A Tricky Tactical Issue for Feminists

System justification theory examines the mechanisms by which people tend to justify the status quo, even when it is detrimental to them. One key system-justifying belief is that “the system as a whole is fair, balanced, and legitimate.” (Jost and Kay 499) A recent study (Jost and Kay) began from the thought that the belief
“that every group in society possesses some advantages and some disadvantages” (Jost and Kay 499) could help to support this idea, and therefore acceptance of the status quo. Complementary or “benevolent” sexist stereotypes fit nicely with this. There’s been a lot of work on these stereotypes in psychology, but they’ll be familiar to all feminist scholars (this is also Jost and Kay 499):

Men are generally stereotyped as competent, assertive, independent, and achievement oriented—and women are not, whereas women are generally stereotyped as warm, sociable, interdependent, and relationship oriented—and men are not (Deaux & Lewis, 1984; Eagly & Steffen, 1984; Langford & MacKinnon, 2000; Williams & Best, 1982). Masculine and feminine stereotypes are complementary in the sense that each gender group is seen as possessing a set of strengths that balances out its own weaknesses and supplements the assumed strengths of the other group (see also Kay & Jost, 2003).

What the study found is remarkable, and troubling: Mere exposure to these ‘benevolent sexist’ stereotypes– even in the form of proof-reading sentences expressing them– increased acceptance of the status quo as just and fair.

Why do I find this so troubling? Well, because the feminist literature often contains sentences that fit very nicely with the “benevolent sexist” stereotypes– think of much of the ethics of care literature, or think of discussions of the maleness of philosophy which involve claims that women may be uncomfortable with the aggressiveness of the field. If merely being exposed to these ideas means that one will tend to endorse the status quo as just and fair, this gives feminist philosophers a reason to be very careful what views they discuss. But that would seem like a huge mistake as far as intellectual integrity goes– surely we should discuss all views that seem worth discussing.

What do you think?

What it’s really about

As Frank Rich says, all the anger isn’t really about health care.

If Obama’s first legislative priority had been immigration or financial reform or climate change, we would have seen the same trajectory. The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play. It’s not happenstance that Frank, Lewis and Cleaver — none of them major Democratic players in the health care push — received a major share of last weekend’s abuse. When you hear demonstrators chant the slogan “Take our country back!,” these are the people they want to take the country back from.

Thanks, Mr Jender.

Eureka! Why women are excluded from philosophy!

(Preliminary note:  when I was involved in faculty governance, I used to joke that women thought that if someone didn’t have relevant personal experience of a problem, they didn’t think he/she was competent to make judgments about it, while men, on the other hand, think that if you have personal experience of a problem, then your judgment is invalid. 

I deeply do believe that if particularly we older women cannot appeal to our experience of issues, we impoverish the discourse.  That said, I do realize that for some people that could invalidate  a discussion.  So please notice that what follows isn’t really an argument from a single case:  it uses a single case to raise a question about a possibility that highlights, among other things, how we  need to work on networking for women.)

Let me be more modest than the  title suggests.  I’ll move beyond the sense of discovery and ask more modestly:  is this sort of gatekeeping (see below) one reason why women are not faring well in philosophy?  And  could it connect with the fact that women tend to be small minorities  at conferences, or absent entirely? 

Unfortunately, the source of insight came at  my own expense.  I submitted a paper to a society and it was rejected.  The referee’s comments really blew the  paper off.  Well, no surprise there, but there’s more  to the story.  And I hope no one thinks they have to assume the paper was really good.  The ideas about exclusion should be independent of the quality of one paper, but obviously I wouldn’t have even started to look for the explanation I found unless I had had it accepted somewhere very good. 

First of all, the central ideas of my paper have been accepted without comments or revisions by a very prestiguous publications.  Secondly, the referee’s comments had three features that set me thinking:

1.  There was no indication that he (as I assume) saw any of my arguments.  I had a very formal and explicit argument, in the form of a classic dilemma, against the central thesis of a text.  The referee’s comment?  “This won’t bother the author.”  Then he remarks that I decided against a promising strategy, not registering, it seems, that I argued the strategy was not  promising.

2.  He spent quite a bit  of time outlining what I should have done to construct a rival to the  text’s theory.  I was in fact not interested in doing that, so he didn’t seem to notice what I did  do.  (I think there are deeply serious problems with assumptions behind all the  theories, which was what I  was discussing.)  He in fact seemed to think the points he recognized were all right, but since, again, he didn’t think they’d bother the author, he didn’t think that they were worth making even though they put paid to two prominant approaches. 

3.  Quite possibly as requested, he closed by saying why he was competent to  judge and basically it’s because he works in the area.

So here’s my hypothesis:  The area is one in which a lot of youngish guys are communicating with one another and are engaged in the quest for arguing for or against roughly 3 competing theories in the area.  And I think I see a kind of gatekeeping.  Since “the text” in question has just come out and it does have a very new thesis, there isn’t an established  literature in this area.  That’s just starting  to form.  But there are groups of guys outlining what they think are the important issues, on blogs and at conferences.  And  if you are not part of that, you may not be passed in any refereeing process, I now suspect.  Not because you aren’t known, precisely, but because it doesn’t count as what they think is the right kind of move.

And I’m inclined to think that the fact that the arguments were disregarded shows how central the familiarity of the discussion is.  It it’s too different, you can just toss it. 

So how does this speak to women’s situation in philosophy?  Quite simply, if we’re not networking and getting our ideas out there in an informal way, we’re very seriously handicapped, I am hypothesizing.  But doing that supposes that informal groups are as open and congenial for us as they are for the guys.  And they are not, for many of us.  And if conferences stay very male oriented, they won’t be.

I think we can hope:  a lot of younger women seem to have some access to some of the clusters of discussions.  Of course, that’s what makes a recent  account of a woman getting cut out because she turned down sexual advances so very serious.

And then there’s the chicken-and-egg problem:  why aren’t we networking?  Is there an even more foundational problem there?  Well, let’s all discuss this.

When women live on $11k a year, now that’s a crisis

An interesting post on OurFuture.org suggests that the New York Times didn’t have it quite right when reports suggested that Social Security is in crisis.  The more urgent problem, author Stacy Sanders suggests, is not the solvency of the program:

On the contrary, there is real data that shows its beneficiaries, particularly older women, are in crisis. Though never intended to be the only source of income in retirement, many find themselves solely reliant upon Social Security as they age. In fact, Social Security provides more than 90 percent of income to three out of ten retired elders. And, due to time spent out of the workforce for caregiving and lower lifetime wages, women are even more dependent on Social Security.

Last year, the average annual Social Security payment was only $11,316 for an older woman.

Does Miscommunication Lead to Rape?

It’s very popular to suppose that rape is often the result of miscommunication. There are at least two versions of this, with different emphases– those who are less sympathetic to the victims say that rapes result from women giving unclear signals; some anti-porn feminists (e.g. Langton) suggest that porn may have so warped men’s thinking about sex that they don’t recognise women’s attempts to refuse sex.

C has pointed me to some fascinating empirical research involving interviews with men. These interviews make it clear that the men are sensitive to subtle and non-direct refusals from women, which they also indicate would be their own preferred method of refusing sex. But then once the word ‘rape’ is introduced the men start playing up the potential for miscommunication, insisting that even ‘no’ isn’t really an unambiguous refusal.

This is where things fall off the rails. Suddenly, men don’t deal with “subtleties,” even though the men have previously reported that they would turn down sex in the same way they’d expect women to—subtly. Suddenly, a person misinterpreting lack of consent is completely understandable if “she fails to say ‘no’ clearly,” even though the men had previously never invoked direct refusal as a way they know if women don’t want to have sex with them. Suddenly, a woman is required to engage in a very specific behavior—looking her sex partner in the eye and saying “no”—in order to not be responsible for her own rape.

(Actually, there may be some interesting connections between this and the cognitive dissonance post below.)

Cognitive dissonance and tea parties

From the NY Times:

When Tom Grimes lost his job as a financial consultant 15 months ago, he called his congressman, a Democrat, for help getting government health care.

Then he found a new full-time occupation: Tea Party activist.

In the last year, he has organized a local group and a statewide coalition, and even started a “bus czar” Web site to marshal protesters to Washington on short notice. This month, he mobilized 200 other Tea Party activists to go to the local office of the same congressman to protest what he sees as the government’s takeover of health care.

Mr. Grimes is one of many Tea Party members jolted into action by economic distress. At rallies, gatherings and training sessions in recent months, activists often tell a similar story in interviews: they had lost their jobs, or perhaps watched their homes plummet in value, and they found common cause in the Tea Party’s fight for lower taxes and smaller government.

The Great Depression, too, mobilized many middle-class people who had fallen on hard times. Though, as Michael Kazin, the author of “The Populist Persuasion,” notes, they tended to push for more government involvement. The Tea Party vehemently wants less — though a number of its members acknowledge that they are relying on government programs for help.

These people don’t necessarily have contradictory beliefs (one can still believe that X is wrong while doing X, and one can still believe that it shouldn’t be possible to do X while doing X). But there is certainly a tension between their actions and their beliefs. I find myself thinking there’s got to be a philosophical literature on this. Do any of you know it? (One gets structurally similar cases with weakness of will– thinking X is wrong while still doing X. But that seems like the wrong analysis for these cases– it’s not like these people are thinking “I wish I could stop myself from collecting these benefits, but I just can’t resist!” Among other disanalogies, they don’t seem to see the problem.)

The Pacific APA and USF

As most of you know, the APA has been asked by the relevant hotel workers union to boycott the hotel where the meetings has been scheduled.  The decision was made to not try to move  the conference, but the University of San Francisco, with striking generosity, has offer  to organize and host sessions on their campus for people who want to move out of the hotel.

Here is the alternative schedule, along with other very useful information.

The SWIP sessions will be over there, along with other good ones!