Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can 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.


Sexual harassment in science: very common in field work July 18, 2014

Filed under: academia,sexual harassment — jennysaul @ 1:30 pm

I am frequently asked whether philosophy is worse than other fields for sexual harassment. I always reply the same way: we cannot get reliable statistics for something so unreported, and so often sealed under confidentiality when it is reported. I also frequently encounter scientists who are shocked by the stories from philosophy. But this shock of course doesn’t show that similar things don’t go on in their fields: after all, philosophers are shocked by these stories too.

Now we know a bit more about what goes on in some other fields, though, and it doesn’t look good. At least in scientific disciplines involving fieldwork, sexual harassment is a very big problem.


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.



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!)


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.


Hilde Lindemann: Guest Post

Filed under: sexual harassment,women in philosophy — Jender @ 5:04 am

What follows is a guest post from Hilde Lindeman, Chair of the APA’s Committee on the Status of Women. She was interviewed for by Inside Higher Ed regarding sexual harassment in philosophy, and her remarks were taken so far out of context that their meaning was seriously distorted. Here she sets out her views regarding sexual harassment in philosophy.

Let me be clear. It seems I was not, in the interview I gave Colleeen Flaherty for the article that was published in the May 19 issue of Inside Higher Ed. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/05/19/unofficial-internet-campaign-outs-professor-alleged-sexual-harassment-attempted#ixzz32C3gVxms All sexual predators should be prosecuted and, if the evidence warrants, punished for their crimes (and yes, sexual harassment is actionable, as is attempted rape and sexual molestation). Within philosophy, sexual harassment, sexual predation, and bullying have been and are all too common, and I agree with Eric Schliesser that because too many decent philosophers keep looking the other way and refusing to speak up, lawsuits and “the harsh light of publicity” are needed to break the culture of silence.

While Schliesser calls the discipline a “train wreck” that is “incapable of self-reform,” I have not given up on self-reform. I believe philosophy’s climate of hostility to women must be tackled on many fronts, both from without and from within. Each of us in the profession is obliged to do what we can from where we stand. Departments must do their part, as must the APA, as must the APA’s Committee on the Status of Women, which I chair. Neither the APA nor the CSW are in the business of policing individuals’ behavior. That responsibility falls to the universities where the crimes occur, and to courts of law. The allegations against specific philsophers are so serious that due process is and ought to be required before they are stripped of tenure and made to pay criminal penalities, yet because universities seemingly fail pretty frequently in their duties to investigate these allgeations and punish the offenders, we are too often left with nothing but rumors and inuendoes, so that while many people “know” so-and-so is a sexual predator, nothing concrete is done about it.

In any case, when the focus is solely on individual bad apples, and whether their victims consented, and whether the balance of power is so great between a graduate student and big-ticket philosophers in her area of specialization who might be able to advance her professional interests that consent isn’t really possible, attention is diverted from the systemic problem of a culture in which bad behavior flourishes. That is why I say philosophy’s climate of hostility to women must be tackled on many fronts. Some of us have given to the Protecting Lisbeth campaign—a worthy way of helping victims hire the attorneys they need to prosecute their harassers. (In my interview with Ms. Flaherty, I was not asked to comment on the Protecting Lisbeth campaign and did not do so. Nor did I suggest that a site visit to the Yale philosophy department would be a better strategy. In fact, such a suggestion would have been ridiculously naïve. Site visits are for any department, including good ones that want to become better, and are made at the request of the department.) Some of us have called out colleagues in our own departments who have made disparaging remarks about women or engaged in bullying behavior. Some department chairs among us have asked the CSW for a site visit to assess their department’s climate and make suggestions for improvements. Some of us—in fact, quite a lot of us, and I’m personally grateful to you all—have given money to the CSW for its Site Visit Training Program and the Diversity Conference to be held in May 2015 at Villanova University.

We need all these strategies and more if we are to succeed in making the profession of philosophy a hospitable one for women and other underrepresented groups. Philosophy as a discipline is better off when talented people from many different social positions contribute to its body of knowledge and understanding. And in any case, discrimination for irrelevant reasons is just plain wrong.

I am actually quite heartened by the well-publicized scandals that have made the headlines this past year. I take it as a sign that something is shifting, that the old culture of sexual predation, coverup, and contempt for the relatively powerless is beginning to give way to a culture in which such behavior is no longer tolerated. But we are going to have to keep applying steady pressure here, in all the ways I’ve mentioned and in many others as well. Philosophy deserves no less.


More of the story: the moral philosopher and his international affairs May 6, 2014

Filed under: sex with students,sexual harassment — Jender @ 5:06 am

Despite the vicious outpouring in comments on her first post, there is another post. She tells us much more in this post– much more about how the coercion and manipulation work and why it is so very morally repugnant. Feminists know that the mere utterance of the word ‘yes’ in contexts of enormous power imbalance is not enough to alleviate moral concerns– and we should know enough about our profession to realise that there are indeed enormous power imbalances even between people not at the same university. This post spells all that out beautifully. (It also makes it clear that there have been incidents even within just one university.)


If you’re wondering how wrong university procedures can go… April 24, 2014

[Trigger Warning]

This story from Brown University will give you some idea. I encourage anyone who is confused about why victims may not come forward especially to read it. But of course, this isn’t just about Brown.

Students were outraged in 2013, when Yale University disclosed in a semi-annual report that only one of six people found responsible for sexual assault had been suspended, and the rest were punished with reprimands, training or probation. A subsequent report showed one student was found guilty of sexual assault and was given a two- term suspension, and the rest of the assault cases hadn’t concluded or did not lead to a formal investigation.

From the 2008-09 academic year to 2012-13 at Harvard College, five students were required by the Administrative Board to withdraw from the undergraduate school due to “social behavior – sexual.” Two students were punished with probation for “social behavior – harassment/sexual” and the college took no action against six students for “social behavior – sexual.” Harvard College was hit with a federal complaint last month for, among other grievances, forcing sexual assault victims to live in the same residence halls as their attackers.

Documents provided by Dartmouth College show that from 2010 to 2013, sexual violence cases resulted in two students being “separated or resigned” from the college, two students suspended, two placed on probation and four found “not responsible.”Dartmouth may implement a policy that would make expulsion the preferred sanction for students guilty of sexual misconduct.

Colleges are not required to disclose how many students are investigated or punished for sexual misconduct. Columbia University, for instance, has so far declined to release such statistics.

Three women accused the same male student at Columbia of sexual assault. Still, two of the reported victims told HuffPost that the male student was found not responsible and was allowed to stay on campus.


What someone did to help a sexual assault survivor April 16, 2014

Filed under: sexual assault,sexual harassment — Jender @ 6:52 pm

Read the story at What We’re Doing About What it’s Like.



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