Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

What were the riots really about? September 4, 2011

Filed under: human rights,intersectionality,politics — annejjacobson @ 12:12 am

There seems to have been a distinctive feature, for me, of the explanation(s) of the recent riots in England.  A lot of commentators have agreed that there were factors that were contributing causes – for example, a decay in schooling, failures in the social safety net, astonishing unemployment, and so on –  but these singularly fail to be constitutive causes.  By and large, that is, many commentators do NOT think that the looting and burning was a claim for change in anything like the way the earlier student riots were.  The contributing causes did not tell us about the goals of the riots.

 If the rioters were not exactly dedicated criminals, the riots consisted in a wide spread engagement in criminal – and self-serving – activity.

What I’ve found worrying about such explanations is that it seems rather extraordinary that one can find little or nothing in values or goals  that connects the society that in which one participates with one of its major events.  One might think of this in terms of “six degrees of separation.”  Speaking as a citizen of the US, there’s a clear sense in which, for example, I have no connection with the movement toward the legalization of medical marijuana nor with the increase in violence on American campuses.  Nonetheless, there are connections between my segment of society and the values and choices that creates these others, though perhaps not direct one.  There are degrees of separation, but also connections.

In sum, the picture I was getting of the riots in England was that there were, as it were, enabling connections, but not ones that connected the goals of the riots to those of ordinary folk.  To put it as its most simple, prevailing explanations leave us with the thought there is in fact a lack of connection in values here. 

One way to deal with such a situation is to turn it around and say, that’s just the point.  That is, the point is that there is nothing to connect to.  Slavoj Žižek may be saying this when he claims,

The protesters, though underprivileged and de facto socially excluded, weren’t living on the edge of starvation. People in much worse material straits, let alone conditions of physical and ideological oppression, have been able to organise themselves into political forces with clear agendas. The fact that the rioters have no programme is therefore itself a fact to be interpreted: it tells us a great deal about our ideological-political predicament and about the kind of society we inhabit, a society which celebrates choice but in which the only available alternative to enforced democratic consensus is a blind acting out. Opposition to the system can no longer articulate itself in the form of a realistic alternative, or even as a utopian project, but can only take the shape of a meaningless outburst. What is the point of our celebrated freedom of choice when the only choice is between playing by the rules and (self-)destructive violence?

This description does make it seem that we live in Metropolis, where the relief in the repetitiveness of the society comes best from powerful accidents.  Baumann is cited to give more content to the riots as protest:

Zygmunt Bauman characterised the riots as acts of ‘defective and disqualified consumers’: more than anything else, they were a manifestation of a consumerist desire violently enacted when unable to realise itself in the ‘proper’ way – by shopping. As such, they also contain a moment of genuine protest, in the form of an ironic response to consumerist ideology: ‘You call on us to consume while simultaneously depriving us of the means to do it properly – so here we are doing it the only way we can!’ The riots are a demonstration of the material force of ideology – so much, perhaps, for the ‘post-ideological society’. From a revolutionary point of view, the problem with the riots is not the violence as such, but the fact that the violence is not truly self-assertive. It is impotent rage and despair masked as a display of force; it is envy masked as triumphant carnival.

Not myself even a reader of Žižek normally, I was impressed by the daring of the following linkage, even though one has to worry that it may be obligatory in this sort of genre:

The riots should be situated in relation to another type of violence that the liberal majority today perceives as a threat to our way of life: terrorist attacks and suicide bombings. In both instances, violence and counter-violence are caught up in a vicious circle, each generating the forces it tries to combat. In both cases, we are dealing with blind passages à l’acte, in which violence is an implicit admission of impotence. The difference is that, in contrast to the riots in the UK or in Paris, terrorist attacks are carried out in service of the absolute Meaning provided by religion.

These are quite possible the connections that will drawn in 30, 40 or 50 years times.  My bet is that we’re enriched by trying to reach this sort of perspective now. 

What do you think?



Matricide by the third wave? October 17, 2010

Filed under: feminist philosophy,intersectionality — jj @ 8:42 pm

Katha Pollitt in The Nation  thinks not:

In “American Electra: Feminism’s Ritual Matricide,” her cover story in the October Harper’s, Susan Faludi argues that young feminists are frivolous fashionistas who choose Lady Gaga over Gloria Steinem and consumerism over activism, thereby betraying the cause—and their second-wave mothers, real and figurative. Faludi thinks today’s young feminists are out to kill their mothers, much as young women in the 1920s rejected the Victorian matriarchs who had won them the vote: “Over and over, a younger generation disavows the women’s movement as a daughter disowns her mother.”

Jessica Valenti’s piece in an earlier Nation  argues a quite different point.  She does see younger women as ignored and/or sexualized by the older feminists, but she lays a heavy charge at her elders’ door.  That is, they’ve neglected what must be the core goals of a sustainable feminism:

Feminism isn’t simply about being a woman in a position of power. It’s battling systemic inequities; it’s a social justice movement that believes sexism, racism and classism exist and interconnect, and that they should be consistently challenged. What’s most important to remember as we fight back against conservative appropriation is that the battle over who “owns” the movement is not just about feminists; feminism’s future affects all American women. And if we let the lie of conservative feminism stand—if real feminists don’t lay claim to the movement and outline their vision for the future—all of us will suffer.

Feminism has in fact restricted its attention to “white women’s concerns” and, as such, become vulnerable to the idea that Palin and the Grizzlies can also be feminists.

These are such important issues.  What do you think?

And by the way, we should watch what we write if we have children!  Rebecca Walker’s  reactions to her mother’s writing should give us all pause.  It certainly calls matricide to mind.   (As far as I know I have nothing in print beyond one unfortunate comment comparing cats and babies, or more accurately, observing that I might not have had a child had I had a cat.  Sorry!!  Obviously just a joke!!!)


How Fair Is Britain? October 11, 2010

Filed under: ageing,class,disability,gender,intersectionality,race — stoat @ 10:04 am

You can find out here.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s comprehensive report highlights, for example, the gender pay gap, the gender and ethnic segregation of education and employment, the qualifications gap for disabled people, the incidence of homophobic, transphobic, disability-related and religiously motivated bullying in schools and workplaces…


“The danger of a single story” OR: are philosophers naive? September 4, 2010

Filed under: academia,bias,intersectionality,women in philosophy — jj @ 9:06 pm

There’s quite a bit on the web about Franzenfreude, which is presumably the pleassure taken at Jonathan Franzen, his writing, and so on. He has, the NY Times maintains, written the Great American Novel, a masterpiece which captures our society; “its majestic sweep seems to gather up every fresh datum of our shared millennial life.”

Some people are less than happy with this. They see him as the chronicler of the lives of people like the reviewers, who hardly represent “American life”. There is, some would say, really just a single story allowed.

On thinking about this, I thought back to the NY Times piece on experimental philosophy and our discussion of it. It was hard not to see some of the pieces in the Times as professionally conservative, but did any of us think of what was said in terms of professional gate-keeping? In terms of the insistence by (some of) a layered conglomeration of power sources that philosophy will not be too different from what they think it is?

Should we have raised such questions? Could such questions be connected to our long term concern about the dearth of women in the profession? Is there a gate keeping on the content of analytic philosophy that is preserving not just a power structure but also a single narrative.

It might be worth thinking about the practices of our discipline. If conferences and edited collections of essays are thought to need to have familiar faces with the familiar views in the leading positions, as we are sometimes told by distinguished visitors to this blog, then the maintenance of a power group and its narrative seems very clear.

So what’s being naive about it? I think the charge should be considered if we assess episodes of the sort I’ve mentioned in terms of the intellectual or practical merit, and leave out that we’re engaged in the construction and maintenance of a quite political practice. If nothing else, the popularity of it is on the wane with all sorts of funding sources.

The danger of a single story may vary with the kind or narrative in question, but this video might prompt us to find some analogies with fiction:


A global conference about women August 2, 2010

It’s the first TEDwomen, which will bring women and men together to discuss women as agents of change in the world.  It will look as women as “change agent, intellectual innovator, idea champion …”.  “From the developing world, where a single micro-loan to a single girl can transform a village; to the West, where generations of educated women are transforming entire industries.”

One might have a problem with that contrast:  developing world village girl vs. educated generations of women in the west.  But do you have a problem with the general idea of a two day TED conference on women as change agents in the world?

Huffington Post has an interview with the “host” of the conference, Pat Mitchell.  They raise some of the issues that have been put forward on blogs, including whether there should be a TEDmen.  (I’m not sure Mitchell understood the implied objection, which seemed to be a reductio of the whole idea.)

Mitchell explains,

TEDWomen will focus on the ideas and innovations championed by women and girls. These cover everything from community development to economic growth to biodynamic farming to robotics to medical treatments to the use of technology for personal safety and peace making. Men and women speakers will take the TEDWomen stage with ideas that are reshaping our future, and matter deeply to all of us.

But unfortunately she then said:

First, the intent behind the conference is to explore in depth a subject we find fascinating and timely. We’re seeking out talks about women and girls (not just by them).

In depth?  Isn’t this the sort of case where one says that the speaker confuses breadth with depth?  The question I don’t want to answer alone is this:   Since the only common feature among the innovators will be their sex, is  the separate and distinct importance of what is being done by women diminished by emphasizing the common sex of the innovators? 

What do you think?


Single Black Women’s Median Wealth… March 11, 2010

Filed under: gender,intersectionality,race,sex — Jender @ 2:31 pm

… Five dollars. That’s right: FIVE. Oh yeah, we’re all post-racial and post-feminist. Level playing field as far as the eye can see. (Thanks, Rob!)


It’s International Women’s Day March 8, 2010

Not that you’d notice reading  major US or British newspapers, at least not the ones I just checked.

Still, Huffington post has a short column from the NATO secretary-general, who points out that instability and the disenfranchisement of women go hand-in-hand.  This theme is also picked up by this clip from NATO:

Democracy Now has a depressing piece on the USA’s record in failing to ratify the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.  Of course, the fact that the treaty requires that countries allow reproductive freedom is a huge political stumbling block here.  From this perspective, the USA’s isolationism looks more entrenched than many of us were hoping.  Well, thanks, you-know-who, for solidifying our turn against the UN.  (Hint:  last name begins with “B”.)

(Corrected; thanks to Matt.)


Is there a word for it? February 3, 2010

Filed under: disability,feminist philosophy,intersectionality,race — Jender @ 11:18 am

We’ve just had this question from reader SG, and we don’t know how to answer it. Do you? We’d be very grateful for your thoughts.

I’m a philosophy PhD student and am writing a paper on feminist and race critiques of objectivity in science. I want to connect these specific critiques, however, to a general category of critiques of kyriarchy. But, I can’t find a term to identify all these people who make critques of a kyriarchial society. (So, a word that would express what feminists, race theorists, and people who study all the other kinds of social oppressions have in common.)


A new take on recovered memory syndrome January 28, 2010

An important number of people sincerely believe that they were victims of sexual abuse when they were children, that  they forgot it,  and that they recovered memories of the abuse when they were adults. 

Are they right?  Can you really forget and then remember such abuse?  Or are the seeming memories in some ways created later, perhaps by post-hypnotic suggestion.

My understanding is that a lot of recent research has changed a great deal in what we know about memory.  We are not passive recorders of our experience; everything that happens to us is not retained somewhere in the brain, and memories can easily change over time.  At the same time, very serious issues have been raised about whether we do forget horrible abuse.  If it does seem, as many claim, that it is unlikely that we forget severe abuse, a lot of people’s claims about past severe abuse are de-legitimized.  We have the sort of case where, many others worry, the abuser wins twice.

But what if an experience, perhaps a very bad one, is not experienced as abuse at the time?  Seen from the present, it may seem much more abusive than it did in the past.  But if it was not experience at the time as dreadful abuse, perhaps it won’t initially be retained as one of our obvious memoies.  If this is correct, then people might come to  remember sexual abuse after having forgotten about it. 

A new book, The Trauma Myth: The Truth About the Sexual Abuse of Children–and its Aftermath, based  on about 200 interviews with survivors of abuse, opts for  the  latter account.  When the research was first initiated it was highly controversial and the author was warned by her advisers that it could finish off the possibility of an academic career for her.  As recounted in the sympathetic NY Times review:

[At the start of her research] Dr. [Susan] Clancy figured she knew what she would find: “Everything I knew dictated that the abuse should be a horrible experience, that the child should be traumatized at the time it was happening — overwhelmed with fear, shock, horror.”

But many carefully documented interviews revealed nothing of the sort. Commonly, the abuse had been confusing for the child but not traumatic in the usual sense of the word. Only when the child grew old enough to understand exactly what had happened — sometimes many years later — did the fear, shock and horror begin. And only at that point did the experience become traumatic and begin its well-known destructive process.

Dr. Clancy questioned her findings, reconfirmed them and was convinced. Her audience, when she made the data public, was outraged.

First, her data flew in the face of several decades of politically correct trauma theory, feminist theory and sexual politics.

Second, Dr. Clancy found that the world had little appetite for scientific subtlety: “Unfortunately, when people heard ‘not traumatic when it happens,’ they translated my words to mean, ‘It doesn’t harm victims later on.’ Even worse, some assumed I was blaming victims for their abuse.”

Dr. Clancy reports that she became a pariah in lay and academic circles. She was “crucified” in the press as a “friend of pedophiles,” colleagues boycotted her talks, advisers suggested that continuing on her trajectory would rule out an academic career.

Some of the comments on it at Amazon.com are deeply unsettling.  I certainly can’t simply dismiss them, but there is quite a bit of recent work that might at least mitigate their force.

It seems we can find a psychological syndrome can be largely constructed by therapeutic and medical authorities.  One person who has done a lot of early work on this is Ian Hacking.  See his Mad Travelers, The Re-Writing of the Self and The Social Construction of What for his very interesting thought.

Another recent book, Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche, examines in some detail the issue of how much cultural beliefs affect the manifestation of mental problems.  There’s now an extended community that sees a mental syndrome as due to far more than facts about individuals and their experience.  The symptoms we see are in part the result of self-interpretation in the light of permissible ways of thinking in the culture.   Among other things.


The Met: Celebrating Woman as Sexual Prey? September 20, 2009

Filed under: critical thinking,gender,intersectionality,sex — jj @ 4:59 am

Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” is on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.




According to the New Yorker, the  Met curator of European art , Walter Liedtke focuses on the painting’s supposed erotic content.  Apparently milkmaids were  widely believed to be sexually available.  In fact, this theme is highlighted by Liedtke’s picking a more explicitly erotic accompanying picture.

So let’s think:  On looking at this picture, is your first thought of grabbing her and getting  your hand up her skirt?  Just as starters, of course.  And if so, given the precariousness of her ability to dissent, isn’t that sort of, well, bad?  Maybe seeing her as a sexual object, preserved through the centuries, kind of dispicable problematic?

Is this just feminist prudery?  Perhaps, but it seems reasonable to ask that when we are dealing  with supposed erotic art, and considering the social facts about how people were portrayed, that we have some awareness of how partial those perspectives were. 

The New Yorker art critic, Peter Schjeldahl, appears aware of the questionable perspective involved in seeing the  picture as erotic.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,522 other followers