disqualify it from further discussion, while noting that the real massive problems with the current system are in principle contingent features, so that we need think only about some idealized version of it.
My "unserious" suggestion is that we actually do some empirical work to see which would in fact do more harm. And if, as I suspect, the moms win - by a lot, even under the most negative of empirically plausible assumptions - then why not change, and then gradually work to improve the function of mom-tribunals, rather than not change and gradually work to improve the PIC?
Because no matter how corrupt this makes me look, if I'm honest, I'm still not feeling bad about the above-linked retribution.