Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

Yellowface: traditional art and colonial racism July 20, 2014

Filed under: bias,discrimination,race — annejjacobson @ 6:35 pm

To what extent should traditional Western artworks be altered in order to excise the racism (or sexism, etc) in them? What do you think?

From Colorlines:

“Yellowface is nothing new. But people seem unable to leave it behind as an embarrassment of the past. The Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year with a production of the operetta duo’s classic “The Mikado.” Except, writes Jeff Yang over at CNN:

It is the most frequently staged of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas and a perennial favorite of the Society. Every time, they have done it the same way: As a photocopy of the Victorian original, with Caucasian actors wearing garish facepaint and outfits that cartoonishly approximate traditional Japanese garb.

[T]hese “traditional” productions — yellowface productions — of “The Mikado” have to end.

They are the deep-drilled root of the yellowface weed: the place from which the scourge keeps springing back, even when its surface expressions are plucked. There are older examples of yellowface in entertainment than “The Mikado,” but none so popular, and certainly none that have been as popular among mass audiences for as long — 129 years and counting.

I want to be clear that I’m not saying that “The Mikado” shouldn’t be performed at all.

Its biting satire and splendidly silly stage play make it quite possibly Gilbert and Sullivan’s greatest work. But when it is performed by an all-white troupe of actors dressed and made up as Asians, it shifts from a brilliant comedy of manners to, as Asian-American actress and blogger Erin Quill says, a “racist piece of crap.””

 

A Reply to “The Gender Academy” July 14, 2014

In a July 5th article, “The Gender Academy,” University of Colorado Boulder philosophy grad student Spencer Case complains about his department’s new “Best Practices” document, which recommends, among other things, that classroom discussion facilitators make an effort to assist students from underrepresented groups in participating in discussion “by, for example, intervening when such students are interrupted or spoken over while attempting to contribute.”

“This is micro-managing and worse,” he objects, “Instead of being an objective facilitator of learning for all, the teacher must now be an advocate for some.”

Kudos to University of Colorado Boulder philosophy grad student Sofia Huerter, who wrote a reply to Case, drawing on Jenny Saul’s work on implicit bias and stereotype threat:

“I have, for some months, permitted myself to remain silent with regard to the climate in my department because I have become so preoccupied with my own fears of confirming stereotypes about women in philosophy, namely that we aren’t very good at it for one reason or another. I have felt fearful that any slip-ups on my end will result in accusations of fallacious and misguided reasoning, engendering yet more negativity in the debate about the status of women in philosophy…

Stereotype threat is a psychological phenomenon which affects the way that members of stigmatized groups perform. Victims of stereotype threat tend to under-perform on relevant tasks, such as writing papers, because they are unconsciously preoccupied with fears of confirming stereotypes about their groups…

As women enter graduate programs in philosophy, they are likely to be reminded of their under-representation in various ways. For instance, as Jennifer Saul notes, in most classes, other than perhaps feminist philosophy, they are likely to encounter syllabuses consisting overwhelmingly of male authors, and the people teaching most of their classes are likely to be male. Further, those who are teaching are susceptible to implicit bias. As such, we are likely to witness in philosophy departments the same well-documented asymmetries in the treatment of male and female students that have been observed in other areas of academics. For instance, we are likely to see teachers calling upon male students more often than female students…”

(See here for the full reply.)

UPDATE: Case has published a reply to some of his critics, in which he argues that feminism is not a sub-discipline of philosophy and ought to “be discussed alongside conservatism, libertarianism, liberalism, fascism, and socialism in political-philosophy classes.” Presumably his arguments are directed at feminist philosophy, and not feminism — which is not (and as far as I know has not ever been) characterized as a “sub-discipline of philosophy.” Even under this charitable reading, however, Case’s argument is little more than a classic example of a straw-person fallacy; the argument shows merely that feminist philosophy should not be “insulated” from “criticism” — which, of course, is not a conclusion that anyone would contest. What the “Best Practices” document recommends is that philosophers refrain from disparaging sub-disciplines of philosophy, not from providing a rational critique.

 

On Mitigating Bias in a Job Search July 11, 2014

Filed under: academic job market,bias — jennysaul @ 2:08 pm

I write a lot about implicit bias, and about how we should all be taking steps to mitigate it. I’m also Head of Department. So when I was placed in the position of hiring for two permanent posts, I decided to take the opportunity to put in place what seemed to me, based on what I know about implicit bias, to be the best practises. It went remarkably well, so I thought I’d report on what we did, and how and why we did it. And also on some of the difficulties, because it wasn’t QUITE as smooth as it could have been.

1. What we had candidates send: Anonymised CV and writing sample, with identifying information on a detachable cover sheet. In keeping with widespread UK practise, we only asked for names of referees at this stage, not references.

Problems:

a. Detachable cover sheet only actually makes sense if these things are going to be printed out, and if they’re not being submitted electronically. I’m not sure why I asked for it, but I wouldn’t do it again. For electronic documents, removing it is a tedious bit of editing. Just ask for anonymised CV and writing sample.

b. Candidates weren’t always sure what was meant by ‘anonymised’ or ‘identifying information’. Some worried they should leave off their publications, or place of PhD, or employment. Much better to put in brief clarification of what to leave in. [What we actually wanted left off was just name and email.]

c. The e-recruitment system sticks candidates names into the file names of every file downloaded by those on the committee, adding *another* bit of anonymisation to do. Unless you have a system which doesn’t do this, you’ll need a bit of administrative help retitling all of these. (And we really should advocate for systems that don’t do this!)

It IS vital to have a bit of administrative help– someone who can check to make sure that everything actually is anonymised, who can also write assign numbers to the candidates and keep a list of name-number pairings.

2. How we long-listed: We long-listed on the basis of CV alone, to get down to 15-30 candidates. Our focus was primarily on meeting area needs and publication record.

3. After long-listing, we read anonymised writing samples. We also sent away for references. This decision was the subject of debate. I favoured waiting until we’d shortlisted, because of well-documented biases in reference-writing, and also because of national differences (e.g. US references are MUCH more glowing than UK ones). However, some wanted references to be used in shortlisting. Our compromise was to have references sent to a special email account, to which committee members would only be given access a couple of days before the shortlisting meeting. At that point, they were also given access to the name-number pairings.

4. How we shortlisted: Shortlisting was based on full information: CV, writing sample and references. Fascinatingly, though, even those who had advocated the use of references in shortlisting found them to be not of much interest after close examination of CV and writing sample. All felt that use of references had in the past been a merely apparently useful short-cut, which probably served to short-circuit proper consideration of more significant information. We also found that in many cases we had failed to recognise the written work of those we actually knew, so the anonymity had worked remarkably well.

You might wonder why we didn’t anonymise references. One reason is that it’s a lot of work– need to eliminate every occurrence of name or gendered pronoun. Another is that if a reference is anonymised you can’t try to take into account the tendency for referees to e.g. describe women as ‘hard-working’ and men as ‘brilliant’.

5. How we hired: Our process is a long one by UK standards and a short one by US standards. The main events are job talk (1.5 hours, including discussion) and interview, though there are also a couple of meals. The most important bias-fighting measure I took at this stage was in the discussion of each candidate post-interview. I did not allow overall gestalt evaluations or comparative evaluations until the very end. Instead, we agreed a list of topics we would discuss about each candidate in turn. I listed these on a whiteboard to make sure they got covered in every case. We carefully distinguished such things as written work, job talk, and discussion period so as not to give any of these undue weight. (There’s a good case to be made that written work is a better indication of research ability than job talk under immensely stressful conditions, including in many cases stereotype threat. Yet nonetheless it’s all too easy to focus more on job talk.) Only after each candidate was discussed in detail did we turn to comparative judgements. This lead to much richer and more useful discussion than I’d experienced before in such circumstances (and I’ve lost count of the number of hiring committees I’ve been on!). In both cases, we had very strong fields, and therefore extremely difficult decisions to make. But we all felt that this process helped enormously in making these decisions.

 

Sometimes two negative stereotypes can conflict, with perhaps surprising results July 10, 2014

Filed under: academia,bias,gender,human rights,race — annejjacobson @ 11:15 pm

Thanks to Shen-yi Liao’s comment on this post.

The Positive Consequences of Negative Stereotypes
Race, Sexual Orientation, and the Job Application Process
David S. Pedulla1

1Department of Sociology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA
David S. Pedulla, Department of Sociology, Princeton University, 107 Wallace Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA. Email: dpedulla@princeton.edu
Abstract

How do marginalized social categories, such as being black and gay, combine with one another in the production of discrimination? While much extant research assumes that combining marginalized social categories results in a “double disadvantage,” I argue that in the case of race and sexual orientation the opposite may be true. This article posits that stereotypes about gay men as effeminate and weak will counteract common negative stereotypes held by whites that black men are threatening and criminal. Thus, I argue that being gay will have negative consequences for white men in the job application process, but that being gay will actually have positive consequences for black men in this realm. This hypothesis is tested using data from a survey experiment in which respondents were asked to evaluate resumes for a job opening where the race and sexual orientation of the applicants were experimentally manipulated. The findings contribute to important theoretical debates about stereotypes, discrimination, and intersecting social identities.

 

On “smartness”, “genius”, etc. July 9, 2014

Filed under: bias,improving the climate,science — Jender @ 10:58 am

Philosophers are very prone to discussions of “who’s smart”, and also of “who’s stupid”. I vividly remember discussions in the lounge when I was a grad student of who was stupid (discussions amongst both staff and students) and my terror of making it onto the stupid list. In recent years, lots of good worries have been raised about such discussions.

Recent research supporting the hypothesis below:

In some disciplines success may be seen as depending on sustained effort and dedication, whereas in others it may be seen as requiring a “gift” or brilliance that cannot be taught. Because women are stereotyped as being less likely than men to possess innate intellectual talent, they may find the academic fields that emphasize brilliance as the key to success to be unwelcoming.

Eric Schwitzgebel on seeming smart:

I have been collecting anecdotal data on seeming smart. One thing I’ve noticed is what sort of person tends spontaneously to be described, in my presence, as “seeming smart”. A very striking pattern emerges: In every case I have noted the smart-seeming person has been a young white male. Now my sample size is small and philosophy is about 75% white male anyway, so I want to be cautious in this inference. Women and minorities must sometimes “seem smart”. And older people maybe have already proven or failed to prove their brilliance so that remarks about their apparent intelligence aren’t as natural. (Maybe also it is less our place to evaluate them.) But still I would guess that there is something real behind that pattern, to wit:

Seeming smart is probably to a large extent about activating people’s associations with intelligence. This is probably especially true when one is overhearing a comment about a complex subject that isn’t exactly in one’s expertise, so that the quality of the comment is hard to evaluate.

And now Carolyn Dicey Jennings on the negative side of things– criticising people as not intelligent, rather than simply criticising their arguments.

Eric Schliesser, in a related vein, on boy wonders:

I define a ‘boy-wonder’ as follows: a male — aged 20-28 — who is quick on his feet, precocious, often with gifts in formal areas of philosophic, and annointed as ‘the next big thing’ by Some Important Philosopher(s) (SIPS) at a top department.* Words like ‘genius’ and ‘brilliant’ are often used in this context. (Often SIPS and their boy-wonders are dismissive of other people’s contributions.) Philosophy is by no means the only discipline that has ‘anointed’ boy-wonders (economics does, too), but we like them a lot. By this I mean that boy-wonders do not only show up in the inflationary context of letters of recommendation, but they also impact the sexist mores in philosophy.

I offer seven considerations to rid ourselves from the whole set of practices that involve boy-wonders.
First, it’s very hard to judge future philosophical performance. While it may be true that some future fantastic philosophers are recognized at an early age (fill in your favorite example), there are also lots of false positives.

Second, once somebody is annointed as a boy-wonder in some privileged circle, they often benefit from this for a long time in their career. Their work is systematically over-rated (fill in your favorite example), over-cited, and it happily carries them into exalted status (where they can annoint, etc.) They benefit from a positive feedback loop with material and psychological support that will help some of the boy wonders produce enough to retroactively justify the anointing within the (magic) circle of sympathy (see this analysis by Eric Schwitzgebel).

Third, undoubtedly, some boy-wonders crack under pressure, and suffer from not being able to live up to to expectation. I suspect that all anointed boy-wonders are harmed in some such way, but they may not care when they really make it in the profession.

Fourth, boy-wonders can get away with a lot. And, sadly, that means a lot of sexist stuff, too. Boy-wonders get a lot of second-chances. (I am *not* claiming that boy-wonders are more likely to be harassers.)

Fifth, the proxies that are often used to ‘track’ boy-wonder potential are, frankly, themselves sexist; they tend to rely on tacit bias, heuristics, and social norms many of which are known to favor men.

Sixth, because the intellectual gifts and virtues that tend to be associated with boy-wonder-hood tend to be associated with only a limited sub-set of philosophical areas/interests, they also skew everybody’s sense of what matters in philosophy.

Seventh, the phenomenon reinforces some of the worst features of the system of commodification of philosophy (and other disciplines)–the sociology around boy-wonders, facilitates Deans and Chairs to ‘sell’ their latest hire as a potential ‘superstar.’

I suspect that questioning the intelligence of any philosopher in a public forum could trigger stereotype threat for marginalized groups and such questioning adds nothing of value to public discourse.

I think we should all try to just stop talking this way. It’s not easy, and we’ll surely slip up. But we should try.

 

LGBT information on CV leads to discrimination July 6, 2014

Filed under: bias,science,sexual orientation — Jender @ 6:50 am

Clear evidence:

In the study, fake résumés were submitted for 100 different jobs at eight companies that are federal contractors. One showed that the applicant worked with LGBT groups, the other didn’t.

The applicant whose résumé showed LGBT ties got fewer responses than the other, even though the first applicant was better-qualified, according to the report, the results of which were released this week. Overall, “LGBT applicants were 23 percent less likely to get an interview than their less-qualified heterosexual counterparts,” Take Part reports.

 

Effects of interacting with sexist men July 4, 2014

Filed under: bias,science — Jender @ 6:30 pm

Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins calls our attention to some fascinating research.

 

Hobby Lobby Hypocrisy? June 30, 2014

Filed under: bias,gender,human rights,politics — annejjacobson @ 7:55 pm

from Mother Jones:

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/04/hobby-lobby-retirement-plan-invested-emergency-contraception-and-abortion-drug-makers

 

When Obamacare compelled businesses to include emergency contraception in employee health care plans, Hobby Lobby, a national chain of craft stores, fought the law all the way to the Supreme Court. The Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, the company’s owners argued, forced them to violate their religious beliefs. But while it was suing the government, Hobby Lobby spent millions of dollars on an employee retirement plan that invested in the manufacturers of the same contraceptive products the firm’s owners cite in their lawsuit.

Documents filed with the Department of Labor and dated December 2012—three months after the company’s owners filed their lawsuit—show that the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions. Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to this company-sponsored 401(k).

Several of the mutual funds in Hobby Lobby’s retirement plan have stock holdings in companies that manufacture the specific drugs and devices that the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, is fighting to keep out of Hobby Lobby’s health care policies: the emergency contraceptive pills Plan B and Ella, and copper and hormonal intrauterine devices.

 

SCOTUS does it again

Filed under: abortion,bias,empowering women,human rights — annejjacobson @ 6:46 pm

I don’t understand why contraception meds can be disallowed while viagra isn’t (but see comment one).  Still, if you think businesses have no business deciding on the availability of certain contraceptives, then TAKE ACTION.

Use the link above to go to the petition.

image

 

Who’s fed up? Part II June 25, 2014

Below you’ll find Part II of a letter FP was invited to post. There are several elements in this post that are worth explicitly distinguishing:
(1) Sexual harassment, which we can understand to include drawing particularly attention to a women’s gender.
(2) Demeaning one or more female colleagues and creating a hostile environment for her/them.
(3) The author’s tendency to link (1) and (2) to things like bruised masculinity and “personal or professional frustrations.”

I think that (2) and its link to (1) and (3) form a very important topic. As one Affirmative Action officer put it to me, “there’s no law against being a jerk.” That can make it seem as though women, despite their being a protected class, have no legal recourse when they are demeaned and their reputations are assaulted. However, I’ve argued in much earlier posts that we can discern elements of the demeaning which are gendered. I’ll shortly repeat some of those points and open the discussion to our readers. The current post, however, is closed to comments.

I’m repeating the last para of the previous post, since it provides a context for what follows it.
_____________________

Complaints of harassment are complaints of lack of professionalism in ways that hinder women’s professional advancement in philosophy. They include complaints that men are sexually predatory, aggressive, hostile, that they abuse their position, that they alternately prey on women sexually or spurn them for perceived rejection, that they systematically exclude women from philosophical conversations, downgrade their contributions, ignore them or respond to them with overly hostile reactions. Men in the field often take out their personal and professional frustrations on their female colleagues with sexual aggression. They do so overtly, by making overt sexual advances towards women that bear no relation to meaningful attempts to enter into a mutually respectful and caring relationship, and have everything to do with reasserting their feelings of power and control in personal and professional contexts. Or they might do so less overtly, with ad hominemm attacks on women’s femininity or sexuality and attractiveness, or their quality as a philosopher, made either directly or behind women’s backs to other members of the profession. These are also ways of reasserting their power and bruised masculinity and enlisting other members of the profession in their diminishment of their female colleagues.

Junior and senior philosophers alike are guilty of these behaviors. Offenders are your friends, colleagues, co-authors, co-organizers, esteemed rivals, and mentors. They are also husbands, fathers, and boyfriends. You might even have unwittingly crossed the line on occasion as well.

An exalted atmosphere of collegiality and sociability exacerbates these problems, and provides cover for these attacks on women. The informality and sexual permissiveness that pervades many professional philosophical environments (conferences, graduate departments, and so on) masks aggression and abuse, making them seem like gossip or harmless flirtation. Well-intentioned colleagues can unknowingly contribute to a climate of abuse by participating in and encouraging this fraternal banter, out of a misguided sense of friendship, loyalty in rebuilding bruised egos, or simply attempts to curry favor, gain inclusion, or seek professional advancement by more powerful members of the profession.

Make no mistake about the seriousness of the abuse and the depth of the damage that this kind of behavior wreaks, however. Bias thrives in unstructured environments, where objective excuses for hostility are available, and where stakes tend towards doling out in-group rewards rather than punishing out-group exclusion. When professional rewards are discretionary, distinction between in- and out-group membership is heightened, the perceived flaws or weaknesses of out-group members are exaggerated, members are blamed more harshly, weaknesses are attributed to the person (“she’s not very smart,” “she’s crazy,”…) not the circumstances, excuses are less available, and punishment is swifter and more severe. Withholding professional respect, excluding women from philosophical conversations, refusal to acknowledge their contributions or minimizing their significance in favor of those of male colleagues, are all examples of discretionary rewards that even the best-intentioned philosophers are prone to deny women in informal settings. The presence of a male philosopher displaying overt hostility or aggression towards a female philosopher licenses further in-group hostility towards her, and where an objective rationalization is available for explaining this behavior (he has an objection to her argument, say, or she behaved somewhat inappropriately, etc.), it is often taken to justify this response. Women philosophers thus also suffer judgments that are harsher than their male colleagues’, more hostile, quicker and crueler dismissals of their views, and these judgments are multiply-reinforced by even their well-intentioned peers.

Countering complaints about sexual harassment by pointing to the hazards of dating life and noting women’s consent to affairs ignores the nature of the wrong being committed and diminishes the seriousness of the complaint. Sexual harassment isn’t sexual assault. Consent is irrelevant. The concern lies with a vitriolic professional atmosphere which allows virtually untrammeled sexual access to women, including the diminishment of their professional status, under the guise of “dating,” and in which women bear virtually 100% of the professional costs of relationships gone wrong. Pointing out the adulthood of the complainants and alluding to the fact that some relationships succeed is belittling, beside the point, and, frankly, a bullying tactic aimed at embarrassing women complaining of the over-sexualization of the profession into silence. It is no part of a meaningful conversation about the climate in philosophy.

What’s a well-intentioned single guy to do when he meets a likeminded female philosopher with similar interests and with whom he makes a “connection?” Hold back. This isn’t OKCupid. A thoughtful philosophical conversation is not flirtation, however titillating it might be, and following it up at the bar or wherever the rest of the professionals go after the formal encounter has ended is not an invitation for sex. Imagine this woman was your advisor/letter writer/dean, and then ask whether your interest is strong enough to risk the professional relationship.

I don’t know how to rid philosophy of sexual harassment or what an ideal outcome would look like, but I am certain that no progress can be made without genuine and sincere attempt to come to terms with the full breadth of the problem, and a meaningful way of holding wrongdoers accountable for their actions. Women are failing by virtually every measure of success in philosophy. Responses like those listed are defensive and deflecting, and serve more to silence conversation and stifle understanding, than they are attempts to make meaningful progress on an important and pressing issue.

I am writing anonymously because of the overwhelming risk of professional retaliation. I hate doing this. The indignity of not being able to defend myself in my own name is outweighed only by my frustration with these “conversations” that I have to keep having.

Fed Up

 

 
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