Women and Vulnerability in Turkey

As part of the Columbia center for the study of social difference project : Women Creating Change, Judith Butler and Zeynep Gambetti are hosting a workshop in Istanbul 16-19 September. Although there’s no reference in the blurb to current events, this is clearly very topical.

There is always something both risky and true in claiming that women are especially vulnerable.  The claim can be taken to mean that women have an unchanging and defining vulnerability, and that kind of argument makes the case for paternalistic protection.


And yet, there are good reasons to argue for the differential vulnerability of women; they suffer disproportionately from poverty and literacy, two very important dimensions of any global analysis of women’s condition.

Women have been extremely active in the protests of the last month, as a look at any picture taken in Gezi park, Taksim square in Istanbul, Kizilay or Kuglu park in Ankara, Eskisehir, Antalya, to name but a few of the places where the police has been attacking demonstrators.

Several women have become iconic, in particular, the woman in red, one of the first victims of ‘pepper spray’ and the woman in black, caught in the TOMA’s water canon, or the old woman with an Anonymous mask.

Vulnerability in the two senses identified above has also been very present. The worsening of women’s situation in Turkey since the AKP came into power has been one of the main themes in the background of the protests : increase in domestic violence, moves to make abortion (and cesarians !) illegal, relaxation of the efforts to send all girls to school. And of course, this did put the goverment in a position to issue paternilistic edicts « Mothers, call your children home ! » to which the women in Gezi park who happened to be mothers responded by forming a human chain, to protect the youth inside.

Of course, even from the perspective of the protestors, it is hard to avoid all gender bias, and women are still too often referred to as ‘mothers’, ‘aunts’, ‘sisters’ rather than just ‘protestors’. But mostly, there are no questions asked : the people out there are people who want a bit more say in how they’re governed, and who want to protect their green spaces, and the barricades looked a lot more gender balanced than they did in Delacroix’ picture of nineteenth century France.

Vietnam: paying war debt with people’s labour

As USA politicians frequently claimed, during the Vietnam war Northern Vietnam received a lot of support from Russia, among others. Consequently, there was a “Soviet war debt;” Vietnam’s debt was in the billions. But Vietnam was impoverished by the war. One way for the debt to be paid was for VIetnam to “send” workers to Russia to work. A proportion of their wages was kept in Russia. Some of the small amount was sent to family, and the rest was used to sustain a meager existence for at least five years. By that time, the workers were prey for the Russian Mafia.

Both men and women were sent, and what I’ve described is not officially setting up of prostitution rings. But it clearly could make women vulnerale to exploitation. The initial plan ended with the official Soviet union, and Vietnam is said now to traffic a lot in human beings.

The woman whose story I was listening to got back to her home after ten years of very demanding work. Her family arranged for her to marry a Vietnamese man in Houston. She very sadly entered another arena of stress and disrespect.

I could find very little about the exportation of VN citizens in the 80’s from any sources half-way reliable. One fairly believable one is here:

“Dark-skinned and plus size”

If you are watching the trial of Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin, you’ll probably get that the title above refers to Rachel Jeantel, with whom Martin was talking on the phone shortly before he was killed. It is from the Salon article linked to below.

I have seen her mostly on CNN, but I see many other members of the press to pick up the same theme: She is so different from white people, how can anyone side with her and her narrative? Well, at least there’s some recognition of the fact that racism is alive and well, but couldn’t they register that this is not a good thing?

Some commenters said she should have been trained to give testimony. I think that’s very close to saying that in court you have to sound like whites to be believable. On CNN Mark Garegos has been insisting that our court system is deeply affected by race. That certainly seems what most commenters believe. And there’s a lot of evidence in this trial – not to mention many others – that should frighten any supporter of a person of colour in a trial.

Back to the Salon article: Brittany Cooper tells us in Salon.com:

The thing about grammars, though, is that they rely on language, on a way of speaking and communicating, to give them power. And Rachel Jeantel has her own particular, idiosyncratic black girl idiom, a mashup of her Haitian and Dominican working-class background, her U.S. Southern upbringing, and the three languages – Hatian Kreyol (or Creole), Spanish and English — that she speaks.

The unique quality of her black vernacular speaking style became hypervisible against the backdrop of powerful white men fluently deploying corporate, proper English in ways that she could not do.  The way they spoke to her was designed not only to discredit her, but to condescend to and humiliate her. She acknowledged this show of white male power by repeatedly punctuating her responses with a curt but loaded, “Yes, Sir.”

Even more, she seemed very good at picking up on assumptions a question was carrying. “That’s real retarded, sir” was her (unfortunately abelist)comment on one.

If you look for her on youtube, avoid the comments unless you are feeling strong. I saw ones i’m hoping to forget.

Disrespecting one of zimmerman’s lawyers:

Georgia State Syllabi Experiment

Discussed in Inside Higher Ed.

Starting next year, graduate students teaching introductory-level courses in philosophy at Georgia State, who teach about half of all such sections offered, will use syllabuses that include at least 20 percent women philosophers. That’s at least double the number included on most syllabuses for the course at the university. The effort is an extension of preliminary research by Eddy Nahmias, professor of philosophy, and several of his graduate students, Toni Adleberg and Morgan Thompson, into why male and female students enroll in introductory-level courses in similar numbers but women drop out of the discipline in much greater numbers.

Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/06/28/georgia-state-tries-new-approach-attract-more-female-students-philosophy#ixzz2XWFUsm9q
Inside Higher Ed

Rick Perry on what Wendy Davis should have learned

You read that right. Rick Perry think he knows both what Wendy Davis has or has not learned from her own experience, and what Wendy Davis should have learned from her own experience. He must have some amazing (and, seemingly, impossible) epistemic skills.

“Who are we to say that children born in the worst of circumstances can’t lead successful lives?” Perry asked in a speech at a convention held by the National Right to Life organization. “Even the woman who filibustered the Senate the other day was born into difficult circumstances. She’s the daughter of as single woman, she was a teenage mother herself. She managed to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and serve in the Texas Senate. It’s just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example: that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential, and that every life matters.”

Of course, this quote illustrates that he has fundamentally missed the point, and is trying to change the subject.

Gendered Citation: a case study

I thought it might be interesting to do a small ‘case study’ of gendered citation. Amount of citations gives us part of the picture, but as most women in philosophy can tell you, it certainly doesn’t give you the whole picture when it comes to whether and how women’s ideas are discussed. So here’s what I did. I picked up a famous philosophy book by a prominent male philosopher that was published in the last five years. No, I’m not going to tell you which book. That would be entirely unfair to the author – the problems we’re encountering here are systematic problems, not individual problems.

The book is on a topic that many talented, successful, well-known women have had things to say about. Here is what I found. (Epistemic warning: I did these calculations by hand, so they could be off by a bit).

Out of approximately 200 cited authors, 6% are women.

Our of approximately 400 total citations, 5% are to work by women.

The highest number of items cited written by a single man is approximately 4 times greater than the highest number of items cited by a single woman. There are six men with more than twice the number of cited items than that of the woman with the most cited items.

Then I looked for names of people in the index. In total, 10% of the names found in the index are the names of women. In this case, that’s 2 occurrences of women’s names.

So then I followed up the indexed items. In one case, the page referred to contains a citation of the woman, but no discussion of her work in the text. In the other, the woman’s name is mentioned, but she is not cited. (Indeed, though her ideas are appealed to I can find no citation to her work in the reference section.) In contrast, the male names in the index frequently take the reader to substantial, detailed, multi-page discussion of that man’s view.

Unless I have missed something, there is nowhere in the text where a woman’s ideas are discussed in any detail. Interestingly, though, in the acknowledgements section 19% of the people thanked are women.

Now, obviously this little rough and ready case study doesn’t show much. Induction on a case of one, after all, doesn’t tend to work out that well. The reason I bring it up – and the reason I found it interesting – is that it shows that there’s more to including women in the conversation than citing them. Not only are women’s ideas discussed or referenced less often than men’s, they can also be (as this case shows) discussed differently than men’s. And that’s a point that I hope can be part of our ongoing discussion about including women in the in-print conversations we’re having as philosophers.

Citation tells us part of the story – and the story it tells is a grim one. But there’s more to including women in a conversation than merely citing women. There’s also having the work of women truly engaged with, discussed, talked about the way we discuss the work of men. Hopefully that’s something we can strive for as we try to cite women more often.

Racism and Adoption

The NPR article “Six Words: Black Babies Cost Less to Adopt” is one of the most shocking things I’ve read recently (and that is saying a lot). If you want a bleak portrait of contemporary racism in America, look no further.

[Adoptive parent Caryn] Lantz says she remembers a phone call with an adoption agency social worker. “And [she] was telling us about these different fee structures that they had based on the ethnic background of the child. And … they also had, sort of a different track for adoptive parents.”

Moving through the process would be quicker if the family was open to adopting an African-American (not biracial) child, the social worker explained to her. “And that is because they have children of color waiting,” Lantz says. Adopting biracial, Latino, Asian or Caucasian children could be a slower process, she was told, because there were more parents waiting for them.

“And I remember hearing this and just sort of being dumbfounded that they would sort of segregate — to use a loaded term — segregate these children by ethnic background before they were even in this world,” Lantz says. “That’s when I started realizing that, OK, being a parent to a child of a different ethnic background — this is gonna be some work. There’s going to be a lot of work on our end in order to be successful parents and to get our child ready for this world.”

The Race Card Project spoke with social workers, adoption agencies and adoptive parents about adoption costs based on ethnicity. We discovered that this is not widely talked about, but it is common.