Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

Feminist philosopher Susan Brison in Harper’s September 15, 2014

Filed under: feminist philosophy,feminist scholars,rape,Uncategorized — Lady Day @ 7:51 pm

[Trigger warning: violence, sexual assault]

In “Cassandra Among the Creeps,” the cover essay of the latest Harper’s magazine, Rebecca Solnit considers the various ways in which women are silenced. She draws a line from the titular mythical figure to Dylan Farrow, both of whose testimony was doubted, if to differing degrees. But, as Solnit observes, the mechanisms of silencing can be external or internal: “First come the internal inhibitions, self-doubts, repressions, confusions, and shame that make it difficult to impossible to speak, along with the fear of being punished or ostracized for doing so.” In illustration of internal silencing, Solnit cites Aftermathfeminist philosopher Susan Brison’s account of her 1990 rape, and of her trauma and recovery. The article is behind a paywall, but here’s a snippet:

Susan Brison, now chair of the philosophy department at Dartmouth, was raped in 1990 by a man, a stranger, who called her a whore and told her to shut up before choking her repeatedly, bashing her head with a stone, and leaving her for dead. Afterward she found various problems in talking about the experience: “It was one thing to have decided to speak and write about my rape, but another to find the voice with which to do it. Even after my fractured trachea had healed, I frequently had trouble speaking. I was never entirely mute, but I often had bouts of what a friend labeled ‘fractured speech,’ during which I stuttered and stammered, unable to string together a simple sentence without the words scattering like a broken necklace.”


Mattress Performance September 5, 2014

Filed under: academia,gender stereotypes,miosgyny,rape,sexual assault — annejjacobson @ 8:24 pm

See the NY Magazine:

23 students have complained that Columbia University fails to take proper action when students file complaint about sexual assault. They include the senior art student, who says she was raped in her sophomore year. She has created a performance art work, which consists in her carrying around the mattress on which she was raped.

Readers may well have seen posts about this situation on Facebook. But there are features of the story that are worth highlighting. Because I want to get this up reasonably soon, I am making really pretty obvious observations. Please add in if you want.

One thing to notice is that the situation offers the victim no good resolution. Emma Sulkowicz experiences a conflict between self-care and persistence in prosecuting her rapist, and she has dropped the latter. Such a reaction is very common. It has long seemed to me a mark of abuse that it leaves one with no good alternatives, but in saying this I am envisaging having to act pretty much alone, as is so often the case. And is the case here. Maybe close friends believe a victim, but a lot of people don’t. And who wants to go up against such an institution on a friend’s say-so? Because we still can’t count on institutions to act on the preponderance of evidence.

The preponderance of evidence seems clear here. Two other young women have accused the same man.

Another pretty awful feature is how some people react. If you can bear it, read the comments to see what you can expect.


Yes means yes bill in California August 31, 2014

Filed under: education,law,rape,sexual assault — philodaria @ 1:22 am

From the Daily Beast:

On Thursday, the California state legislature voted to replace the “no means no” standard for sexual consent on college campuses with the affirmative “yes means yes” definition. Under this standard, silence or lack of resistance is not considered a legally acceptable way to convey consent. Inebriation will also not be considered an acceptable defense. Gov. Jerry Brown has until September 30 to sign the bill. If he does, all colleges receiving state funding would have to adhere to “yes means yes.” Campus assault advocates have been pushing for such reform, arguing that “ no means no” unfairly burdens victims. However, many worry that “yes means yes” is a vague standard.




Rapist sentenced 361 days in order to avoid trial August 12, 2014

Filed under: law,rape,sexual assault — philodaria @ 9:34 pm

From the Star Tribune, man who confessed to raping two girls, 13 and 15, was giving a plea-deal with a sentence of the time he had already served — 361 days. The county attorney, James Backstrom, said this will allow for avoiding potentially traumatizing the victims by requiring them to testify.


Girls left out August 3, 2014

Filed under: empowering women,intersectionality,poverty,race,rape — annejjacobson @ 9:26 pm

This post follows on an earlier one about My Brother’s Keeper, Obama’s program for boys of color.

From Colorlines:

Kristie Dotson knows what it’s like to have to do her homework on the backs of cars because she doesn’t have a home to go to after school’s out. “I too have gone homeless,” Dotson said of her youth in South Central Los Angeles. Today, she’s a professor of philosophy at Michigan State University but, she said, voice shaking, “Even when you get out, there is no getting out.”

On Tuesday night Dotson, who’s African-American, and a dozen other girls and women of color testified about their experiences coming up in Los Angeles in poor, disenfranchised black and Latino neighborhoods. The event, organized by the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) and UCLA School of Law’s Critical Race Studies Program, was the third of such hearings held around the country this year to lift up the experiences and struggles of girls of color. It’s also a pointed response to My Brother’s Keeper, President Obama’s $200 million initiative to support boys of color.

“This hearing was necessitated by the silence around girls of color that we’ve seen in the discourse around the school-to-prison pipeline and more recently in the silence in My Brother’s Keeper,” said Kimberlé Crenshaw, a professor of law at Columbia University and UCLA and a host for the evening’s proceedings. Too often, said Crenshaw, people settle for fallacies that suggest that girls and women of color suffer less than men of color do from racism. The truth, said Crenshaw, is that “girls experience some of the same things boys experience and some things boys never dream of.”

Much of the rest of the short article is about things many of us can at best half-imagine. It ends importantly with:

Single black and Latino women have a median wealth of $100 and $102, respectively, while single black and Latino men have a median wealth of $7,900 and $9,730, respectively, according to the Insight Center for Community Economic Development (PDF). Dotson is confounded that My Brother’s Keeper could ignore this reality.

“My Brother’s Keeper doesn’t want to talk about the fact that those boys of color coming off those mentor programs are going to come back to these same households supported by these women of color who are struggling,” said Dotson. “Does anyone care?”


New sexual assault legislation planned July 31, 2014

Filed under: academia,rape,sexual assault,women in academia — annejjacobson @ 1:46 pm

From Inside Higher Ed

New sexual assault legislation unveiled

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of eight U.S. Senators on Wednesday unveiled legislation aimed at holding colleges more accountable for preventing and dealing with the sexual assaults that occur on campuses.

The lawmakers, led by Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, both Democrats, said that the bill responds to a national problem of campus sexual assault and the publicized cases of colleges mishandling investigations. …

[One measure:] The legislation would require all colleges to conduct anonymous surveys of students about their views of sexual assault on campuses. The results of the so-called “climate surveys” would then be published online for prospective students to see.

There are a number of other tough measures. Have a look.


How not to teach logic. July 30, 2014

Filed under: rape,sexual assault — philodaria @ 3:10 pm

A case in point, from Richard Dawkins:

Richard Dawkins has said “date rape is bad” and “stranger rape at knifepoint is worse” and contrasted “mild” paedophilia with “violent” paedophilia on Twitter. The writer, known for his atheism and books including The God Delusion, emphasised he was not approving anything but giving examples of a “syllogism” – logical argument where the comparisons do not imply any endorsement of either.


A Reply to Leiter July 26, 2014

Filed under: rape,sexual assault — Heidi Howkins Lockwood @ 9:58 pm

Professor Leiter has responded to my post from earlier today via an “update” to his original post, with a critique of Judge Flanagan’s ruling that goes beyond his original objection that Flanagan’s law degree does not come from a high-ranked law school.

In the update, Leiter argues that Flanagan’s ruling is flawed because: (1) “rape is always a kind of sexual assault, but not all sexual assaults are a kind of rape”; (2) the Sun-Times replaced the word “rape” with “sexual assault” in the headline once contacted by Ludlow’s attorney, which Leiter takes to mean that the Sun-Times “recognized the meanings were different”; and (3) contra Flanagan, Leiter feels that the “sting” of being accused of rape is not the same as the “sting” of being accused of sexual assault.

I’ll take each of these points in turn.

In response to (1): to argue for non-equivalence based on the assumption that rape is a subcategory of sexual assault is to miss the point of the paragraph in my original post which provides examples of various state laws. There are many states in which rape is not a subcategory of sexual assault, and indeed, many states – and many universities – in which the terms ‘rape’ and ‘sexual assault’ are no longer used at all, due to the fact that many state statues, university policies, and individuals have recognized that “mere” unwanted sexual touching, in which an individual’s sexual autonomy is violated, can be just as damaging as unwanted penetration. As any victims’ advocate will attest, many victims are so profoundly impacted by “mere” nonconsensual sexual contact – even fully clothed sexual contact – that they have been diagnosed with the full range of post-traumatic symptoms: PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc. (Recall that the undergraduate student involved in the Ludlow case was so distressed by the incident that she attempted suicide in the weeks following. Is the fact that Ludlow didn’t penetrate her really of much interest?)

In other words, to put some special emphasis on penetration is, quite frankly, bizarre, and jarringly out-of-synch with contemporary mores and sensibilities. In both U.S. culture and U.S. law, there has been a distinct shift over the past couple of decades, away from a focus on penetration, towards the protection of sexual autonomy. As one advocate wrote in a message to me earlier today, “what is the point of compartmentalizing violent sexual acts, when they’re all violations?” To insist that unwanted penetration is worse than unwanted sexual contact is offensive because it dismisses and belittles the reality of the actual experiences of most of the victims and survivors.

A brief review of trends in rape law might help paint the picture here. Not long ago, whether or not a sexual act was consensual was irrelevant to whether or not it was legal, and almost all acts of sex, with or without penetration, were illegal. If an unmarried man and woman had sex, it was fornication. If one of the two was married, it was adultery for the married party and fornication for the other. If a man lured a woman into bed through a promise of marriage, he committed the crime of seduction. If the couple were from two different races, they could be charged with miscegenation. If both were male, it was sodomy. Even married couples who engaged in consensual sex, in some states, could be charged with a crime if they used certain sorts of birth control to prevent conception.

In other words, the only legal sex was heterosexual, copulative, marital intercourse involving exactly two cisgendered partners. Obviously such laws – though still in piecemeal existence in different states – would be woefully out of synch with contemporary mores, for all kinds of reasons. One of these reasons, I’d argue, is because such laws focus on regulating penetration, in the interest of protecting pre-marital virginity and enforcing the idea that intercourse is for conception, rather than on protecting the sexual autonomy of the individuals involved. And, though I don’t have space to press this point here, I’d argue that there has been a corresponding revolution in sex law over the past two decades (it’s generally not even called “rape law” anymore), in which sexual autonomy has emerged as a sort of fundamental right. Indeed, many of the state laws codify this right by placing sex crimes in which an individual’s autonomy is clearly violated – e.g., in which, say, the offender takes advantage of the fact that the victim is inebriated to initiate a sexual act, without or without penetration – in the category of first-degree criminal offenses. (Ohio is a good example of this.)

Just in case I didn’t make this clear enough in my original post: note that, based on the examples provided by Yale’s sexual misconduct committee, Ludlow’s actions – actions that he himself has admitted – would be grounds, if he were a student, for expulsion. The fact that he is a senior professor and the student was a first-year undergraduate student – i.e., that there was a clear power differential – only makes it worse.

In response to (2): I have no idea why the Sun-Times’ act of replacing the word “rape” with “sexual assault” in the headline would necessarily imply that they recognized a difference. If the editors felt there was a significant difference, presumably they wouldn’t have used the words interchangeably in the first place. A much more plausible explanation of the change is simply corporate risk management.

In response to (3): Really? A re-reading of the response to (1) should make it clear why claiming that rape is worse that sexual assault is not merely wrong-headed, but offensive to survivors who have been harmed by sex crimes that don’t involve penetration.


Is sexual assault the same as rape?

Filed under: rape,sexual assault — Heidi Howkins Lockwood @ 5:58 am

In a ruling earlier this week, an Illinois Cook County Circuit Court Judge, Honorable Kathy M. Flanagan, dismissed Peter Ludlow’s defamation case against Sun-Times Media LLC and two other media defendants, arguing that the terms “rape” and “sexual assault” are interchangeable.

Ludlow’s case was based not on the accuracy of the news reports in question, but rather on the use of “rape” in the headline as a fair representation of the complaint, which was described in both the news reports and the student’s complaint as “sexual assault.” In other words, Ludlow’s attorneys attempted to argue that, while he may have sexually assaulted a student, he did not rape a student.

“In common usage and in dictionaries, the terms ‘rape’ and ‘sexual assault’ are synonymous,” Flanagan writes in her decision, “The Merriam-Webster definition of ‘rape’ cited by [the plaintiff, Ludlow] has ‘assault’ listed as a synonym, and the definition of ‘sexual assault’ has ‘rape’ listed as a synonym.”

So perhaps citing Merriam-Webster wasn’t a particularly well-thought-out move by the plaintiff’s attorneys. Setting dictionary definitions aside, we might wonder: are sexual assault and rape the same thing, in the eyes of U.S. law?

The short answer to this question is “yes, in many states” – though please note that I am not a legal expert, and am offering this answer not as advice, but rather as an observation based on reading the relevant statutes and codes. Readers who need legal advice should seek the advice of an attorney.

Penal codes throughout the U.S. make use of a wide variety of classification systems for sex crimes. In some states, like Ohio, rape is defined as “sexual conduct with another… when [for example] for the purpose of preventing resistance, the offender substantially impairs the other person’s judgment or control by administering any drug, intoxicant, or controlled substance to the other person surreptitiously or by force, threat of force, or deception.” The state of Washington characterizes rape as one of many different types of sexual assault. And In other states, like New Jersey, the phrase sexual assault has simply replaced the word rape in the statutes, with different degrees of sexual assault and sexual contact. The New Jersey Criminal Code characterizes “intentional touching by the victim or actor, either directly or through clothing, of the victim’s or actor’s intimate parts for the purpose of degrading or humiliating the victim or sexually arousing or sexually gratifying the actor” as a crime in the fourth degree. In some states neither term appears in the law. South Carolina, for example, avoids mention of rape and instead refers to unwanted sexual intercourse and unwanted sexual contact as “criminal sexual conduct.” A very helpful interactive map with links to the relevant laws for each state is available at the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) State Law Database.

In other words, it appears that Judge Flanagan’s argument that “sexual assault” and “rape” are interchangeable is quite reasonable, notwithstanding Brian Leiter’s ill-advised ad hominem attack on the pedigree of her law degree.

We might also wonder: are sexual assault and rape the same thing in the eyes of U.S. universities?

The short answer to this question, again, is “yes, at many universities.”

The story behind this is an interesting one. Over the past 10 or 15 years, universities have begun shifting to the use of “nonconsensual sexual acts,” in place of “rape” or “sexual assault.” The terms “nonconsensual sexual intercourse” and “nonconsensual sexual contact” were originally introduced when Title IX compliance consultants discovered that universities were reluctant to categorize acts of sexual misconduct – even acts that clearly involved force and penetration – as “rape” or “sexual assault.”

The use of “nonconsensual sex” and related phrases, however, is highly contentious. Many activists feel that calling an incident “nonconsensual sex” enables universities to avoid expelling or dismissing the perpetrator. In July of 2013, my own alma mater, Yale University, released the biannual report required by the Office of Civil Rights as part of a voluntary resolution in the wake of a Title IX complaint. In addition to 61 new complaints, the report revealed that there were four cases from previous reports in which there was “sufficient evidence” that an offender had engaged in “nonconsensual sex” – and yet all of the student perpetrators were allowed to continue pursuing their degrees. Headlines read: “Yale Fails to Expel Students Guilty of Sexual Assault,”and a Change.org petition rapidly collected more than 1,500 signatures.

In response, Yale administrators explained that nonconsensual sex does not always mean sexual assault, and produced an unprecedented “Sexual Misconduct Scenarios” document which provided a detailed description of different “scenarios” that would fall under the umbrella of nonconsensual sex – along with the corresponding punishments. (Much of the credit for this goes to philosopher Michael Della Rocca, who has just ended a three-year stint as the Chairperson of Yale’s University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct.)

One of the scenarios reads as follows:

Tyler and Jordan are both drinking heavily at an off-campus event. Tyler becomes extremely drunk. Jordan offers to take Tyler home. On the way, Tyler has trouble walking, and makes several wrong turns. Once in Tyler’s room, Jordan initiates sexual activity. Tyler looks confused and tries to go to sleep. Jordan has sex with Tyler.

There was no consent to have sex. A person who is incapacitated—lacking the ability to make or act on considered decisions to engage in sexual activity—cannot give consent. The UWC penalty would be expulsion.

It’s worth pointing out here that, in the past, it was rare for a university to expel a student who is found guilty of this or other forms of serious sexual misconduct. According to a 2010 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, only 10 to 25 percent of students found “responsible” for sexual assault were actually permanently prohibited from returning to the university.

It’s also worth pointing out that a much-cited 2002 study of rapes on college campuses, in addition to a 2009 study of the DNA in 11,000 rape kits in Detroit, have demonstrated that: (1) as many as 6 in 10 rapists are serial offenders, and (2) alcohol is a very common tool for serial predators to use.


A call for consent workshops July 20, 2014

Filed under: academia,consent,rape,sex,sexual harassment — jennysaul @ 4:35 pm

The meaning of sexual consent is often misunderstood in disturbing ways by young people. There’s the idea that if you wear sexy clothing you’re asking for it; that silence during a sex act equals consent; and that women are always falsely accusing men of sexual assault and rape. Surveys have shown that one in two boys and one in three girls think it is OK to sometimes hit a woman or force her to have sex. All of which suggests a new approach is necessary. We need to teach young women and men about affirmative, enthusiastic and informed consent.


Consent workshops aren’t about preaching or judging. I attended a training session earlier this year that explained how they would work, and we discussed the sorts of things in everyday life we typically ask consent for. This ranged from seeing if a chair is free, to going to the toilet during a class. It revealed that we ultimately ask for people’s consent all the time, so in sex it should be no different. We also discussed how to “check in” with your partner, to see if they consent at different stages of an encounter, and the ways in which people in ongoing relationships can negotiate an understanding of consent. When feeding back to the session, the phrase that kept being repeated was “Just ask”.

The idea of affirmative and enthusiastic consent encourages people to regard sex as a positive, willing action. It’s about teaching women and men not to be ashamed of sex, and to proceed consciously and confidently. An understanding of consent engenders respect for everyone: from those who choose to refrain from sex to those who are in relationships, and those who engage in sex in a wide variety of situations. Consent is about ensuring that people are completely comfortable in their sexual decisions, whatever those might be.

Colleges at Cambridge have taken a big step by introducing consent talks and workshops – but I’d like to see these made compulsory in all universities across the UK. The workshops bring home the difficult truth that we are all capable of violating someone else’s consent, while creating a safe space to discuss the meaning of consenting positively and enthusiastically. They are empowering, and absolutely necessary.

More here.



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