International Assoc of Women Phil in Seoul

Dear Colleagues,You are cordially invited to participate in the thirteenth International Association of Women Philosophers Conference. It will be held in Seoul, Korea from July 27th to 29th, 2008. It would be greatly appreciated if you could inform of the conference to your colleagues and encourage their active participation.The theme of IAPh 2008 is “Multiculturalism and Feminism.” We strongly encourage women scholars’ contribution from diverse cultural and traditional background. Proposal submission due is April 30, 2008. More specific information will be found in the following website.

The Conference will consist of five sessions: plenary session, general session, special session, student session, round tables.l The plenary session consists of key note speeches on “multiculturalism and feminism” by four prominent women philosophers.l The general session is an opportunity in which women philosophers from different backgrounds address and discuss various issues and difficulties which contemporary women are facing.l The special session, prepared by Korean Women’s Development Institute, consists of invited lectures on “women, work, and family.” Invited lecturers from various traditions will enlighten us to identify women’s issues which originate from particular political, cultural, and religious context.l The student session is prepared in order to provide graduate student with the opportunity to present their papers. Those who participate in the students’ session will be provided with free meals and accommodation during the conference.l Round tables are the opportunity in which women philosophers exchange their thoughts and ideas on various issues and challenges against women and share their perspective.

Based on the visions, ideas and opinions obtained throughout the Conference, we shall seek the way to promote women’s condition and bring out better future for women.We sincerely hope that you will join us in making IAPh 2008 conference a success. We look forward to welcoming you to Seoul and to IAPh 2008.Sincerely,Heisook Kim, Ph.D.Dean of Scranton College Prof. of Philosophy, Ewha Womans University Seoul 120-750, Korea 822-3277-6590, 2211 (office)

8211-346-9939 (cell)

“Philosophy as a Blood Sport”

I thought I had read this paper by now emeritus Prof. Normal Swartz, and perhaps you actually have.  It does more than fill-in the details its descriptive title suggests.  It raises the hugely important question of whether the drawing of metaphorical blood is a turn-off for students, and perhaps particularly for women students.

Another section has readers’ comments that came in over about 7 years.  Mostly they confirm both the facts and the concern of the paper, though a well-known feminist philosopher reminds us that some women are relieved at not having to be nice.

On thinking about this, I’ve started wondering about what seem to me related questions:  Is academic philosophy as it has been known in Anglophone countries over the last 100 years a vital professional field? In being a blood sport, is philosophy just a sport?  Is a field which prizes devastating challenges to its own heroes – and the drawing of blood from acolytes – suffocatingly narcissitic?  Is the increasing engagement of young philosopher with empirical fields in fact a deeply motivated challenge to philosophy’s self-absorption?

What do you think?

Silencing and Forced Marriage

A deeply depressing story.  12 year old Ruksana complained to UK police when her parents said they were going to force her into an unwanted marriage. They came to her house to discuss it with the whole family, and told her not to worry– thus alerting her parents that she had talked to the police, whereupon they moved her elsewhere. She complained again, with a similar response, and eventually was forced into a marriage, forced out of education, and raped. As she says:

“White kids can call Childline and they get listened to – but for Asian children it’s thought of as wrong to complain.” 

Ruksana is, however, hopeful (let’s hope she’s right):

Because of the publicity about forced marriages I think they would take you a bit more seriously now. 

For the nerds among you, there’s arguably both locutionary and perlocutionary silencing going on indicated in Ruksana’s first quote. Asians don’t think they should complain (locutionary), and they aren’t taken seriously when they do (perlocutionary). Depending your views on felicity conditions for complaining, there may also be illocutionary silencing going on. For a quick intro to these silencing issues, see here. (Thanks, Jender-Parents!)


Scientific research arguably involves a high capacity for  systematic thinking, where a love of discovering repeated patterns seems  to be a help.  In addition, science often requires long periods of solitary reflection or immersion in the labs, apart from partner and family. 

Why are there many more men in this life than women?  Is it a matter of socialization, genetics or both?

There’s a well-known answer, based to a large extent on Baron-Cohen’s work described here.   And the answer goes as follows:  It is first argued that the characteristics of scientific inquiry also show up in some conditions of neuro-difference, particularly in people on the autism spectrum.  But such people are MUCH more likely to be men.  So it seems reasonable to think that autism is a variant on the average male brain.  And that leaves women outside this cluster of the systematicizing people who can tolerate relatively restricted social lives.  And outside science.

Is this MYTH or more like fact?

It turns out that there’s another way to explain the prevalence of men among autists without committing oneself to anything more about the male brain.  And it is this:  Most men have one X chromosone from their mothers and a  Y one from their fathers, while most women have an X from each.  That means in general that men carry their mother’s and not their father’s X chromosones.  Suppose something that prevents or mitigates autism is carried on the paternal X chromosone.  Then women will get  it and men won’t, which means that few women will have autism compared to men.

And in fact Turner’s syndrome, which characterizes women with a single full X chromosone, tends to be accompanied by autism when the chromosone is the mother’s, but not when it is the father’s.  This is some comfirmation for the paternal-prevention hypothesis. 

Given such competing hypotheses, we are still in the land of conjecture when we talk about autism as a form of ‘the male mind.’  And when we analyse or defend social policy or practice on such a basis, we should worry seriously that we are enacting a myth.

How, one might ask, could a man have acquired a non-preventing X chromosone from his mother, but pass on a preventive one.  Understanding this really takes us into the difficult literature on the ways in which genes depend on the environment of the chromosone for their expression.  But the question is really well studied, and a good place to see it is to search under the names “Creswell and Skuse,” who apparently initiated by study of Turner’s and the occurrence of autism as genetically linked to the X chromozone.

I’m very indebted to Jamie Ward’s The Student’s Guide to Cognitive Neuroscience, pages 323-324, which has been an invaluable text for a class I teach.

“I want a metal doctor!”

Jender-Son is 2 and a half.  He loves to describe everything, and is very fond of adjectives.  It’s never ‘Oooh– cup!’, but always ‘Oooh– big big red and blue cup’.  We’ve always thought this was a thoroughly good thing.  Until today, when I was getting ready to take him to the doctor.  Coming out of his room he said “I want a blue doctor!”.  I told him there weren’t any blue doctors. Same with red doctors.  Then:  “I want a yellow doctor!”  Oof.  I began to realise where this might lead, thinking of the Indian doctor we were about to see.  What could possibly be more embarrassing, I thought to myself with horror, than a gleeful toddler yelling “Oooh– brown doctor!”  I found out in the next instant, as he began shouting “I want a white doctor!  I want a white doctor!”.  I started trying to explain to him that people get upset when you talk about what colour they are.  And thinking frantically about how to explain this further.  Then I breathed a sigh of relief as he began shouting over and over “I want a metal doctor!”   But it got me thinking about how tricky teaching all this to kids can be.  He’ll want to know why it’s great to talk about colours of everything but people, and I’ll need to find a way of explaining it while also making it clear that colour of people in *some* sense doesn’t matter at all.  But also that it does matter, because for a long time people have assigned significance to it, and that affects people’s lives in huge ways, and….  Why doesn’t he just ask me where babies come from??  That conversation would be easy!

Philosophy’s sexism and the Pacific APA

The women are  counting.  We came out of sessions packed with white men invited to speak on topics on which women have a lot to say.  We noticed edited publications which – no surprise here – had a much smaller proportion of women than are actually in the field, even the specific field.  We discussed how many very bright women are at institutions that don’t match their considerable  merits.

The program as a whole merits more attention, though, than I’ve yet been able to give it.  There may have been more women on it than has been usual; there were certainly many more than there would have been 20 years ago.

So have things changed for women in philosophy?  As one wise woman noted, many young women today in fine graduate schools may have a sense of entitlement that simply was not there until recently.  But she had noticed, as others have, that though the realization that there can be very talented women in philosophy appears to have been embraced, it pretty much only applies to young women, not us middle-agers.  I had thought this was one of those quirky failures to generalize.  That is, if the word went out in 1990 that women could do philosophy, the guys mistakenly thought this was about women graduating in 1990 and afterwards.  But she had the better explanation:  We don’t count because we’re not sexy. 

So we’ll see.  It’s been a cliche in the sciences that many young women think they have an equal chance until they get to tenure.  Then reality sets in, possibly along with one’s getting to “a certain age.”  In later discussions at  the APA, women pointed out that so much philosophy is done in liberal arts colleges, and the brightest women may survive happily there, even if research institutions consume the young.

 So:  Interesting hypotheses; it’s a bit like watching the lions and the Christians.  We should do more than hope that young  women have better odds for developing nationally recognized careers than earlier generations of women have had.  Let’s take some action, at least to the point of mentoring where we can.

Readers of this post might find the fuller description of the APA given here interesting.  Thanks, Sharon, for the reference to the Sunday Cats.

Sunday feline metaphor for the APA, Pacific Division

Well, this is how it feels.

UPDATE:  Many thanks for the expressions of concern, but it really wasn’t THAT bad.  The kittens are just playing, right?  And some things important and valuable at least to me occurred.  But I had some illuminating discussions about the morphing of sexism in the philosophy community, of which more later.  (And no one worry:  no attributions will be given..)