Free speech, and cheering for one’s rapist

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court declined to review the case of a recent Texas high school student who was kicked off her school’s cheerleading squad after she refused to chant the name of a basketball player who had allegedly raped her. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most conservative courts in the country, ruled last November that the victim — who is known only as H.S. — had no right to refuse to applaud her attacker because as a cheerleader in uniform, she was an agent of the school. To add insult to injury, the Fifth Circuit dismissed her case as “frivolous” and sanctioned the girl, forcing her family to pay the school district’s $45,000 legal fees.

The Fifth Circuit explains:

As a cheerleader, HS served as a mouthpiece through which [the school district] could disseminate speech – namely, support for its athletic teams…This act constituted substantial interference with the work of the school because, as a cheerleader, HS was at the basketball game for the purpose of cheering, a position she undertook voluntarily.

But as Think Progress notes: “It’s unclear to many court watchers how H.S.’s silence was disruptive, or how the school’s right to “disseminate speech” through cheerleading outweighed the needs of a sexual assault victim.”

Appalling. And some interesting material here for those who work on silencing. In this case, what’s at issue is the right to *be* silent, which is being denied. Astounding that it turns out to be the school’s free speech supposedly at issue.

Thanks, KI!

For the full story, see here.

Experiment Month

Mark Phelan writes:

Feminist philosophers may be interested in participating in a series of studies available through the experiment month project, here.

One of the goals of the project is to see how the reactions of professional philosophers to such philosophical experiments differ from those of ordinary people…a topic we can only get out if philosophers help out!

The project hosts 17 different experimental philosophy studies designed by 29 philosophers, each working on illuminating a different philosophical question.

So please take a moment to help these philosophers out, either by stopping by the Experiment Month website to fill out a brief questionnaire or by spreading the word about these new studies.

(The experiment month initiative is run by Yale Cognitive Science with a grant from the American Philosophical Association.)

Thanks for considering posting! ~Mark

Feminism and the nuclear family?

Stephanie Coontz is a very distinguished historian of the family, and she takes to task in today’s NY Times the picture of feminists disparaging and disrupting the bliss of the 1950’s nuclear family.  Her assertions should be understood as about the US.  They address a very large challenge to feminism that comes from a heteronormative position:

Contrary to myth, “The Feminine Mystique” and feminism did not represent the beginning of the decline of the stay-at-home mother, but a turning point that led to much stronger legal rights and “working conditions” for her….

While stay-at-home mothers may not have the aura of saintliness with which they were endowed in the 19th century, it’s indisputable that their status and lives have improved since their supposed heyday in the 1950s. On this Mother’s Day, it’s too bad that nostalgia for a golden age of motherhood that never existed still clouds our thinking about what’s best for mothers, fathers and their children.

Motherhood and depression:  By the 1950’s various factors had led to a loss of esteem for the mother, whom psychology was blaming for everything.  

Study after study found that homemakers had lower self-esteem than women who took paid employment, even when it came to assessing their skills as parents. They experienced higher levels of stress and greater vulnerability to depression than women with paying jobs. And they had few legal rights: wives had little protection against abusive husbands, and only eight states in 1963 gave a homemaker any claim on her husband’s earnings.

 In contrast today’s willing stay-at-home moms are happier:

There also seems to have been a significant shift in the relationship between depression and homemaking. Stay-at-home mothers still recount more feelings of loneliness than working mothers. But in a new Council on Contemporary Families briefing paper, the sociologists Margaret Usdansky and Rachel A. Gordon report that among mothers of young children, those who were not working and preferred not to have a job had a relatively low risk of depression — about as low as mothers who chose to work and were able to attain high-quality jobs.

Mothers who want to work outside the home but instead are full-time homemakers, however, have a higher risk of depression.  This is a significant group: in 2000, 40 percent of full-time homemakers said they would prefer to be working at a paid job. So telling women who want to work that they or their children will be better off if they stay home is a mistake. Maternal depression is well known as being harmful to children’s development.

Husbands in the 1950’s typically did  not do women’s work.  That’s changed:

As late as 1980, approximately 30 percent of wives said their husbands did no housework at all. By 2000, only 16 percent of wives made that statement and almost one-third said their husbands did half of all housework, child care or both.

Most researchers agree that these changes were spurred by the entry of wives and mothers into the work force. But full-time homemakers have especially benefited from them.

From 1975 to 1998 men married to full-time homemakers increased their contributions to housework as much, proportionally, as men whose wives were employed. And from 1965 to 1995, homemakers decreased their own housework hours more than did wives in dual-earner families. As a result, most stay-at-home mothers now have shorter total workweeks than their husbands.

The New York Times is rationing the articles it allows non-subscribers to read (!!), but this one is worth spending that small allowance on.  IMHO.

Were “last week’s celebrations … good and healthy”?

Jonathan Haidt is a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, and he has a number of papers of interest to philosophers on moral psychology.  In an op-ed in today’s NY Times, he says:

… I believe that last week’s celebrations were good and healthy. America achieved its goal — bravely and decisively — after 10 painful years. People who love their country sought out one another to share collective effervescence. They stepped out of their petty and partisan selves and became, briefly, just Americans rejoicing together.

His reasons are summarized in the last sentence, but they deserve more explanation.  For one thing, he distinguishes between patriotism and nationalism, “which is the view that one’s own country is superior to other countries and should therefore be dominant. Nationalism is generally found to be correlated with racism and with hostility toward other countries, but patriotism by itself is not. ”  Patriotism is about solidarity with one’s fellow citizens.

The understanding underlying this comes from Durkheim:

But Durkheim was most interested in the sentiments that bind people into groups — the collective emotions. These emotions dissolve the petty, small-minded self. They make people feel that they are a part of something larger and more important than themselves.

One such emotion he called “collective effervescence”: the passion and ecstasy that is found in tribal religious rituals when communities come together to sing, dance around a fire and dissolve the boundaries that separate them from each other. The spontaneous celebrations of last week were straight out of Durkheim.

So last week’s celebrations were about bonding together and that is good and healthy.

But in the communal joy of last week, many of us felt, for an instant, that Americans might still be capable of working together to meet threats and challenges far greater than Osama bin Laden.

So it seems that we are petty and small-minded or we get swept up into collective effervescence.  A curious view for Mother’s Day (as it is in the States), one could say. 

And such bonding is good except, one could also say, when it is not, as with the internment of a portion of our citizen, crowd bullying, lynching, and even that kind of group decision making that means a group has turned for or against a thesis being argued for at a philosophy conference.   But the evidence that the bonding last week was good and healthy appears to be this:

We have all the old selfish programming of other primates, but we also have a more recent overlay that makes us able to become, briefly, hive creatures like bees. Just think of the long lines to give blood after 9/11. Most of us wanted to do something — anything — to help…

The psychologist Linda Skitka studied the psychological traits that predicted which people displayed American flags in the weeks after 9/11. She found that the urge to display the flag “reflected patriotism and a desire to show solidarity with fellow citizens, rather than a desire to express out-group hostility.”

And that does not seem decisive, but at least we do not, as far as I know, have any evidence that anti-Muslim feeling is on the increase.

There are two kinds of issues with the argument here that I can detect.  One is concerned with the facts.  For example, how accurate is the description of American achieving its goal after ten painful years?  Does the killing of Osama come anywhere close to the ending of the shorter WWII?  It is in some genuine sense a national achievement? Were we really brought out of our local interests, or were we largely relieved because we felt our friends and family members are probably safer?   And the second is about bonding in these moments of collective effervescence.  For example, we might ask if these moments tend to be as topic neutral as Haidt may be suggesting.  Could effervescence bond us over the problems of the least powerful?  Or is the bonding shaped by further and selective factors, such as power or perhaps very simple views of the problem? 

What do you think?  The questions above are genuine questions.  Let us know your answers!