Critical Thinking Exercise

A tricky but important thing to teach critical thinking students is how to distinguish illegitimate ad hominem attacks from legitimate questions about a source of information. There’s a nice example in this article on Katie Roiphe.  Roiphe wrote a book back in the 1990s arguing that feminist claims about date rape were overblown and that feminism was monolithically anti-sex. A lot of it took the form of personal anecdotes well-summed-up by Rebecca Traister as “I’m too sexy for this movement”. She supported her claim that rape statistics were overblown by noting that none of her friends ever told her they’d been raped. Katha Pollit, in a review, asked, “if Katie Roiphe was your friend, would you tell her if you were raped?” Roiphe now says that she found this an extremely personal and inappropriate attack. Could be a nice exercise to get students to explain why in this case, but not in most, it is legitimate to talk about the nature of an author’s friendships. Of course, there’s also the weakness of anecdotal evidence to be discussed. Lots of good stuff here that could bring politically interesting material into critical thinking courses! On an interesting side note, I was pleased to read that Roiphe’s book is apparently responsible for making lots of young women into active feminists– they got angry and decided they wanted to do something.

Women-Friendly Philosophy Departments

SWIP UK has just announced the results of its first effort to recognise women-friendly philosophy departments. The headline news is the departments being recognised for their good work (alphabetical order):

Philosophy Sub-Group, Integrative Studies Department, Arizona State University West

Department of Philosophy, Hull University

Department of Philsophy, Michigan State University

Department of Philosophy, Sheffield University

Department of Philosophy, Sussex University.

For more information about the recognition, and for ideas on ways to make departments more women-friendly, visit the website.

Lesbian Gangs With Pink Pistols!

So goes the latest gay panic.  According to Fox News, the US is being over-run by lesbian gangs with pink glocks, who are indoctrinating and assaulting our children.  

   Needless to say, the evidence for this story is rather poor.  Amanda at Pandagon does a nice job, however, of showing its broader significance.  A story hyping and spreading fear of lesbian violence not only helps to shore up homophobia;  it also helps to make it look like there’s a level playing field out there– sure, there’s violence against women and gay people.  But look, gay women are violent too!  As she notes, it also helps to make the right-wing case that hate crime legislation for gay people is special, undeserved protection. (Why should gay people get “extra” protection against straight violence when the whole country is being terrorised by lesbian gangs– WITH PINK PISTOLS?!) How long, one wonders, before the lesbians start carrying tampon stun guns?

Annoying, yet interesting

Here’s what I was planning to write about: last night, I picked up the Guardian Weekend magazine (actual paper), and happened across an interview with Maggie Gyllenhaal.  I was floored by the accompanying photo– the “style icon” star was wearing NO makeup.  There were blemishes, and wrinkles!  It was a beautiful photo of a real woman, a rare sight.  So today I went to the web to share that photo with you.  Found the same article.  But no such luck with the photo.  The web version has a much duller, fully made-up standard celeb shot.  Sigh.  

Another False Stereotype?

Men “no less chatty” than women, says study. The result was obtained by bugging (presumably with permission!) the mobile phones of university students over a few days. So one might wonder whether it generalizes to other groups, or to non-phone-based conversation. Still, “women talk on the phone more” is a pretty widespread view, and it’s nice to have some concrete data that speak to it. Thanks to L for passing this one on to me!

Reproductive Justice

Good brief discussion here of the Reproductive Justice movement, which seeks to move beyond just issues of reproductive choice. A quote from Maria Nakae, Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice:

By placing our reproductive health and rights within a social justice framework, the Reproductive Justice Movement offers an authentic way for us to understand how reproductive oppression – the control and exploitation of our bodies, sexuality, and reproduction – is a result of intersections of multiple oppressions based on race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, age and immigration status, and is inherently connected to the struggle for social justice and human rights.

This ties in well with recent work by Laurie Shrage, seeking to reposition discussions of reproductive rights in a justice framework. For more on reproductive justice, see Sister Song and Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice.

Feminism: NOT capitalism with tits, apparently.

Two very different perspectives on the issue of women in British politics, from Sarah Sands and response from Zoe Williams.

Sands writes that the negative response of the right to Harman taking on the deputy role is not a matter of misogyny. Indeed, the Conservative party are champion of feminism – a female prime minister testifying to this.  Thatcher’s feminism, she writes, more appealing than Harman’s ‘nanny state’.

Williams response (highlights  of):

1) Thatcher’s individualism didn’t help feminism.

2) The welfare of women generally cannot be mapped by looking at the trajectories of particular women in Parliament.

3) The ‘top trumps’ trend of seeing which party is the most feminist by counting the women in each misses the point. Rather, politicians and media alike should ‘[l]ook instead at the conditions keeping women out of politics, which are the same as those keeping women at the bottom of any heap. The pay gap, the carer gap, the maternity drain, all the ossified iniquities that fence women into hardship.’

Her Tone

This morning’s Wrap (the Guardian newspaper’s filter of news as it is covered by various papers) presented a piece about how the papers are covering Jacqui Smith’s management of the string of car bomb attacks in London and Glasgow. Jacqui Smith is our first female home secretary, and has been recieving (mostly) solid performance reviews thus far:

Writing in the Telegraph, Rachel Sylvester says: “Ms Smith’s
> reassuring manner could not be more different to the
> testosterone-charged attitude of her predecessor, John Reid. Instead
> of stoking up public fears, she has sounded rational … She did not
> talk about a ‘war on terror’, send tanks to Heathrow or promise a
> 10-point plan.”
> In similar vein, Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail says: “She did no
> tweaking of the neck or glowering or grinding of teeth, as Mr Reid
> almost undoubtedly would have done.” He even tips her as the next
> Labour leader.
> But Simon Hoggart in the Guardian isn’t quite so kind. He says: “Her
> tone was of a Women’s Institute secretary explaining the arrangements
> for a the fete in the event of rain.”
> * Simon Hoggart (
>,,2117183,00.html )

I found it difficult to believe that the Guardian would print something as blatantly sexist as Simon Hoggart’s comments, so I linked to his article (see above) to see if he was quoted out of context. It turns out that he was. Mr. Hoggart believes that his characterization of Ms. Smith’s competence is not “a cavil: it is a sensible way of proceeding. We have a problem. Let us try to solve it without leaping around like panicky rabbits in a sack.” So he intended the “Women’s Institute” comments as a compliment. What Mr. Hoggart does not explain is why a sensible, capable, rational woman who has just taken up a prominent leadership position in our government should be characterized as a “Women’s Institute secretary” and how the handling of domestic and international terrorism should be analogous to “a fete in the event of rain”.

This is not by way of denigrating the Women’s Institute… The analogy between the organization of a fete and the organization of high levels of gov’t made me uncomfortable. What would Mr. Hoggart have said if the home secretary were a man? Ought we to see strength in the transfer of traditionally female abilities to a traditionally male role? (Then again, I don’t know anything about Ms. Smith’s extra-governmental abilities, gendered or not.)

First time sex: contraception use and attitudes

Interesting report here on recent statistics (from a Durex survey) about safe first-time sex.  The numbers are not great! And interestingly, it appears that those in older age groups are less likely to use contraception. It is suggested that this statistic indicates the success of safe sex messages targeted at teenagers.

Further interesting claims in the report:

‘Almost half of women also regret their first sexual experience, compared with 32% of men, according to the survey’.

This put me in mind of the distinction drawn by Rebecca Whisnant between consensual and wanted sex…(her claim concerning the harm that consented but unwanted sex can bring, in particular wrt prostitution). Regret an indication of not really wanting it, even if consented to?

Further interesting claim, although not quite clear:

‘The study indicated women were 25% more likely than men to take precautions but are more likely to feel pressured – with 28% saying they felt under pressure, compared with 15% of men.’

Pressured to: take precautions, not take precautions, have sex? Unclear. But feeling pressured in any of these ways surely problematic (clearly, some more than others. But even wrt the first, one would hope for motives other than feeling pressured into using contraception).

In anycase, my attempts to find material that would clarify the nature of the claim was futile. But I did come across this report here, the durex 2005 global sex survey. Very interesting indeed.