Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

Single sex schools not the answer September 23, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sam B @ 2:25 am

Girls taught in single-sex schools are no more competitive than their co-ed counterparts, according to a new study. That’s bad news for proponents of single-sex schools, and suggests it might be harder than we thought for women to break into competitive, male-dominated college majors and careers.



These men are NOT saving room for cats! September 21, 2014

Filed under: academic job market,autonomy,empowering women,Uncategorized — annejjacobson @ 6:37 pm

Irritated by the seemingly inexplicable behavior of men who spread their legs wide whem sitting in public spaces? Feeling forced to collapse in on yourself?

Here we’ve enjoyed laughing at the phenomenon and the idea that they are making room for cats.

However, what may be going on is a quite serious and quite deep reinforcement of differences valued by patriarchy.

We’ve known for some time that one’s facial expressions can affect one’s mood, but according to the NY Times, Amy Cuddy (assoc prof, Harvard Business School), has shown one’s stance and how much space one occupies affects how powerful one feels and conveys. People spread out on the subway wil feel more powerful than thoses crunched up. Before an interview you will be more confident if you’ve been practiccing wonderwoman poses

Lately, she has been examining the differences between subjects who sleep sprawled out versus those who curl up. Early results show that people who arise with arms and legs extended feel brighter and more optimistic than the 40 percent who start the day in a fetal position.

But there’s hope. “If you wake in fetal pose,” Ms. Cuddy said, “open yourself up like the guy on the subway taking up too much space, and soon enough you’ll feel like a happy warrior.”


Illusions of Understanding September 20, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — phrynefisher @ 6:28 pm

This research is fascinating, and could have serious methodological importance for philosophy. (Hat tip: Sarcozona.)

Here’s the gist of the result (which was obtained by studying samples of US residents recruited online).

People often don’t understand political issues fully, yet have strong convictions about them. When subjects were asked to go into state-and-defend mode on a political issue (i.e., asked to state their view and then give their reasons for holding it), their conviction was entrenched and their misunderstandings went unnoticed.

But if asked to explain, or talk through, how the policy, position, etc. they defend would actually work, people were significantly more likely to appreciate what they did not fully understand, and to stop being so entrenched in their opinions.

This kind of information could be a huge deal for philosophical methodology. There are many issues (political and otherwise) that philosophers discuss which we do not fully understand, yet have strong convictions about.

State-and-defend mode is so common in our discipline. What if it is seriously hindering our progress by entrenching us in views we do not really understand, while concealing our own misunderstandings from us?


Calling UK and European philosophers working on. . . September 18, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 5:28 pm

Miranda Fricker, Jennifer Saul, and Holly Lawford-Smith at the University of Sheffield are interested in hearing from anyone with an interest in epistemological, metaphysical and normative issues that touch on, apply to, or might be extended to, Philosophy of Race broadly construed. Their own interests range over issues of social construction, culpable ignorance, implicit bias, political speech and manipulation, historic injustice, racial privilege, and rectificatory justice. But race touches on many other areas of philosophy besides these, and they’re keen to hear from anyone and everyone who thinks they might have something to contribute! At the moment they’re just keen to hear from people so that we can put a list together, with a view to future workshops and research events. It would be great if you could tell them your name, institutional affiliation, and a little about the research interests you have that relate or might come to relate to Philosophy of Race. You can email them at: sheffphilrace@gmail.com.


He Said, He said, He said, He Said, He Said, He Said, She Said September 16, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stacey Goguen @ 9:46 pm

Did you know that currently the ratio of “he” to “she” in abstracts listed on the Philosopher’s Index is 6:1?
And that in the 1940’s it was about 60:1?

Eric Schwitzgebel crunched some numbers.


How to Engage in Less Street Harassment, Better Pokemon Training

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stacey Goguen @ 9:33 pm

And other life lessons from Dinosaur Comics.

I realize that T-Rex frames this as “better” street harassment, but I’d say it’s more an aggressive public education campaign.


A defense of a defense of emotion in philosophy

Filed under: academia,bias,emotion,Uncategorized — annejjacobson @ 7:28 pm

In an important post Magicalersatz assserts:

The idea that philosophers should start from first principles, construct premises, and ‘follow the argument where it leads’ without hindrance from emotion or personal perspective is a romantic one. It’s also an absurd one. We all come to the table with biases, presuppositions, and background assumptions – whether we admit it or not. And yes, these types of commitments are present even in ‘the core’.

The fact that her statement can seem just common sense may be a testimony to the way in which ideas from empirical research is permeating our perspectives. And if it doesn’t seem just common sense, you should know that there is a great deal of empirical support for the idea that reason alone isn’t going to get us far. We can and should try very hard to get rid of – or at least mitigate – morally problematic biases, but the idea of a good, substantive philosophy emerging from pure reason is a myth.

The thesis that human beings are not purely rational, even when we think we are being so, started to emerge with a number of researchers in the 1960’s-70’s. The first official attack on the Cartesian conception of reason that has many in Anglo-American philosophy in its grip comes with Damasio’s 1994 Descartes’ Error:

ALTHOUGH I CANNOT tell for certain what sparked my interest in the neural underpinnings of reason, I do know when I became convinced that the traditional views on the nature of rationality could not be correct. I had been advised early in life that sound decisions came from a cool head, that emotions and reason did not mix any more than oil and water. I had grown up accustomed to thinking that the mechanisms of reason existed in a separate province of the mind, where emotion should not be allowed to intrude, and when I thought of the brain behind that mind, I envisioned separate neural systems for reason and emotion. This was a widely held view of the relation between reason and emotion, in mental and neural terms.

In the Introduction of new editions, Damasio notes correctly the now entrenched nature of his views:

I advanced the hypothesis … that emotion was in the loop of reason, and that emotion could assist the reasoning process rather than necessarily disturb it, as was commonly assumed. Today this idea does not cause any raised eyebrows …

Of course, the details are not fully worked out, there are competing hypotheses (dual process pictures, for example) that do not incorporate all his ideas, and so on. BUT in general the demise of the ‘man of reason’ is pretty much a done deal.


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.”


COACHE: Faculty assessing their university September 14, 2014

Or: Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education.

COACHE is a product of Harvard’s School of Education. One of its main outputs is a survey that is taken by faculty and then analyzed by COACHE. As I remember, the survey gives one standard assertions such as “The administration of this university strongly supports interdisciplinary research” and then gives one an option of five answers from “agree very strongly” to “disagree very strongly”. (Or at least something much like that.) One great thing is that the score the university gets is a comparison with what are counted as peer institutions. So if your university is ranked in the bottom third in interdisciplinarity, for example, that is not simply because you have a lot of malcontents. Rather, it is because your faculty are much more negative about that feature than most of the faculty in your peers. And that becomes a problem for the university.

If you are on the job market or if the tenure decision is coming near, do think of asking if your (prospective) university has a COACHE report, and ask to see it. (Those applying to grad school may also benefit; see the next para.) At least the one for my now former university reveals two things: (1) major weaknesses and (2) differences between tenured and non-tenured (tt) points of view; see below for a remark about this. If you want to dig a bit deeper, it may also show you more general facts about the university that are holding the problems in place. In my experience the report is stunningly accurate. That is, the university ranks low on features that, to be perfectly frank, drove me crazy. The faculty, however, love the upper administration, a fact that shows a very important disconnect.

TENURED VS. NON-TENURED points of view. In my former university the tt are generally more positive than the tenured profs. It would seem easy for the tt also to be much more negative, as I would guess they are in some other places. In any case, there are contexts in which this won’t matter, and ones in which it will. If a set of discontented tt faculty have been bullied into being enthusiastic for prospective grad students, those who believe them may be in for a shock. Equally, if the tt folk are much happier than those with tenure, they may not be a good source of information about whether you should join the department as a faculty member. Now the COACHE report does not mention specific departments, so differences in these respects are really just warning signs.

The differences between tenured and tt points of view are interesting, and I don’t really know what explains them. When I was following the literature on sexism in STEM quite closely about ten years ago, it appeared that STEM women did not perceive the sexism until the tenuring process started. One can think of a number of possible reasons for this, and some of them would spread across genders and disciplines. Perhaps, for example, some senior faculty feel protective about the younger ones, and smooth things out for them a bit. Another might be that the tenured faculty may try to draw on more resources, and so discover what the weaknesses are. On the other hand, it would seem most unfortunately easy to make the tt faculty miserable, so differences in directions different from those at my university would seem to be more understandable.


Emulating Socrates

Filed under: Uncategorized — Prof Manners @ 4:45 pm

I recently assigned an undergraduate class reading the Apology to consider Socrates’ manner in presenting himself to the jury. Specifically, I asked them to evaluate whether Socrates’ condescension in his speeches to the jury and prosecution rises to insult and rudeness, and whether this matters in seeing him as exemplar for emulation. The results were mixed. Some concluded that Socrates was both rude and justified since the trial was rank persecution by the dangerously unthinking. Others thought Socrates unwarrantedly rude, remarking on how it was no credit even to noble purposes that he should be scornful or even arrogantly dismissive in his self-presentation. What was striking to me in all this was the gender breakdown of these responses in a class with almost equal enrollment of men and women.

Those who found Socrates rudeness warranted and worthy of emulation:
70% of the men enrolled
13% of the women

Those who found it unwarranted and not worthy of emulation:
30% of the men
87% of the women

I have myself long felt ambivalent about Socrates on this score, and I think this result may capture some of why. Many of the women students remarked in their responses what I would characterize as sympathy to human frailty, a sense that if others have to earn our respect rather than respect operating as a default given, then we’re all in trouble. They were not at all sanguine about Socrates’ rightness, which they acknowledged, giving more general permission to anyone in the right to express contempt or scorn for others. Put simply, they were far more skeptical that we can ever be sure enough that we are in the right or that another’s being in the wrong licenses breaking general respect.

I don’t want to over-assign significance to this outcome, but I do think Socrates casts a long shadow even still over how philosophy is practiced and that even if, in his own case, his manner is explicable or even sympathetic, it ends up conferring status and legitimacy on conversational tactics that, in far less dire circumstances, are quite problematic. It is perhaps tempting to conflate Socrates’ general bravery with the manner of his self-presentation, a willingness to “speak plainly” (i.e., often without regard to offense one may provoke) implicitly equated with courage. It’s perhaps too easy to imagine that one is “being like Socrates,” engaging in bold challenge against the unthinking rabble, when one is really but engaging in garden-variety rudeness and evincing arrogance. Put simply, the model of Socrates can alibi bad conduct and tempt all sorts of self-deception about one’s motives and manner. Calling out what one perceives to be the rank wrongness of others can just be power assertion heroicized as noble.



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