SWIP Newsletter

The SWIP (US) online newsletter is out! There’s lots of good stuff to be found, but I was particularly intrigued by this question in Chris Cuomo’s Editor’s Note:

If professors outside the medical and professional schools continue to become more and more underpaid, philosophy departments are sure to become increasingly “diverse” and “woman-friendly.” If men began to flee the humanities due to low pay, would that be good for women? Would it be good for philosophy?

Knock Yourself Up

This book by Louise Sloan has been making the rounds lately. Check out the interview at Salon here, and the mention by Jessica at Feministing here.

Some responses to this book have really surpised me. Apparently women who become single moms by choice are different from other kinds of single mothers, i.e. more morally degenerate. Who knew?

The most surprising bit of mud that has been slung in this debate so far can be found here. The claim is that no woman should choose single motherhood. Single motherhood is a terrible, tragic thing that sometimes happens to people, but no woman should knowingly choose such a life for herself or her child. And the reason? Beyond the predictable canon of moral degeneracies and social dysfunctions, there is this: That a woman who chooses to become a single mother is treating her child like the latest fashion accessory. Immediately, the image of a small underarm dog in an expensive purse springs to mind. Only certain kinds of woman sport these doggie bags: rich women. So this makes me think. Is the attack an assault on liberal ideology and a changing conception of the family, or is it an assault on single women who can support themselves, their families, and their choices? (Never mind that portraying women like Sloan as wealthy princesses is a huge mistake. Sloan devotes an entire chapter of her book to the question of whether or not this choice is an affordable one.)

Where can you publish feminist philosophy?

A tough, tough question, as we’ve discussed before. Through the wonderful new Feminist Philosophy Draft Exchange, I learned that Kate Norlock has now done us all a wonderful service. Here’s what she did:

I … added a page…which tabulates thejournals listing on Philosophers’ Index which have published articleswith “feminism” in the descriptor. It yielded a ‘ranking’ of sorts,or at least a rough idea of frequency.

Kate’s done us all a great service. Go check it out! Note: I’ve realised that my methodological comment was wrong, so I’ve removed it.

What is philosophy?

Many philosophy professors first encountered this form of question as about the  kind(s) of truth that philosophy aims to uncover and clarify.  Or so I would suppose.  Certainly for my peer group, there was also a strong and uncomfortable sense that philosophy is somehow irrelevant, but for some of us at least that was just one more very hard problem.  And against it we could balance thousands of years of human enquiry.

Yet so fast has been the change in the philosophical community that for many of us – again I am assuming – Anita Allen’s concerns about what philosophy is are now deeply important.  Perhaps  this is due to the fact that enough women are in philosophy and have experienced its exclusionary nature without being co-opted by it.  We know that acceptance  involving passing is at best a painful tool to use.

Or so it  seems here and now, and other takes would be very welcome.  But all this is a lead up to another version of the title question.  While Allen’s statement

I feel that philosophy is hoisting itself by its own petard. Its unwillingness to be more inclusive in terms of issues, methods, demographics, means that it’s losing out on a lot of vibrancy, a lot of intellectual power.”

clearly in some ways rings true, I’m wondering whether the exceptions are also significant.  To say this is not to defend philosophy against the charges of sexism and racism, but I’m wondering now how uniform the field is.

What exceptions, you might ask.  Well,  a lot of philosophy of mind has gone empirical while at the same time taking some account of the phenomenological tradition. And though the now closely related cognitive psychology is hardly a feminist stronghold, it seems a lot better than philosophy has been.  A consequence is that there are more women at conferences, though journal publication remains significantly exclusive.  Perhaps ethics has also changed; the cadre of female virtue ethicists, for example,  is certainly notable.

Such changes can actually lead one to despair, since they can make the socially regressive  attitudes of philosophy departments all  the clearer.  And such attitudes obviously create  a very major problem for combating the field’s racism.   But one might wonder whether the field is starting to fracture in a way that at least creates opportunities feminist department members might be able to use to more the field further forward.

Is it time to think about strategizing perhaps more broadly?  Any recommendations?  Additions?  Objections?

Anita Allen on Philosophy

crmallen1.jpg The Philadelphia Inquirer has an interesting interview with Anita Allen, philosopher and law professor, about her view of philosophy and her experiences as both philosopher and law professor. It makes for depressing reading. At the time of the interview, Allen was about to give the keynote address to the Collegium of Black Women Philosophers.

“I have not been able to encourage other people like me to go into philosophy because I don’t think it has enough to offer them. The salaries aren’t that great, the prestige isn’t that great, the ability to interact with the world isn’t that great, the career options aren’t that great, the methodologies are narrow. Why would you do that,” she asks, “when you could be in an African American studies department, a law school, a history department, and have so many more people to interact with who are more like you, a place where so many more methods are acceptable, so many more topics are going to be written about? Why would you close yourself off in philosophy?”I feel that philosophy is hoisting itself by its own petard. Its unwillingness to be more inclusive in terms of issues, methods, demographics, means that it’s losing out on a lot of vibrancy, a lot of intellectual power.”Despite delight at the birth of the collegium, the existence finally of a “critical mass” of black female philosophers, she admits “philosophy still feels to me like an isolated profession. I don’t think I would encourage a black woman who has big ideas necessarily to go into philosophy,” Allen says. “Why? What’s the point? Go out and win the Pulitzer Prize! Don’t worry about academic philosophy. On the other hand, I would like to see that world open up to more women and women of color.”  

And to some extent Allen seems hopeful:

“My hope,” Allen says of the Nashville gathering, “is that this meeting will be for black women philosophers what the first meeting of black women lawyers was for us in the early ’90s. . . . We have now arrived. And I think women in philosophy can also arrive.”  

See below for more on the Collegium of Black Women Philosophers. Thanks, Sally, for the article!

Collegium of Black Women Philosophers

The Collegium of Black Women Philosophers has now met!  This photo is organizer Kathryn Gines and first US black woman PhD in philosophy, Joyce Mitchell Cook.
Gines and Cook
You can read about it here.  We’d really love to get a first-hand report on this.  If any of our readers attended, we’d like to hear about it.  One way to tell us would be to put some comments on this post.  Another way– which we’d be really excited about– would be to write a guest post for us, either anonymously or not.  If you’re interested, just click on contact and let us know!

On giving feminism a bad name:

In her recent reivew  of Susan faludi’s “The Terror Dream,” Michiko Kakutani writes

This, sadly, is the sort of tendentious, self-important, sloppily reasoned book that gives feminism a bad name.

We (Jender) blogged about the Faludi book a while back, and the point here is not whether, as the present review points out, there are counter-examples to Faludi’s generalizations, but rather the opening sentence of the review.

If there were a class in how to write bad reviews, it could start with “Announcing your bias in the first sentence,” and use Kakutani’s sentence as an excellent example.  It implies:

1. Feminisim has a bad name
2. There’s something like a whole genre (“sort”) of tendentious, self-important and sloppy feminist books.

Really? Thanks to the efforts of so many people, the first may be true in some (large?) circles.  But don’t we need some evidence for the second? Dare one suggest that MK is the sort of reviewer who gives journalism a bad name when she writes tendentious, self-important and sloppy comments like this?

“They look like girls, but act and think like boys”

Quote from a scientist, discussing behavior of worms that have been genetically manipulated to be attracted to “the same sex”.  So what it is to act and think like a “boy” is to be attracted to “girls”.  Problematic enough (especially since the claim is that these *worms* act and think like boys, which seems to me pretty insulting to boys).  But it gets more so:

There are no true females and only one in 500 nematodes is male. Most are hermaphrodites, with both male and female organs. Jorgensen and White loosely refer to hermaphrodites as females because they produce offspring.    

What it is to be a “girl” is to produce offspring. So, being “a girl” is a matter of reproductive ability, and acting like “a boy” is a matter of who you’re attracted to. Good to know.Still, the study seems to show that, at least for some worms, sexual orientation is genetically “hard-wired” in the brain. This may be interesting and useful once we free it from the desperate attempt to describe it in terms of ill-defined sex/gender categories.