Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

Who bears responsibility? July 17, 2014

Important questions about sexual misconduct in philosophy, being asked by Heidi Lockwood over at Daily Nous. Go join in the discussion!

 

How one college handled a sexual assault complaint July 15, 2014

Filed under: sexual assault,sexual harassment,women in academia — philodaria @ 5:21 pm

There is a really important look inside how one school (not atypically) handled a sexual assault complaint at the New York Times:

At a time of great emotional turmoil, students who say they were assaulted must make a choice: Seek help from their school, turn to the criminal justice system or simply remain silent. The great majority — including the student in this case — choose their school, because of the expectation of anonymity and the belief that administrators will offer the sort of support that the police will not.

Yet many students come to regret that decision, wishing they had never reported the assault in the first place.

The woman at Hobart and William Smith is no exception. With no advocate to speak up for her at the disciplinary hearing, panelists interrupted her answers, at times misrepresented evidence and asked about a campus-police report she had not seen. The hearing proceeded before her rape-kit results were known, and the medical records indicating trauma were not shown to two of the three panel members.

 

 

Another heartbreaking case of sexual assault gone viral July 12, 2014

Filed under: rape,sexual assault,social media — philodaria @ 7:34 pm

You can read about it here, and here. Jada’s bravery in coming forward is moving beyond words.

 

Sexual misconduct and silencing June 14, 2014

There’s a really fantastic and important piece up on Jezebel about silencing and retaliation in connection with Title IX issues on college campuses.

“I look at my entire career, entire education, and I just see the body count,” says Stabile. “I see the faculty members who quit 10 years into the job. I see the women who didn’t finish… and it’s not even that they just leave the university and don’t finish their education. It’s students who wind up killing themselves. It’s students who don’t survive.”

This is the price of valuing a college’s reputation over the well-being of the people who actually work and live there — failing rape survivors becomes an unspoken part of university policy . . .

However, there is hope for reform — college and university faculty members across the country have banded together to create a new organization, Faculty Against Rape (FAR), which hopes to help faculty respond to campus rape and institutional betrayal. According to Caroline Heldman, who is helping to launch the organization, FAR’s three main focuses will be developing resources for faculty to better serve survivors, helping faculty who want to be part of the anti-rape movement organize on campus, and providing strategy and legal resources for faculty who are retaliated against by administrations.

Although many faculty have been advocating against sexual assault for years, the increased media attention on the issue now may help them affect meaningful change. “This conversation is happening nationally,” says Stabile. “‘I’ve never seen this conversation before. It’s a moment where we can move to change things. When I can’t sleep at night or I wake up in the morning thinking about the students I’ve lost, I try to think about that, too.”

Theidon agrees with this sentiment. “I think ten years from now, twenty years from now, people are going to look back and say this is one of the most important social movements on college campuses,” she says. “And I know that if 10 years from now someone asks me, ‘What were you doing back then, Kimberly?’ I want to be able to answer, ‘I was standing up, speaking out, and supporting these women. What were you doing?’”

(Thanks Q!)

 

Good news, bad news June 10, 2014

Filed under: gender inequality,rape,sexism,sexual assault,violence — philodaria @ 10:11 pm

The bad news is that the Washington Post has been up to some sexist shenanigans. The good news is, it’s under fire for doing so. Read about it here.

 

New law on sexual crimes in Turkey June 5, 2014

Filed under: rape,sexual assault,Turkey — axiothea @ 5:33 pm

Women’s associations in Turkey are fighting a new law which looks like it will result in reduced sentences for criminals:

The platform underlined seven main objections regarding the law:

-    The draft law contains new arrangements providing “reduced sentences” for violence during rape and sexual abuse.

-    It lacks a legal provision that could prevent the reduction of sentences on the grounds that a victim may have allegedly “provoked” her assailant.

-    It also lacks a provision that will consider the testimonies of the victims as fundamental and ascribes the obligation of proving the contrary to the assailant.

-    It limits the time for filing a complaint to a barely six months after the attack.

-    The draft law also accentuates the risk of harsher sentences for teenagers between the ages of 15 and 18 engaging in consensual sexual intercourse.

-    It brings a separation between “attack” and “abuse” in cases of sexual crimes against children, which leads to potential reduction of sentences.

-    It also mentions the possibility of a “cure” for assailants, which constitutes according to the platform an attempt to define sexual crimes as a disease, rather than a crime.

This should be read in the context of a large increase in reported sex crimes in Turkey over the last nine years:

Some 32,988 files were reportedly opened on sex crime charges in 2011, while the number of files was just 8,146 in 2002.

 

The Ethics of Trigger Warnings in the Classroom May 26, 2014

Trigger warnings (definition in the link) are a mainstay on many blogs and internet forums. People are also now starting to use them in books and on classroom syllabi. In response to this, there’s been a huge surge in articles discussing the ethics of using them. Most of these pieces worry that they do more harm than good.

Here’s a sampling of articles, op eds, and blog posts:

Salon. New York Times. NYT Op Ed.  New Republic. Los Angeles Times. The Atlantic. NY Mag. Huff Po. Mother Jones. Jezebel.
If you google “trigger warnings” and under “search tools” set the time frame to within one week (as of today, May 26th), you’ll find dozens more of them.

I take it that most of us can easily imagine the main arguments for using trigger warnings in the classroom: you are giving people a heads about about the material they are about to encounter, so that they can make better informed decisions about how and whether to engage the material, and you are signaling that you understand the severity of the material and consider it a valid decision if students to do not wish to engage the material at this time.

There are a lot of arguments in these articles against using trigger warnings in such a way. Many of them are bad arguments–they conflate serious trauma with any level of momentary discomfort, they seem to not understand how PTSD and anxiety disorders work at the most basic level, they trade on stereotypes of feminists wanting to keep people in a state of perpetual victimhood (thanks to Kate Manne for pointing this one out), and they don’t acknowledge the sheer levels of paternalism involved in their suggestions.

There are, however, some very thoughtful arguments and considerations that raise concerns about how we use trigger warnings and how we follow through with them. I quote some below, along with points in favor of using trigger warnings in the classroom. Comments are open and moderated.

“As someone who studies PTSD from several different perspectives and works with people who actually have PTSD, I think what is interesting about this conversation is that it seems like a basic understanding of trauma and PTSD is almost entirely missing. People who truly have PTSD are ‘triggered’ all the time. By many things. Most of which are not directly related to their trauma. Noises, smells, tastes, phrases, tactile experiences, thoughts, etc. etc. One of the most – if not the most – disruptive part of having PTSD is isolation. Feeling like what you’ve experienced is something that no one else can understand. Feeling like you are not like everyone else and never will be again. If we slap trigger warnings on books that mention war, I worry that we are further isolating the people who need just the opposite. I worry – particularly when it comes to combat related PTSD which the NYT article addresses – that we are sending a message that says, “You’re right. What you’ve been through is so terrible, what you’ve done is so inhuman that we cannot even talk about it.” I worry that though this is intended to come from a protective place that it sends the opposite message. The message that the rest of us don’t want to hear it, don’t want to have to worry about your emotions spilling over. People who have been traumatized – in my opinion – don’t need to be protected from being re-triggered. What they need is empathy. Instead of trigger warnings on syllabi, maybe we should have some classes (and trainings for profs) that attempt to understand trauma and PTSD so that we can all be better witnesses instead of just continuing to shut it all away.”
–Mary Catherine McDonald, philosopher

 

“I’ve used [...trigger warnings] for graphic/sensitive material in my ethics classes (e.g., FGM, sexual assault) for a number of different reasons. Most obviously, there are students who really do need to opt out of discussions which may leave them feeling vulnerable and reeling because of past trauma. Nobody has opted to opt out yet, but I have been thanked for the warning, because it helped a student mentally prepare for what they were aware (and were aware that I was aware) could be an emotionally wrenching discussion. Also, as that brings out, being given a choice can be valuable in its expressive or symbolic value, even if it isn’t exercised or something which it would be good for that particular student to exercise in this instance. Namely, it says to them that opting out would be respected by me and that I am not assuming that they are all clearly going to be fine with talking through anything and everything which might be important to talk about in an ethics class in particular. And that they are not being excluded from philosophy in general if they are not prepared to participate in a more or less unpredictable discussion of (e.g.) bodily mutilation or sexual assault. Finally, and equally importantly, it signals to everyone else – i.e., the students who have no need whatsoever to opt out of the discussion – that this is a morally serious subject which we are going to approach in a morally serious way, remembering that what we are talking about real lives, real bodies, and real social practices.”
–Kate Manne, philosopher

 

“…It’s almost utterly unpredictable what will trigger people. It’s often not the topics themselves, but the smallest thing that unless someone *knows* is a trigger for me (for example), there’s no way they could have given adequate warning. And given my intersectional identity, things that are triggers for other people with sufficiently similar identities may not be triggers for me. This is related to the dilution worry: we’d have to essentially say: “This course may contain triggers.” If we tried to list them all, we’d fail (because we can’t predict how something we think is benign and unrelated is really someone’s #1 trigger) and the list would be massive.”
–Rachel McKinnon, philosopher

 

“…part of what we as educators, parents and students have to recognize is that classroom spaces in which difficult topics like trauma, rape, war, race and sexuality are discussed are already unsafe. When students of color who have endured racism have to hear racially insensitive comments from other students who are in the process of learning, the classroom is unsafe. The classroom is unsafe for trans students who are often referred to by the wrong gender pronoun by both students and teachers. The classroom is unsafe for rape survivors who encounter students in the process of learning why getting drunk at a party does not mean a woman deserves to be raped.”
–Brittney Cooper, writer, Salon (linked above)

 

“I kind of know where these critics are coming from, because I used to be one of them. I publicly joked that sappy songs required trigger warnings, and I privately complained that they were as infantilizing as spoiler alerts. But now that trigger warnings have gone mainstream, I find I’ve come full circle. Why should trigger warnings bother me? Like many of trigger warnings’ loudest opponents, I have noticed, I have no firsthand experience with rape or racial discrimination or cissexism. And a few words at the beginning of an article (or on a seminar syllabus) are no skin off my un-traumatized nose. In fact, what now strikes me most about trigger warnings is how small a request they are, in proportion to the backlash they incite. What is it about about this entirely free gesture of empathy that makes people so outraged? In their distress, critics have entirely overlooked an important distinction: Oberlin students aren’t trying to get out of reading Mrs. Dalloway because they’re special, sensitive snowflakes, or even get it removed from syllabi. They just want a three-word note on the syllabus giving them a heads-up that it addresses suicide. If that’s all it takes for instructors to prevent the shock it could cause a student who has been suicidal, it is, to me, a no-brainer.”
–Kat Stoeffel, writer, NY Mag (linked above)

 

“Kids in college are thought of as these young, naïve, uncorrupted youngsters who need knowledge dropped on them hard, but it gives me pause to acknowledge how many of them have been sexually assaulted or seen trauma already. Regardless of what you think we should do about that, it’s heartbreaking to think that some students begin an experience meant to challenge them already deeply challenged and fragile enough that they aren’t able to experience the positive cognitive dissonance being offered through an education.”
–Tracy Moore, writer, Jezebel (linked above)

 

 

 

 

#YesAllPhilosophers

Filed under: miosgyny,sexual assault,silencing — Heidi Howkins Lockwood @ 3:32 am

Not long after a UC Santa Barbara student went on a killing spree last Friday, his homicide-suicide message surfaced on the internet. “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me but I will punish you all for it,” he complains, “I’m the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman… I take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one, the true alpha male.”

While we can hope that the killer’s misogyny, narcissism, and fascination with revenge are signs of an unusually demented mind, it is a mistake to dismiss the killings as a lone incident or freak behavior of an isolated miscreant. There is no such thing as isolated violence. Misogynists, sociopaths, even psychopaths are a product of a cultural illness – an illness that tells us that we should mind our own business; that boys will be boys and hopefully they’ll grow out of it when they become men; that we need to keep the silence and refrain from naming our fears and our perpetrators because, well, you know, we’ll be branded as crazy. Or worse.

In response to the UCSB killing and the murderer’s misogyny, women around the world are adding their voices to a Twitter stream, #YesAllWomen. As I write this, it is the top-trending hashtag, with 49,541 tweets and an average of 20 tweets per second.

Here are just a few of those almost-50,000 tweets:

#YesAllWomen capture 1

 

#YesAllWomen capture 2

 

One of the tweets most likely to resonate with all or most female philosophers (thanks, S.E.!) is this one:

#YesAllWomen capture 3

I’m not the tweeting type, but it occurred to me that if I were to tweet, it would be to a #YesAllPhilosophers hashtag. Here are just a few of the tweets I’d probably write:

#YesAllPhilosophers because the accused was given a golden parachute to another better position, and the survivor, who got nothing, tried to commit suicide.

#YesAllPhilosophers because I can name four philosophers who read or gave copies of Lolita to the students they desired.

#YesAllPhilosophers because when I asked a provost whether the university would keep a known serial predator and pedophile on the faculty, she didn’t immediately say no.

#YesAllPhilosophers because I can name 34 philosophers who have been accused of sexual misconduct, ranging from “mere” drunken groping, to first degree sexual assault and child porn.

#YesAllPhilosophers because I was a student in a department where four faculty members were accused of sexual misconduct in five years.

#YesAllPhilosophers because I’m currently helping complainants at 10 different universities who have been adversely affected by the misconduct of 8 different philosophers.

#YesAllPhilosophers Because I can’t solve this problem alone.

Comments are closed on this post because I don’t have time to moderate – but those who want to comment can of course tweet using the hashtag #YesAllPhilosophers.

 

Great minds and ignoble deeds May 21, 2014

It is appalling to read about philosophers sexually harassing/assaulting vulnerable people, but is it surprising? An article in yesterday’s New York Times argues that we should not expect better.

The life of an intellectual, Mr. Ignatieff [Michael Ignatieff, the Canadian academic-cum-politician] claims, provides a petri dish for the universal human experiment of thinking, being and doing. It’s a lovely idea. The trouble is that intellectuals seem no better at it than anyone else. They often think great thoughts, while being ignoble characters. Maybe Mill and Berlin and John Dewey were noble characters. But Marx was a serial adulterer, Karl Popper was a pompous narcissist, and Heidegger was a fascist. Elite thinkers, maybe: but as amateurish humans as the rest of us.

I’m not so sure, but there are a lot of issues that need clarification before we’re in a good position to accept or reject the article. Still, there are some points we can make. Great achievements typically require concentration and caring. The idea of caring that extends to what one says and not at all to what one does is puzzling. One expects a great scientist to care very much about the truth of his words. But then what does that care look like if it allows lying in letters of reference to reward sexual compliance?

And isn’t philosophy, at least when it is about human life, different? On the other hand, maybe moral behavior requires more than morally apt thinking. For example, perhaps a capacity for empathy. And a love of truth in one area may co-exist with a capacity for self-deception that enables a lot of borrowing from others. E.g., plagarism.

Perhaps, then, we need to recognize that there are many character flaws that can disconnect behavior from thought. I myself would still, at least at this point in time, like to think that at least for some areas really vicious behavior will mean one does not have the capacity for some great intellectual tasks. But is that really true?

What do you think?

A remarkable example of disconnect was explained recently by Bob Dylan. I thought of him as the voice (or a voice) of a generation of protestors. But, as he has said, that’s not at all what he was doing. He was just a musician. So where did those wonderfully apposite lyrics come from? It was, he says, simply magic.

In fact, many people report a similar experience (I think). As Feymann put it, suddenly boom, boom, the answer is there. Ownership may seem tenuous, and connection with character very problematic.

 

A reply to Robert George: Why sexual assault can’t be blamed on the sexual revolution May 18, 2014

Recently, philosopher of law Robert George wrote a piece in which he links the culture of sexual assault on college campuses to the sexual revolution. A philosophy graduate student has written a beautiful and moving reply. I quote from it below, and the full response is here.

Yet, the fact is, sexual assault is deeply wrong and harmful regardless of the victim’s sexual history or values. The Philadelphia Magazine article provides ample evidence that students who have casual sex, seemingly without sharing metaphysical or ethical commitments about what it means for “two to become one,” still experience assault as a serious trauma. Moreover, sex workers can be sexually violated and process it as such, irrespective of their views on sex. Some people might counter that victims can be mistaken about the source of their trauma, and that if they think it has nothing to do with the meaning of sex, they are lying to themselves. This reasoning, much like sexual violence itself, denies people agency. It’s hard to capture the sheer horror of having one’s will subjugated by another person, the utter powerlessness of being at someone else’s mercy. As long as we see sexual assault as an offense against purity or chastity rather than primarily against autonomy, we cannot do justice to that experience.

. . . Professor George, I share your sadness and yearning for truth, in my various roles as young Catholic philosopher, Swarthmore alum, sexual assault survivor, and human being. I am just worried that when culture wars overshadow the discussion of sexual violence, it leaves all parties hurt and none transformed. By all means, let’s create spaces for college students to discuss campus sexual culture, the meaning of sex, and healthy relationships. All I ask is that we not let questions over which many reasonable people disagree turn our attention away from the distinct and severe wrong of sexual assault. Otherwise, I fear you will be right: We will live in a “hell on earth—complete with ideologies hardened into orthodoxies to immunize it from truth-telling and to stigmatize and marginalize truth-tellers.”

 

 
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