Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

The NY Times has a useful, if sometimes inaccurate, article on an apparent disparity between men and women’s happiness; from the early seventies, men are getting happier and women are getting unhappier.  Or so their  reports of the happiness seem to indicate.

The Times seems to think that the root cause is that women have a much longer to-do list,while men are working less and relaxing more.   As contributions to the negative effects on women, it cites the pressure to be “a hottie” in addition to everything else, the fact that men aren’t their share of home work, and the failure of government to develop appropriate supportive programs.

One thing that makes the article useful is that it contains links to the original research reports (pdf files) here and here, which tell us that the results apply to Eurporean countries also.  And that African Americans are an exception; both men and women’s reports of happiness have gone up.  The Times’ hypothesis that government policies are playing a role would have, then, to be evaluated on a more global scale. 

The researchers are also better at pointing out that the basic data comes from reports of happiness.  What we do know is that women reported themselves as happier in the early seventies than they do now.  As one of the researchers points out, that could be due to self-deception in the past. 

Another problem is one shared with other work in the area called “happiness studies.”  Though researchers distinguish between momentary pleasure and longer term feelings, the conception of happiness employed seems to be tied to feeling.  In a discussion several years ago, Daniel Gilbert, a prominent happiness theorist, maintained the focus on feeling was needed because psychologists wanted a quantitative notion.  But, as Philippa Foot and the cadre of virtue theorists following in her footsteps have pointed out to class after class, feeling good about things is not enough to secure the important goal of a good life, and it may even be incompatible.  Thus someone easily deceived may remain ignorant of a partner’s betrayals and so may still feel good, but nonetheles fail to have the love and respect one would hope a good life contains.  Relatedly, one might think that the rewards of extended education  and a career, for example, do not consist in feeling better than those who didn’t have the opportunity for either.

Hence, one might reject the suggestion that the data show the women’s movement has been bad for women.  But that does not mean we should disregard the data.  At the very least, we should seek to understand why men are reporting happiness that women are not.  Is it the greater pressures on women?    If the data were just for the United States, one might suppose there could be factors that weigh more heavily one women than on men, such as health care for children.  Perhaps there are other social factors more generally present in Western countries that affect women more negatively, as the perhaps illusory values of a consumer society spread.  For example, one of the studies points out that women spend less time on friends and social groups than we used to.  Friends and social networks have often been cited in happiness studies as important factors in one’s reports of happiness.

When I last checked there nearly 700 comments on the NY Times article.   You can probably guess what they say.

Many thanks to Calypso for sending us the NYT article!

Black Women in Philosophy, and forthcoming conference

See here for details of the forthcoming Inaugural Conference of the Collegium of Black Women Philosophers (Oct 19-20th, Vanderbilt University).Recently written about in The Chronicle (here, but subscription only, I’m afraid. I’ll quote, for non-subscribers, specifics that I refer to),  Professor Kathryn Gines (who set up CBWP) notes that this offers a rare opportunity for black women philosophers to work in context that does not consist of, as she puts it ‘a sea of graying, white males’:  ‘if you’re a black women, you cannot identify with the majority of the people in the profession’.Whilst much has been written about the number and status of women in philosophy (see e.g. here, here, here), but when one comes to think of the number of non-white women in philosophy, the numbers are, well, appalingly small: in the US, ‘fewer than 30 black women are known to hold full-time jobs in the discipline’.  The caveat ‘are known’ is needed here, because, there  is so little data:

  • ‘The American Philosophical Association does not even keep  even keep up-to-date figures on how many of North America’s approximately 10,000 philosophers are women or minority group members’

Note, though, that what we’d want to know additionally is how many philosophers are women AND minority group members: the intersection of the two (in philosphy) minorities brings the amplification of problems that have been discussed with repsect to women in philosophy, namely, solo status. Haslanger writes, that for black women philosophers, ‘their scarcity means that [they] are always solo in every context.’The impact of this solo status is manifest in the report of Professor Jaqueline Scott, (Loyola University Chicago) who is quoted:

  • ‘I spend a lot of time being the only women and the only black person … Every once in a while it hits me, and I wonder what I’m doing here’

Indeed, the kinds of problems that have been recently discussed – homogeneity of shortlists, deparment members often not noting this; schemas that favour, in hiring, publishing, at teaching evaluations, the majority (white males); the problems of how to respond to this – will, surely, all arise – but perhaps qualitative data should also be gathered; it would be a mistake to suppose that white women’s experiences of being a minority group in the profession can straightfowardly generalise to black women’s experiences, across all cases (such as, noted above, the fact that being a ‘double minority in the field’ ensures that black women are solo in pretty much every context) (see Spelman 1988 on the problems of essentialism in feminist theory).Some, though, are critical of the seeming ‘separatism’ of such a conference – Professor Carol Swain, also of Vanderbilt worries about ‘encouraging black people to marginalise themselves’ and, it is written, ‘doesn’t believe that ‘self-segregation’  is in any scholar’s best interest.But others, such as Professor Allen, endorse what she describes as an ‘opportunity to sit down with 20 African-American philosophers to figure out our place in the discipline and talk about issues that are on our minds’.On a more positive note, though, The Chronicle also reports that concerted efforts to raise the small number of black women philosophers are having a significant effect:

  • ‘The philosophy department [at the University of Memphis] has made recruiting black women a top priority. Faculty members and graduate students regularly visit historically black colleges to try to interest undergraduates early on. Since 2003 the department has turned out five black female Ph.D.’s, and seven more are making their way through the program.’

 In my online forays, I couldn’t find any stats for the number of non-white women philosophers in UK departments. Any help – has any such data been gathered?  (Thanks, Sally, for passing this one on!)

Knowledge and Emotions

Feminist philosophers have been played an important role in the now-quite-popular rejection of the idea that emotions are only obstacles to reason and knowledge-seeking.  Here’s a nice example of emotions helping someone to arrive at moral knowledge– specifically the knowledge that gay relationships and people deserve the same respect as straight ones. The Republican mayor of San Diego recently reversed his opposition to same sex marriage, citing knowledge gained from his relationship with his lesbian daughter and her partner: 

He fought back tears as he said that he wanted his adult daughter, Lisa, and other gay people he knows to have their relationships protected equally under state laws. His daughter was not at the news conference.“In the end, I could not look any of them in the face and tell them that their relationships – their very lives – were any less meaningful than the marriage that I share with my wife, Rana,” Sanders said.

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Not so silent

From Asharq Alawsat:

Saudi Religious Police Attacked by Girls

By Sultan al-Kholaif

Dammam, Asharq Al-Awsat- Members of Khobar’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice were the victims of an attack by two Saudi females, Asharq Al-Awsat can reveal.
According to the head of the commission in Khobar, two girls pepper sprayed members of the commission after they had tried to offer them advice.

Head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in the Eastern province Dr. Mohamed bin Marshood al-Marshood, told Asharq Al Awsat that two of the Commission’s employees were verbally insulted and attacked by two inappropriately-dressed females, in the old market in Prince Bandar street, an area usually crowded with shoppers during the month of Ramadan.

According to Dr. Al-Marshood, the two commission members approached the girls in order to “politely” advise and guide them regarding their inappropriate clothing.

Consequently, the two girls started verbally abusing the commission members, which then lead to one of the girls pepper-spraying them in the face as the other girl filmed the incident on her mobile phone, while continuing to hurl insults at them.

The Eastern Province’s head of the commission also revealed that with the help of the police his two employees were able to control the situation.

The two females were then escorted to the police station where they apologized for the attack, were cautioned and then released.

Great to see women fighting back this way, even in extremely repressive circumstances. And also good, if true, that they were only cautioned and released. But I must admit that surprises me. Anyone out there who knows more than I do? Is it likely to be true that they were just cautioned and released? If so, does this mean some new leniency? Or is it old leniency that I was just unaware of?

Thanks, Mr Jender, for this one.

Are feminists supposed to be perfect?


And thanks to Amanda Marcotte for reminding us of this.  Katha Pollitt’s new book includes an essay on the fear of driving.  Would you believe it? 

Deborah Soloman’s challenge to Pollitt’s admission gets the following response:

Just because you are part of a social-justice movement, which is how I think of feminism, that doesn’t mean you are some brick wall of impermeable stalwartness in every area. Feminism, for me, is not about presenting a facade of perfect strength to the world.

Enough said.

Academia and credibility

Jender’s discussion of Rachel McKinney’s wonderful post on “grey rape” led me to McKinney’s site and a great discussion, with informative links, about underrepresentation in philosophy and engineering. And through those links to important information about women’s publishing in ‘top’ philosophy journals. And then back to Jender.

There’s a surely related phenomenon, and it’s mentioned interestingly enough in Female Science Professor’s Friday post, Training Wheels and Oracles.

One of my more oppressed female colleagues … had some new ideas for the course, but all of her ideas were ignored or dismissed except when one senior [male] faculty member stepped in to support her. Then her ideas were taken more seriously.

I have a young friend who has had a similar experience, except no one has stepped in to support her and, since she’s complained to one of the senior men, she now has a blot on her record which appeared in a report about her. She had not been asked for her side of the situation.

And it continues. I recounted a similar experience in a comment here.

I have often wondered why no one notices that the women are missing, as I did recently when one of my closest colleagues told me about a center director’s meeting. I should have been asked to the meeting, wasn’t, and apparently even a close male friend didn’t notice. Why is no one asking, Where are the women?

Let me invite hypotheses.  They should also account for the following sort of exchange I had many times when discussing hiring minorities:   August Male Academic Person:  We’d hire more minorities but the good ones all get much better offers from top universities.  JJ:  Actually, that is not really true.  Of all the African American PhD chemists graduated over X years from the top fifty departments, only 1 was hired by a top fifty department. (See here for the research on diversity and much more precise statistics.)  August Person:  O, so there aren’t any good ones.

Obviously, the August Person was not himself thoroughly involved in discriminatory practices.

Women have talked about the rampant discrimination for decades.  Why has it been ignored?

Female Science Professor again:

In fact, I do ‘see’ sexism quite frequently; that is true. When you have been told directly and/or indirectly nearly every day for more than 20 years of a career as a female science professor that you are not as serious, intelligent, mature, interesting, technically skilled, quantitative, creative, or professional as men with equal or lesser talents, you do start to get the impression that sexism is pervasive.