Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

A remarkable piece on rape culture April 19, 2014

Filed under: rape,violence — Jender @ 9:43 am

As Foz Meadows writes:

In which the husband of rape and murder victim Jill Meagher reminds us, eloquently and with sharp compassion, that while his wife was killed by the archetypal monster, most women are attacked by men they know, and that privileging the monster myth helps obscure the reality of their abuse.
Not only is this one of the best and most necessary articles I’ve ever read in the subject, but that it was written by this man, of all men – someone making a conscious effort to interrogate the reasons why his wife’s death attracted so much public support, and to rebuke not only the underlying misogyny of everyday rape culture, but his own assumptions – the compassion exhibited by this piece is extraordinary.

An excerpt (full article here):

What would make this tragedy even more tragic would be if we were to separate what happened to Jill from cases of violence against women where the victim knew, had a sexual past with, talked to the perpetrator in a bar, or went home with him. It would be tragic if we did not recognise that Bayley’s previous crimes were against prostitutes, and that the social normalisation of violence against a woman of a certain profession and our inability to deal with or talk about these issues, socially and legally, resulted in untold horror for those victims, and led to the brutal murder of my wife.

We cannot separate these cases from one another because doing so allows us to ignore the fact that all these crimes have exactly the same cause – violent men, and the silence of non-violent men. We can only move past violence when we recognise how it is enabled, and by attributing it to the mental illness of a singular human being, we ignore its prevalence, it root causes, and the self-examination required to end the cycle. The paradox, of course is that in our current narrow framework of masculinity, self-examination is almost universally discouraged.

I would add: it’s not just men who are silent and prefer not to think about all this.

 

This is the US criminal justice system April 2, 2014

Filed under: bias,race,rape — Jender @ 5:19 am

Rich white man gets no jail time for raping three year old. Meanwhile, they’re now seeking 60 years for Marissa Anderson’s warning shot in self-defence. Presumably I don’t need to remind you of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.

[Of course, it isn't just the *US* criminal justice system that behaves like this. But that's where these particular recent examples are.]

 

On Apology March 31, 2014

Filed under: rape,sexual assault,sexual harassment,silencing — Heidi Howkins Lockwood @ 4:22 am

From William Carlos Williams, “Apology,” 1916:

Why do I write today?
The beauty of
The terrible faces
Of our nonentities
Stirs me to it:

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are currently approximately 13 million women enrolled at degree-granting higher education institutions in the U.S. And according to the White House Council on Women and Girls’ January 2014 report, 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted while pursuing a higher degree. These two facts together mean that approximately 2.6 million women at college this year either have been or will be the victim of a sexual assault.

Most college victims are assaulted by someone they know, and campus perpetrators are often serial offenders. One study found that 7% of college men admitted to committing or attempting rape; 63% of these men admitted to committing an average of 5-6 offenses.

Although there are no hard statistics on the number of serial predators who are faculty members, anecdotal evidence suggests that this, too, is a significant problem. I have yet to work or study at a university where there was not a serial harasser or even a serial rapist on the faculty.

Conversations with colleagues in philosophy, in the wake of the revelation of sexual misconduct problems in the CU Boulder philosophy department, the case against a Northwestern philosophy faculty member, the recent dismissal of an Oxford philosopher in the wake of concerns about the university’s handling of an investigation, and other allegations of sexual misconduct in the Yale philosophy department—less than a year after a prominent philosopher at UMiami resigned in a much-publicized sexual misconduct case—have convinced me that the problem of faculty sexual misconduct in the hallowed halls of academia is far more widespread than even I imagined. In philosophy alone, I can name 33 faculty members who (still) hold tenured positions and who have been, at some point in their career, accused of sexual misconduct. I have also become convinced that in many cases both the offended and the offender are harmed, and often others in the university community, too—which means that the number of persons who are hurting is even greater than the number of instances of misconduct. We need to figure out how to collectively move beyond known conflicts and harms.

One of the steps in moving beyond is certainly to starting talking about the policy question, about how to best prevent and respond to instances of sexual misconduct. But to merely engage in policy debates without acknowledging the individual humans who have been harmed by the problem would be to do more harm. In order to reduce the pain of those who have suffered, we need to break the silence; reach out to those who have been harmed; stop the practice of covering up faculty offenses with non-disclosure agreements (unless explicitly requested by the victim); worry first about the victim or survivor and second about the reputation of the university or faculty; and acknowledge that our complicity and failure to act has caused significant harm to an untold number of students.

We need, in other words, to apologize.

But what does it mean to apologize for an offense that one hasn’t committed? How could an apology from someone other than the offender reduce the pain of those offended?

I offered some thoughts last fall, in an open letter to Katie Roiphe, about how asymmetries of power in certain kinds of relationships can affect our ability to give consent. What I didn’t emphasize at the time was the importance of respect for vulnerability – and of knowing how to achieve vulnerability. Apologies are important because they provide an opportunity for the relatively powerful to experience vulnerability, to comprehend one feature of the offense, and, through that comprehension, empower the offended. In other words, apologies can act as a channel for the redistribution of power, which is often a precondition for moving forward. As Aaron Lazare, former Dean and Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, explains in On Apology:

“what makes an apology work is the exchange of shame and power between the offender and the offended. By apologizing, you take the shame of your offense and redirect it to yourself… In acknowledging your shame you give the offended the power to forgive.” (Lazare 2004, 42)

Now, clearly, not all apologies will effectively redistribute power. And ineffective apologies have, for some reason, become a sort of phenomenon in the U.S. over the past few months.

What makes an apology effective? Here’s a first pass at a few criteria:

1. A performance of vulnerability:

An effective apology is often a performative speech act — an attempt to transform a social reality, rather than simply describe or ruefully acknowledge that reality. In the case of apologies for offenses that reflect an existing power asymmetry, to apologize in a way that reasserts that power is not transformative. In order for an apology to be effective, it must be a performance of vulnerability, not an extended expression of power.

So, for example, Madonna’s botched attempts to issue an apology for using a hashtag with a racial slur were unsuccessful because, even after dropping her attempts to defend the indefensible, the “apology” she offered was an expression of power, an assertion of her imagined role as an inspiration and bearer of messages of tolerance:

“MY job is to inspire and bring people together. My message has always been about tolerance and non-judgment. The last thing I want to do is bring chaos or cause separation in anyway. #revolutionoflove”

An effective apology in this case would have been a process of: acknowledging that a racial slur is an expression of intolerance; attempting to genuinely comprehend why outrage is an appropriate reaction, perhaps via dialogue with the offended or an effort to empathetically imagine the experience of those offended; and publicly admitting ignorance and explaining why the slur is offensive, with credit to those who helped her with the process of understanding. Given the complexities of the often intersectional nature of discrimination, harassment, and violence, dialogue and performative imagination is a particularly important aspect of our attempts to comprehend.

In the case of institutional, official apologies, a performance of vulnerability – as in, say, publicly admitting culpability despite concerns about the possible legal ramifications – is particularly important, given that the relationship is almost always asymmetrical. (And, for what it’s worth, our legal aversion to apology is probably worth questioning. Case law is rife with examples in which apology and remorse have resulted in the mitigation of damages and even punishment.)

2. Both public and private:

Apologies should be both public, provided that the apology is couched in a way that does not violate the privacy of the offended if the offended does not want the facts known, and private.

To issue an apology that is only public is like referring to someone who is in the room using the third person; it is to fail to understand that an apology, as a transaction of power and shame, must occur between the offender and offended. So, for example, in the case of Madonna’s apology above, a “real” apology would have been not just a public broadcast on her Instagram page, but also a personal apology addressed to each individual who expressed disgust in response to her use of a racial slur, and/or a letter of apology to associations representing the offended group.

To issue an apology that is only private, on the other hand, is like issuing a promissory note without any intent to pay. Transactions should have a public or verifiable element in order be a legitimate, enduring, and trustworthy exchange.

3. Affirmation of a shared norm:

An apology should be an affirmation of a norm that the apologizer believes to be appropriate and binding. In order to serve as a basis for reconciliation, it cannot be a mere acknowledgement of a difference in belief or values, with a request for forgiveness based on a provisional acceptance of the difference. To respond to an offense by saying, “I think the restrictions that are being imposed on me are Puritanical, but I understand that my actions have been perceived as offensive and therefore apologize,” is to acknowledge that a transgression has taken place—but in a manner that places the onus for the judgment of unacceptability on an unshared belief or value endorsed by the offended, rather than on a shared belief or value. It therefore blocks reconciliation by calling attention to differences, rather than by recalling and reaffirming the legitimacy of communal codes of behavior or values that have been violated in the offense.

Similarly, the language of the apology must name and describe the offense in the way that the offended understands it—in terms that acknowledge that it is in fact an offense and demonstrate that the offender has acquired some level of comprehension of the underlying issues. Attempting to apologize for “non-consensual sex” with a “freshman” is unlikely to be effective, when what happened was the rape of a first-year student.

4. Restitution/reparation:

Restitution is the act of restoring to the rightful owner something that has been taken, lost, or surrendered. Reparation is the act of repairing or making amends for a wrong.

If we use case law as a model, then it is reasonable to think that whether restitution and/or reparation are a required in order for an apology to serve as grounds for reconciliation depends on the degree of the harm experienced by the offended. (Note that I said the degree of the harm experienced, not the degree of the harm inflicted. This is a subjective measure, not an objective measure of the harm, as substantiated by evidence such as the testimony of counselors and other experts, the victim’s narrative as relayed via correspondence at the time of the offense, etc.)

It may also depend on whether the offense takes place in an environment of systemic inequity or power imbalance. When an offense results in the loss of a job, opportunity, or other tangible benefit, an apology, arguably, must be more than words. As Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu remarks in God Has a Dream:

“If someone steals my pen and then asks me to forgive him, unless he returns my pen the sincerity of his contrition and confession will be considered nil. Confession, forgiveness, and reparation, wherever feasible, form part of a continuum.” (Tutu 2004, 57)

Many believe that when an offense is an example of the kinds of actions that perpetuate a deeply entrenched or systemic form of injustice, an apology that aims to reconcile must include both a commitment to both restitution in the form of working to try to restore the particular loss(es) of the offended, and reparation in the form of a commitment to trying to address the broader problem of the systemic injustice(s).

5. Empathy and affect:

Some victims point to an affective element that must be present for an apology to be a “real” or effective. The offer must be a non-binding and genuine offer to reconcile; the offender must genuinely mean to make an offer, both in the sense that s/he is visibly affected in a personal but non-self-indulgent sense, and in the sense that the offer should be made in a way that permits the offended to gracefully decline. As Elizabeth Spelman explains in Repair: The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World, for a victim who does not want reconciliation, an apology can be problematic if it is not presented in a manner that provides the offended an opportunity to reject it without further harm:

“My apology is a kind of subpoena, pressing you for an appearance, a response. Given what I have declared, and declared openly, about my deeds and my attitude toward them, shouldn’t you be pleased? Shouldn’t you give up any anger and resentment you have? Don’t you at least owe me some kind of response?… You have lost the moral high ground your anger might have afforded you. But more, it shifts the burden now to you.” (Spelman 2002, 99)

(Thanks to Alice MacLachlan for this insight.)

The affective component of the offer, in order to be sincere, also should not be excessively beseeching—as was the case, for example, with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s early January 2014 press conference, in which he apologized more than two dozen times for the George Washington Bridge incident.

Perhaps even more important than the affect is empathy. As one survivor of an instance of sexual misconduct in philosophy said to me last fall, “I don’t want him [the offender] to suffer; there’s already been enough of that. I just wish I could somehow make him see what I’ve been through.” To see or feel what a victim has been through requires an empathetic and vivid re-imagining of both the offense and the context of offense from the point of view of the offended.

Sounds like a pretty complex set of criteria, no?

Complex, but not impossible. Perhaps the best example of a strong apology, one that meets many of these criteria, is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which contains explicit and appropriate apologies, avoids any attempt to defend or explain the offense, focuses on healing and reconciliation of victims and survivors, provides a means of accountability for the future, acknowledges the need for restitution, and offers explicit direction in disciplining offenders.

We are at a watershed moment, with the recent passage of the Campus SaVE Act, which was slated to go into effect on March 7, a lawsuit filed on March 2 by a University of Virginia rape victim to try to block the implementation of Campus SaVE, the January 22 U.S. Presidential Memorandum to create the new White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, and the January 29 letter from 39 members of the U.S. House of Representatives to the Office of Civil Rights, calling for, among other things, the creation of a public database of complaint resolutions.

While Washington continues to debate the policies, I challenge the faculty and leaders of higher education follow the model of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter. Specifically:

I challenge the leaders of higher education to organize a Higher Education Leadership Council to draw up a specific apology and a set of commitments that go beyond the bare minimum required by laws such as Title IX and VAWA/Campus SaVE.

I challenge members of the Council and individual campus administrators and faculty leaders to agree not to enter into settlements which bind the parties to confidentiality unless the victim/survivor requests confidentiality and this request is noted in the text of the agreement.

I challenge members of the Council and individual universities to promote reconciliation for alumni and former students by permitting victims from the past to step forward to report previously unreported problems, particularly problems caused by faculty members who may still be teaching.

I challenge members of the Council and individual universities to agree to adopt policies which provide that for even a single act of sexual assault which is admitted or established after an appropriate process in accordance with university policies or relevant law, the member of the community is to be permanently removed from any position in which s/he is in contact with the victim and other potential victims, and, if warranted, dismissed from the university.

I challenge members the Council to commit to improving inter-university transparency and communication, so that a known perpetrator with a problem that has not been resolved through therapeutic professional assistance is not able to simply move from one university to another.

I challenge individual faculty to learn about—and question—individual campus policies and procedures, to seek knowledge about how best to respond if a victim or survivor does come forward, and to make ourselves available to students in a way that

I challenge the members of the Council—and all members of the community of higher education—to make our own the words of Vice President Biden when he drafted the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act:  “…violence against women reflects as much a failure of our nation’s collective moral imagination as it does the failure of our nation’s laws and regulations. We are helpless to change the course of this violence unless, and until, we achieve a national consensus that it deserves our profound public outrage.”

 

What do cuts to legal aid mean? March 22, 2014

Filed under: human rights,immigration,rape — Monkey @ 8:22 am

The UK government has cut the annual legal aid budget by £320m, and plans to continue cutting it by £220m each year until 2018.

As anyone with two brain cells to rub together will realise, the cuts have affected the most vulnerable members of our society, who can not afford to pay for professional legal representation, and end up having to represent themselves in court, opposite trained barristers.

But what does this mean in concrete terms for the individuals who are affected?

Here’s one story.

Noela Claye is a rape survivor from Sierra Leone. The legal aid cuts made her experience of going to court much more traumatic. She had been denied expert legal representation and psychiatric evidence which would have recorded and corroborated her experiences, so she was forced to go through the details of the rape in front of the judge. She faced vigorous and at times cruel cross-examination and broke down frequently… Ms Claye won her case, but because the Home Office have appealed, she is going to have to go through it all again at another hearing and still without legal aid.

Ms Claye is being supported by Women Against Rape – a grassroots organization that provides support, legal advice and advocacy for all women and girls, and the All African Women’s Group.

There is still time to write to Theresa May to ask that she withdraw the Home Office’s appeal against Noela Claye. (The link leads to more information about Ms Claye’s case, including details about the rape.)

You can read more about cuts to legal aid and their effects here.

 

Suit filed to stop Campus SaVE Act March 3, 2014

Filed under: law,rape,sexual assault — Heidi Howkins Lockwood @ 5:25 am

According to a March 2 press release, a University of Virginia rape victim has filed a landmark civil rights action in an effort to halt the Campus SaVE Act – a new U.S. federal law which is scheduled to take effect this week, on March 7.

The suit alleges that SaVE undermines women’s civil rights in various ways, including that it permits colleges and universities to mandate that victims prove their credibility under an exceedingly rigorous “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. In contrast, the April 2011 Dear Colleague Letter issued by the Department of Education as a clarification/guidance for Title IX requires only that victims meet a much lower “preponderance of the evidence” standard.

Under SaVE, the higher burden of proof will only be allowed in cases involving violence against women, and will not be applied to cases involving violence against students based on other protected class categories such as race, disabilities and ethnicity. The victim alleges in her suit that it is unconstitutional to subject violence against women to weaker legal standards compared to violence based on these other categories.

Another objectionable provision in SaVE requires schools to apply state criminal law standards to violence against women cases on campus. Current law requires schools to apply more generous federal civil rights standards so that, for example, a sexual assault is proved as long as the conduct was “unwelcome.” Under SaVE, “unwelcomeness” will not be enough. The victim will have to prove that the conduct violated state criminal law, which in most states means the victim will have to prove both non-consent and that the assault involved the use of force.

Because the more generous standard of “unwelcomeness” will continue to apply to cases involving violence that occurs on the basis of race, disabilities and ethnicity, the victim alleges SaVE violates women’s equal protection and due process rights.

UVA is under investigation by the Department of Education (DOE) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) for allegedly mishandling a sexual assault case on campus where a female student was drugged and raped by a male student. Allegations include that a UVA nurse falsified medical records and reported there were no injuries consistent with sexual assault despite multiple findings of significant injuries; and that UVA lost or destroyed photographs of the victim’s injuries.

According to the press release, UVA has not expelled a single student charged with sexual assault in more than 10 years. In the case currently under federal investigation, UVA’s own Sexual Misconduct Board ruled that the victim was “compelling” and “credible,” yet the Board cleared the accused of all charges, ruling the evidence was insufficient. UVA later granted the accused a teaching assistant position on campus.

Many advocacy groups have expressed support for the funding provisions in SaVE that will go toward anti-violence training and education programs. Those provisions are not being challenged in the lawsuit.

 

Petition to stop rapists from suing for visitation rights February 26, 2014

Filed under: rape — Jender @ 9:20 am

This petition’s just about Ohio. But Ohio is one of 31 STATES THAT ALLOW RAPISTS TO SUE SURVIVORS FOR VISITATION RIGHTS. I feel sick. (Well, actually I already did but this would have made me do so anyway.)

Sign here.

(Thanks, Jender-Mom.)

 

Some thoughts on epistemic responsibility February 15, 2014

[Trigger warning for discussion of assault]

Throughout my time as a philosopher, I’ve heard quite a bit of talk regarding ‘epistemic responsibility’ when it comes to discrimination, harassment, and assault. I’ve heard it much more frequently over the last few weeks, and so I feel compelled to say a few words about it. As it happens, I think I have a very different view of the nature of epistemic justification and the conditions under which agents can be said to have it than those who bring up epistemic responsibility in these sorts of conversations, but I want to address a slightly different question: What does moral responsibility require of us when allegations of discrimination, harassment, or assault are made? To be clear, what follows is not an endorsement of a presumption of guilt—rather, it’s an endorsement of action, sympathy, and compassion in the absence of certainty. It seems to me that too often appeals to ‘epistemic responsibility’ justify inaction, undermine progress, and enable serious wrongs.

When discrimination, inequity, and violence are carried out by intentional agents and effectively enabled by the communities in which they occur, withholding all judgment for the sake of epistemic responsibility and withholding all action on account of epistemic reasons will very often quite rightly lead to feelings of further alienation in the victim. If, for example, upon becoming familiar with a report of sexual assault, racial discrimination, or a violent hate-crime, you are not passionately moved, that unaffected reaction cannot help but communicate that there is real sense in which you either do not understand the plight before you, or you do not care. In some circumstances (note: I do mean some), this can be more harmful to a victim than the original offense. A certain amount of stupidity and evil in the world are to be expected. What is generally not expected is for good people to stand witness to severe injury and fail to be demonstrably aggrieved by it (note, here, the aptness of ‘injury’ need not entail that the content of any particular allegation is certainly true, or even true). The unexpected nature of this response often makes the hurt which follows more difficult to deal with. It can communicate indifference, it can normalize suffering, and it can steal away hope.

I do not deny that epistemic responsibility is a great good; but when our epistemic practices prevent us from responding to injury altogether, we are in the neighborhood of vice rather than virtue.

I have experienced attempted rape. Surely I would feel differently had my attacker been successful, but for me, what was most traumatizing was not the assault but rather what happened next. It was in a public park. I was able to get away. I ran to a man reading on a bench and told him what happened. He saw I was being followed. He offered to sit with me until it looked like it would be safe to walk home. But that was all he did (and I do mean that was all: he did not offer to take me to the police, to call any one, etc., and it didn’t occur to me to ask for those things). I sat with him for two hours on that bench in silence. In retrospect, I’m sure he just didn’t know what to do and didn’t know what to say—but in those two hours, and in some months that followed, I felt like what happened must not really matter because it didn’t seem to matter much to him. I thought that I was being silly for feeling angry, violated, and scared. In those later moments where I didn’t doubt myself, I doubted the world at large—the capacity of my fellow humans to do right, to be even minimally decent.

I don’t ever want to be the man on that bench to someone else, whether I think I know what happened or not.

 

Afghan law to silence victims of domestic violence February 5, 2014

Filed under: rape,violence — jennysaul @ 8:30 pm

Horrible.

The small but significant change to Afghanistan‘s criminal prosecution code bans relatives of an accused person from testifying against them. Most violence against women in Afghanistan is within the family, so the law – passed by parliament but awaiting the signature of the president, Hamid Karzai – will effectively silence victims as well as most potential witnesses to their suffering.

 

Let’s hope it doesn’t get signed.   (Thanks, R!)

 

Rape song for children February 4, 2014

Filed under: rape — axiothea @ 7:49 am

I was watching a DVD of French songs karaoke with my son, and came across a song I’ve known ever since I was a child, which every one in France knows and sings: ‘Jeanneton prend sa faucille’ (Jane takes her sickle). It’s a song for big gatherings, and everyone joins in with the chorus. It tells the story of a young woman who goes to work in the field and on her way meets three young men. The lyrics then say: The first is a bit shy and tickles her chin. The second is less shy and lifts her skirts. The third, even less shy, knocks her down on the grass. And what the fourth does is not told in the song. (The second one is not included in the karaoke version.) The end states either that the moral of the story is that men are bad, that women like bad boys, and that out of four there are three fools. In my version it says that women who want to find out what the last man did should go to the fields.

Can things be so bad that such a song is known and sung by all (including me – I hadn’t noticed that it was a rape song until only ten years ago or so) and that it should be included and illustrated in a children’s video?!

 

Raising decent men October 30, 2013

Filed under: feminist men,parenting,rape — eastfem @ 11:33 am

Some new fathers agonising about how to raise their sons in a culture of violence against women:

http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/a-father-s-perspective-on-raising-decent-men?utm_source=FB&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=20131009

 

 
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