Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

Sexism at Science Journal Nature November 27, 2012

A pretty striking statement about the underrepresentation of women from the Editors at Nature. A cause for cautious optimism? Might have been nice if they’d said more about what those ‘unconscious factors’ are, but the resulting heuristic is still a promising one:

We believe that in commissioning articles or in thinking about who is doing interesting or relevant work, for all of the social factors already mentioned, and possibly for psychological reasons too, men most readily come to editorial minds. The September paper speculated about an unconscious assumption that women are less competent than men. A moment’s reflection about past and present female colleagues should lead most researchers to correct any such assumption.

We therefore believe that there is a need for every editor to work through a conscious loop before proceeding with commissioning: to ask themselves, “Who are the five women I could ask?”

Thanks JI!

 

Books and bookmen (mostly) February 11, 2011

Filed under: bias,publishing,Uncategorized — cornsay @ 5:06 pm
Tags: , ,

Here’s an article from Salon by Laura Miller about the “literature gender gap”, and I don’t quite know what to make of it. The standfirst is pretty blunt: “women are under-represented in literary publishing because men aren’t interested in what they have to say”. Really?

There are some data in the article, and some speculation. Here are the data, which are partly derived from what Ruth Franklin says here in the New Republic:

  1. In literary publications, the majority of contributions are by men;
  2. In literary publications, the majority of reviews are by men;
  3. In literary publications, the majority of books reviewed are by men;
  4. The majority of books published are by men;
  5. Women read and buy far more books than men.

Now, (1) and (2) are depressing but familiar findings, mentioned at the beginning but not really addressed in the rest of the Miller article. (4) is her main focus. It is cited as a reasonable explanation of (3), and the question then is, why does (4) happen when (5) is the case? Wouldn’t one expect women to want to read books by women, and thus, wouldn’t one expect the book trade to publish at least as many books by women as by men?

Using a mixture of anecdotal and survey evidence, Miller then says that women in fact tend to read books by men and women more or less equally, while men tend to read far more books by men than by women. Thus, a publisher can be reasonably sure of selling books by men to both men and women, but a book by a woman is more of a gamble, since only half the potential market is at all likely to buy it. So publishers, being risk-averse, mostly publish books by men. Therefore, the problem — the reason why publishers mostly publish books by men — is that men are not interested in what women have to say.

There is something fishy about this argument, I’m sure. But what, exactly? If, for example, women buy far more books than men, why does publishing a book by a woman represent a significantly higher risk? That seems rather weak reasoning.

Most speculatively, I wonder if there’s a difference between two claims: men are not interested in what women say (publish), and men are not interested in what women have to say (would like to publish). Based entirely on my own reading of novels and reviews of them, it would seem that women tend to publish more in the way of realist, domestic novels, in which truths of modern life are revealed indirectly by the study of some set of protagonists. Men do publish some of these, but are far more likely to publish Big Novels with Big Ideas and all sorts of stylistic, formal, technical innovations (I’m talking, by the way, about literary fiction, in some loose sense that contrasts with commercial fiction and genre fiction — and I’m assuming that the points I’m making would apply also to literary non-fiction and poetry).

That’s all very generalised, of course, but bear with me. It may be the case that men are more likely to read big abstract novels, and to not much care for the domestic stuff; and that the audience for the domestic stuff is thus mostly women. Again, pure anecdote seems to support this; women I know read both sorts of novel, men tend to just or mostly read the abstract stuff. There is a lot to be said about why these differences in taste emerge, and I won’t go into that here. The point I was wondering about is this: do women publish more domestic novels because they want to, or because they are encouraged to? That is, are men not interested in what women have to say, or what they do say? Because it seems to me quite unlikely that there are far fewer women than men who are able and keen to write big, abstract, technically clever books. So, in slight contrast with the conclusion that Miller draws, I would be tempted to say that men are uninterested in what women do say, but not in what they have to say.

This is about male readers, obviously. The remaining question is why women are perhaps discouraged from writing the kind of stuff men might like to read. Here, perhaps, we might in fact end up blaming men’s bias. As Franklin mentions in the New Republic, the first step to a book contract is often publication of something short in a journal of some sort; and women write just one third of such publications; and the ‘gatekeepers’ tend to be men. So it could be that the blame should be apportioned, not so much to the curious male reader browsing in the bookshop, but more to the men at journals, and publishing houses, who select which women get to the bookshop, and who perhaps tend to favour more stereotypically feminine subject matter from women writers. Perhaps these places should adopt an anonymous review system? Or do they already do that?

None of this seems quite satisfactory, though. As Miller says, the problem seems to be peculiarly entrenched. I suspect that what we have is a complex pattern of biases and imbalances that reinforce mutually, to the extent that it’s hard to single out one group, or one bias, and say that that is the cause of literary gender gaps. But I’d be interested in what other people think. Can we blame, for example, publishers, or readers? Do men really, actually, ignore books simply on the basis of the author’s name? Is any of the speculation about tastes and so on that I’ve indulged in accurate?

(Thanks, M and S!)

 

Gender Bias in Theater? June 24, 2009

Filed under: bias,gender,the arts — jj @ 6:03 pm
Tags: , , ,

The NY Times reports on a year long study conducted by a Princeton economics student, Emily Glassberg Sands, whose work has been vetted by a number of excellent economists.  The study looked at the fact that many more plays produced are written by men than by women.  These are the conclusions reached:

1.  There are many more men than women playwrights and the men are more prolific.  Given that, men’s and women’s plays are produced at the same rate.

2.  A study, which sent a play to theater directors and literary managers around the country with the name variously a male or female one, indicated that men judge men and women equally, but women are more likely to favor the male writer.

3.  Women’s plays, when produced, are commercially significantly more successful, but they do not get any longer run time than the less successful men’s plays.  (A case of there being higher standards for woman to get treatment equal to a man.)

4.  “Plays that feature women — which are more commonly written by women — are also less likely to be produced”.  (One person’s quoted reaction said that the female characters were less likable; it was not possible to tell if this was supported by the research or an interpretation of it.)

Let me start off the comments.

I have heard the equivalent of 1 holds for the sciences; I am not sure about other fields, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is true in most or all male  dominated fields.  The data in this case was drawn from a directory that depends  on self-reporting, so part of the difference could start with what is reported.  One reader comments that women are still socialized to believe that they will be wives and mothers in a way that puts other things second.  I am inclined to think rate of productivity may be influenced by having a sense of being a part of the community, having expectations that what one writes will be taken seriously, and so on.

2 is certainly unwelcome, but a reminder that women are equally likely to have implicit biases; if we simply assume we  are more fair, we may well be less fair.

Now, please, do join in and tell us what you think!

 

Gosh, what do you think he’s suggesting about Arabs? October 11, 2008

Filed under: politics — Jender @ 4:04 pm
Tags: , , ,

People are remarking on the fact that McCain has recently defended Obama against some of his supporters’ accusations at rallies: there’s been so much hatred expressed, that surely it’s good to start speaking out against it. Surely…. Here’s the defense:

A woman at the town hall asks softly: “I’ve heard that Sen. Obama is an
Arab.”

McCain quickly cuts the woman off.

“No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man and citizen,” McCain says. “He’s
not. Thank you.”

Oh yeah, that’s a big improvement. No hating there. Nope.

 

Words and Able-ism August 5, 2008

Filed under: bias,disability,language — Jender @ 3:07 pm
Tags: , , ,

A post on Feministe led me (via Takenji) to this very informative post arguing that certain terms commonly used in a negative way on political blogs are offensive:

You know, when you throw around words about mental illness, like crazy, psycho or psychotic, frootbat, and nutjob, you’re mocking disability. You’re spitting in the face of everyone who suffers from a mental illness. You’re equating horrible behavior with mental illness. Stop it.

(Another excellent post is here, from Wheelchair Dancer.) This reminded me of Shelley’s argument that terms like ‘double-blind’ are offensive (see the comments here). But it also reminded me of one of the things I promised to discuss eventually– a talk at the recent SWIP conference by Jackie Leach Scully. Part of Scully’s discussion was about the many metaphors based on bodily abilities. Her focus was on the different ways that these metaphors may be understood by people whose bodies work in different ways. Scully, for example, is profoundly deaf, and reported that she spent many years misunderstanding the phrase “I hear what you’re saying”. It’s meant to convey a fairly deep level of understanding, but for Scully, hearing is about piecing something together very uncertainly from fragmentary clues– leading to a very different understanding of the metaphor. She listed many other such metaphors: “stand on your own two feet”; “stable”, and so on, noting each time how the metaphor might be understood by people with various different sorts of bodies. I thought of both the very widespread feminist discussion of ‘silencing’. Interestingly, Scully explicitly did not want to argue that all metaphors like these were offensive, despite the fact that they present being able to stand and being stable as positive, and being unable to speak audibly as negative (and equivalent to being unable to communicate). Instead, her take was that the experience of one’s own body is so fundamental that basing metaphors on it is inevitable; but that we should be aware of the potential for miscommunication when we do this. It’s perfectly compatible with this thought, of course, to find some particular such metaphors offensive, and I imagine that she does, though this wasn’t her focus. How to distinguish between the offensive and non-offensive metaphors would then become an important issue. (Some who I’ve discussed this with suggest that it’s easy: Just pay attention to what disabled people say on the topic. But since disabled people– like members of all other groups!– disagree with each other, there’s no such easy short-cut.)

You may well react to this– as I confess that I did, initially– by getting defensive insisting there’s no malicious intent behind use of these terms and that trying to expunge them is simply too much to ask. However, that’s how opponents of feminist linguistic reforms feel about, for example, the supposedly gender neutral ‘he’ or the insistence on classifying women as ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’. So I think it’s very much worth taking these worries seriously.

What do you think? (A note: for some reason, discussions of this topic on other blogs have shown a particular tendency to get heated. So please make an extra effort to observe our standard BE NICE rule.)

 

Italy and Roma July 24, 2008

Filed under: bias,human rights,race — Jender @ 9:24 am
Tags: , ,

Probably unbeknownst to most Americans, one of the most discriminated-against groups in Europe is the Roma. And Italy has become, especially recently, an especially bad place to be Roma. Berlusconi has recently launched a campaign to fingerprint all of Italy’s Roma population (and nobody else). But what seems to finally be waking people up to how bad things are is what happened on a beach in Naples. According to reports (for some questionning of them, see the links here), four Roma sisters went swimming despite lack of knowledge of how to swim. Two of them drowned. Many people failed to even try to help. Their bodies were laid on the beach. Then everybody got back to sunbathing– not allowing a couple corpses on the beach to interfere with their holiday. Photos were taken of holiday-makers sunning themselves by the bodies. I’m not posting them here, as I feel that might be disrespectful– but they serve to show the extent to which the Roma have been dehumanised in the minds of many Italians (and others). I’m so very depressed by this.

 

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,574 other followers