Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

“It’s About Your Predatory Friends.” October 30, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — phrynefisher @ 6:09 pm

“This is, I think, what we’re really talking about when we talk about bystander intervention. It’s not about protecting your friends from predatory strangers — which is often how these scenarios are framed. It’s about your predatory friends. What are you going to do about them?

There is, I think, a real fear people have about being wrong if and when they believe women. And so a reflexive tendency to doubt women when they come forward begins to look a lot like caution. But what it amounts to, and this is what Pallett and Bady both made clear, isn’t the presumption of innocence or a respect for due process, but a process through which we can ignore what’s in front of us to protect ourselves, to protect the ideas we have about our friends, the ideas we have about rape and the kinds of men who hurt women.”

From “Jian Ghomeshi is My Friend, and Jian Ghomeshi Beats Women” at Salon.


MAP advertises for UK Director!

Filed under: Uncategorized — jennysaul @ 9:07 am

MAP is a collection of students in English-speaking philosophy departments that aims to examine and address issues of minority participation in academic philosophy. Though primarily led by graduate students, MAP also relies on faculty support and encourages undergraduate participation.

For more about MAP, go here.

They now have a number of UK chapters, and are in need of a UK Regional Director. Do consider applying, and do tell your friends, colleagues, students, etc!


Contessa Responds to Worries About LCC October 29, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stacey Goguen @ 3:05 pm

You can read his post here.

“About a week ago I wrote a post in which I proposed a Languaged Conference Campaign to highlight the underrepresentation of non-native English speakers in the line-ups of philosophy conferences and volumes. I was expecting this to be a relatively uncontroversial move, since many support the Gendered Conference Campaign, whose aims and methods the LCC was supposed to co-opt. Boy, was I wrong!”


Another perspective on ESL philosophy

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 11:52 am

We recently posted about a campaign – modeled on our GCC – to raise awareness of the underrepresentation of non-native English speakers in philosophy. Sara Protasi has a different perspective on this issue, and she’s given me permission to share her thoughts here:

There are two senses in which something can be “unfair”. First, something can be *unfortunate*, an event or action that we would to exclude from any ideal world. Falling and breaking one’s neck is unfair in this sense. These are things that we regret, and try to prevent from happening.

Second, something can be *unjust*. When something is unjust, indignation and resentment are the appropriate reactions. Fighting for social justice is what we do in this case.

Then there are borderline or vague cases (not committing to any philosophical view here! Just using the terms loosely). Maybe being perceived as ugly, or being short, are like that. You are disadvantaged in many domains, and people may have different views about whether that’s unjust or simply unfortunate. The domain clearly matters: a TV show, a beauty pageant, a court, etc.

{I think there is some philosophical literature on notions of unfairness, but I don’t recall any specific reference right now. Apologies if this sounds trivial and not in need of being repeated}

I think *one* (only one) of the problems affecting the recent heated discussion on the disadvantage suffered by non-native English speakers in philosophy is that some people confuse these two meanings, or anyway are not careful enough in trying to distinguish them. I am among the lucky non-native English speakers who learnt English fairly early on (starting with some trips to the US when I was a teenager), went to graduate school (a second time) at (in?!) an Anglophone institution, and who speaks English with a lighter accent than the average Italian (and Italian is closer to English than Mandarin or Turkish, which gives me a further advantage). And yet, I know all too well how hard it is to do philosophy in a language other than yours. When I came to the US, the first few years were exhausting in good part because of this. As a kid in school I used to be considered an excellent writer, and now I wasn’t. I could not use what I thought were the appropriate words. I was a grammar fetishist and suffered for not being able to speak properly. I could not understand people at social events, where the noise level is higher and people speak all together. I had a hard time following seminars discussions.

Today, after seven years living in anglophone countries and having a partner with whom I speak mostly English, I am still frustrated by what I perceive as a suboptimal level of fluency. I had to hire a proofreader for my dissertation. I check online dictionaries *every single day*. I worry about prepositions, idioms, pronunciation *all the time*. I could go on and on, but let me instead add that some of these issues are not merely due to language but also due to having been raised and educated mostly in Italy. My education was quite good in general, but analytic philosophy is relatively young in Italy, and even though I had good teachers my philosophical Italian education simply does not compare to what I got at Yale, or I could have gotten at Michigan (where I was a visiting scholar a couple of times) or at other US institutions. This is obviously a purely contingent fact, due to a… (looking for the right word here!) wealth of factors: cultural, historical, economic, etc. Italians, like any other people from around the world, can be great philosophers. But it simply isn’t the case that they have the best analytic philosophy departments at this time in history. {Proviso which probably won’t spare me the wrath of some Italians, but here it goes: there are some excellent Italian analytic philosophers, and many good ones, who work and teach in Italy. I think they correlate with those who have had at least a partial education abroad, but I don’t have hard data on this, just anecdotal evidence. One might say that my perception of who is excellent is primarily driven by my knowing that they have been abroad. We can talk more about whether that’s the case, but I don’t think it’s a fruitful avenue of discussion.}

This, as the fact that analytic philosophy journals and conferences and even Facebook discussions take place in English, is very unfortunate. But it doesn’t seem to me to be unjust. That it is not unjust doesn’t mean that we should not try to alleviate the difficulties of people like me, or people who fare much worse than me. We should help non-native speakers to achieve the level of fluency required to succeed at philosophy in the context in which they want to do philosophy (I am partially repeating points made by commenters at Feminist Philosophers, such as “louisechanary”). But it’s not an injustice in the same way that racial and sexist and ableist and homo/transphobic discrimination is. Being able to speak good English is essential to do good philosophy. Being White, or male, or straight, or gender-conforming, or able-bodied is completely irrelevant.

There remains some space for actual, unjust discrimination in this area, of course. Discriminating or being inadvertently biased against people who speak English with an accent, or who speak and write in good but not fully idiomatic English is obviously something we should be aware of, and condemn. But even that is not as widespread or harmful as other forms of discrimination, in my experience, both from a first- and third-personal perspective (although since this is an empirical matter, I would be interested in scientific evidence that proves otherwise). Also, as it has been said by many, it seems to me that speaking with a certain accent is a lot more disadvantageous than being a non-native speaker in itself, so there are different nuances to be considered even within the language discrimination issue. But if the accent worry is already covered by the race or ethnicity worry, then maybe we can be less concerned with accent in itself.

What worries me the most, of this discussion, is that we seem to be slipping all too easily in the usual wars about who is the most disadvantaged, but at the same time forgetting that *it does make sense to worry about who is the most disadvantaged*! What I mean is that it is a psychologically harmful tendency: we should all unite to fight injustice of all kinds!

On the other hand, a perceived injustice may not be an injustice, or may be a minor injustice, and it is important to keep that in mind. We have finite resources (we have finite span of attention, funding, etc.). Worrying about poor kids who don’t have toys is worthwhile, but worrying about starving kids is more worthwhile. Similarly in this case: we have to figure out what our priorities as a community are. I think some of us think that, based on evidence and experience, some forms of discrimination are in more need of attention than others. And some other *very real* (I have lived them!) events and actions, while unfortunate and regrettable, are not forms of discrimination at all.


Ludlow now suing undergraduate, too

Filed under: Uncategorized — philodaria @ 5:38 am

DailyNous reports (via Chicago Tribune) that Ludlow is now suing the undergraduate student who accused him of sexual assault. Last week, DailyNous published an open letter from the Northwestern philosophy graduate students in response to his suit against another student over another sexual misconduct complaint.


Distinguished Woman Philosopher 2014: Peggy DesAutels! October 26, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — jennysaul @ 6:20 pm

Many congratulations to Peggy DesAutels, who has been named Distinguished Woman Philosopher, an honour richly deserved


On ‘Women as Moral Beings’ October 25, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — KateNorlock @ 2:23 pm

I received multiple emails excitedly drawing my attention to the discussion on PEA Soup of Amy Baehr’s comment on Zona Vallance’s ahead-its-time essay, “Women as Moral Beings” (Int’l Journal of Ethics, 1902), and of the original article itself. I was a bit swamped and put off going to it before today, and I see it has not yet received any comments. The paper by Amy Baehr is free and only four pages, so let’s take this opportunity to read Ethics for free and to celebrate a discussion of women’s work in philosophy!  Go comment at PEA Soup.


Open thread: supporting victims of sexual harassment October 24, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 3:17 pm

Some high profile cases of sexual harassment in philosophy have been in the news again recently. But as unfortunate and upsetting as those cases are, part of grappling with philosophy’s sexual harassment problem is realizing that it isn’t isolated to one or two bad cases or one or two bad actors. There are a lot of bad cases. And there are a lot of victims. Some of these victims have asked for an open thread here where we can publicly express support for victims and where we can talk about ways – both public and private – to help people in our profession who have been sexually harassed. This is an open thread for that purpose.

Comments are going to be heavily moderated. This thread is for expressions of support, and for ideas about how we can help victims. That’s it. If you want to talk about due process or hypothetical situations involving false accusations, that’s fine – those conversations are important. But they’re not going to happen here.


White philosophers and racism October 23, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 10:27 pm

Bharath Vallabha has written another really interesting post – ‘It’s Not Just Implicit Bias’ – about philosophy, inclusiveness, and philosophy’s race problem. In the post, he focuses on the narrowness of the philosophy’s ‘cannon’ as it’s traditionally presented in English-speaking contexts:

In most philosophy classes the religious traditions of the Middle East and Asia are in the periphery as the other to philosophy – the impulses to conformism and irrationality which are to overcome by the self-reflection and rationality of philosophy. But regarding philosophy Africa is treated as the other to the other, as being the birthplace of human beings but not of anything intellectually and spiritually amazing such that it is worth our while to keep it alive now and in the same conversation as what the Greeks did. That Africa as a space of philosophy is so far below the Greeks that to even speak of African or African-American philosophy is to speak of how blacks came to identify with and think through their situation of modernity with reference to the philosophy started by the Greeks.

Is this a white washed story of the history of philosophy, analogous to the story told in the seventh grade American history books? You bet it is. Just as the latter is being served to black kids in middle school, the former is being served to blacks in colleges.

But in drawing attention to this (really important!) issue, I worry that Vallabha is overly charitable to academic philosophers, and in doing so may be downplaying part of philosophy’s race problem. Let me be clear: I think he’s completely, absolutely right that the narrowness of philosophy’s ‘cannon’ is a big problem. My worry is with this part of his post:

Why are there so few black academic philosophers?
There are three flat-footed options:
1) Academic philosophers are racist.
2) The ideas in academic philosophy are racist.
3) The structures of academic philosophy are racist.
None of these are right. (1) is just false. If anything, most white academic philosophers have enormous white guilt.

If what it takes for someone to be racist is for that person to explicitly endorse (some sufficient number of) racist claims, then it’s probably right that at least most academic philosophers aren’t racist. Although even explicit racism in this sense is probably more common than we like to admit. (I can’t be the only person in philosophy who’s had the experience of almost falling off my chair in a seminar after the visiting speaker says something explicitly, mind-bogglingly racist.)

But I think there’s a middle ground between the kind of racism that involves explicit endorsement of racist ideology and implicit biases. We can have racist thoughts and reactions which we immediately disavow upon reflection, and which we attempt to distance ourselves from and correct for, but which nevertheless aren’t as subtle as implicit biases.

In this latter, weaker sense, I really do think we white philosophers can be pretty racist. For that matter, I think that in this latter sense white people can all, quite easily, be racist. Part of the white guilt Vallabha says is endemic among philosophers is no doubt a consequence of our own not-so-implicit racial biases and our attempts to correct them. We can and do feel bad about this kind of racism, for sure. That doesn’t make it less true that we’re racist. (Or maybe this is just an area in which, as Nathaniel Coleman has urged, there’s not much point in talking about who is and isn’t racist. There’s just white supremacy – and we’re all a part of that, whether we endorse it or not.)

In much the same way, it’s easy to be sexist, classist – all sorts of ‘ists’. That needn’t – and often doesn’t – involve endorsing these attitudes, and and in many cases I’m sure we specifically try to counteract them. But they’re there, and they’re not entirely implicit. Take the example of class. It’s often easier to be impressed by someone who dresses, speaks, and in general presents themselves as though they were sprouted in a cabbage patch somewhere on the grounds of Yale than it is to be impressed by someone who speaks, acts, and in general presents themselves as someone who grew up in rural Alabama. No doubt some of this is implicit, but it isn’t all implicit – this is something we know about ourselves. We also know, at least in many cases, that this is wrong and unjust. And we try hard to correct it. But it’s still something that’s really easy to do. 

Now, maybe what matters here, when we’re considering philosophy’s race problem (and it’s diversity problems more generally), isn’t whether philosophers are racist (classist, sexist, -ist), but whether they’re unusually racist – whether they’re more racist than white academics in history, English, etc. But I’m not sure that’s true. The question might be less whether philosophers are unusually racist, and more whether the norms of philosophy let racism have particularly pernicious effects.

In philosophy, we care a lot about reputation. And we like to see ‘brilliance’ and ‘flare’. We want to hire ‘rising stars’. We assume we’re all very rational and not at all racist. And so on. That’s the kind of environment that can make the effects of implicit bias worse, of course. But it’s also the kind of environment that can make the effects of not-so-implicit bias worse. So while I absolutely agree that the narrowness of the cannon is part of philosophy’s race problem, I’m less convinced that racism among philosophers isn’t a big part as well.


Under-representation of non-native English speakers in philosophy

Filed under: Uncategorized — jennysaul @ 4:07 pm

Gabriele Contessa has written a series of thought-provoking posts on this important, yet underdiscussed topic. Most recently, he has proposed a Languaged Philosophers’ Campaign.

Okay, I know—‘Languaged’ is not a word in English, but so what? :-) I think we should start a campaign to highlight the underrepresentation of non-native English speakers in the line-ups of many (supposedly international) conferences and edited volumes. The campaign is, of course, modelled on the (very effective and much needed!) Gendered Conference Campaign promoted by the Feminist Philosophers blog. And, like that campaign, this campaign is not about blame; nor is it about identifying the causes of the underrepresentation of non-native English speakers in analytic philosophy. It only aims at raising awareness of this systematic phenomenon (especially among philosophers who are native English speakers who seem to be mostly oblivious to it). Analytic philosophy aspires to be universal in its scope and yet it is surprisingly provincial and insular when it comes to including people whose native languages are not English. As I have argued elsewhere, I think that this phenomenon hurts not only EFL philosophers, but analytic philosophy in general. I hope that the LCC will start raising awareness about this issue.



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