Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

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

 

Children’s clothes that fight gender norms– from a Philosophy PhD! June 17, 2014

Filed under: appearance,gender,gender stereotypes — Jender @ 11:13 am

Trex2

Jenn Neilson writes:

My name is Jenn, and I’m a former academic with a PhD in philosophy from UT Austin (2011). I’ve moved on from academia to my next project, but I thought that you might be interested in a post about it for the Feminist Philosophers blog.

I’m starting a kids’ clothing company called Jill and Jack Kids to challenge gender stereotypes and inspire the next generation of leaders to think beyond pink and blue. We’re launching our new line of kids’ clothes that go beyond pink and blue on Kickstarter from May 19th – June 6th, 2014. We’re starting with t-shirts in sizes 2-8, with 4 designs that change the messages we’re sending to kids, and our products are eco-friendly, socially responsible (no sweatshops!) and made in Canada with US-sourced materials.

As she explains:

Of course it’s great that we’re starting to see skill-building toys being marketed to girls, as well as boys (Goldieblox being the prime example). But this is really only a tiny part of the change that we need to make in kids’ environments to stop reinforcing the outdated gender stereotypes that limit their opportunities in life. If we want kids to want to engage in play that develops new skills, they have to see that kind of play as acceptable for kids like them. This will be easier with some kids than others, but how easily it comes depends both on the examples and influences that they see around them, and on their sense of self–their sense of how they’re supposed to behave, what sort of interests are seen as acceptable for them to have, and what options are open to them. A child’s sense of self is shaped by a combination of his or her own personality, along with a wide range of social factors. To change the environment that kids grow up in enough to stop reinforcing outdated gender stereotypes, we’re going to have to do a lot more than market skill-building toys to kids who are already independent enough, who already have a strong enough sense of self, to be interested in them. If we want to see the level of real, widespread change that stands a chance of eradicating gender inequality as we know it, then we have to start earlier. We have surround kids with influences that will help them to develop a strong and resilient sense of self, so that they will be secure enough to choose toys and clothes and books and movies based on their true interests, instead of choosing according to what society expects of them.

So how do we do that? We start by changing the messages that kids receive from role models in books, on TV and in movies–ending the era of the traditional Disney princess, where adventure, curiosity and personal strength are reserved for boys. But that’s not enough. If we want to change the messages we’re sending to kids, we need to recognize the communicative power of the things that are closest to them–the very clothes we dress them in. Gender conventions in children’s clothing reinforce the idea that building, discovery and active play are for boys, and that girls should be concerned with home life and aesthetic appeal. The bows and ruffles and hearts and frills teach girls about the importance of looking pretty, and the dark colors, truck and sports motifs show boys that they’re destined for competition and adventure. We should strive to make our children’s worlds reflect our hopes for a future where men and women are treated with equal respect, and have equal access to and responsibility for all aspects of life. Only our own choices as consumers and business-owners can make that change happen.

Check out her website here!

 

Why are there so few women in philosophy? May 22, 2014

    The data on doctorates is telling. According to recent research the number of women receiving doctorates in philosophy is very near the bottom of the academic barrel.

    This blog has been looking at many facets of this problem. See our discussions of research here and here, for example. Or search our site for posts on implicit bias and stereotype threat.

    New research is opening up our understanding of another factor, which resides in the beliefs about one’s ability to succeed in a career:

    The decision to pursue a career rests in part on how we judge the following inequality:

    image

     

    If we believe this inequality to be true, we might proceed; if we decide it’s false, we might look elsewhere. Importantly, however, neither side of this inequality is easy to evaluate. Abilities are nebulous, context-sensitive things that are notoriously problematic to pin down. As a result, we often look to others for clues, leaving the door open for substantial social and cultural influences on career choices. A symposium at the 2014 SPSP conference in Austin highlighted a number of recent findings that link sociocultural influences on people’s assessment of the inequality above to the presence of gender gaps.

    How do we get from sociocultural influences on this formula all the way to gender gaps? First, and most obviously, contemporary culture is rife with stereotypes about differences in men’s and women’s cognitive profiles; these stereotypes shape people’s beliefs about the quantity on the left-hand side (that is, the abilities they are likely to possess). Second, and less often discussed, practitioners of different careers may send different messages about the abilities that are required to reach the highest levels of achievement in their particular field; these messages shape people’s beliefs about the quantity on the right-hand side (that is, the abilities required for success). Putting these two elements together, we might make the following claim: One circumstance that gives rise to a gender gap in a career or discipline is when a gender group is stereotyped to lack an ability that the people in that discipline believe is essential for success.

    The post from which the quote above comes comes is full of interesting ideas and results. It’s a must read for anyone interested in the questions concerning access and opportunity.

    Here are some snippets:

    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. [note that the claim here is that the fields themselves may seem less welcoming. This seems different from the conclusions of Carol Dweck that we discuss in our Psychology of Philosophy section.]

    – Regardless of the purported cognitive differences men and women, or of the abilities purportedly required to become a physicist vs. a psychologist vs. an anthropologist, the mere presence of (1) different societal beliefs about the intellectual abilities of men and women, and (2) different societal beliefs about the intellectual abilities required for success in different fields will be sufficient to give rise to (or at least exacerbate) gender gaps.

    Stereotypes may have many different sources. To the extent that they contain messages about ability, this research says they may quite significantly affect career choices. Though the research is specifically about gender, we should keep it in mind as we think about issues such as the incredibly low representation of blacks in higher education in The Uk. Or the abled body whiteness of US philosophy.

    (Thanks to BL.)

 

Richardson on the stubborn influence of the sex difference paradigm May 7, 2014

Filed under: gender stereotypes,science,sex,Uncategorized — Lady Day @ 10:30 am

Philosopher Sarah Richardson has a great piece in Slate this week detailing how a Nature article about the discovery of twelve genes on the Y chromosome that fill the same function as similar genes on the X chromosome quickly morphed into reports in major media outlets about “a major new finding of sex difference.”

The New York Times reported that scientists had discovered 12 genes on the Y chromosome that play “high-level roles in controlling the state of the genome and the activation of other genes.” They “may represent a fundamental difference in how the cells in men’s and women’s bodies read off the information in their genomes.” TheHuffington Post quoted one of the studies’ authors as saying that these “special” genes “may play a large role in differences between males and females.”

Yet what the Nature articles actually show is the exact opposite. The 12 genes residing on the Y chromosome exist to ensure sexual similarity. The genes are “dosage-sensitive,” meaning that two copies are needed for them to function properly. We’ve long known that those 12 genes exist on X chromosomes. Females have the 12 genes active on both of their X chromosomes. If males, who have just one X, didn’t have them on the Y, they would not have a sufficient dosage of those genes. Now we know they do. Just like women.

How did a story about sex similarity become a story about sex difference? Richardson engages in “a little literary forensics” and concludes that science journalists focused on the brief, speculative bit at the end of the Nature article, rather than the article’s actual evidence and conclusions.

Part of this, no doubt, is the result of pressure on journalists (evident well beyond the realm of science journalism) to run with the most provocative story. However, over and above this common journalistic foible, is the pernicious influence of what Richardson terms the “sex difference paradigm.” In short, writes Richardson, “when it comes to sex, scientific reviewers, journals, funders, and reporters simply find similarities less interesting than differences.”

I posted last week on a different way in which our gender biases skew our understanding of biological sex. So, what is an appropriately critical scholar (or lay reader) to do? Richardson ends by plugging Stanford’s Gendered Innovations initiative, which works to show how critical thinking about  sex and gender can lead to scientific innovation.

 

Cochlear Implants, Viral Videos, and Sexism March 29, 2014

Filed under: cochlear implants,deaf,disability,gender stereotypes,Uncategorized — Teresa Blankmeyer Burke @ 2:39 pm

Once again a video of the miracle of hearing via cochlear implants has gone viral. I find this bothersome, but not for the reasons you might think, given that I’m a member of the signing Deaf* community, a bioethicist, and philosopher. Instead, I’m annoyed by the framing of the cochlear implant narratives and the gendered aspects of cochlear implant videos that go viral.

 

Before I say more, I want to note that I am delighted and touched by the joy of the cochlear implant recipient, Joanne Milne. Joanne Milne has had a life-changing experience. Most hearing people will watch the video, appreciate her happiness, and perhaps reflect on their own capacity to hear. I hope that we can push the conversation further along here at Feminist Philosophers.

(more…)

 

Some odd remarks on social constructivism about gender March 21, 2014

Filed under: gender,gender stereotypes — magicalersatz @ 5:20 pm

Alice Dreger writes:

 People who think gender identities, gender roles, and sexual orientations are all socially constructed are the most naive biological determinists I’ve ever seen. They think all human brains are completely without structure when it comes to these things; we all have empty slates in our skulls at birth. No, we don’t! Really!

She also remarks:

There’s some pretty good evidence that across almost every (if not every) culture, there is some consistency in gender role expectations. Boys across cultures are expected to—and do—play with toys meant to represent weapons. Girls across cultures are expected to—and do—play with toys that represent cooking and parenting. This doesn’t mean all children meet these expectations (we know they don’t), it just means all cultures seem to share some basic gender expectations.

I’d be surprised if social constructivists all endorse Lockean tabula rasa theories of mind (at least when it comes to behaviors we interpret as gendered). And even if they did, you’d be hard pressed demonstrate the falsity of this by appealing to cross-cultural analogies between gender preferences for toys. So I’ll admit to finding this piece puzzling.

 

Sex/Gender and the REF March 20, 2014

Really interesting article here.

 

Dance break February 22, 2014

Filed under: gender,gender stereotypes — philodaria @ 3:53 am

If you need an end-of-the-week-fun-video-break, this gender-norm-bending video is for you. From dancer and choreographer Yanis Marshall, who according to his website is “one of the few men in France to dance and offer dance classes in heels, both for girls and boys. And when he is asked ‘Why the heels?’ He replies simply, ‘Why not?'”

 

 

More gendered products January 26, 2014

Filed under: advertising,funny business,gender,gender stereotypes,gendered products — philodaria @ 11:29 pm

21 of them, over at Buzzfeed. The captions are pretty funny. Here’s one:

 

kleenex for men

 

I was ankle-deep in my boyfriend’s mucus before we bought these man-sized Kleenex. Ordinary tissues just couldn’t contain his oversized, masculine boogers.

 

Be a man January 9, 2014

Filed under: feminist men,gender stereotypes — axiothea @ 7:56 am

The Representation Project has produced a documentary about how gender stereotypes affect men – and the way they are towards women. Another reminder that how women are perceived cannot be changed without looking at men differently too.

 

 
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