UPDATE: 19 July 10:15 am: This message is from the organizers of the letter, not from me; I am only posting it:
Signatories to the Letter of Concern have heard from colleagues who wish to add their signatures in support. This is splendid, and sharing support is important; we are limited by the availability of those with the time to compile supporting signatures, but through Sunday, July 21, we will be checking email@example.com for those of you who wish to send in signatures.
We encourage those with job security and tenure to sign; because of the risks (including retaliation), we'd ask junior people not to sign in support. The letter should be signed by, and was initiated by, senior members of the philosophy profession because, given our privileges, it is one of our chief responsibilities to provide support for the more vulnerable members of our profession.
Today I came across this story by a man named Kim, whose quest for a job was seemingly hampered by his gender-neutral but female-sounding given name. The moment he added ‘Mr.’ to his CV, the interview invitations started to pour in. In no time, he landed an excellent job, after months of having his CV with the 'missing' ‘Mr.’ being systematically ignored. Of course, this will not surprise anyone familiar with the studies on how a CV is perceived in function of the associations created by the name at the top: in many cultures, everything other than ‘white male’ associations is bound to make the CV be evaluated less positively.
This phenomenon is related to something I’ve been thinking about a bit as of lately, namely the concept of gender-neutral given names. My two daughters have unambiguously female names, but if I were to name a child now, I would opt for a gender-neutral name, both for a boy and for a girl. The point is not to preclude the kind of discrimination documented in these CV studies against female-sounding names, as the effect of a gender-neutral name for a boy is likely to be detrimental (as in Kim’s story above). The point is rather to counter the obsession with tracking gender that seems to be pervasive in virtually every human society.
This is a fantastic collection on the gender imbalance in Anglophone philosophy. The essays represent a variety of approaches to the problem of women's underrepresentation. It is especially important that the book not only offers a way for philosophers to learn about psychological and sociological results that have a bearing on how we organize ourselves, but also a way for us to become more reflective about distinctively philosophical aspects of our practice.
TOC below the fold.
Oh wait, that's what was said about the women's winner.
This has been Annals of Everyday Sexism, volume 45,225.
Her response, though, was superb: "Ce n'est pas important. Oui je ne suis pas blonde. C'est un fait. Est-ce que j'ai rêvé de devenir mannequin ? Non, désolé. Mais est-ce que j'ai rêvé de gagner Wimbledon ? Oui. Absolument."
Two and a half years ago I wrote a post on the impressive results that community-oriented campaigns to fight female genital mutilation were having in Ethiopia. Now, again via David Slutsky over at the Feminist Philosophers, I learn that Bogaletch Gebre, the founder of Kembatti Mentti Gezzimma (KMG, the organization leading the campaigns), has been awarded the 2012-2013 King Baudouin African Development Prize (arguably, a legacy of Belgium's colonial past, but now put to good use).
In this vein, Boge [Bogaletch Gebre’s nickname] organizes community conversations to confront culturally entrenched taboo subjects and challenge harmful customary practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and bridal abductions. By implementing this approach across communities in Ethiopia, Boge and KMG lowered the incidence of FGM in ten years from 100 percent to less than 3 percent of newborn girls in the areas where they work. (My emphasis)
Given these results, the prize is more than well-deserved. (Following the motto ‘good news is worth spreading’ (especially at times when we are confronted with NSA-related horror and such like), I figured it might be good to remind us all that there are still reasons to rejoice now and then.)
"Je sais qu'il y a eu des hommes qui ont fait jaillir le lait de leurs mamelles" [that is, "I know that there have been men who have brought forth milk from their breasts."]--Diderot (1754) Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature PENSÉES SUR L'INTERPRÉTATION DE LA NATURE, 56. [I thank Charles T. Wolfe for locating the passage; and his general insistence that Diderot (recall) ought not be neglected.--ES]
This post was inspired by reading some unpublished papers by Sandrine Berges, who is a leading authority on the political philosophy of Wollstonecraft and Sophie de Grouchy. Prof. Berges points out that in contrast to Rossseau and Wollstonecraft, De Grouchy rejects the close link between birthing and nursing in her (1797) Letters on Sympathy, which De Grouchy attached to her translation of Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments. De Grouchy's move opens up the possibility of recognizing nursing as a distinct and politically significant activity that can be valued (morally, politically, and economically) by society within the division of labor. In fact, if Diderot is right, nursing need not be a gender-specific activity. Motherhood, thus, need not confine women to domestic careers.
Our very own Catarina has taken sides in the exchange between Rebecca Kukla (who started it in this very interesting interview), and Jennifer Saul. But in doing so, Catarina (a) endorses what I take to be a mythic origin birth of philosophy. (I hesitate to disagree with one of the great historians of philosophy of my generation!) This matters because consequently, Catarina (b) overlooks plausible alternative ways of doing philosophy available at the 'origin' of philosophy. But even if I were wrong about (a) and (b), Catarina's argument (c) tacitly embraces optimal institutional design (whereas I am skeptical that we can attain the circumstances in which we would endorse those institutions). At one point Catarina writes:
As Rebecca points out, this argumentative model of inquiry is at the very birth of Western philosophy in Ancient Greece. Philosophy has always been a dialogue of people disagreeing with each other, and this is precisely what makes it a worthwhile enterprise.
First, I doubt that a "dialogue of people disagreeing with each other" is "precisely what makes" philosophy "a worthwhile enterprise." I believe it's the searching after certain ends (truth, illumination, liberation, beauty, good, etc.) and the various to-be-expected by-products it generates (wonder, joy, insight, self-doubt, critical stance, etc.) that make philosophy a worthwhile enterprise. Second, Catarina endorses here an origin-myth of philosophy that is quite plausible if we focus on Platonic dialogues, but less so if we take a more expansive view of the origins of philosophy. For example, Parminedes' poem is very philosophical (with important reflections on the nature of reason). It certainly has dialogical elements in it. But its predominant mode is a magisterial stance.
UPDATE: Rebecca Kukla further explains her position in a Facebook status update.
Friend-of-the-blog Rebecca Kukla is the latest 3:AM Magazine interviewee. Alongside lots of interesting observations about her philosophical work, she was asked to comment on the poor gender balance in professional philosophy. Here is one of her (somewhat controversial) comments:
[L]et me go on record as saying that I think that the whole idea that women are put off by or unsuited to the aggressive, argumentative style of philosophy is crap. Discursive intensity and tenacity, a high premium on verbal sparring and cleverness, and a fundamentally critical dialogical method have been central to philosophy since its birth, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The fact is, most people, regardless of gender, find that kind of discourse difficult, overwhelming, and somewhat threatening; the Athenians didn’t crack out the hemlock for no reason. This is why most people should not be philosophers, and that’s just fine. A tiny number of women and men thrive on that kind of engagement. I think the idea that women are disproportionately bad at it or put off by it is based on anecdotes – anecdotes that are hopelessly distorted by stereotypes and biases – and not on serious evidence.
[The prevailing opinion, that woman was created for man, may have taken its rise from Moses's poetical story; yet as very few, it is presumed, who have bestowed any serious thought on the subject, ever supposed that Eve was, literally speaking, one of Adam's ribs, the deduction must be allowed to fall to the ground; or, only be so far admitted as it proves that man, from the remotest antiquity, found it convenient to exert his strength to subjugate his companion, and his invention to shew that she ought to have her neck bent under the yoke; because she, as well as the brute creation, was created to do his pleasure.--M. Wollstonecraft (1792), A Vindication of the Rights Woman (hereafter Vindication), Chapter 2. (25). [Here and below the page-numbers refer to the Dover Thrift reprint, while the provided links refer to the third (1796) edition.--ES]
"Nature, or, to speak with strict propriety, God,"--Vindication, chapter 2, (29).
Upon re-reading the Vindication in preparation for a class discussion, the second epigraph to this post, which we may loosely translate as Natura sive Deus, startled me. Could Wollstonecraft, who so often sounds like a Deist, be a kind of Spinozist? For, Wollstonecraft is quite clear that "propriety" is just "another word for convenience." (106) So, the substitution of "Nature" by "God" is really an act of social expedience. Yet, could this really be so? For, so much of Wollstonecraft's argument seems to rely on commitments that require commitment to immortal souls and, presumably, a judging God (and one can find other Deist commitments).
Feminist philosophers drew attention to this THE article on gender equality in academia. The article highlights striking differences between countries on gender participation in academia, with a 47% female participation rate in Turkey, and an abysmal 12.7% in Japan as two extremes (see the map through the link). For most of my academic career, I have studied and worked in Belgium, where gender participation is very poor (it's one of the red countries on the map). Only 13% of full professors in Belgium are women. In the EU, only Cyprus and Luxembourg do worse. In this post, I want to examine causes for the disparity (the high % in Turkey; the low % in Belgium), drawing amongst others on personal experience, and on this highly relevant article on Turkish academia.
Being in Brazil this week (but flying back home tonight) allowed me to follow some of the local current debates more closely than I would have otherwise. One of the ‘hot topics' at the moment is the new legislation regulating the working conditions of domestic workers. It is still very common in Brazil for a middle-class family to rely on a wealth of domestic workers, including cleaners, drivers, gardeners and perhaps most importantly, the (almost always female) live-in domestic workers who are responsible for the big chunk of domestic chores (cooking, cleaning, laundry, caring for children), known as ‘empregadas’. (Here is the trailer of a very interesting film/documentary on the phenomenon of a few years ago.)
Up to now, these live-in maids were basically expected to be ‘on call’ 24 hours a day, starting with breakfast early in the morning all the way until washing the dishes after dinner. Needless to say, salaries are usually pretty low, and there was until now no control over the amount of hours they were expected to work; thus the concept of ‘doing extra hours’ did not apply to them. To most foreign eyes, it is a very strange arrangement, which can only be understood as a painful reminiscence of Brazil’s recent slavery past (where slavery was only officially abolished in 1888).
So I’m not going to get into the game of thinking thoughts too many, of trying to break down the wrong of raping an unconscious person in terms of psychic discomfort at disapproval. It’s the wrong game to play.--Jacob T. Levy at BHL.
This seems to me the right kind of response to the pseudo-philosophy [Trigger warning: the post discusses rape] of Steven Landsburg, an economist and popularizer at Rochester.
As Levy writes, Landsburg's post
demonstrates, first, the familiar problems with blunt hedonic utilitarianism that has been detached from utilitarianism’s roots as a moral theory, and, second, the selection effect about what kinds of people are attracted to that theory. Lansburg [sic] is entirely too pleased with himself for being willing to Think Challenging Thoughts (thoughts that pretty much get covered in a first semester moral philosophy class as the frosh learns why blunt hedonic utilitarianism is not a very good theory), and determined to get through his cute hypotheticals for the fun of it, regardless of whether they convey anything useful or not.
It's just a fact of the matter that economists are not trained to be philosophers (and they are no better at it [recall here and here] than we are at economics [here]). But (not unlike philosophers) they do get socialized into thinking they are really smart boys (recall this). Since the Samuelsonian, revealed preference revolution cut the link between economics and hedonic utilitarianism (utility curves are not supposed to refer to mental pleasure entities entities, they are just a ranking of choices--recall this post), Landsburg is not even bringing any of the standard economic's tools to bear on the case. He is simply out of his depth. (Of course, that's just a daily fact of life in blog-land, the problems start when one forgets this.)
Now, the interesting issues here pertain to Levy's decision to speak up about Landsburg's moral and intellectual obtuseness without giving Landsburg credibility in doing so.
Each year the Eastern Division of the Society for Women in Philosophy comes together to honor a woman philosopher whose contributions to the support of women in philosophy and to philosophy itself are outstanding and merit special recognition. A panel and reception celebrating the honoree's accomplishments will be organized for the Eastern Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association, December 27-30, 2013.
Nominations should include a copy of the nominee's curriculum vitae and a minimum of two supporting letters, which summarize the nominee's contributions to philosophy and support of women in philosophy.
NOTE: Two-thirds of letter writers for any given nomination must be members of the society for women in philosophy, in good standing.
Please e-mail all nominations to Rochelle Green, ESWIP Distinguished Woman Philosopher Award Secretary (firstname.lastname@example.org) no later than April 1, 2013.
As is well known, philosophy is a very male-dominated (and white, straight, etc) field, when compared to all other humanities, social sciences, and even several STEM disciplines. Even if we take into account the difficulties that minorities face in academia, we cannot explain why philosophy does worse than most other academic fields. I'd like to put a slightly controversial idea on the table: there are good reasons to believe that philosophers are less effective than academics from other fields in their ability to counter their own biases, i.e., they exhibit a larger bias blind spot.
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.