Before my son was born (nearly three years ago) I showed very little interest in children. I was not 'anti-', just indifferent in the way that I am still indifferent about, say, Nascar racing, clubbing, or (I apologize to my academic friends) wine-tasting. On a glorious late afternoon after I got my flu-shoot I was walking along the Brouwersgracht (see here for a picture, but imagine less leaves on the trees), grateful for the lack of rain and thinking about various deadlines. When I walked by a crowded playground (see here, but imagine lots of children), I stopped and looked at the kids absorbed in their play. Before I knew it I was filled with joy, fatigue and innumerable number of other recently familiar feelings. After a moment's immersion in the scene and the accompanying feelings, it occurred to me that some kind of associative mechanism had done its work.
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
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
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.
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...
In light of many helpful suggestions and criticisms (cf here) we received on our modest proposal, Mark and I have decided to re-think and certainly reword it. (It was, after all, a "proposal.") We hope to get back to you in the near future.
"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.
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 Nationpost 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.
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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.