Feminist Philosophers

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More on the Hypatia conference October 27, 2009

Filed under: women in philosophy — annejjacobson @ 10:54 pm

There have been a few suggestions that I could say more.  The thing is, any time I think of talking about one thing, I realize that I am leaving so much out.  But let me try some more observations.

- Perhaps most important:  the chief organizer, Alison Wylie, created a wonderful thing.  The intelligence with which the conference was organized seemed to me particularly reflected in the conversations that became possible as it progressed.  And it all worked much better than we could have expected.

- The presence of the rest of the world was more marked at this conference than any other philosophy conference I have been to.  Lorraine Code said at one point that we can’t talk about decentering the subject, since there isn’t any center any more.  Many conferees are very concerned about how our concepts have been marked by Western approaches, even postcolonial approaches.  Again Code is recommending a new scepticism.  One might see this as also related to the idea that we need to move beyond valuing knowledge.  Valuing knowledge, Libby Potter said (at least according to my notes) is part of a quest to escape anxiety.

- One of the nicest features of the conference for me was the ability to have a kind of extended conversation.  A talk by Claudia Card on evil had mentioned the effects of evil; evil can reduce its victims.  At a later very thoughtful talk on moral travel and  forgiveness, Heidi Maibom articulated a worry that was oddly close to what I was thinking:  Is  forgiveness really all that good?  Perhaps it simply increases the burden on the victim.  Or the demand for it is a way for the perpetrators to keep themselves at the center.  We later saw Claudia Card during a break and picked up again this topic.  One consequence of that is that I now have a copy of CC’s book on atrocities.  This topic resonates with me in an unfortunately personal way, and I did feel I could bring a greater understanding to some issues about forgiveness. 

- There was an equity lunch.  Alison Wylie described an initial meeting of the women’s task force that Sally Haslanger organized.  A number of the people there had been at the earlier meeting and we got an update on some initiatives on things like a mentoring initiative and plans to get data about women philosophers.  Someone can surely help  out in the comments by saying more.  One thing discussed here and elsewhere in the conference was getting men involved.  Feminists are rightly wary of being male-centered, and as a consequence, plans to relate to the rest of the profession bring up tensions.  In some  ways, the conference itself provided evidence for the possibility of flourishing with a kind of mild separatism.  In the last 25 years, with very little help from the rest of the profession, a whole area  of professional philosophy has really been defined.   At the same time, everyone realizes that there are very important concerns for feminist-identified scholars, particularly young scholars.

- The conference ended with a panel on new directions.  Some issues about what I think we can still call identity politics were raised.  Everyone there is aware that many of us are members of marginalizable groups.  We couldn’t but notice that the conference was very largely white, and so worries from women of color at the end were important.  One person on the last panel (and she will know who she is) addressed the fact that the founding mothers of Hypatia may be leaving in the foreseeable  future.  Lynn Nelson Hankinson’s “Oh thanks”  for these observations was very funny. 

- A last observation, for now at least:  I had no sense at all of being even near a battle zone, either during papers or in discussions.  This made it seem quite different from an APA  conference!

 

4 Responses to “More on the Hypatia conference”

  1. jj Says:

    And also: at the first lunch I talked to some younger scholars, including someone who comments here. It was great .

  2. Anon Ymus Says:

    In some ways, the conference itself provided evidence for the possibility of flourishing with a kind of mild separatism.

    Could you elaborate? I’d be very interested in learning what you mean.

  3. '\]jj Says:

    Anon ymus, I’m not sure I meant anything all that interesting. But here’s a try at explaining. Suppose that full separatism involves not allowing male members and/or really cutting off from the official philosophy organizations that involve mainstream/malestream philosophy. A mild separatism might in contrast just say “We can do without malestream philosophy; we don’t need the guys in those fields to help or whatever.”
    As far as I could see, the conference showed that with little or no help or recognition from the “central” areas of philosophy, feminist philosophy has done just fine.
    At the same time, as I was saying to at least one person, I think there remain extreme problems of justice; a great deal of money and resources go to flying male philosophers around to all sorts of places, having largely male conferences, etc. It seems to me unlikely, from what we’re seeing of conferences, that women get even half of their 21% of the amount spent on these often professionally important perks.

    One thing that gives point to the complaint, I believe, is that fewer and fewer male philosophers are asking foundational questions; rather, we’re getting vast amounts of time spent on working on theories, rather than really examining the basic concepts. However, if there is one field where routinely basic assumptions are questioned time and again it is feminist philosophy. But wisdom, one might well say, does not consist in working out the details of others programs.

    I’m reluctant to go into details about this, because in complaining about the field I know best I’m going to seem pretty self-serving.

  4. Ann Ferguson Says:

    Another thought on the Hypatia conference: Lori Gruen should not be left out as one of the major organizers of the conference. She has put in many hours behind the scenes and her efforts should not go unrecognized.

    I wasn’t able to get to the conference for the Thursday night plenary with the foremothers, but I do feel like a behind the scenes foremother myself with lots of reviews of submitted papers and my initial special issue. Indeed, I just found among my letters from the mid-1980s a letter from Ti Grace Atkinson, that great amazon warrior writer of the radical feminist Amazon Odyssey in the 1970s. She nicely turned down my request to write something on motherhood for the Hypatia special issue I was editing, on the grounds of overwork and that in any case the only thing she could write on motherhood would be negative, and advice not to do it! But then she said how great it was that there was to be a Hypatia journal, since she felt it so important that feminist philosophers have a place to write their ideas to each other and to develop and critique them in a woman-friendly space. I think that is maybe what one of the previous responders meant about the importance of Hypatia as a semi-separatist space. Women still need to mentor women as philosophers, even though men should be allowed to write their ideas on feminist philosophy in the journal as well. But as only 25% or so of the profession we still need the distinctive space that is majority women for that special mentoring and support.

    All in all great conference: I really enjoyed the panel I was on on thoughts on heterosexism. It seemed to me one of the best audience discussions in the conference!


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