Domestic Violence Sentencing: What To Do

Remember those posts (linked below)on the pathetically lenient domestic violence sentencing in the UK? I’ve been trying various avenues to figure out who to complain to, and I’ve finally met with some success. The Sentencing Guidelines Secretariat has responded to my letter, and they say that they are undertaking a review of domestic violence sentencing in light of all the negative publicity. I’m sure a little more pressure on them would be a good thing, so I urge you to email them, as I did. the For ease of writing, Colin Read is the man fined £2000 for burning his wife with an iron and slashing her with a knife; and Stuart Brown is the one fined £500 for puncing his wife at least 24 times. Even if you’re not in the UK, please do write– the government needs to be made aware that this is an international embarrassment.

Yo ho ho!

It seems one of the most successful pirates of all time was a woman.chingshih1836.jpg

In fact, Cheng I Sao was eventually responsible for nearly all the piracy in the region and her fleet exceeded the size of many countries’ navies. She also expanded the scope of the business, branching out from simple attack-and-pillage jobs to protection schemes, blackmail, and extortion. Cheng I Sao’s reach also extended to the mainland, where she set up an extensive spy network and developed economic ties with farmers who would supply her men with food. 


Either an exception or a counterexample to the “men explorers/women cuddlers” claims, depending on your perspective. Sadly not, however, the best of feminist role models:

Ironically, Cheng I Sao’s most famous laws applied to the taking of female prisoners. Ugly women were returned to shore, free of charge. Attractive captives were auctioned off to the crew, unless a pirate personally purchased the captive, in which case they were considered married. 


Fascinatingly, CNN filed this one under “living/worklife”. Many thanks to lydia for passing this one on to me!


Interesting State Supreme Court Ruling

The news story is here, but in summary, Rosa Acuna asked for, and was given an abortion in 1996. She later tried to sue her obstetrician for not informing her that the seven week fetus she was carying was “a complete, separate, unique and irreplaceable human being”, or that since it was an existing human being abortion would be murder. This has passed through courts since then, and the New Jersey State Supreme Court has just made the following ruling:-

“We do not find that the common law commands a physician to inform a pregnant patient that an embryo is an existing, living human being and that an abortion results in the killing of a family member”.

It’s beyond me why anyone would think to bring such a case, but at least there is some sense in the decision.

Submit to the Carnival!

Just a reminder that the next Carnival of Feminists will be here, and the deadline will be Monday the 17th of September.  We’d love to have submissions from you, either of your own recent blogging or of recent bloggy stuff you’ve found that you like!  As JJ notes below, we’re hoping to find some good stuff from parts of the world other than the usual ones for English-language blogs.  I’ll add to her request by saying we’d also love to know about feminist blogs from Central and South America.   To learn more about the Carnival, go here.  To send your own stuff, or anything else, either go to the Carnival site or email us via the Contact category.

Feminist bloggers from Asia and Africa

With the Carnival of Feminists coming up, I thought it would be wonderful to have some mention of feminists writing in very different geographical areas.  I’m now muttering to myself about colonialist assumptions of the accessibility of different cultures. 

In fact, I’ve found a wealth of reports of feminist actions in Africa, and some stunning material from Asia, but my hopes of finding the sort of list that could easily appear down in the blogroll of Western feminist blogs are considerably less bright.  There are lists alright, but of a different sort, despite the name “blogroll.”  Very often they contain something more like the names of internet newspapers with a puzzling mixture of Western bloggers.  Perhaps blogging is more suited to those with spare time? 

There are other difficulties that have arisen, some interesting enough to deserve a separate post.  One of them is that one finds amazing and distracting stories of women doing quite remarkable things, such as that of a former CNN employee who is now teaching in Hong Kong and has provided internet forums for a global mixture of voices.  More of that later on.

If you know of feminist bloggers in African or Asia, I would be very grateful if you’d share their names with us.

Going Gray (Or Not)

Gray Hair

Reader Calypso sent us this very interesting article on gray hair. Of course, I’ve been aware of the fact that gray hair is considered more acceptable on a man than on a woman, and I’ve been aware that lots of women dye their hair. But I’d never really thought about just how widespread hair dying must be. Think about this:

of the 16 female U.S. Senators — the highest number ever — who range in age from 46 to 74, not a single one has visible gray hair.

The article makes some rather dubious claims about the cause of hair dying, however:

Ironically, it’s feminism’s success that has driven today’s widespread, virtually obligatory camouflage of gray hair.

The idea seems to be that feminism has led to women in positions of power, and nobody trusts a gray-haired woman in a position of power. Hence, feminism is responsible. But the real question is why nobody trusts a gray-haired woman, when gray-haired men are considered eminently trustworthy, and it doesn’t seem likely you could blame feminism for that one. Also, umm, plenty of women are simply not in positions of power, so the explanation would be pretty limited even if it made sense.

Still, there’s interesting stuff in the article. For example, the author reports a surprising anecdote: as part of her research, she placed personal ads online with photographs of herself with either gray or brown hair, and got far more responses to the gray hair ad. Maybe she just looks great gray, or maybe (as some in the article suggest) gray is beginning to become cool.

Calypso notes (without naming names, so don’t go asking!) that there are many women philosophers who dye their gray hair. Is there the same pressure for non-gray hair in academia as there is in the Senate? I’m pretty sure the pressure is lower, but it may still be there.

Anyway, a really useful example to discuss in classes: Unless you have it pointed out, you don’t really realise just how widespread hair dying must be.

Missing Women:

Formerly: Frauenmangel and Sewing Needles

The Economist (European edition) reported earlier this past summer on a new disease in eastern Germany, Frauenmangel, the lack of women, or as the article puts it, “We ain’t got Dames.”  (Hollywood musicals have so much to answer for.) 

In some towns there are only 75 young women for every 100 young men. In one or two there are as few as 40. The effects are worrying, not only because populations may shrink but also because of the existence of a growing underclass of young men who are partnerless, underqualified and jobless.

The cause in eastern Germany is that girls work harder in school and end up as young women with good qualifications who move west. Further, “The few women who stay prefer single parenthood to hitching themselves to useless partners.” 

Today’s Independent reminds us that the disease has been in China for some time, though the causes are very different.  The shocking title of the article, “China’s one-child policy: doctors discover 23 sewing needles in womans head,” reports on a woman whose grandparents, it is conjectured, tried to kill her as a child by pushing sewing needles into her brain.

Though China has a general policy that restricts parents to having one child, in the country parents are allowed to have a second child, if the first is a  daughter.  The needle victim was an unfortunate second daughter, who left her parents’ no chance for a son, unless she died.

Girls are sometimes referred to as “maggots in the rice,” while

… having a son is the closest thing to a pension plan most rural Chinese will have: sons are supposedly better able to provide for the family and support their elderly parents. Because of the prejudice against girls, the increasingly mobile nature of Chinese society and the pressures of the one-child policy, many women do not report their pregnancies and if the child is a girl, they kill the baby.

China now have the most unbalanced gender ratio in the world, with men out numbering women by 37 million.

The Independent’s article is very sad and upsetting.  Though the government is cracking down on there, there still are “dying  rooms” in orphanages, where, apparently, girl babies are placed to die.

Thank you to the Chinese blogger, China Doll, for the link between the two stories.   Jender had an earlier blog about the rejection of female fetuses and infants here.

Patterns of plastic surgery

disturbing plastic surgery picture Report here on a study, undertaken by researchers at the university of Aberdeen, UK, on the reasons cited for undergoing plastic surgery.

Interesting findings: 1) “nearly one-quarter of the British women I interviewed [40 in total] indicated that they had done so to make themselves more appealing to a male partner.”

2) the tendency to cite such a reason was greater for the UK women interviewed than the US women.

A fairly small sample was used in gathering the data, but I’m intrigued by this seeming cultural difference nonetheless…

Haslanger and Refereeing Procedures

Note: This post has been edited in response to Shelley’s comment.

There’s been a lot of lively discussion online lately regarding Sally Haslanger’s excellent paper on women and minorities in philosophy.  Here I’m going to focus on her discussion’s implications for editing and refereeing procedures.  (If you’d like a discussion of the importance of diversity in both faculty and students, go here.  If you’d like a discussion of gendered metaphors, styles, and behaviour in philosophy, go here. For general discussion and extracts from an interview with Haslanger, go here.) Haslanger draws on Virginia Valian‘s work on gender schemas, which we’ve often discussed on this blog.  Valian argues that the vast majority of us, whatever our conscious beliefs, subscribe to unconscious gender (and other) schemas that influence our judgments.  The experimental data she offers are very convincing and, even to me, surprising.  Haslanger suggests, very plausibly, that our schemas for philosopher and woman are likely to clash.  This may causes us, even if we have very explicit strong beliefs in favour gender/sex equality, to judge female philosophers more harshly than male philosophers.  The effects may be small, but (a) small effects can make a big difference in a very competitive situation; and (b) small effects accumulate and reinforce each other, and over the course of a career they can make a huge difference. This suggests to me that journal refereeing and editing should be anonymous to both referee and editor.  That way unconscious gender schemas will have no chance to influence judgments.  Nor will knowledge that the author is un-famous, or has a foreign name, or is from a non-prestigious institution.  Anonymous refereeing is currently fairly widely practiced in philosophy, although some top journals make anonymity an optional choice for the author.  Anonymous editing is rare. Why is anonymous editing important? Because at many top journals, editors reject 70-90% of papers without even sending them to be refereed. (Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that an individual editor’s attitude toward such things as promoting the work of unknowns can make a huge difference at this stage.) So this seems to me a no-brainer. We should all strive for anonymous refereeing and editing. It’s the best way to assure that biases, conscious or unconscious, do not play a role in decisions. My understanding is that this is the norm in the sciences. (I’d love to hear from scientist readers about whether this is true.)

In the discussion over at TAR, however, few agree with me on this. (1) Brian Weatherson, an editor, argues that he needs to know sex so that he can practice a helpful affirmative action in favour of women. (He also seems pretty confident that he doesn’t have unconscious biases based simply on knowledge of sex.) His thought, drawing on other claims of Sally’s, is that women may be more likely to employ e.g. a non-aggressive writing style, and this may unfairly disadvantage them. If he knows they are women, he can correct for any bias he may have against non-aggressive writing. My first thought was that this could be done by a final non-anonymous stage after the anonymous stages of refereeing. But then I thought: if you think non-aggressive writing is good, and you suspect you are biased against it, shouldn’t you be extra careful about your judgments regarding all non-aggressive writing, regardless of sex? (2) Baber argued (as others have in previous discussions) that anonymous-refereeing is on its way out due to posting of papers on the internet: the idea seems to be that we’ve all read them all already, so we know who they’re by. Maybe I’m just bad at keeping up with the literature, but this seems hugely overstated. And we’re especially unlikely to have read the work of unknown people, for whom anonymous refereeing is most important.

I think what most troubles me about all this resistance to anonymous refereeing is that everyone seems so sure that they’ve overcome their own biases. The whole point of Valian’s work is that our conscious beliefs don’t tell us whether we’ve done this. I’ve spent a lot of my career on feminism, and I don’t assume I’ve overcome even my gender/sex biases. (And one interpretation of the tests JJ referred us to is that I haven’t, as I note in my comments there.) No scientist would dream of saying “I don’t need to do [so-called] double-blind experiments– I know I am free of interpretation biases”. Why do philosophers make and accept these claims of bias-freedom so easily?