Gendered Conference Campaign – update and response

Earlier today I posted on an all-male conference line-up and reported that I had written a letter. The organiser of the conference has gotten back to me very quickly, which was extremely instructive. The conference organisers have clearly considered the issues that the gendered conference campaign is concerned with and, since the aim of the campaign is in part to learn how all-male line-ups come about, has subsequently given permission to post his response in full – see below.

I am sure that there is room for disagreement about the specifics. But I thought that his finding that all invited women had declined, and that all invited men had said yes, was interesting. I remember us discussing that on this blog recetly, but – alas – couldn’t find the thread. Can anyone please help – I would like to share it with the organiser?

Then, with thanks: 

As for the absence of women speakers at our conference, you might be surprised to learn that we agree with you! Our conference would be better were the speakers more diverse. As it happens, our two top choices for speakers (after Singer) were women: [name omitted for privacy purposes] and [name omitted for privacy purposes]. Both turned us down. The conference is divided into a variety of smaller topics and, as luck would have it, the ‘backup’ speakers for these speakers’ topics were men. None of the men we invited turned us down (some of the ‘backups’ for their topics were women).

So in this case, I think we might have to chalk it up to the luck of which speakers—at the relevant academic ability, with knowledge of the requisite topic—happened to be both available and willing to participate. It was indeed a disappointment to us when both declined to take part.

I noticed on your blog that you seemed particularly troubled that we would address abortion without a female speaker. As it happens, abortion was not originally going to be discussed, but one of our speakers switched his topic to abortion just a couple weeks ago, long after the speaker line-up was set.

So on all of that, I think you and I are in full agreement. Where it is possible we might disagree is whether, given the above situation, we ought to have found a substitute female speaker no matter what. In other words, must every conference always have at last one female speaker? Not necessarily. For any academic conference, the speakers must possess a knowledge of the relevant field, display academic excellence, be eloquent and respected in their field, and so on. Gender is indeed one factor in choosing a speaker, but at least on my view, it cannot be an overriding factor. I am not interested in the ‘tokenal’ approach of choosing a speaker purely because of his or her gender (or race). We choose the invited women speakers because they are the leading, intentional experts for the respective topics. It was beneficial that, as women, their perspectives would have represented one that would otherwise be absent. But we didn’t choose them because they were women, as if we needed a ‘token woman’ to show up. Yet for the same reasons, we would not choose a replacement solely for reasons of gender.

It may be worth adding that this conference was particularly difficult to find suitable speakers for, given how controversial Singer’s views are. Even though you found the phrase ‘genuine exchange’ something to mock, we are determined that it will be both a cordial and forthright exchange. We discovered, as we considered various speakers, that many were interested only in a platform to challenge Singer, and not in a charitable conversation. This led us to cross-off a number of potential speakers (both men and women), leading to a smaller pool than otherwise.

With kindest regards,
John Perry

McDonald Fellow for Christian Ethics & Public Life

Christ Church

University of Oxford

Thanks, again, John for letting me share!

Catharine MacKinnon in “On the Human”

She has an article, and you can join in the discussion. (Thanks, S!)

Over fifty years ago the Universal Declaration of Human Rights defined what a human being is. It told the world what a person, as a person, is entitled to. Are women human yet?

If women were human, would we be a cash crop shipped from Thailand in containers into New York’s brothels? Would we be sexual and reproductive slaves? Would we be bred, worked without pay our whole lives, burned when our dowry money wasn’t enough or when men tired of us, starved as widows when our husbands died (if we survived his funeral pyre), sold for sex because we are not valued for anything else? Would we be sold into marriage to priests to atone for our family’s sins or to improve our family’s earthly prospects? Would we, when allowed to work for pay, be made to work at the most menial jobs and exploited at barely starvation level? Would our genitals be sliced out to “cleanse” us (our body parts are dirt?), to control us, to mark us and define our cultures? Would we be trafficked as things for sexual use and entertainment worldwide in whatever form current technology makes possible? Would we be kept from learning to read and write?

Woman and depression

A reader has been dismayed to find discussions of women and depression in medical circles is increasingly about the biochemical factors. “It’s the hormones, you know…” Can you suggest some good work discussion factors such as political situations, etc?

Philosophy of race in the Gourmet Report?

The Philosophical Gourmet report does not have a category for philosophy of race. Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman has contacted Brian Leiter, suggesting that one be added. Leiter explained that his editorial board had considered and rejected the idea of adding a philosophy of race category. Sally Haslanger and I agree with Coleman that a philosophy of race category is needed, and we think that many in the philosophical community would concur. In order to demonstrate support for this idea, we’ve compiled a petition. If you agree, please sign it! (And please do list your institutional affiliation, if any.)

The petition is here.

GCC: “seeking genuine exchange”…..

But not, apparently, with women.

The conference announced below wants to engage leading utilitarians and Christian thinkers on, amongst others, the topic of abortion. In itself a worthy goal, but it makes the complete absence of women amongst the ten speakers (even more) chilling.

A letter has been sent, and if I get any replies I will keep you posted.


Utilitarians & Christians in Dialogue

Peter Singer is one of the world’s best-known, and also most controversial, moral philosophers. He represents a school of utilitarian ethics that is increasingly influential among policy-makers, academics, and the general public, on issues such as global poverty, euthanasia, the treatment of animals, and abortion. His positions intentionally challenge traditional ethical norms, especially those arising from religious perspectives, such as the sanctity of life and human rights. Unfortunately, much of the response from religious thinkers has been combative and hostile. This conference seeks to create a genuine exchange between these perspectives that have, so far, been at odds. Sessions will explore the place of consequentialism in history, sanctity of life, climate change, global poverty, abortion, and the treatment of animals. Speakers include Peter Singer, John Hare, Eric Gregory, John Haldane, Julian Savulescu, and others.

The conference runs 19-20 May, and registration is now open. Registrations will be processed in the order received by post or University messenger.

Please see for full details.