Oregon: A different side of the story

which deserves to be heard. Hence, I’ve pulled this from comments and made it a separate post. In case you’ve been blissfully out of the loop, background can be found here, here, here and here. From Bonnie Mann:

As one of the feminist philosophers from the UO department, and by the way, there are four of us… I have just learned of this discussion and feel that something must be said. The entire discussion, as far as I can tell, seems to be based on a letter sent to Leiter, or to someone else and it got to Leiter, from one graduate student in our department. It might be more, there are a few people who share his perspective, I believe. This letter seems to have been taken at face value, however, with no hesitation whatsoever in assuming its factual worth.

There were allegations of sexual harassment at Oregon, there was an investigation by our affirmative action office, initiated by the chair of our program, I understand the investigation has finally concluded and that there will be some public announcement of the results at some point, but I dont have any more access to the official investigation or its results than you do, so I cant be sure…

The students at Oregon value the climate the department has been able to create for women in the past 15 or more years, after the old department which did have endemic sexual harassment issues was transformed by the work of a number of our current faculty members, including Mark Johnson, and former faculty members, including Nancy Tuana, into a program that values feminism and has been a wonderful place for women to study. That reputation was hard earned. If the allegations are substantiated, and even if they arent but some harassment occurred, and I dont assume harassment is always substantiated if it occurs, then we, like almost every other philosophy department are not perfect in this regard. Please name one department in which there is not a single male faculty member who behaves inappropriately toward women, ever. Given that we are members of a very sexist discipline, with a history of egregious behavior toward women, it is hardly surprising if Oregon would also face such issues.

The outcry of our grad students is in part an expression of their expectation that this wont happen at Oregon, in part their deep concern for any women who may have been harmed, and in part the product of wild misinformation and an attempt at secrecy around the investigation that failed (apparently such processes are supposed to be kept confidential until there is a finding that is made public–in fact I am not supposed to be writing this post).

I have been in a number of departments where the exact behavior that is alleged here occurred regularly and no one blinked. They dont get publicly raked over the coals because no one expects anything different from them. I have no doubt that I am the feminist accused of being more worried about the departments reputation than about the case itself.

I know the source of the accusation, so let me have the opportunity to set that part of the record straight. I was and am concerned about both. If a student in our program has been harmed, I want action to be taken. I spent years working to end violence against women, in the battered womens movement as an advocate and director of programs before I came to academia. I know that incidents of harassment and or violence against women can be mishandled in male-dominated contexts in at least two ways: 1. they can be ignored, covered up, or excused and 2. they can be used as political footballs by those motivated by other interests (remember how George Bush became the feminist president for a moment when he invaded Afghanistan to save the women) .

I was worried about both, and have worked hard, since the accusations came to light, to avoid both–if my urging some of the men in our department to stay focused on the issue of harassment and its investigation and not to use this case to slander the department as a whole or particularly its feminists is a “cover up” then you have your cover up, enjoy it. It is clear that I had reason to worry about both things, since the last thing that seems to be at issue in any of these discussions is the actual woman who may have been harmed, and the efforts to publicly defame the department without so much as a phone call to the affirmative action office to ask about the actual process or outcome of the investigation certainly harms a lot of other women–our feminist students, me, the other feminist faculty,; and some of us are beiing publicly hung here.

That this situation would be used as an occasion to discredit Linda Alcoff and her efforts is galling and wrong. There is no way she could have known about this situation, I didnt know about it until the investigation had been on-going for months. And let me say something about the investigation–when I did find out about it I set out to see what the hell was going on and I asked a lot of questions and kept asking them. After weeks of this, it was my judgment that the department had acted responsibly, if by department we mean the faculty. Those who knew or thought they knew something came forward. The chair asked for an investigation.

I cant say anything about the affirmative action office which conducted that investigation except that it took a long time and I am given to understand that they have recently concluded it. There was too much gossip and some people let personal stuff get tangled up with their legitimate concerns, no doubt about it. Some people found this situation to be a very convenient way of pursuing their own agendas and letting their hostility vis a vis the kind of philosophy UO does just fly. That kind of shit happens. But there was no cover up and no negligence on the part of those in leadership positions in the department.

And while this was going on, the hard work of feminist philosophers in the department continued. Three feminist dissertations were completed and defended in the spring, and two of those women have jobs. The first required feminist philosophy proseminar was taught to all first and second year grads in the fall, a new addition to the distinction we hold of requiring feminist philosophy of our grads, something, by the way, that makes some of our students and some faculty members uncomfortable or angry. The Beauvoir society conference was held at Oregon in the spring, and a number of feminist speakers were invited to campus and paid for their time.

If you really arent interested in promoting women in philosophy or valuing what women and feminists have accomplished, then continue to tear UO apart publicly. If you are, realize that weve just been through something that any other department could have gone through–that Im sure many other departments did go through without the public hanging. It was a painful process that fragmented our community in a way that I have not seen in my eight years at Oregon. It may be a long road back. That doesnt erase the work that weve done for almost two decades on behalf of women in philosophy, and it doesnt erase the fact that the actual allegations were not brought by the woman who brought them in order to give Leiter an excuse to defame Linda Alcoff or to provide a political football to those who would use these claims in that way. I dont know the results of the investigation yet, but I hope that they will be made public soon.

And now, a reminder: These discussions have been getting horrendously heated. Please would everybody remember to follow our Be Nice rule, and in particular to refrain from making uncharitable assumptions about *anyone*.

Alcohol: the undiscussed carcinogen?

I’ve changed the title of this post to bring out something that seemed to me striking.  It seems to various agencies devoted to studying, curing and preventing cancer are saying that alcohol is a carcinogen when consumed in amounts that in fact many people do consume it.  Maybe everyone else has gotten this, but it isn’t showing up in, for example, discussions about whether to raise the estimates of the healthy intake of alcohol in the UK.

Of course, there are lots of possibilities here about who is right or wrong, and it would be great if anyone has any insight here.


So here are some facts about recommendations and guidelines regarding the consumption of alcohol. 

  • In the States, the Center for Disease Control recommends at most one drink a day for women and two for men.  More than this is heavy drinking, which has a lot of health risks.
  • The attitude in the UK, which appears to be on the verge of increasing its recommended maximum, is different.  According to the Independent, “The existing advice is based on recommendations from a committee of doctors in 1987 which set the weekly limits of 21 units for men, and 14 units for women. But the review comes as one of the members of the original Royal College of Physicians’ working party on the subject admitted that the figures were “plucked out of the air” in the absence of clear evidence about how much alcohol poses a health risk.”  (My Stress.) 

Now  in fact the difference here from the US is not that great.  2 units of spirits for the UK appear to be about 1.7 ounces, which one unit for the US is 1.5.  Still, the UK is going to increase theirs, it seems.

  • And other countries appear even more permissive.  Again according to the  Independent, “MPs will also look at how UK guidelines compare with those provided in other countries. Italy’s guidelines allow the equivalent of an extra bottle of wine a week compared with the UK’s advice. France, Portugal, New Zealand and Japan allow more than half a bottle extra a week and limits in Spain and Ireland allow almost two glasses more.”

Now, one can certainly get one’s head around all this.  Americans disapprove of drinking, and Europeans and the Japanese do not.  Roughly speaking.

But here’s the reveal.  According to the American Cancer Society, research shows that consuming alcohol is connected to getting cancer.  Limiting alcohol may lessen one’s risk for cancer.  The limits are these:  women one drink and two for men.

OK, that’s just puritannical American, I said to myself.  What will the UK health service say about alsohol and cancer?  Well, here’s what Cancer Research UK says:

There is no doubt that alcohol can cause seven types of cancer.

  • The more you cut down on alcohol, the more you reduce your risk of cancer.
  • There is limited risk if you only drink a little – such as one small drink a day for women or two for men.
  • You don’t need to be drunk to increase your risk.
  • Drinking and smoking together are even worse for you.

The consequences of drinking too much alcohol go well beyond the evening’s embarrassing antics or the morning’s hangover. Scientific studies have confirmed that alcohol can also cause cancer.

Tracking down the percentages for one form of cancern, breast cancer, it looks as the the American Cancer Society is prepared to say that drinking 2-5 units of alcohol a day increases one’s risk by a full 6%.   That is, women who drink no more than one drink a day have a 12 percent change of getting breast cancer; more than that and you are at 18%

There is, it seems to me, a shocking disconnect in some of these figures.

She eats, shoots and leaves

A reader has sent us an interesting question about how women show up in philosophical examples.  He wishes to remain anonymous, so responses here please.

 I was wondering if anyone has conducted any kind of study (even informally) of women, both real and imaginary, featuring as examples in philosophy papers. I ask because I’ve recently gotten annoyed with the amount of times that women feature only in passive capacities, or as victims, in papers that I read. Thinking about the field I am most directly acquainted with, it’s really hard to think of examples of women featuring in examples in more positive ways. Because of the size of the literature it’s hard to know whether this is commonly occurring, or just common in some subfields.

Photo of the day

The first same gender couple to get married in NY!

Such a beautiful picture of love, joy (and justice!) it makes me choke up. And along the way, doing serious damage to stereotypes of older people and the disabled. But of course they *are* going to destroy the institution of marriage, the family, society….

From Texans for Marriage Equality. (Thanks, L!)

Does Google+ hate women?

So asks Bug Girl, a terrific feminist science blogger, in a thoughtful exploration of Google’s “no pseudonyms” policy and what the policy means for “women, LGBT folk, and civil servants.” You can read Bug Girl’s post here. It got me thinking about when anonymity serves women’s interests well–the recent discussions of anonymous review came to mind–and when it doesn’t.

They make it easier

While everyone knows that philosophers love the occasional blogosphere shitstorm, this latest one has been more than a little uncomfortable and upsetting for a lot of people. So to cheer ourselves up on this Monday morning, let’s use this blog to remind ourselves of some of the awesome female philosophers who are out there making philosophy a better place for women.

One thing that struck me about the comments on this post was how many people said that Jenny Saul makes it easier to be a woman in philosophy. She does, as do many other women out there – and that’s a helpful thing to remember sometimes. So this post in an invitation. Please comment and tell us about a woman who has made it easier to be a woman in philosophy (either for you personally, or for women you know). Or tell us about several such women. The more the merrier, really!

“… the exclusion of women as equals. It is not the way of God. It is the way of men.”

The quote comes from Father Bourgeois of the Maryknoll order, and he is commenting on the ordination of women.  In fact, the support he is being given by other priests forms one of three  substantive challenges  to the Vatican’s rigid and threatening position on the ordination of women.  People involved in these actions are brave men; they risk excommunication, which amounts to being expelled from the Church.  That could mean they do not have any job or any support for retirement, among lots of other things.

Here’s what’s happening:

More than 150 Roman Catholic priests in the United States have signed a statement in support of a fellow cleric who faces dismissal for participating in a ceremony that purported to ordain a woman as a priest, in defiance of church teaching.

The American priests’ action follows closely on the heels of a “Call to Disobedience” issued in Austria last month by more than 300 priests and deacons. They stunned their bishops with a seven-point pledge that includes actively promoting priesthood for women and married men, and reciting a public prayer for “church reform” in every Mass.

And in Australia, the National Council of Priests recently released a ringing defense of the bishop of Toowoomba, who had issued a pastoral letter saying that, facing a severe priest shortage, he would ordain women and married men “if Rome would allow it.” After an investigation, the Vatican forced him to resign.

Though what is now going on is unlikely to change the church, it does constitute a hopeful moment.  But it also is a very obvious thing to happen.  We have a very male dominated church with men possessing much of the power in the Church.  Surely, the most reliable way to change the church is to start with changes in men.  In fact, that seems extremely obvious.

As we turn to philosophy, we see women putting in an enormous amount of effort, but I wonder if it would be fruitful to assess these efforts from the point of view of how they are changing those with the power.

Let me try going at this at a slightly different direction.  A number of Rutgers’ female graduate students have described the department as providing a wonderful atmosphere for women.  There’s also some talk about the sensitivity to women’s rights on the part of new male appointees.   These look tightly connected; you don’t need much more than that sensitivity to provide an atmosphere in which women can flourish, and there isn’t much you can do if the men don’t regard women as having equal rights.  (I’m simplifying; correct me, if please, if you think there are bad distortions here.)  This is because the department, like most others, is heavily male as far as faculty go, and graduate students are majority male. 

So I’m wondering how focusing more on the role of men in supporting women would provide some efficiency for the efforts of women to create a better profession for other women.  Some efforts are in this direction.  This blog’s gendered conference campaign is one, and it would be great to hear of others.  What else might be characterized in this way?  What else could we do?  One thing might be to use conferences more to address this issue, perhaps in some sort of lunch-discussion session. 

What do you think?

The Sunday cat celebrates the inventors of peaceful resistance.

She knows that there have been some very great human beings who have brought peaceful resistance to other human beings.  They have worked to make it into a very effective tool for important political and social change.  But the thing is, passive resistance has needed these great people just because it is not natural to human beings. 

Cats are an entirely different matter. 

Do note:  Cats are very good at indicating the distinction between not cooperating and suffering.  I don’t see any reason to think these cats are more than just passively resisting.


I’ve been reading some of the comments on youtube, and I’m concerned that some viewers may be troubled by these clips.  I do honestly think one shouldn’t judge these cats behaviors until you have taken a cat to the vets, and so have a good idea of what a cat is like when it doesn’t want something done to it.  Still, if people are offended, it can come down.

Announcement from SWIP UK

SWIP UK regrets to announce that concerns have come to light which have caused it to reconsider the granting of Women-Friendly Department and Initiatives Recognition. Our procedure has been to send an email to an administrator at nominated departments, asking them to forward it to all students (undergrad and graduate), faculty and staff at nominated departments.  The email asks for feedback of any kind on the nomination and guarantees confidentiality. We now have reason to doubt the efficacy of this procedure, and as a result may end the recognition programme. We will issue another update once we have completed the review of the recognition programme.