There’s Brian Leiter over on his blog treating philosophers’ rudeness as a joke.  Or, equally, as something you should experience as proof you are being treated as an insider.  AND I CAN’T  SEEM TO COMMENT ON IT.  Goodness knows where the comment box is, or isn’t.

The post is called “Funny–On Academic Bad Manners.”   Notice that though he and those acting like him apparently think they’d never, ever treat students with crushing rudeness, everyone else is fair game.  Interesting view of social interaction and one’s place in it. 

Is the priority given to one’s feelings and thoughts  in an academic debate – and the obvious sense of entitlement to nastily dump on people-  narcissistic?  Is there really any justification for comments that are nasty and bitter enough that, when made by a powerful figure, they can lead to one’s being ostracized?   What do you think? 

UPDATE:  You might want to look at our earlier discussion of philosophy as a blood sport.

“We down here have been forgotten.”

So a 66 year old New Orleans grandmother is quoted as saying in Women in the Wake of the Storm, a report issued last week by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.  (An accompanying press release can be found here.)

The extent of the forgetting, described in Ms online, is shameful:

based on interviews with 38 women from ages 19 to 66 and from diverse ethnicities who lived through Katrina. The study showed women’s lack of access to housing, health care, and child care, putting women and children at risk for abuse and exploitation.

Equally troubling is the reason why women’s needs are left out of consideration in the planning being done. NO ONE IS ASKING THEM.

The report states that many women’s voices have gone unheard throughout the recovery process, so women’s needs are not being addressed. There is limited availability of housing, only one domestic violence shelter that survived the storm, and communities have been shattered. The report calls for a gender-informed relief strategy to end the economic and health problems women face. (MY STRESS)

The situation bring out another facet of feminist standpoint theory that Jender referred to in discussing another, but not entirely dissimilar situation.  (And, most recently, here.)  Standpoint theory draws our attention to the fact that the relatively underprivileged can have important knowledge that the privileged have difficulty discovering themselves.  The current situation brings out why it can be hard to discover the knowledge that the other has.  The problem is not just that those in charge forget to ask, or don’t think to ask.  Rather, underneath that is the fact that disadvantaged women will not be seen as part of the group that possesses knowledge.

Epistemic Privilege: What it isn’t

Lt Colonel Diane Beaver was a staff judge advocate at Guantanamo Bay. She describes discussions about what “interrogation techniques” to use, in which colleagues took ideas from the TV show 24:

The younger men would get particularly agitated, excited even: “You could almost see their dicks getting hard as they got new ideas.” A wan smile crossed Beaver’s face. “And I said to myself, you know what, I don’t have a dick to get hard. I can stay detached.”

Then she gave her approval to waterboarding.

[Standpoint theorists have argued for the claim that women or members of other marginalised groups may be able to attain superior positions for acquiring knowledge, at least of particular subject matters. But none of them would ever have endorsed the claim that female anatomy makes one automatically superior in judgments about torture techniques. The privileged standpoint(s) are not meant to be due simply to anatomy, and– most importantly, but most commonly overlooked by critics– they’re meant to be the product of a lot of hard intellectual work, rather than automatic. For more on standpoint theory, go here.]

“Testosterone levels predict City traders’ profitability”

So says the headline. The article continues:

When City traders have high morning testosterone levels they make more than average profits for the rest of that day, researchers at the University of Cambridge have discovered.

And indeed the studies discussed do show this effect for the 17 traders that they studied (though researchers also note that “high levels of testosterone can lead to irrational decision making”). So what’s wrong with the headline and the quoted claim above? What’s wrong is that they only studied MALE traders. Given that the study’s subject matter is the effect of sex-linked hormones, it would seem especially important to study both sexes before making general claims. On the good side, the article makes no claims at all about this showing why women are less likely to get high-powered financial careers. But I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see someone else citing it in support of that claim. (Thanks for the link, Christine!)

Interesting developments in Europe II

We also learn that the French parliament is taking steps to ban websites that encourage anorexia (the ‘pro ana’ movements):

  • ‘If, as expected, the legislation is also approved by the Senate, it will become a criminal offence in France “to encourage another person to seek excessive thinness… which could expose them to a risk of death or endanger their health”. Offenders risk two years in prison or a €30,000 (£24,000) fine’

Might magazines that have pictures of skinny models be deemed to encourage the seeking of excessive thinness? THis aspect of the problem is also being addressed:

  • ‘At the same time, Mme Boyer [author of the law] and the Health Minister [Roselyne Bachelot]  have drawn up a “voluntary charter on bodily image and anorexia”. French advertisers, model agencies and prêt-à-porter fashion houses have agreed to sign the charter and to “refuse to publish images, especially of young people, which could promote an ideal of extreme thinness.”

Interesting developments in Europe, I

Here’s Mr Zapatero, Spanish Prime Minister, and the majority of his cabinet:

JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty ImagesThe Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero poses on the steps of the Moncloa palace in Madrid with his female cabinet ministers (left to right) Science and Innovation minister Cristina Garmendia, Transport and Development minister Magdalena Alvarez, Education, Social Affairs and Sports minister Mercedes Cabrera Calvo, Defence minister Carme Chacon, deputy prime minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, Public Administration minister Elena Salgado, Equality minister Bibiana Aido, Housing minister Beatriz Corredor and Agriculture and Environment minister Elena Espinosa

Yes!! In the Spanish cabinet 9 out of 17 members are women. “I am not only an anti-machoist, I am a feminist,” Mr Zapatero [Prime Minister] once said. In the Independent, we hear that this has not been universally well-received:

‘the spectacle of the 37-year-old Chacon inspecting the troops on Monday morning dressed in black pants and a white tunic, and visibly pregnant, was altogether too much for the Conservative daily El Mundo, which raged against what it called “an exercise in political marketing” that offended the traditional values and culture of the Spanish army.’

Of course, depending on how one characterises these values (macho? sexist?) one might think this is a good thing. But in anycase, they’d better get used to it: the Spanish government has introduced a ‘40% rule’:

  • ‘This prohibits men or women from making up more than 60 per cent of the candidates of any political party that contests national or local elections. It also demands, but does not require, that by 2010 any company negotiating for public contracts should appoint women to 40 per cent of the places on their boards of directors.’

Other interesting structures for promoting gender equality are discussed in the article, including:

  • ‘the so-called “zipper” system [operative in Sweden], under which if there is a man at the top of the party list, the number two position must be occupied by a woman, the third by a man, and so on.’

In the UK, only 19.5% of Parliamentarians are women. Denis MacShane, Britain’s former Europe minister, commented:’ I hope Gordon Brown and his ministers can spend more time going to Spain and learning.” Indeed! 


Mr Jender sent me a link to this stunningly blatant sexist coffee commercial (message: make your man Folger’s or he’ll withdraw his affection and pay too much attention to the ‘girls’ in the office):

And I started wondering how far we’ve REALLY come. Sure, you’d never see a commercial like that, which is good. But now think about the way that many pundits blamed Elliot Spitzer’s wife for the fact that he was hiring prostitutes– obviously she wasn’t making him feel “like a hero”, so of course his loyalties wandered. (And, like any hero, he wanted unprotected sex with prostitutes.) It’s not all about coffee now (and if it was, it surely wouldn’t be Folgers Crystals!), but what the husband does is still the wife’s fault.

Feminist Pornography

There’s a fascinating article out on Alternet, about the efforts of feminist pornographers. (I know that some use definitions of ‘feminist’ and ‘pornography’ that make this term necessarily empty. If you’re such a person, substitute ‘feminist makers of sexually explicit films’, and read on– you may or may not grant that any of these people have managed it, but it’s worth thinking about what it would take to get there, and these people are doing interesting work.) It includes discussion of the Feminist Porn Awards (interestingly, these were initiated as a response to racism in pornography).  Also discussion of the many different ways that various directors understand what it is to make feminist pornography.  Audacia Ray focuses on working conditions.

According to Audacia Ray, director of the The Bi Apple as well as a sex educator and sex workers-rights activist, “Feminist porn is, for me, much more about the production end of things than it is about what is actually onscreen. It’s about the ability of the people performing the porn to negotiate what they’re doing.” For Ray, producing feminist porn involves paying performers above the industry standard, using condoms and covering the costs of HIV testing (neither of which are industry standards), getting input from her cast about what they want to do before they arrive on set, and avoiding surprising actors with last-minute requests.

Venus Hottentot discusses content:

“For me what makes it feminist is the story,” explains Hottentot. “[With Afrodite Superstar,] I wanted to create something about sexuality and self-esteem, and for me those were my first objectives in making this film. When I looked at what is going on with HIV/AIDS in the African-American and Latin communities, I felt like there needed to be a sexual conversation.” And it’s in that context that Hottentot tells the story of a young woman of color struggling to discover an authentic identity and sexuality in the mainstream hip hop industry.

Tristan Taormino combines both by allowing performers to decide the content:

Tristan Taormino places her cast of professional adult performers in charge of how, when, why, with whom, and how often they have sex, and then interviews them about everything from the racism in porn to what they like to perform. For Taormino, the collaborative aspect is a crucial part of what makes her work feminist. “I want viewers to get to know the performers and get a more three-dimensional character, as opposed to [a] one-dimensional sex robot.” Creating context is also how Taormino responds to the dominant imagery in mainstream porn. “When something comes up that could possibly reinforce a dominant image — like, for example, in Chemistry 3 there was a bunch of rough sex — [it’s] really important to, in my interviews with people, have them specifically talk about why they like rough sex, how they obtain consent, what their boundaries are, and how it relates to their sexual expression.

One particularly interesting thing that comes out in the article is that– if the article’s right– mainstream pornography is starting to pay a bit of attention to feminist pornography. One of the winners of the Feminist Porn Awards also won a mainstream award for Best Gonzo Release– particularly significant because this is a genre which has traditionally been amongst the most misogynistic. I really do urge you to read the article of you’re interested in feminism and pornography, whatever your views are. There’s a lot of complexity in the article. (The article is exclusively about feminist pornographers, so it’s not the place to go for a discussion of feminist opposition to pornography– but it doesn’t try to do that.)