14 thoughts on “Mansplaining Feminism to Sally Haslanger

  1. Hm.
    There are students in my program who have raised similarly sweeping and audacious objections when eminent philosophers have given talks, and although it’s true it can make you cringe, on the whole I think it’s a *good* thing.
    I really don’t like the assumption that because the student looked young, or is a man, it’s somehow outrageous for him to have his own objections to a powerhouse philosopher. And I’d think it’s about 99% likely that what he said was jejune, but we shouldn’t tell students to keep their mouths shut when they realize their points might be naive ones.

    Without knowing anything specific about what happened in Montreal, I think this *kind* of thing should be encouraged. Maybe that’s one reason Haslanger was so gracious.

  2. Sweeping and audacious is fine. The worry is about condescending manner: let me explain some basic terms to you, etc.. Of course, it’s inappropriate to be condescending to anyone, not just the famous. But the fame issue makes it clearer that gender is even more likely to be the reason for the condescension, which happens to fit into a widespread pattern of gender-based condescension.

  3. I read feminist epistemology and taught it once. I understand mansplaining and that women and feminists are always undermined. On the other hand I frequently argue with Prof. Paul Krugman on his blog even though I did not finish my econ degree. His reaction is to laugh or mock his critics. Academia also rewards students who make themselves known and the job market is so tight that “19” years old is not too young to start making a name for oneself.

  4. The issue is one of implicit bias and erroneous assumptions on the part of the student that were likely based upon a schema that included stereotypes of women. I don’t see how this is analogous to a male econ professor being challenged on a blog over which he has control. I suspect professor Haslanger was not intimidated, however, his comments _did_ likely do damage. They reinforced the sentiment that women are easily dominated and that no matter how much a woman succeeds in philosophy, she is still going to be treated like a first year undergrad.
    I go to school in a philosophy department that is known for its analytic rigor as well as for the especially viscious manner in which the students and faculty respond to guest speakers. I’ll tell you something for sure; none of us would let her off the hook if she were off in one of her arguments, but we would never disrespect her by implying that she wasn’t knowledgeable about her own particular specialty. And, if that kid had come to my university and pulled that stuff, he would have been a laughing stock.

  5. A 19 year-old can suffer from such delusions of superior intelligence that he (delusions of genius run in the male gender) will condescend to correct native-speakers in languages that he does not know.

  6. I was there. It was an absolutely horrendous moment, and I think the audience was pretty unanimous in its discomfort (think of the discomfort you feel at an episode of Peep Show and how difficult it is to keep watching, and multiply that a bit). To her credit, Dr. Haslanger took it in stride and firmly (but respectfully) put him in his place.

    In fairness, I’m not sure if my memory of the event supports its label as “mansplaining”. I remember the student in question being combative, ignorant, and extremely disrespectful in both tone and content. I’m not sure that I remember him trying to tell Dr. Haslanger what she was or should be talking about, though. Granted, his was an arrogant “I know better than you” type of attitude, and I wasn’t aware of the events that transpired after the talk, so maybe it qualifies after all.

    In any event, I guess it’s not really worth quibbling over the label, since there’s a more important issue. And that’s the one of the attitude the student evinced, and the way he thought he should communicate it. That was truly appalling. I guess there’s often one person like that in an audience for a talk like that, but it goes a long way towards showing that there’s a problem, and that it needs to be addressed at very basic levels, not just at the level of professional philosophers.

    Incidentally, the whole talk was filmed. I haven’t been able to find the video anywhere, but someone somewhere has it. I’ll ask around a bit.

  7. I certainly defer to the judgment of someone who was present, especially if the issue is, as Michael X says and as Prof. Saul also surmised, one of tone and attitude.
    What bothered me was that it seemed integral to the description that the questioner looked young and that he dared to question the whole basis rather than just one bit of one argument. I wish more students would do that, even when the target is an illustrious figure in the field.
    Naturally, I would hope they could do it without acting like schmucks.

  8. I’m part of the Philopolis crew. The video should be out soon; tinkering with videos can be long, but it’s a bit of a priority.

    From what I remember, the young dude was sort of saying that feminism, being about women’s rights, was somewhat sectarian, and that we should be aiming towards human rights, and be humanists rather than feminists. But it was much more convoluted, and completely disconnected with anything Prof. Haslanger had said. Honestly, at that point, I felt rather embarrassed.

    I don’t mind students asking questions – Prof. Haslanger’s talk was made encourage it. But I wish we taught them to do it properly. I think we’d also get more questions from girls and from smart people who don’t talk a lot.

  9. Louis, Perhaps we are assuming that they learn how to behave in class, which seems to have limitations in instilling polite form.

    I have found from interviewingjob candidates that a lot of them are not used to women who do philosophy, and they can get a bit nutty.

  10. @7:

    I think his age is perfectly relevant. Here we have someone who is, at best, a second year college undergrad presuming to set straight a renowned scholar – in her area of expertise. That is a level of arrogance and lack of awareness that deserves censure, even if we do want to encourage students to ask questions.

  11. ChrisTS, the fact that he *looked* 19 doesn’t mean he’s a second year college undergrad.
    I wasn’t just saying students should be encouraged to ask questions. I meant they should be encourage to express disagreement, even with big shots, and to explain why they disagree. When that comes off as “setting straight”, there is a problem with tone; but plenty of fiftysomething philosophers have trouble with tone, so that’s not an age issue. I just don’t like the idea that a person who looks young is automatically arrogant for challenging someone who is a recognized authority.

  12. Anne: I concur on the limitations of class setting. In an ideal world, I would have them attend ‘communities of enquiry’ groups once a week for the first year. Just priming meetings with some of the principles of P4C works wonders for me, so I would expect it to make a difference.
    As for the job candidates: *sigh*

  13. I have mixed feelings about the emphasis on the person’s age (or apparent age). On one hand, we’ve all seen examples of unwarranted arrogance among young people in academia. On the other hand, the history of philosophy, like other intellectual disciplines, has examples of people whose abilities had, by an extraordinarily young age, rivaled or eclipsed those of far more established and eminent people in the field.

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