Why Don’t They Call The Police?

Standpoint theorists argue that certain standpoints in society are more conducive than others to (at least) certain kinds of knowledge; and that some standpoints will make it very hard to obtain certain sorts of knowledge.  Generally, the focus is on the way that less privileged people have access to knowledge that more privileged people find it incredibly difficult to get.  This is all extremely abstract, so concrete illustrations are useful.Several months ago, in the Dunbar Village projects, in Florida, a woman was raped by 10 men and forced to perform oral sex on her son, and both were temporarily blinded with bleach, over the course of 3 hours.  The walls were paper thin. The question was asked over and over:  why didn’t anyone call the police?   How could anyone be so morally corrupt that they just don’t care? But this question is based on the presupposition that the only reason for not calling the police is a lack of concern.  Here are some thoughts that undermine this, and that are very unlikely to occur to those of us who haven’t been black and extremely poor.

Do you really think that calling would have done anything when people call for help all the time, and it takes police and ER crews some times up to two or three hours to show up if they show up at all? A young boy here in detroit called 911 because his mother was dying and the 911 receptionist hung up on him. Hung up on him even when his gasping and wheezing mother got on the phone and pleaded for help. Why? because he was from the ghetto part of town and the 911 folks have a policy that includes not having to take the calls from that part of town seriously. 

  • Today I was listening to NPR’s Justice Talking, which was doing a program on New Orleans. They interviewed Ursula Price, from Safe Streets/Strong Communities. She told the story of a black mother of three who called the police because of domestic violence taking place next door to her. The police came, but instead of doing anything about the domestic violence they arrested her for a five-year-old traffic violation and put her in jail.
  • Just a few days ago we learned that the black woman who had just been imprisoned, beaten, and raped for a week by had been arrested for writing bad checks.  Her name came to the police’s attention through the horrific crime of which she was the victim, so they arrested her.

It seems completely and utterly baffling to those of us who are white and reasonably well-off that those who are poor and black might fail to call the police when there are crimes taking place. But if we listen to what those from these communities say, we learn that there are lots of very good reasons that a poor black person might not call the police.  What seems completely incomprehensible from one standpoint is readily understandable from another.  The fact that we can learn from each other this way is partly responsible for the fact that a lot of standpoint theory has mutated recently into a call for diversity and dialogue in knowledge-seeking.

  • And on a less intellectual note:  what appalling police priorities. 

The Okin-Young Award

Something good to come out of the sad losses feminist political theory has recently suffered. 

Announcing the Okin-Young Award in Feminist Political TheoryThe Women and Politics and Foundations of Political Theory sections ofthe American Political Science Association and the Women’s Caucus forPolitical Science announce the Okin-Young Award in Feminist Political Theory. The award commemorates the scholarly, mentoring, and professional contributions of Susan Moller Okin and Iris Marion Young to the development of the field of feminist political theory. This annual award recognizes the best paper on feminist political theory published in an English language academic journal during the previous calendaryear. Papers will be considered by self-nomination or nomination by other individuals. The award carries a cash award of $600. To be eligible, the article must have been published in 2007.The deadline for submissions is February 15, 2008. To be considered for the award, one copy of the article should be sent to each member of theaward committee by mail or electronically as a PDF attachment. 

  •  Award committee chair:Professor Nancy J. Hirschmann, Department of Political Science, The University of Pennsylvania, Stiteler Hall,  Philadelphia, PA 19104njh@sas.upenn.edu
  • Professor Kathy Ferguson, Department of Political Science, University of Hawai’i, 640 Saunders Hall, 2424 Maile Way, Honolulu, HI 96822, kferguso@hawaii.edu
  • Professor Joanna Vecchiarelli Scott, Eastern Michigan University, 1525 Harding Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48104, joanna.v.scott@gmail.com

If Only I’d Known

Now that the Carnival’s over, I’m of course finding things I wish I could have put in it!

Top on that list is a really impressive brand new blog that I’d like to have told you about, Girl Sailor. It’s written by a female ensign on active duty in the US Navy.  Only 2 posts so far, but both excellent.  There’s one here about ‘coming out’ as a feminist in the navy, after an evangelical upbringing; and another here about why, despite his important role in giving Democrats the Senate, feminists should really not be so keen on Jim Webb (former Navy Secretary).

Next on the list is one that actually couldn’t have been in the Carnival, since it’s a response to the Carnival! Rachel McKinney has written an excellent post on ‘gray rape’, that raises lots of interesting epistemological and language-related issues.

Now I shall attempt to get myself out of that Carnival frame of mind and resume more normal service.

The Jena Six and the blogosphere

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The story: Racial injustice and a disconnect in the liberal/left-wing blogsphere:

Six black youths in Jena, Lousianna, were charged with attempted murder after a school yard brawl which left a white student unconscious for three hours. The fight is widely considered a manifestation of racial tensions that were put on the boiling point by a scene earlier last fall when nooses – a symbol of lynching – were placed on a branch of a tree at a favorite meeting point for whites. The day before a young black student had sat under it. The white students have been left uncharged.

Yesterday in Jena a crowd of thousands called for a stop to racial inequality in the US justice system, a scene reported in the US (here, for example), Great Britain (here) and surely elsewhere. MS covered it, as does Pam Spaulding at Pandagon. Spaulding notes that the left-wing blogsphere have largely gone silent about this important story.The Pandagon post links to “Why the blogosphere white-out of Jena 6?” at Daily Kos, one of the most visible left blogs.  The contents of that ‘diary’ (as they are called at DKos), which describes the silence on this major event in the blogsphere, and the reactions to that, seem to me to illustrate the phenomenon of implicit bias.  As do many of the reactions Spaulding records in her updates. However it is measured, it can be clearly manifested. 

One can also glimpse what, in my experience, is at work in much of the discrimination women face today. It comes not from people who are consciously biased, but from those who are certain that they are not.

(The picture is from Friends of Justice, which also has recommendations about how to help the Jena 6.)

Tonka: Built For Boyhood


Susan Iverson wrote in to wmst-l about a flier she received from Tonka, whose tagline is “Built for Boyhood”. She writes:

A full page ad promoted that these toys were “built for the 3 stages of boyhood: smashing, crashing, and bashing”. The insert ad is framed around “you know you’re the mom of a boy when…” and it proceeds to describe boys as superheos, detached from peers, less verbal than girls, less emotionally expressive (“let him express his feelings his way”).

She goes on:

My daughter (age 5) looked at the pictures of the toys trucks and pointed to two items she’d like to have. As she continued to look at the insert, she asked “why are all the pictures of boys?” I shared with her that Tonka markets its toys for boys. She looked at me with confusion and said “well maybe if you tell them [tonka] that I am a boy, they’d let you get me the toys”… Yesterday she was playing with her Little People toys and asked “mom, are these toys only for boys too?” I assured her they were for any children.

The good news is that Iverson is exactly right how Fisher Price advertises its Little People stuff– not all toy companies are quite as into traditional gender roles as Tonka, apparently. After (completely by chance) finding a “digger with girl builder” for my son on ebay, I went looking for other examples. Fisher Price does show girls playing with just the sort of stuff Tonka sells for boys only.


Of course, like all these companies, progress is limited. The toys at Fisher Prince are still divided into boys’ and girls’ and gender-stereotyping is, as always, rampant. (Thanks, Mr Jender, for your technical assistance.)

Breastfeeding Lawsuit Update

In the Carnival posted yesterday, I mentioned that a woman was suing to be allowed adequate time to pump breast milk during her medical boards. She lost her suit yesterday, with the judge claiming that she could simply postpone the test until after she was done breastfeeding, and noting that she had been offered such helpful accommodations as the chance to pump in a separate room *while* taking the test. The AP article notes that “federal anti-discrimination laws do not protect nursing mothers. The Breastfeeding Promotion Act that is pending in Congress would protect women from being fired or punished for pumping milk or nursing.” It’s not clear to me whether this act would get the woman the breaks she needs. Lovely, isn’t it, that the same medical establishment that has compared not breastfeeding to riding a mechanical bull while pregnant is completely unwilling to make it possible for women to keep up their breastfeeding? And aren’t you proud to have a judiciary that is so respectful of mothers’ needs? (Thanks, Jender-Parents!)

Carnival of Feminists No. 45

First off I just want to say what a huge amount of great feminist writing there is out there, and how tough it’s been to put this together.   There’s just too much important stuff out there,  and I feel really overwhelmed. I’ve organized the Carnival a little artificially into categories, just to make it easier to take it all in (hopefully).  In particular, the fact that there is an “Analysis” header shouldn’t be taken to suggest that other items lack analysis.  It’s just that these didn’t fit the other categories, really! So, enough faffing, here we go…..

Current Events

  1. Diary of an Anxious Black Woman chronicles recent horrors, concluding with the horrific rape and torture of a black woman by six whites, and predicting that somehow this woman will end up blamed and that her experience will be somehow trivialised.  Just days later, the predictions are borne out as theDiary and Shakesville discuss.   Stunning. And yet not.
  2. Inside Iran reports that photos of the Iranian Women’s Volleyball Team are circulating widely, and muses on why this might be.
  3. Miss Teen S. Carolina’s unfortunate interview: Black Looks notes that “this is how American nationalism and hegemony works; she can’t even identify the US on a map or even coherently answer a question about how Americans are geographically challenged, and yet somehow we (she) can help others because we think we are superior.” Packaging Girlhood discusses the interview in light of a study on how swimsuits affect math skills.
  4. Larry Craig: some thought-provoking ruminations on outing from No Cookies For Me. The truth is that there’s almost nothing I adore more than a juicy Republican sex scandal. (This may be because I am a bad person and a rabid partisan, but there it is.) But Roy is right that there are some real concerns about what the effect of such outings is: there is indeed a worrying possibility that they only heighten the sense that gay sex is wrong.
  5. Red Jenny writes about the impressive story of Ugandan women starting their own cooperative banks. 
  6. Unapologetically Female writes on the recent Blog-Against-the-Telethon, and on how focusing on finding cures is like fighting sexism by trying to make women into men.
  7. Women’s eNews brings us the great news that efforts to get more women and more Maya (both men and women) to the polls in Guatemala seem to be succeeding.
  8. Knowledge and Experience reports on a woman who is suing to be allowed adequate break time and privacy for breast-pumping while taking her 9-hour medical boards.
  9. Menstrual Poetry brings us the horrific story of a pastor getting a light sentence for incest because he was just teaching his daughters how to be good wives.
  10. Goddess Musings, the blog of a feminist sports fan, discusses a pathetic commercial effort to woo women who love sports.
  11. From Un-Cool: A woman who has recovered from her Borderline Personality Disorder is apparently going to have her baby snatched away within minutes of its birth for fear that she may abuse it.

Less Current Events That Need to Be Remembered

  1. From Beautiful, Also, Are the Souls of My Black Sisters, an update on the apparent murder of PFC Lavena Johnson, which the army tried to pass off as a suicide.
  2. From What About Our Daughters?, some updates on the horrific Dunbar Village rape case in which a woman was raped by 10 men for hours and forced to preform oral sex on her own son, and on the continuing lack of proper responses to this case.
  3. A Woman’s Ecdysis suggests that there isn’t enough feminist writing about 9/11, at least not for free.
  4. In a Strange Land tells us that on this day, 19 September, in 1893, New Zealand became the first country in the world to grant all women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. Yay New Zealand!

Appearance Issues

  1. A fascinating post at Just Another Angry Black Muslim Woman, covering such issues as the complex interplay between sexy clothes and abayas (as well as the experience of being excessively warm) with the wonderful title Hot Girls in Kuwait.
  2. Natalia Antonova has a really interesting post on feminine clothes and makeup as a symbol of strength, drawing on her grandmother’s experiences of the Nazi occupation of Ukraine.
  3. Shapely Prose has an impressive tribute to Anita Roddick, Body Shop founder, for helping with body acceptance issues.


  1. Primate Diaries offers an interesting discussion in answer to the question of why most cultures are much more prone to punish women who ‘cheat’ than men: it uses cross-cultural and historical evidence (a lot of it) to argue that this is not simply the result of human evolution.
  2. A wonderful parody of the study showing that gendered colour preferences are innate at Occultum Iter: “New Breathrough in Goth Studies” 
  3. Dr Signout offers pleasingly ill-tempered criticism of “another study that demonstrates that women and men are, well, you know. The way they are.”


  1. Lonergrrrl reviews a great sounding book on the Suffragettes, and reflects on their activism versus activism today.
  2. Feminist Fire examines a recent shallow article in Observer Woman on young feminists– it’s especially interesting to read both Debs’s review and the commentsOne of the women interviewed writes in, and the contrast between her account and the way the article came out is striking. 


  1. Abyss2hope has 2 very interesting posts about so-called ‘gray rape’ here and here. The second one grabs me as a philosopher– she argues that cases of high-pressure ‘senior investment’ experts who defraud seniors out of their life savings (fraud=clearly a crime!) could be understood as analogous to some of the more controversial cases of ‘gray rape’. Interesting and provocative thought.
  2. The issue of men in feminism is one that many of us writing for this blog feel quite strongly about.  So I was very interested to read this post from Engage: Conversations in Philosophy on what is required for one to qualify as a feminist man.  There’s some good discussion in the comments, too.  
  3.  The F-Word has an excellent discussion of claims that women love lad culture, as evidenced by their willingness to “get their tits out”.
  4. From RH Reality Check, an interesting piece on the quite unfamiliar (to me) way that debates over abortion are framed in the Phillipines.
  5. Feminist Law Professors writes about “how unaligned the interests of “progressive” men and progressive women can be”.
  6. Piny at Feministe writes about the way that the intersection of multiple oppressions seems to make writers feel that it is legitimate to say things that they would deem unacceptable in other contexts. 
  7. Broadsheet suggests that fear of pedophilia may be setting back some of the progress made in getting men more involved in childcare. 
  8. Viva la Feminista offers a powerful post on homeless families and abuse.
  9. Cruella points out the somewhat disturbing nature of the slogan “What Happens in Vegas Stays In Vegas”.
  10. Pandagon is very insightful on another slogan, “The Personal is Political”. [Somehow this disappeared from my original post, so I’ve added it back in. Ooops!]
  11. From Sex in the Public Square, a thoughtful critique of Bob Herbert’s recent column on sex work.
  12. Fetch Me My Axe has an intriguing discussion of nature, nurture, and gay rights arguments, hitting on many things that have puzzled me.
  13. Bernedette Muthien writes on heteronormativity (the enforcement of heterosexuality as a norm) in the African women’s movement.

Sites, Not Posts I realise I’m supposed to point you to posts, not sites.  But I just can’t resist mentioning a few sites which represent great projects that you need to know about.

  1. Bangladesh from our view is a blog written by Bangladeshi women and girls as a part of Rising Voices, an effort to address global imbalances in the “global conversation” that is the internet.
  2. The Women Philosophers Website, which is uncovering and publicising an amazing unknown history of great women thinkers worldwide through the millenia.
  3. HijabMan’s store is the place to go for your “This is what a Radical Muslim Feminist Looks Like” T-Shirt.

First-Person Stories

  1. From Objectify This, a really nice story of success in getting a biology syllabus changed to include such radical elements as discussion of the female reproductive system.
  2. Female Science Professor writes of being told she was asking to be stalked by having her office door open.
  3. Two Women Blogging tells the story of a woman whose doctor tried to shame her into never discussing her abortion.
  4. Cara at the Curvature describes how a study of depression and smoking in pregnant women helped her to discover some biases of which she’d been unaware. This is an important sort of story to tell.
  5. Hatshepsut, an Egyptian feminist blogger, offers us the revealing Overheard in Cairo. 
  6. Miss Crip Chick writes powerfully of pride and the difficulty of maintaining it in the face of oppression.
  7. From Writing Evolution, a tale of everyday sexism— the kind that sends the message that women are simply lesser beings (and perhaps not even that!).
  8. Riverbend, the famous Iraqi blogger, recounts her very recent departure for and arrival in Syria.

And I’ll leave you with a supremely icky perfume ad, courtesy of Feministing.Many thanks to JJ, Stoat, and Mr Jender for their help with the Carnival!If you’d like to submit something to the next carnival, go here.

From abuse to murder

As we think about addressing the leniency abusive men have gotten, it is worth reminding ourselves that men who murder their wives are not fine blokes having a really bad day.  Pendagon has a review of Why Do They Kill?: Men Who Murder Their Intimate Partners by David Adams.  As feminists have long realized, murder of a women by her partner is not done by a basically good person who just snapped.  Without exception, the men studied  had a history of using violence to gain control, and a lack of control was met with escalating violence.The fact that murder occurs within a history of violence does not show that violence will lead to murder.  But it gives us a very different context for seeing domestic violence, one that locates it squarely in pervasive attitudes:

across the board Adams paints a picture of men who feel that women are their property and who try to control their property through violence.

The picture of violence as coming from the perpetrators’ objectification of their partners provides an alternative to the judge’s view that it was the circumstances of the marriage that had provoked Colin Read and that now those circumstances had gone, sending him to prison would “help no one”.  Pendagon’s reviewer reports that the book is well worth reading. One other interesting facet is what comes out about the victims, who are realists dealing with an impossible situation:

the women mostly report staying in the relationship out of a rational fear that their abusers would try to kill them or family members if they left.