What’s Missing From This Story?

Reader Vanessa alerted us to this story, which is apparently just like many others to appear about the same incident. The complete story (with name removed):

A 17-year-old woman took part in a 45-minute group sex session on the verandah of the Occidental Hotel in central Christchurch, a court has been told.The Friday afternoon sex on October 12 took place in full view of Hereford Street and the surrounding office blocks.X pleaded guilty to charges of doing an indecent act, possession of cannabis resin, possession of utensils for taking drugs, and theft when she appeared before Judge Jane Farish in the Christchurch District Court.She was crying in court after the judge refused to lift her bail condition that forbids her from going to Latimer Square.The judge remanded X for a probation report on December 17 when a supervision sentence may be considered.  

Hmm… What’s missing? Hmm…. Group sex… Gosh, I don’t know, maybe there were some other people involved?

A cfp and invited speakers:

The Society for Philosophy and Psychology has just issued a cfp here.  There is a list of invited speakers and a special session on experimental philosophy listed. 

There are 20 invited speakers listed in the central  program and 9 listed in the experimental philosophy session.

There are no women philosophers listed on the main invited program.  There are similarly no women philosophers listed in the experimental philosophy session.

 There are  4 women who are invited speakers, but they are from other fields.  The 4 program chair/co-chairs are all women.

If you look at the site to check the figures, you’ll need to know the very distinguished Fei Xu is a woman. 

Totally Blatant Sexism in Philosophy

A confession: I thought this was rare.  That folks in philosophy at least know not to say things like “That’s a great paper for a girl” or “We’ve already got a woman”.  (I thought they might well *think* these things– but that they at least knew they were socially unacceptable to say.)  But a few weeks ago I heard about the first being said at a graduate conference in the UK, and last week I heard about the second being said by someone on a search committee in the US (in response to the question “Why not consider X [a woman]?”) Both totally without irony, and both very recently.  And I was really shocked.  (Though perhaps you aren’t.)  There are lots of very interesting discussions taking place in recent days about uncovering non-obvious or structural sources of problems for women in philosophy (e.g. here and here and here).  All these are very important, but it’s important to also remember that the totally blatant stuff isn’t yet gone.  Why aren’t there more women in philosophy departments?  One reason is that some departments think one is plenty.

Question: Have you seen much stuff this stupidly obvious lately?

Your Mother, Your Self?

(While perhaps not exactly a feminist topic, this is surely interesting to feminists)

 It is a cliche that East Asians are less individualistic than typical Westerners.  How deep does the different go, one might well ask.  It’s about as deep as anything gets, recent brain imagining results suggest.  As one report puts it, the Chinese idea of self includes mother.

Here’s the abstract of “Neural basis of cultural influence on self-representation.” from NeuroImage (Feb.2007)

Culture affects the psychological structure of self and results in two distinct types of self-representation (Western independent self and East Asian interdependent self). However, the neural basis of culture–self interaction remains unknown. We used fMRI to measured brain activity from Western and Chinese subjects who judged personal trait adjectives regarding self, mother or a public person. We found that the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) showed stronger activation in self- than other-judgment conditions for both Chinese and Western subjects. However, relative to other-judgments, mother-judgments activated MPFC in Chinese but not in Western subjects. Our findings suggest that Chinese individuals use MPFC to represent both the self and the mother whereas Westerners use MPFC to represent exclusively the self, providing neuroimaging evidence that culture shapes the functional anatomy of self-representation.

Unfortunately, I don’t seem able to access either journal, so I don’t have information about the size of the sample* or the sex of the individual subjects.  (*Thanks to Jender in the comments for pointing out the need for clarification here.)

UPDATED:  The NeuroImage article arrived about 4 hours after I requested my library get it.   It turns out that the Chinese and the Western samples were extremely similar.  Each  13 young adults (early 20’s), 8 men and 5 women.

A women’s cultural theory?

Having grown up academically in a discipline that has been heavily influenced by the model of the man of reason, I’ve wondered what theorizing would look like if women had been more in charge.  What changes would there be if theorizing reflected not the cliches of a detached, man-in-his-study life but rather the experiences of the very attached, maternal life? 

Such questions run the risks of reckless generalizing and objectionable essentializing.   Still, we can recognize an answer, at least when we see a theory that emphasizes social connectedness and mother-child interactions.  And Natalie Angier in the NY Times has a report on one.  Let me emphasize first that what is interesting at least to me is the filling out of the space of possible theories.   Whether this entry, which has gotten quite a bit of approving scholarly reaction, is going to continue to survive all critical scruntiny is beside the point for the moment. 

Ellen Dissanayake, Angier tells us, has a theory about the evolution of art; that is, a theory about why the (nearly?) universal characteristic of producing art appears to have been part of human evolution. What is its survival value?  Here are two theses that may catch one’s eye:

Through singing, dancing, painting, telling fables of neurotic mobsters who visit psychiatrists, and otherwise engaging in what Ms. Dissanayake calls “artifying,” people can be quickly and ebulliently drawn together, and even strangers persuaded to treat one another as kin. Through the harmonic magic of art, the relative weakness of the individual can be traded up for the strength of the hive, cohered into a social unit ready to take on the world.


Perhaps the most radical element of Ms. Dissanayake’s evolutionary framework is her idea about how art got its start. She suggests that many of the basic phonemes of art, the stylistic conventions and tonal patterns, the mental clay, staples and pauses with which even the loftiest creative works are constructed, can be traced back to the most primal of collusions — the intimate interplay between mother and child. … “And aesthetic operations are what artists do. Knowingly or not, when you are choreographing a dance or composing a piece of music, you are formalizing, exaggerating, repeating, manipulating expectation and dynamically varying your theme.” You are using the tools that mothers everywhere have used for hundreds of thousands of generations.

So enjoy the article! Or read Ms. Dissanayake’s recent Art and Intimacy: How the Arts Began.

How can we treat people like this?

Janipher Maseko was raped by armed rebels in Uganda and fled to the UK at 13.  At 18, she was in Yarl’s Wood detention centre, separated from her two children (one newborn), in agony from her swollen breasts, being told to take drugs to shut down her milk– and being told she was about to be sent back to Uganda, alone.  Fortunately, some good and powerful people intervened.  But her case is not yet over, and it’s not the only one.  Read more here.

Early reading: clashes with boyish gender roles

 morechocolatebook.jpg  Lilian Katz, of the University of Illinois, is arguing that children should not be taught to read before the age of five-and-a-half.  

Children are too young to learn to read when they first start school in the UK, an academic claims.  She said: “The evidence we have so far is that if you start formal teaching of reading very early the children do well in tests but when you follow them up to the age of 11 or 12 they don’t do better than those who have had a more informal approach.” Dr Katz, who was addressing an international conference on foundation-stage learning at the University of Oxford, said there was a danger that the British model could put children off reading for life if pupils were forced to learn before they were ready.          

But, she says, it’s especially bad for boys:

The evidence also suggests starting formal instruction early is more damaging for boys than girls.”Boys are expected to be active and assertive but during formal instruction they are being passive not active. In most cultures, girls learn to put up with passivity earlier and better than boys.”           

OK, let’s try to reconstruct this argument, as charitably as possible.

  • (1) Boys are taught to be active and girls are taught to be passive.
  • (2) Formal instruction requires passivity.
  • (3) Reading is taught formally.
  • (4) Learning to read early is difficult.
  • So (C1) Boys won’t be very good at formal instruction, which will make learning reading harder for them than it would otherwise be.
  • (5) Boys will get discouraged by early efforts at reading, and this will put them off reading for life.
  • (C2) Boys shouldn’t be taught to read early. 
  •  One problem with this argument is that the very passage quoted indicates that early readers do well on early tests and then, when older, *no better* than late readers. This doesn’t look like they’re getting discouraged at all. (Though maybe the article is poorly excerpting her work: perhaps overall the early readers do just as well, but the boy early readers do less well.)  But further problems include the total lack of reflection on premises (1) and (2 and 3). Re (1): Why on earth should Katz treat active and passive gender roles as if they’re unchangeable? (She doesn’t seem committed to the thought that they’re biologically fixed.) Re (2 and 3): Why not teach in such a way that students learn less passively? In sum, WTF?  But just in case she’s right I’m off to burn all of my 2-year-old son’s books.  Wouldn’t want to risk putting him off reading. (Thanks, Jender-Parents!)

    16 Days

    Today, 25 November, is the first day of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

    The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign originating from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute sponsored by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership in 1991. Participants chose the dates, November 25, International Day Against Violence Against Women and December 10, International Human Rights Day, in order to symbolically link violence against women and human rights and to emphasize that such violence is a violation of human rights. This 16-day period also highlights other significant dates including November 29, International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, December 1, World AIDS Day, and December 6, which marks the Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. 

    The International Red Cross is one of many groups to be a part of this campaign. One of their initiatives is to give a voice to women who are suffering from violence.

    The IRC is in war zones around the world, helping many thousandsof women and girls every day. We know they have much to say andwe know how easily their voices are lost, so we’re working withwriter, photographer and long-time women’s advocate Ann Jones togive them an opportunity to speak, loudly and clearly.With digital cameras, women who have survived conflict,displacement, discrimination, sexual and domestic violencevividly document their own lives. Through these personalphotographs, stirring portraits are revealed and women cometogether to tell stories of strength, reclaim their rights andmake their voices heard.Be a part of this powerful exchange, which begins tomorrow,November 25th to kick off “16 Days of Action against GenderViolence.” Over the course of the 16 Days, you’ll be inspired bythe extraordinary changes these brave women make with the boldclicks of their cameras.Just sign up for our 16 Days e-mail list, and on each of thosedays you’ll get a special e-mail with one woman’s photo, anamazing story and a chance to add your own voice. Afterward,you’ll get occasional updates from Ann and the IRC about newstories, IRC programs empowering women, and the many ways YOUcan help.

    To sign up for the IRC 16 Days list go here.   Thanks, Jender-Parents!