Response to Louise Antony

A member of Feminist Philosophers invited SPP to respond here to  a post of mine.  I strongly supported this idea and in doing so assumed that we could at least converge on an account of what happened.  Instead the blog has ended up providing a platform for a response from SPP that is in error on facts and issues. 

I took my previous post to make two statements.  The second was inaccurate, and it was corrected as soon as the error was pointed out.  They were: (1) the SPP conference has a talk/session that instantiates an exclusion that it attempts to explain; (2) The conference has a poor record of invited women philosophers at the last 3 conferences; the figures cited were corrected to: 1 speaker in 2010, 3 in 2009, and 0 in 2008.  (Readers should note an amendment in the earlier post.)  Let us take these in reverse order:

(1)   Antony disputes the facts about conference speakers, in part because she includes women who were not invited to speak at the conference.  That is, she adds in those invited to speak at a workshop occurring before the conference.  The workshop tends to be the responsibility of one or a few individual members; it isn’t a product of the program committee, for example, as the conference is. My understanding is that in the current year, 2010, the workshop was produced by one individual.  Hence, the connection between the choices shaping it and those of the SPP is much more tenuous.  In addition, the presence of invited women philosophers at this year’s workshop was noted in my comments, as was the unusually high number of contributed papers by female philosophers.

Antony wrongly and puzzingly attributes to me an allegation that I did not make.   Indeed, in a comment, Rob Wilson said he wasn’t sure anyone was making the allegation in question, which I take as some sign that the attribution of the allegation is much more problematic than Antony is indicating.  It is simply wrong to say that the post was about issues concerned with friendliness or hostility.  One indication of the narrow focus of the post is noted by Antony:  the number of invited speakers couldn’t possibly decide the general issue of the climate women experience.  I couldn’t possibly think it did.  That was not going on.  

Of course, supposed allegations, like insinuations, may be solely in the minds of the hearers.   One should be very careful attributing them to the speaker. 

What, then, was the post really about?  I was wrong to think that was clear.  So let me explain:  It is an ongoing concern of feminist epistemology and philosophy of science that practices in many fields deprive women of epistemic authority. This worry provides the motivation behind my post.  One reason for our gender conference campaign is that some practices in philosophy do particularly fail to accord women philosophers epistemic authority.  They fail, that is, to accord women philosophers equal status with men philosophers as contributors to the intellectual enterprise of philosophy.   A good indicator of the inequality is the practice of not featuring women philosophers as invited  speakers, or not doing so in numbers comparable to the men (allowing, of course, for differences in overall numbers in the field).  That is hardly my idea alone, and our gendered conference campaign arose not just in agreement among ourselves, but also in response to our readers who comment here, along with recommendations from professional literature, such as this pdf from the Barnard Center for Research on Women.

(2)   To take up the issue of the opening talk:  The underlying concern here as elsewhere is the role accorded to work by women philosophers, including our own professional efforts, along with those from other fields, to understand what to many of us appear to be exclusionary practices.   

There is a field of knowledge about the causal mechanisms producing the low number of women in many fields, and it has been extensively developed over the last 40 years.  There has been significant success; thanks in part to the $130 million NSF has invested, results are being tested and codified, and new  procedures are implemented in many universities.   Noting this historical background speaks to formulating and evaluating causal hypotheses linking some phenomenon to the low numbers of women in a field.  Stich’s title and a related paper by his co-author suggested that they are advancing a relevant causal hypothesis.  I think that I’d object to any causal hypothesis featured at a professional meeting that didn’t take into account  existing expertise.  But in any case, the point here is that the existing expertise is  owned at least in part by people whose general absense was being both explained and instantiated.  

There is, then, another layer that explains why the focus was so much on the talk and the invited speakers.  That’s the worry that that session did not just instantiate  the problem it was discussing, but it may also have instantiated the cause of that problem.  The failure in professional contexts to represent  women’s professional expertise as relevant  can be a real killer-off of women doing research.  As the opening session illustrates, it happens even when the knowledge is being developed by leading researchers supported by NSF.   That’s what made the issue so important.  That and the fact that the choices we are discussing here suggest a lack of knowledge of such issues, as opposed to ill-will. 

The scientists I discussed this issue with before writing the post were in contrast very aware of the political implications of the situation.   This blog has been very concerned that the physical sciences now appear better able to adapt to women scholars than philosophy is. Supposing  my scientist friends are somewhat typical of scientists in the US today, I think it likely that awareness of such issues in the science communities may help explain some of the difference.**

 Nothing so far speaks to Stich’s work specifically on gendered differences in intuitions, which may be up to his own high standards of brilliant and revisionary research.  (On the net perhaps I need to stress that I am completely serious in saying he has done superb and wonderfully revisionary work.)


**This still imperfect paragraph has been changed in light of comments 1-3.  Thanks, MBS and Jender.


I haven’t been able to address all of Antony’s points, but I’m not even sure many people will have read this far.   For those who have followed this, your comments are very welcome.  Unfortunately, when Jender and I discussed which day the posts should go up, I had forgotten that on June 30th I will be traveling quite a bit.  However, I will get to the comments as I can.  Please be sure to follow our rule – be nice! – so your comment stays up.

Guest Post: Louise Antony on SPP

Feminist philosophers, like other feminists and other philosophers, sometimes disagree with each other. Here at Feminist Philosophers we think it’s vital to be able to discuss these disagreements cordially and openly. Today we have a guest post from Louise Antony, in response to JJ’s post about the Society for Philosophy and Psychology. JJ will also be publishing a post responding to this one. As always, we ask readers to observe our blog’s “be nice” policy (to be found under “Our Policies”). Because I worry that this discussion could become not-nice, I’m going to be especially vigilant in enforcing our policies. In addition, I don’t want this topic to take over the blog, so I will close comments if it begins to look like no further progress will be made.

As President of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SPP), I would like to respond to the recent claims about our society posted here by jj. I am particularly concerned to counter the impression jj creates about the climate for women within SPP. In fact, the Society is engaging in active and ongoing efforts to increase and support participation by women philosophers, and it would be ironic and sad if these efforts were hampered by jj’s remarks.

JJ makes the following false claim: “[t]he society’s conference have [sic] a dismal record of women philosophers as invited speakers; in two out of the last three conferences, no women philosophers were invited speakers.” This charge has been mostly rebutted by commenters on jj’s original post, but let me rehearse the facts: In 2010, there were three women philosophers invited to speak at the SPP: Julia
Driver, Susan Dwyer, and Adina Roskies. In 2009, there were also four women philosophers invited to speak at the SPP: Adrienne Martin, Valerie Hardcastle, Ruth Millikan, and Tamar Gendler. In 2008, it is true that there were no women philosophers invited to give talks (but see below). In 2007, there were, once again, four women philosophers invited to give talks: Anne Jaap Jacobson, Elizabeth Irvine, Brie Gertler, and Lori Gruen. All of this information, and more, is available from the SPP website.

JJ alleges that the SPP is indifferent to issues of gender equity in its overall practice and organization, and that its climate is hostile to women philosophers. On the contrary, the SPP is quite self-conscious about equity issues and deeply committed both to increasing the diversity of its membership, and to improving the experience for women already participating in the society’s programs and governance. In 2008, Anne Jaap Jacobson raised concerns about what she saw as a low rate of participation by women philosophers in the society, and suggested the creation of a Diversity Committee. Creation of this committee was duly approved, unanimously, by the membership. It was charged, inter alia, with keeping account of gender balance in the society’s leadership and programs, and with actively proffering our collective expertise in studying and addressing the paucity of women in the field of philosophy. It was resolved at that same meeting that we hold a “Diversity Lunch” at each annual meeting in order to discuss equity issues as they arise, and to review the outcomes of earlier
initiatives. The next year, in 2009, we held an invited symposium on implicit belief, which featured a talk by Virginia Valian, author of the influential book on women in academia, Why So Slow? Her talk focused on unconscious behavior and attitudes that function to disadvantage women. She attended our newly implemented Diversity
Lunch and offered a variety of concrete suggestions for improving the climate for women within the society, which we have been endeavoring to implement. At the same luncheon, we undertook a number of initiatives for increasing the visibility of the society among women philosophers, and hope to be able to report progress soon on some of these.

It is noteworthy in itself that JJ’s complaint is so carefully crafted in terms of “women philosophers.” The SPP has long been a place where women are prominent and active, but JJ insinuates that it doesn’t count if these women work in empirical fields like psychology or linguistics. This baffles me. We are a society premised on the value of interaction across disciplines. Why should anyone care if the brilliant woman at the front of the room has a Ph.D. in Psychology or in Philosophy? In terms of the rate of participation by women, the SPP excels. In 2010, women constituted nearly forty per cent of the invited program. In the anomalous year of 2008, we had a woman president (Lila Gleitman), an all-woman Program Committee (Sharon Armstrong, Fei Xu, Susan Schneider, and myself), a woman Stanton Prize winner (Laurie Santos), and a woman (philosopher, by the way) winning our annual poster prize (Kate Devitt).

But even if we restrict our attention to the involvement of women philosophers in the SPP, it is wrong to focus, as JJ does, on one single measure – the number of women appearing in the invited sections of the meeting. There are other questions one might – and should – ask. For example: what percentage of women served as chairs or commentators – roles over which the Program Committee have most control? Here, I can report, the Committee did quite a good job: of the twenty-seven chair/commentator slots filled by philosophers, six went to women. That’s a rate approximately equal to the proportion of women in the field of philosophy as a whole, and probably greater than the proportion of women in the subareas of philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. Additionally, a look at the contributed sessions shows an exceptionally high rate of participation by women philosophers, as compared with men philosophers: of the thirteen philosophers who authored or co-authored a submitted paper presented at the conference, six were women. (We
adhere to a policy, by the way, of mutually anonymous review.) Finally, it should be kept in mind that the program reveals only the people who actually participated in the meeting, not who all were invited. In fact, this year’s Program Co-chairs inform me that they endeavored to include women philosophers in every symposium, but that only Adina Roskies accepted their invitation.

Finally, I would like to say something about the paper delivered by Stephen Stitch. Jj’s characterization of this session is quite misleading. First of all, it was not a symposium on the reasons for the gender imbalance in philosophy. Prof. Stitch had been invited to present a paper to the SPP, and he chose to present one that dealt with this topic. It happened that the paper had been co-authored with another philosopher, Wesley Buckwalter. The work Stitch presented is completely continuous with his (and Buckwalter’s) ongoing study of the role of intuitions in philosophical method, work that is eminently suitable for presentation at our venue. The session
was chaired, as is common for this program slot, by one of the co-chairs of the Program Committee, Ron Mallon. It is not our custom to engage commentators for invited papers, and so there is no question of women having been excluded from this role. (As a matter of fact, however, I served as a de facto commentator, since I was given the first question, and since I went on for quite a while.) Let me just say for the record that (a) we in the SPP find nothing wrong or inappropriate about a man’s addressing the question why there are so few women in philosophy, but that (b) were we to set up a meeting session on this topic, we would of course begin by consulting women in the profession, as well as experts on gender equity.

No doubt our procedures for constructing our programs are not ideal, and perhaps there is more we could do to stimulate interest in the society among women working in philosophy of mind and language. We are open to constructive suggestions concerning these matters, but the promulgation of false claims about the Society helps no one.

Louise Antony
President, Society for Philosophy and Psychology

New Entry for the White Privilege Check List

You’ll remember the White Privilege Checklist  by Peggy MacIntosh that has such entries as the following:

3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

Some of these may seem out-of-date now, but there are new ones, including:

              If I need some extra cash in China, I can rent myself out to enhance scenes by playing a role or even just providing a white face.** 

From CNN:

For a day, a weekend, a week, up to even a month or two, Chinese companies are willing to pay high prices for fair-faced foreigners to join them as fake employees or business partners.

Some call it “White Guy Window Dressing.” To others, it’s known as the “White Guy in a Tie” events, “The Token White Guy Gig,” or, simply, a “Face Job.”

And it is, essentially, all about the age-old Chinese concept of face. To have a few foreigners hanging around means a company has prestige, money and the increasingly crucial connections — real or not — to businesses abroad.

So two questions:

Does anyone feel as though they do something comparable, but more or less for free?  (Think: showing up in a group of faculty supposedly thrilled that Prof. Never Give Up won some prize.  With the press there.)

If we show up to provide faces for free, does it become wrong if one is paid?  Or is it that pretending to be pleased is OK, but pretending to be an interested wealthy foreigner is not? Even if one’s pretending to be pleased might give people the impression that there’s more significant research at one’s university than there is? 

Here’s CNN’s clip; it is not exactly enthralling:


**From what I understand,  skin whitening products are popular in China, so the impact of privilege may be even more serious than the surface suggests.

Travelling overseas to a conference?

And worried you’ll be stuck with all those dreary passport and laptop holders that shriek “men’s business world”?

This is where the Feminist Philosophers’  gendered product posts can get really useful.  For example, we’ve uncovered the Fluff line (available on, of course).  Here’s just the right passport holder

and matching laptop bag.  Won’t your laptop feel cosy?  Why you know that you will stand right out among the girls.

If you’re thinking more adult, you might want to get a whole luggage set from Heys.  Think of   entering  the conference hotel as making a statement about in-the-street gender representations:

Iceland’s PM and her new wife!

Another first for Iceland.

Iceland’s prime minister has married her partner under a new law legalizing same-sex marriage in the country.

One of her advisers, Hrannar B. Arnarsson, said Monday Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir and writer Jonina Leosdottir were officially married Sunday, the day the law came into force.

Hurrah– and congratulations!!

A Paglia Riff

It’s here, in the NY Times

Does it matter if various parts don’t fit together?  Here’s the situation she’s addressing: All the middle class white people have the sexual blahs.  Why?  Well, on the one hand:

  The real culprit, originating in the 19th century, is bourgeois propriety. As respectability became the central middle-class value, censorship and repression became the norm. Victorian prudery ended the humorous sexual candor of both men and women during the agrarian era, a ribaldry chronicled from Shakespeare’s plays to the 18th-century novel.

But there are some good non-white non-middle-class things:

A class issue in sexual energy may be suggested by the apparent striking popularity of Victoria’s Secret and its racy lingerie among multiracial lower-middle-class and working-class patrons, even in suburban shopping malls, which otherwise trend toward the white middle class. Country music, with its history in the rural South and Southwest, is still filled with blazingly raunchy scenarios, where the sexes remain dynamically polarized in the old-fashioned way

Is Victoria’s Secret and country music old-fashioned in the Shakespearean way or the 1950’s way.  I always thought both were very 50’s fantasies, but nevermind.

Her important indictments actually are disappointingly full of cliches.  Stop me if you’ve heard this one:

Meanwhile, family life has put middle-class men in a bind; they are simply cogs in a domestic machine commanded by women. Contemporary moms have become virtuoso super-managers of a complex operation focused on the care and transport of children. But it’s not so easy to snap over from Apollonian control to Dionysian delirium.

That’s despite the research that says that feminist have more fun in bed (to put it loosely). 

There is one notable observation; Rob found it for us here.

Haptic Happenstance, Part One

Given their qualifications, she had a weightier resume, but he got the job.  Bias at work?  Not necessarily the sort you’d think of.  It might be that his was circulated on a stiff clipboard, while hers was put on a flimsy one.  The result is that her resume feels literally and so seems metaphorically flimsier than his.

Research reported in the current Science substantiates this story.  Here’s the reference and abstract:

Science 25 June 2010:
Vol. 328. no. 5986, pp. 1712 – 1715

Incidental Haptic Sensations Influence Social Judgments and Decisions
Joshua M. Ackerman, Christopher C. Nocera, John A. Bargh

Touch is both the first sense to develop and a critical means of information acquisition and environmental manipulation. Physical touch experiences may create an ontological scaffold for the development of intrapersonal and interpersonal conceptual and metaphorical knowledge, as well as a springboard for the application of this knowledge. In six experiments, holding heavy or light clipboards, solving rough or smooth puzzles, and touching hard or soft objects nonconsciously influenced impressions and decisions formed about unrelated people and situations. Among other effects, heavy objects made job candidates appear more important, rough objects made social interactions appear more difficult, and hard objects increased rigidity in negotiations. Basic tactile sensations are thus shown to influence higher social cognitive processing in dimension-specific and metaphor-specific ways.

This work has a basis in Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By (1980).   It also fits in with a lot we know about influences that we may not notice.  For example, the chances are that the next menu you open in a restaurant (in the States at least) will not have dollar signs before the figures giving the cost of a item.  Why?  Dollar signs inhibit spending.  Or, as John Doris points out in Lack of Character, finding a dime can make one more likely to help someone who has fallen.

There are two different directions I’d love to see a discussion of this material go in.  One is practical and the other more theoretical.   This part, Part One, is practical.

Can we do anything with the information about haptic influence?  Should job candidates send their files off in stiff folders?  And what else should one then try to do? 

 We do know of other environmental factors that affect the accuracy of choices of the sort that matter in academic  contexts.  For example, a stressed situation invites judgments more influenced by hidden biases.  Trying to mirror others’ gestures is supposed to help one is job interviews.  One is well advised to dress the part one wants to get.  And so on.

One factor that starts to look crucial is that decisions about hiring and promotion need to be made in a group and by a group, so that purely accidental variations weigh less.  But how about grading and writing letters of reference?

What do you think?

The Sunday cat is on vacation, but

that didn’t seem a reason not to pass on some useful information that PJ, DS and JT each sent in.  And that’s about catios, enclosed patios for cats.

According to the NY Times, there is a variety of ways one can go to create a safe outdoor place for a cat.  We recommend the article and the easy-to-put together Kitty Walk prefabricated catios.    With the latter, however, we do have one qualification:  cats are dedicated escape artists.  The Kitty Walk gazebo is hand constructed and our cats quickly found vulnerable spots. 

Below is a pic of Tarragon in the Kitty Walk gazebo we got from  We had decided not to use it after he and Basil dismantled some of it, but when Tarry lept from the 20th floor balcony (here depicted) down to the 19th, we thought again and wired together the parts they had separated.