Hey, what about WOMEN’S intuition? With Update

Another one for the Gendered Conference Campaign. Sigh. (Thanks, FEAST-L!)

Conference Announcement
Intuition, theory, and anti-theory in ethics
Edinburgh, July 3-4 2010

Registrations are now open for this conference. Our speakers are:

Talbot Brewer (University of Virginia)
John Cottingham (University of Reading)
Jonathan Dancy (University of Reading/ Texas)
Brad Hooker (University of Reading)
Edward Harcourt (Keble College, Oxford)
James Lenman (University of Sheffield)
Tim Mulgan (University of St Andrews)
Michael Ridge (University of Edinburgh) & Sean McKeever (Davidson College, NC, USA)
Tom Sorell (University of Birmingham)
Sergio Tenenbaum (University of Toronto)
Alan Thomas (University of Kent)

UPDATE: Apparently Amelie Rorty has just agreed to speak at the conference.

23 thoughts on “Hey, what about WOMEN’S intuition? With Update

  1. Dear [whatever your actual name is– it’s a shame you’re using a pseudonym, and you might like to know for future reference that that nearly stopped me from responding altogether],

    Since Professor Amelie Rorty agreed to be on the programme yesterday, your description of the conference as male-speakers-only no longer applies.

    In case you’re interested: yes, it had struck me that I’d got a list of men-only philosophers, and yes, I did think that was a shame. Though that’s not why I invited Amelie Rorty; I invited her because she’s an excellent philosopher!

    I would also say that I see no reason why a philosophy conference that didn’t have any women speakers couldn’t be a perfectly good conference. My own feminism takes the form of trying to see people as people first and whatever gender they happen to be second.

    If it comes to visible invisibilities in contemporary philosophy, what about the striking lack of black philosophers, of either gender? In Britain I can think of none at all, though of course that might just be my own ignorance. And that does perturb me.

    At any rate, I’m delighted to know that my conference had caught your attention, even if it was for a reason you didn’t like. I hope at least some of the bloggers on Feminist Philosophers will make it to the conference!

    Best wishes

  2. PS Ah, I see, looking round your website, that you have a policy about anonymity. Fair enough, and I see your reasoning there. However, I do think most people are suspicious of pseudonymous emails. It’s something to bear in mind while running your campaign. Which, as I should perhaps have made clearer by being a bit less brusque in my first reply, I think is a good idea :-)

  3. Dear TDJCC,

    If you say ” I see no reason why a philosophy conference that didn’t have any women speakers couldn’t be a perfectly good conference,” then you don’t understand the point that is trying to be made with this campaign.

    Sure, if out of 100 philosophy conferences there were 1 or 2 that did not feature any philosophers who were women, this wouldn’t be as big a deal. The point is that there are many–too many–conferences that feature no women presenters. Part of this is due to the fact that there are not many women in philosophy (which should strike you as odd). But, this does not account for all of it, for various reasons that require a much longer comment to explain, and I believe the site talks about in reference to this campaign.

    If you say “My own feminism takes the form of trying to see people as people first and whatever gender they happen to be second,” then you don’t understand the point that feminism is making, which is that EVERYONE sees people according to gender, even if you are trying not to. Sexism doesn’t happen because some bad apples are bigots. Sexism happens because it is embedded into the structure of our society. Asserting that you are gender-blind doesn’t make you part of the solution. It’s a sign that you’re part of the problem, as long as you keep thinking that sexism is a moral flaw of a select few that can be willed away.

    And while I appreciate your concern for the integrity of this post in regard to anonymity, I can assure you that most of us are aware of the suspicion such anonymity can garner. Please keep in mind that we are also aware of the negative repercussions we risk by revealing our identity, which many of us rate as being more severe than such suspicion.

  4. Dr. Chappell, maybe you would consider asking Dr. Tenenbaum if the names Charles W. Mills or Carole Pateman ring any bells?

  5. Thanks for stopping by, TDJCC. First, I want to say that you’re absolutely right about the whiteness of philosophy. Our running a campaign around gender issues does not mean that we think these are the only ones that matter. For a variety of reasons, it would be more difficult to run a campaign like this on race.

    One thing I want to emphasise is that our main reason for objecting to all-male conferences is their effects– the way that the help to perpetuate the associations between philosophy and maleness. (So it’s not about accusing you of sexism. I don’t think you did misunderstand us in that way, but some have done so.)

    I’d also like to note, though, that the evidence on implicit bias makes it very clear that good faith efforts to *not notice* things like race and gender simply aren’t very effective. A lot goes on unconsciously, automatically, and outside of our direct control. For that reason, it seems to me that a bit of extra attention to these issues is needed.

  6. Well, some interesting points there. Please remember, I am on your side. The idea of politely nudging conference organisers on the issue of gender balance is a perfectly reasonable one. The issue does need attention–even it’s uncomfortable to be reminded of one’s omissions… :-)
    In my career so far I’ve organised 6 conferences. This is the only one for which I didn’t find any women speakers apart from Amelie Rorty. I don’t know why that happened. I’m not very pleased that it did. But I would feel very uncomfortable with the idea of inviting speakers to remedy this gender imbalance *just because* they’re female.
    I hope to meet some of you at the conference!
    Best wishes

  7. You write:
    “But I would feel very uncomfortable with the idea of inviting speakers to remedy this gender imbalance *just because* they’re female.”

    We definitely agree. Sarah Palin, for example, would be a poor choice. ;)

    Fortunately, there are actually plenty of talented women philosophers so one doesn’t have to invite them just because they’re female.

  8. Dear Prof. Chappell:

    Perhaps you already tried to get her, but Maggie Little at Georgetown would be an obvious excellent addition to this lineup. Not only is she an excellent philosopher and speaker who works on relevant topics, but she has worked very closely with both Hooker and Dancy.

    Kudos to those on this thread, including you, for having saved what started as a kind of hostile interaction and turned it into a productive one.

    Xena: WTF?

  9. Dear Timothy, there has been quite a lot of discussion on the topic of female absence at philosophy conferences on this blog (these posts about individual conferences are follow-ups, so to speak). Maybe you’d be interested in reading the previous discussions here? I found them very interesting and they gave me a lot of new insights.

    The intention of singling out specific conferences is, at least in part, simply to highlight the fact that there is a problem. It’s not intended to shame any particular conference organizers, but rather to raise consciousness about the problem.

  10. The problem, of course, is that it’s much easier to identify high-profile men in certain areas of philosophy, including metaethics, because men dominate in those areas. And the prestigious journals that publish their stuff are less interested in publishing in areas of philosophy that attract women or men of color. And prestigious universities are less interested in hiring philosophers who don’t work in the areas that men dominate. And so on. This is what feminists mean by “systemic.” So, yes, it’s good to put pressure on conference organizers who don’t make the effort to identify women who publish on the topic of their conference, but this is done as part of a more general program of putting pressure on the discipline as a whole to be more friendly to women and minority men.

  11. “Dear [whatever your actual name is– it’s a shame you’re using a pseudonym, and you might like to know for future reference that that nearly stopped me from responding altogether]”

    Oh come on: there are lots of very very good reasons why anonymity is valuable in this kind of context.

  12. Thank you, Rebecca. When I read the names of Hooker and Dancy I felt I had missed something when I did not also see the name of Little.

    One point I want to highlight is the effect of all-male conferences on the future of philosophy. Specific areas of philosophy already have fewer women because of their male-dominated character. When men speak to and among men, they have no need to speak for or about women. This point is further aggravated when these few women attend all-male conferences. There really is nothing more uncomfortable than being the only “skirt” in the room- being both visible and invisible in the obvious ways. The existence and pervasiveness of all-male conferences prohibits more women from entering into these fields specifically for this reason, which shows- as Hilde notes- how such things become systemic. And while one possible response would be to argue that philosophy isn’t a place to make people feel warm and fuzzy, that does not also entail that philosophy is then a place where it is permissible to feel excluded. So long as physical environments in philosophy negatively affect one’s feeling of belonging then the intellectual spaces will carry the residual effects. Women, as we can see, will steer clear of all-male conferences, which puts them at a disadvantage for pursuing that specific area, which then perpetuates the overwhelming sense of gender segregation in philosophy. Does anyone want this?

    No one would ever suggest that a woman be invited as a keynote just because she’s a woman. But to believe that this campaign implies as much reveals the philosophical bias that leads everyone to believe there are no real women philosophers out there. Moreover, given that there are women “stars” out there (Maggie Little), one must wonder how much effort was put into locating a woman speaker. Anti-racist and anti-sexist action in philosophy is not a fleeting thought of opposition; it requires that one actually, at the very least, use Google.

  13. “When men speak to and among men, they have no need to speak for or about women.” This seems a very odd thing to say. Do you think that when women speak to and among women, they have no need to speak for or about men? And do you think this means that they don’t speak about men? I really don’t think it’s helpful to paint a picture in which people like Dancy, Hooker et al stand around back-slapping, talking about hunting and smoking cigars, while women sit at home feeling invisible. I plan on going to this conference. I’m pretty sure that I won’t be the only woman there, but if I am, I certainly won’t be thinking of myself as ‘the only skirt in the room’. And I’m equally sure that nobody will treat me as such.

    I’m not denying that philosophy has problem with gender inequalities. But I think that if a female graduate student were to read your comments, she would be totally (and unnecessarily) put off going to this conference even if she works in this field. Surely that is the very opposite of the result we should be aiming for?

  14. Rebecca, Monkey: that was just my way of checking the tone of this discussion. It’s nice to see a friendly response from an organizer that’s not steeped in sarcasm and about to start screaming “LIBEL!” Thanks for not attacking the “dumb frosh”, Dr. Chappell ;-)

    Amelie Rorty has some impressive CV! Does she ever sleep?

  15. I believe this is a rather uncharitable interpretation of my comment. I know some of the speakers and they are perfectly nice people. Systemic silencing is not intentional, nor is it overt.

    I do speak from the position of a female graduate student who does work in this area, and who has been the only woman philosopher in some instances. But this feeling of exclusion is not unique to myself and many women grad students admit to debating whether or not to pursue certain fields or departments because of the absence of women for these very reasons. Substantively, I think this is a great line-up and am sure the conference will go off without a hitch. But if the absence of women did not have the sorts of consequences we all identify (though not necessarily for all and in the same way), this campaign would be a non-starter among feminists and women.

    And women must always speak to and among men insofar as their work must incorporate the canonical figures and respond to them, which, by the way, are typically written by men (look at many comp reading lists). Yet it seems rare, to me, for non-feminist men in philosophy to take up feminist works for their own purposes or as the source of possible objections.

  16. “I plan on going to this conference. I’m pretty sure that I won’t be the only woman there, but if I am, I certainly won’t be thinking of myself as ‘the only skirt in the room’. And I’m equally sure that nobody will treat me as such.”

    Are you really so confident that you won’t get treated differently because you are a women? No one is painting a picture on which a philosophy conference is akin to an episode of Mad Men — thankfully, I may add — but all that means is that the problem is less explicit.

    It seems to me like you’re refusing to acknowledge that people might do certain things based on implicit prejudices that they would explicitly reject. The point is simply that many people who would be horrified to be labeled as sexists will still end up treating women differently because they’ve been trained to behave in line with certain socially reinforced patterns of behavior. (Sometimes this might not be so terribly problematic, but in lots of cases it will be.) That’s just to say we sometimes want to explain peoples behavior in terms of certain implicit biases that they have.

  17. follow-up on what Richard said: And it is really not the point to shame and accuse people who have implicit biases. They are, after all, implicit. That is why it is so important to talk about these implicit biases and hope that people take the problems that have been raised in connection with implicit biases into account. You can’t blame people for having implicit biases (I don’t think anyone here does), but you can blame them for rejecting the possibility that everyone, including themselves, might have such implicit biases – especially when these claims (that there are implicit biases) can be supported by data.

  18. PB, we have a post about the book “Well- behaved women do not make history.” The question of what space is left to women who see a need to change an institution is interesting. Even more is the question of appropriate means.
    Women who seriously challenge the status quo are probably aware, as we are, that people won’t all think it’s good. But we can hope that people of good will recognize the validity of the concerns. So far, I think, our expectations are well surpassed.

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