Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

Yes, sexual harassment is a thing October 21, 2014

Filed under: sexual harassment,women in philosophy — philodaria @ 4:02 pm

Those who read Robert Hanna’s response to being named in the recent CHE article regarding the situation at CU-Boulder, may have also read his paper that he links to in that response, Sexual McCarthyism, Polyamory, and the First Amendment (if you don’t understand the relationship between those concepts named in the title, you’re not alone–neither did I). Here is an illuminating snippet:

In professional academics, we are now, sadly, in an era of sexual McCarthyism. . . Notice how the phrase “sexual harassment” sounds a lot like “sexual assault” and non-rationally evokes the same moral disgust as the latter phrase, even though the phrases actually mean very different things. But the non-rational emotional association with the ugly phrase “sexual assault” is no doubt precisely why the sexual McCarthyites chose the equally ugly phrase “sexual harassment,” and not, e.g., “romantic relationship troubles.” Indeed, sexual McCarthyites like to talk about “victims” of “sexual harassment precisely because in fact there are no such people as “victims” of romantic relationship troubles–there are just people in all their multifarious peculiarity, having the all-too-familiar romantic relationship troubles with each other — but they want to evoke, non-rationally, the impression that there are such victims.

To be clear, sexual harassment is a thing, and it is not the same thing as ‘romantic relationship troubles.’ For one, ‘romantic relationship troubles’ presupposes the existence of a romantic relationship, and sexual harassment often happens outside the context of any relationship (cf. street harassment), let alone a romantic one. For two, just as an example, sending colleagues unwanted emails soliciting sexual interactions would be sexually harassing, but not an instance of romantic relationship troubles even if you have romantic feelings towards them. Why? Because if your colleagues do not want to be in a romantic or sexual relationship with you, regardless of your desires, there is no sense in which this a problem with your romantic relationship to them–namely, because you do not have one.

As an interesting matter of history, ‘sexual harassment’ was not coined in order to elicit moral disgust regarding behaviors which have no victim. Quite the contrary. Susan Brownmiller recounts how the term actually came to be in In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution (reader’s of Miranda Fricker’s Epistemic Injustice will be familiar with this already, as she quotes this passage in her book):

One afternoon a former university employee sought out Lin Farley to ask for her help. Carmita Wood, age forty-four, born and raised in the apple orchard region of Lake Cayuga, and the sole support of two of her children, had worked for eight years in Cornell’s department of nuclear physics, advancing from lab assistant to a desk job handling administrative chores. Wood did not know why she had been singled out, or indeed if she had been singled out, but a distinguished professor seemed unable to keep his hands off her.

As Wood told the story, the eminent man would jiggle his crotch when he stood near her desk and looked at his mail, or he’d deliberately brush against her breasts while reaching for some papers. One night as the lab workers were leaving their annual Christmas party, he cornered her in the elevatorand planted some unwanted kisses on her mouth. After the Christmas party incident, Carmita Wood went out of her way to use the stairs in the lab building in order to avoid a repeat encounter, but the stress of the furtive molestations and her efforts to keep the scientist at a distance while maintaining cordial relations with his wife, whom she liked, brought on a host of physical symptoms. Wood developed chronic back and neck pains. Her right thumb tingled and grew numb. She requested a transfer to another department, and when it didn’t come through, she quit. She walked out the door and went to Florida for some rest and recuperation. Upon her return she applied for unemployment insurance. When the claims investigator asked why she had left her job after eight years, Wood was at a loss to describe the hateful episodes. She was ashamed and embarrassed. Under prodding—the blank on the form needed to be filled in—she answered that her reasons had been personal. Her claim for unemployment benefits was denied.

‘Lin’s students had been talking in her seminar about the unwanted sexual advances they’d encountered on their summer jobs,’ Sauvigne relates. ‘And then Carmita Wood comes in and tells Lin her story. We realized that to a person, every one of us—the women on staff, Carmita, the students—had had an experience like this at some point, you know? And none of us had ever told anyone before. It was one of those click, aha! moments, a profound revelation.’

The women had their issue. Meyer located two feminist lawyers in Syracuse, Susan Horn and Maurie Heins, to take on Carmita Wood’s unemployment insurance appeal. ‘And then…,’ Sauvigne reports, ‘we decided that we also had to hold a speak-out in order to break the silence about this.’

The ‘this’ they were going to break the silence about had no name. ‘Eight of us were sitting in an office of Human Affairs,’ Sauvigne remembers, ‘brainstorming about what we were going to write on the posters for our speak-out. We were referring to it as ‘‘sexual intimidation,’’ ‘‘sexual coercion,’’ ‘‘sexual exploitation on the job.’’ None of those names seemed quite right. We wanted something that embraced a whole range of subtle and unsubtle persistent behaviors. Somebody came up with ‘‘harassment.’’ Sexual harassment! Instantly we agreed. That’s what it was.’


More news on CU Boulder October 20, 2014

Filed under: sexual assault,sexual harassment,women in philosophy — philodaria @ 8:45 pm

An article in the Chronicle, and a reply from Robert Hanna.

H/T DailyNous


Humane philosophy by men

Filed under: gendered conference campaign — annejjacobson @ 6:42 pm

This week sees the launch of the Humane Philosophy Project/Ian Ramsey Centre
2014-15 seminar. Details below. More information can be found at
http://www.humanephilosophy.com or http://www.ianramseycentre.info/

The following seminars will be given on Thursdays at 8:30pm, preceded by
refreshments at 8:15pm, in the Aula of Blackfriars Hall, St Giles, Oxford.
Seminars are free and open to the public. Conveners: Dr Andrew Pinsent;
Mikolaj Sławkowski-Rode and Ralph Weir.

Alister McGrath, Professor of Science and Religion, University of Oxford,
23 Oct: ‘“Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone” (John Donne): The search
for coherence in science and religion’

Daniel Came, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Hull
6 Nov: ‘Nietzsche on art and philosophy’

Anthony Kenny, Former Master of Balliol, President of the British Academy
and the Royal Institute of Philosophy
20 Nov: ‘Humanism vs anthropomorphism’

Alexander Stoddart, Her Majesty’s Sculptor in Ordinary in Scotland
4 Dec: ‘The molten calf and the contemporary art world’


Throwing Like A Girl

Filed under: Uncategorized — Stacey Goguen @ 2:04 am

From Imgur. H/T TrollXChromosomes subreddit.


How do our attitudes get their objects? Added Explanatory Remarks October 19, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — annejjacobson @ 10:09 pm

I think there is a question we can ask about attitudes.  It may be that we can’t answer it without looking at the semantics of general terms, but I’m going to hope we can get some where without doing that.  Right now I’m typing on my iphone; I’ll say more about this hope when I can get to a computer.

To raise the question, let’s consider allergies.  Suppose I say, “I am allergic to anything with gluten in it”.  What makes it true that my allergy has this vast number of objects?  How does my allergy match the reference of the terms?  Well, presumably there is something about me that causes a reaction to gluten.

Can a similar question be raised about statements of bias and bigotry?  Suppose I am very biased against people living in Texas (where I in fact live).  So imagine I say “I hate Texans, all 20 million of them”.  Is there a question/problem about my attitude reaching the 700 or so miles over to El Paso?

It’s false to say the allergic person is not allergic to gluten in El Paso.  Does something make it similarly true that I’m bigoted about the people in El Paso?  If so, what is it?

let me add that there is a problem taking referential semantics into psychology, so my question may not be as light as it might seem.  And what I am wondering is whether our attitudes get their objects through the social groups of which we are members.  Can there be a solitary bigot?  Suppose someone says “I hate hamsters”.  Every single one?

This post is really a call for comments, biblio suggestions, etc. The considerations advanced should find their way into a paper I am revising on individual versus institutional racism. It’s due Nov 1! Though I don’t think that all racism is institutional, I am wondering whether racism should ever be thought of as a private affliction, as it were. One way it might be more toward the social side is that it takes a social setting to make one’s hatred of hamsters extend to all hamsters. For example, if one is a member of a very anti-hamster club that takes action against hamsters, writes hamster hating editorials, etc.

Part of the background comes from a problem in accounts of the semantics of statements. Murphy, in his Big Book on Concepts, claims that while referential semantics has a large role in linguistics, it has no role in psychology. His reason is that speakers do not have access to the (whole) set of, for example, hamsters that form the referent of “hamster.” Though he doesn’t say it, I think he means that the set of all hamsters has no causal role in our use of the concept of hamster, in evidence gathering, etc.

The problem Murphy seems to see is arguably a very important problem for philosophy of mind. Our accounts of the content of the propositions supposedly the objects of our propositional attitudes gives the truth conditions, when successful, of “I hate hamsters,” but they don’t have much to do with one’s use of the concept.* This is very important since most philosophers think propositional attitudes have causal roles as, e.g., reasons for belief, action and emotion. Still less, I think, do the accounts explain how I can hate all hamsters. Perhaps what I really hate are small rodents with long fur when I encounter them, or anything that looks to me like the hamsters neighbors used to have. If so, perhaps I don’t hate hamsters exactly, but rather hate hamster like objects when they feature in my experience. The extension to racial hatreds is pretty clear.

So what is the point of our saying someone is racist when we mean they have an attitude toward all members of a particular race? It could be economy of speech. Or it might be that the attitude the racist has is one of belief; there doesn’t seem to be the same problem of connection with believing the proposition “All hamsters ought to be eradicated,” for example. Or statements of racial hatred might be in the class of statements whose claims can be successfully attributed to the speaker because of their social position/circumstanes, etc. something like a social division of labor writ large.

Or maybe there’s a deep confusion here.

** Machery describes the problem in his book on concepts, as does Ramsey (??) in his book on representation reconsidered.


Genderqueer teaching resources October 18, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 9:43 pm

I came across this fantastic article on xoJane today (‘My Gender is any Everything Bagel’), in which a person describes their experience of being genderqueer and explains what being genderqueer means to them:

I express my gender in a variety of ways that diverge from the norm of having a gender that is solely masculine or solely feminine. I see my gender as wild mixture of masculine and feminine energies. Some people call this gender fluidity. My loving sibling aptly refers to my gender as “an everything bagel.” The term that I use to describe this part of myself is genderqueer.

The article also includes lots of great photos of the author that illustrate the kind of gender nonconformity they’re talking about.

I was particularly excited to find this article because I’ve often struggled to find good introductory-level teaching resources on gender fluidity. Many resources I’m familiar with on genderqueer identities and gender fluidity assume a facility with gender concepts that a lot of students new to academic discussion of gender just won’t have. So articles like this are great to stumble across.

Any other ideas for good, accessible, introductory-level resources on genderqueer identities and gender fluidity? Please share in the comments!


Diversity in emotions, again!

Filed under: academia,emotion — annejjacobson @ 7:53 pm

[note: acute comments coming in make me realize that this post is a bit hastily written. I'll say a bit more in the comments when I can, but let me Draw your attention to the discussion of the bystander in #3.]

There’s a recent post here about how humans vary in the strength of the emotions they field.  A cruel comment may get someone angry for a day or two, but another person may feel beaten up in a way that lasts far longer without being pathological, though it may become a pathological threat to their health and more general ability to function.

The discussion on the last post turned quite quickly to Borderline Personality Syndrome, and contributors covered a lot of ground.  But I think we left out two other important topics.  In addition, there may be connected topics that I am not mentioning, and I hope they’ll get raised in comments if anyone is interested.  So here are the two I am thinking about.

1.  Given that being nasty to someone can cost them a week or more of their lives, and that “strong feelers” are not rare, what in the world is happening with people who are nasty adult bullies in supposedly humanistic fields like philosophy?  I suggested in a certain recent discussion that occupied this and a number of other blogs that maybe some of the bullies are not aware of the power their words can have.  Words are not sticks and stones.  But words can kill by sending someone depressed over the edge.  And no doubt in other ways in our small world.

Another possible source of the nastiness is alexithymia, which is a fascinating but unpleasant disorder.  People with the disorder usually are literally incapable of imagining others’ distress.  It’s been suggested that corporate criminals who ruin the savings accounts of thousands or millions may not be able to imagine fully the effect of what they are doing.  While no diagnostician at all, I watched carefully the descriptions of Ken Lay, of Enron infamy, and he certainly was described as displaying related traits.

I once tried to tell someone prone  sometimes to incredibly nasty comments that she could end up killing someone.  A very difficult thing to say, and I messed up entirely by managing to suggest I was going to die.  That was a real mess to sort out.  So let me say now:  Words can kill.  Probably more often they deeply wound.  The wounds can cause chaos in someone’s life.

2.  A second question concerns the value of being a strong emoter.  If you look at our last discussion, emotional surges were likened to tsunamis.  Of course, some of us like to think that philosophy is driven by reason, but might strong emotional reactions have epistemic importance even in the ‘rational’ fields?  If so, it might mean that some of us arrive at important conclusions in advance of finding the reasons for them.  Does our pedagogy allow this?  If not, should we rethink some of the demands placed on students.

I recently gave a paper to a group of biologists, some of whom encountered the concept of mental content for the first time (which, incidentally, is a concept I doubt in the end makes sense).  Some of the biologists took standard argumentative weapons and launched them at the concept.  But one person was perplexed and very unhappy.  I was reminded of three-hour tutorials with Elizabeth Anscombe, where one could do deep conceptual therapy, which does allow that one may need a lot of time to find reasons for already intuited conclusions such as “There’s something badly mistaken here.”

Anyway, I’d love to know what others think about this.


Upcoming training for the site visit program

Filed under: minorities in philosophy,women in philosophy — annejjacobson @ 7:05 pm

The training for the site visit program will provide you with important information on assessing departmental climate, including legal issue.  Do consider signing up!

A second Site Visit Training Workshop will be held May 31, 2015 immediately following the Diversity in Philosophy Conference to be held at Villanova University, May 28-30, 2015.  To apply to participate in this workshop, please email Peggy DesAutels (peggy.desautels@gmail.com) with a paragraph describing your interest in being trained as a site visitor and an attached CV.  Spaces in the workshop are limited.

Information about the training and the program is available here.  Note the comment from the University of Miami.



The APA Newsletter on Asian American Philosophers and Philosophies

Filed under: minorities in philosophy,Uncategorized — annejjacobson @ 6:32 pm

The APA Newsletter on Asian American Philosophers and Philosophies has a new issue out.   Considering it must have gone to press some time ago, it may seem amazing that the topics are so up-to-the-minute.  However, more realistically, it illustrates that urgent current topics are also long-standing ones.


Here are some of the highlights:

Carole Lee’s article has tables calculating the relative representation of different demographic groups in philosophy and religious studies majors and humanities phd’s in the U.S.  It also discusses the possibility of a gender/race/ethnicity hierarchy in philosophy (in section 2), with Asian Americans being a “model minority.”

Samantha Brennan’s article talks about micro-inequities and Asian Americans.

Molly Paxton’s article distinguishes between structural and intellectual diversity in academic and the implications of this difference for instituting change.


The Future of Life (for Men Only?)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sam B @ 5:03 pm

The Gendered Conference Campaign highlights academic conferences with all male speakers. But of course it’s not just conferences that are gendered in this way. Institutes and research centres are often all male as well.

This weekend I’m attending the Association for Political Theory conference in Madison, Wisconsin. APT has a wonderfully diverse program and it looks about 50/50 in terms of speakers and attendees. It’s also got a very instructive atmosphere and I’d recommend it to political philosophers interested in presenting their work and getting good feedback.

I went to a panel this morning on gender and war. One of the speakers was presenting on gender and robots. Turns out she’s the author of this piece, Robots Don’t Lactate. Fascinating stuff.

But in the course of her talk she mentioned the Future of Life Institute and suggested we google it. I did, of course, and surprise, surprise, it has an all male advisory board. It’s not a small board either. The 13 member board includes Alan Alda and Stephen Hawking and Morgan Freeman but no women.

Here’s its mission:

To catalyze and support research and initiatives for safeguarding life and developing optimistic visions of the future, including positive ways for humanity to steer its own course considering new technologies and challenges.

Odd to think of the future of life, without women, but there you go.



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