Girls push for desegregation of prom

You might read that title and think, “There’s a place with segregated high school proms? You mean, by race?” Yes, the parents of students who attend a high school in Wilcox County, Georgia, USA have held a white prom and a black prom for years, as well as white and black homecoming dances.  If students who are anything but white attend the white prom, police appear to escort them away: “That was the case just last year as a biracial student was turned away by police.”

But this year, four girls have decided to work for a change, and an integrated prom, for reasons including the splendid reason that they are friends who cannot attend prom together.   There are many things about this that I like, including their FaceBook page to raise money for holding an integrated prom.  I toy with using their efforts as an example in my ethical theory class.  Girls, good on you for being motivated by friendship to change one corner of the world.

Kissing Up, Kicking down and tenure.

I heard the phrase “kissing up and kicking down” first during discussions about John Bolton, a Bush nomination for the US representative to the UN. Its meaning is probably obvious, but in case it isn’t, here’s a very brief explanation. It means being super nice to people with power over one, and taking it out on people over whom one has some power. The power needn’t be much more than a matter of rank or class. Someone who is rude to the cleaning staff, while super nice to higher administrators is following the pattern.

Bolton was said to kiss up and kick down; regardless of whether he actually did, the pattern can account for all those times when someone whom you know is a real sh*t is praised lavishly by people in important positions in one’s work or politics, etc. So one day I was thinking about this, and I thought I should ask whether I follow the pattern also. In fact, as a number of people at my university will affirm, I tend to kick up and kiss down. That sounds, I reflected, like a bad life strategy.

So I decided to discuss with various friends whether this was a bad strategy. And everyone said “but that’s what you are supposed to do when you are a senior tenured academic.” Is it?

We’ve gotten some correspondence here at FP that suggests some people do kiss up and kick down, and in particular, those who are department chairs, or otherwise in positions where having power can be important to the individual. And as in the case of Mitch Aboulafia at Penn State, a chair who supports faculty or students over the administration may have a short career as chair. (See our post here.) One person writing to us claimed that department chairs are too often prone to sell out in order to protect their power, and that this is having a bad effect on philosophy. Certainly one bad effect is that the old guard can keep a new area of study in a weak position, and this sort of action may accumulate across universities.

One question I have for our readers is whether they think it is true that, as I heard one chair put it, “I have to obey my boss.” Indeed, surely some of us have seen chairs quite happily engage in illegal activities because the “boss” wanted it. And one can understand at least one motive for doing colleagues in; namely, the dean or comparable administrator has the goodies. You have to be good to get them.

Looking at this topic isn’t just a matter of describing bad chairs. There is a larger problem. The justification for tenure is in part that it allows one to refuse to kiss up. But that supposes that getting fired is the only negative event we’d need to guard against.

“Hijacking feminism”

An Op-Ed by Catherine Rottenberg: “Hijacking feminism” 

“Yet the ideal for both women [Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter] remains the same – having a very successful career and a heteronormative family and being able to enjoy them both.

This, unfortunately, is how the “truly liberated” woman of the 21st century is increasingly being construed. What is particularly troubling about this feminist moment – especially since both women espouse liberal ideals – is exactly how little emphasis either Slaughter or Sandberg ultimately places on equal rights, justice or emancipation as the end goals for feminism.”


” Zillah Eisenstein calls this imperial and trickle-down feminism.”

CFP Feminism and Pornography, Berlin: EXTENDED DEADLINE

— Please note the new deadline for submissions: 6th of May 2013 —






16-18th of September 2013, Berlin


Anne W. Eaton (University of Illinois at Chicago)

Rae Langton (MIT)

Hans Maes (University of Kent)

Ishani Maitra (University of Michigan)

Mary Kate McGowan (Wellesley College)

Evangelia (Lina) Papadaki (University of Crete)

The heir of Playboy, Cooper Hefner, stated in a recent newspaper article that Playboy isn’t pornography – rather, Playboy is art and it empowers women (The Independent, Jan 6th 2013). This claim is in stark contrast with most feminist views: many feminists do not consider Playboy to be empowering and they take pornography to be a kind of harm. Rae Langton forcefully and famously argued for such feminist claims in her article “Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts” (originally published in 1993). In her paper, Langton defends the philosophical cogency of Catherine MacKinnon’s view that pornography not only causes the subordination and silencing of women, but it also constitutes women’s subordination and silencing. Langton’s defence appeals to J. L. Austin’s speech act theory. She argues that pornographic speech illocutionarily subordinates women and silences their speech. It does the former in ranking women as inferior, legitimating discrimination against them, and depriving women of important rights to do with free speech. This last point connects to illocutionary silencing. Pornographic speech does not prevent women from making utterances. Rather, the thought is, pornographic speech may create communicative conditions that result in illocutionary disablement of women’s speech in specific contexts. Particularly this may be so with respect to women’s refusals of unwanted sex: if pornographic speech prevents the locution ‘No!’ from being seen to be a refusal in a sexual context, due to which sex is forced on the speaker, she has not successfully performed the illocutionary speech act of refusing the unwanted sex. In this case, there may be a free speech argument against pornography.

Since the publication of Langton’s seminal article, a rich philosophical literature on pornography has emerged. A number of philosophers from different backgrounds have either critiqued or defended Langton’s position (e.g. Ronald Dworkin, Leslie Green, Jennifer Saul, Judith Butler, Caroline West, Nellie Wieland, and many others). Despite the rich literature on the topic, precious little agreement still exists on some key questions: How do or should we define ‘pornography’? Does pornography in fact subordinate and silence women? What should legally be done about pornography, if anything at all?

The first goal of this conference is to take stock of extant debates and discussions. We wish to clarify the conceptual and political terrains of feminist discussions concerning pornography. In particular, we wish to investigate how do or should feminist philosophers define ‘pornography’ and related terms (e.g. harm, silencing, objectification). Further, what are the political commitments of those working on the topic, and what might be a helpful feminist political strategy with respect to the reality of pornography. Despite the wealth of literature on pornography over the past couple of decades, these questions are still in need of being addressed.

The second goal of this conference is to explore new issues and themes in the feminist philosophical debates that have emerged more recently. By doing so, we wish to create new lines of inquiry on themes that (to date) have received surprisingly little attention from feminist philosophers. We also aim to investigate how these new issues intersect with older, more established, debates. Specifically, we wish to examine three themes: HARM – EPISTEMOLOGY – AESTHETICS. We will investigate the themes themselves, how they intersect with one another, and how do or can these issues and their intersections help answer our first set of questions about feminist conceptual and political commitments. In more detail, we will be asking:

HARM – Are the existing conceptions of harm, illocutionary subordination and silencing plausible and/or helpful? Do they help us in settling questions about the legal treatment of pornography, or should we base our discussions in the legal domain on some other notions? Do feminist philosophers even have to settle the issue of pornography’s harmfulness once and for all?

EPISTEMOLOGY – What kinds of knowledge claims does pornography involve, if any? Does it involve maker’s knowledge, as Langton has recently argued (in her Sexual Solipsism, OUP 2009)? If so, is the maker’s knowledge that pornography involves harmful, as Langton claims? What would its harmfulness consist in?

AESTHETICS – What kind of representation does pornography involve? Is the representation (of women, sexuality, etc) in pornography harmful and if so, in what sense? How do the elements of reality and fantasy in pornography relate to one another? And how do these elements intersect with the previous two themes (harm and knowledge)? Can pornography be considered art (as Hefner Jn. claims)? If so, what consequences does this have for the view that pornography harms women?

We invite submissions on these themes (broadly conceived). The focus of the event will be on analytic feminist investigations of pornography; however, we also welcome paper submissions from other philosophical perspectives. Please email FULL PAPERS suitable for anonymous review of no more than 3,500 words by 6th of MAY 2013 to with the subject title ‘CONFERENCE SUBMISSION’. (PDF submissions are preferred.) Notification of acceptance will be send late June 2013. We hope to be able to provide travel bursaries for accepted papers.

This conference is part of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Symposium Series Feminist Philosophy and…. For further information about the Symposium Series and about past events, please see For queries concerning the forthcoming event on Pornography, please contact Mari Mikkola (mari.mikkola AT