In an alternate reality, Tolkien would be a woman.

The Sci-Fi blog io9 posted yesterday about a fantasy writer who could well have become as famous and influential as Tolkien – had she been a man. Naomi Mitchison, author of The Corn King, The Spring Queen and Travel Light, was a friend of Tolkien’s, and one of the proof readers for  The Lord of the Rings. But her own books have been neglected and forgotten.

Amal El-Mohtar reviews Travel Light, the story of a little orphan girl who is brought up by bears, then dragons, and abandons her dragon lifestyle of hoarding to hit the road, says she fell from a great height when she discovered the book, as an adult, and realised that she could have been reading it alongside her childhood favourite, The Hobbit.

That Mitchison’s life and works should have been so unfairly relegated to secret history drove home my feeling of books as points of divergence to alternate timelines; that having read The Hobbit rather than Travel Light at that fragile, formative moment of being a child in Lebanon standing at a crossroads of languages, religions and literary traditions nudged me into a different life. Who might I have been if I had met Halla Bearsbairn before Bilbo Baggins? How different might my attitude toward dragons have been if I’d met Uggi before Smaug? How different would the spiritual landscapes of fantasy and science fiction be if they had accepted as antecedents works that showed a corrupt Byzantine Christianity and sympathy toward Islam?

But, most crucially for me, I wonder: Where might I have gone if, instead of a middle-aged Hobbit enamored of his pantry, I had embraced a girl who lost three homes before choosing the open road?

After a cursory inquiry on Facebook, it turns out that a handful of feminist fantasy and scifi geeks I know have heard of the author, but none have read her books.

Her Wikipedia entry says that as well as being a prolific writer, Mitchison was an active socialist and feminist fighting for the rights to birth control and abortion.

Travel Light is available on the US Amazon site, and some of the other novels, a memoir, and a biography are available on the UK site.


Embodied Cognition and Sport Psychology, For Men

UPDATE:The organiser has let me know that there were four invited women speakers, who had not yet accepted at the time the notice was sent out.

[Our sender notes that we might find it amusing to note that it is advertised (lower on the text) as ‘the hottest conference of the year’.]

The Department of Philosophy of UAE University and Abu Dhabi Sport Council are happy to invite you to the

First International Conference in Embodied Cognition and Sport Psychology
24th-27th February 2014, Emirate of Abu Dhabi, UAE

This academic conference aims at exploring important points of connection between the empirical studies of sport psychology and the embodied approach to the cognitive sciences. It will offer a unique occasion of interdisciplinary collaboration, and foster opportunities of reciprocal learning between theoretical and applied sport scientists, exercise and performance psychologists, cognitive neuroscientists, psycholinguists, philosophers of mind, phenomenologists, and practitioners who work in the sport environment, including coaches, trainers, and athletes of various disciplines.
Embodied cognition theory offers the most suitable paradigm to pursue this integration and cross-disciplinary collaboration: successful sport psychologists recognize that the results and the models of embodied cognitive science can allow them develop more effective training methods; reciprocally, attentive cognitive scientists can’t overlook sport and exercise psychology, as this field is one of the richest terrains for empirical exploration, experimental discovery, and epistemological validation of models and theories. Cooperation between these two fields promises immediate and tangible benefits, as it allows proving the correctness of the theoretical models by testing how effectively they can improve the athletes’ performances; at the same time, it raises the value of sport science for cognitive science, proving how the empirical study of athletic performance can inspire and validate new explanatory models of sensorimotor capabilities, control, attention, memory, and language-action interfaces. Sports can provide invaluable insights for the sciences of mind, telling how skills are actually enacted and controlled, through the body, defining dynamic boundaries between mind and world.

Confirmed keynote speakers:
Tom Carr (Michigan State University)
Dan Hutto (University of Wollongong)
Jesus Ilundain-Agurruza (Linfield College)
Mauro Maldonato (Universita’ della Basilicata)
David L. Mann (Vrije University Amsterdam)
Albert Newen (Ruhr-Universitaet Bochum)
Thomas Patrick (ASPETAR, Doha)

This four-day long conference, co-organized and sponsored by UAE University (College of Humanities and Social Sciences and College of Education) and by Abu Dhabi Sport Council, is presumably going to be the hottest of the Winter (up to 25-30 degrees Celsius): it will be held in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, in a unique landscape framed by the desert dunes, the shores of the Arabian Gulf, and the most futuristic skyscrapers. The first two days (February 24th-25th), dedicated to research themes and theory of the sport sciences, will be held on the brand new state-of-the-art campus of UAE University, the top ranking academic institution of the Gulf region, situated in the ancient oasis city of Al Ain; the remaining two days (February 26th and 27th), dedicated to applied issues related to training and coaching, will take place in Abu Dhabi city, the modern capital of the United Arab Emirates – situated just one hour from the multicultural and trendy metropolis of Dubai.

To learn about the Gendered Conference Campaign, go here.

Syllabi: Got Women?

When crafting my Intro to Ethics syllabus for the upcoming semester, I tried to find as many great pieces by women as I could, hoping that I could meet the 20% challenge.  I didn’t do any conscious counting, though…until now. Here’s how it turned out:

100 total philosophers that we will be reading or reading about (about 10 are actually scientists or other non-philosophers)
56 are from required readings & activities, 44 from recommended ones.

Gender breakdown:

Required Readings (Men-Women): 68% – 32% (38-18)
Recommended Readings (M-W): 63% – 36% (28-16)

Women of color on the syllabus: Rabi’A Al- Adawiyya, Michelle Alexander, Michele Moody-Adams, and Caster Semenya as someone we’re reading about.  Wooo!! …That’s actually super sad that I’m excited to have more than 1% WoC on my syllabus.

So overall not shabby, considering that current efforts to get 20% women authors on syllabi are seen by some as necessarily lowering the quality of what we teach.  <sarcasmfont> I really had to lower my standards to include Foot, Nussbaum, Anderson, Moody-Adams, Korsgaard, Langton, and Fricker. </sarcasmfont>

I know this is not incredibly difficult when you’re teaching ethics, but it was still rather amusing how many times I stumbled upon a great piece that would make me think, “Oh ya; they do ethics and are awesome. I should teach them. Why didn’t I immediately think of that? And why aren’t they in the textbook?”

I’m using one textbook and everything else is from individual essays. Total authors from the textbook: 29. Men-Women ratio of authors I’m using: 80% – 20% (23-6).  (For the textbook as a whole the ratio is probably between 5-10%, which is my guess from eyeballing it).


How goes other people’s efforts to craft syllabi without atrocious demographics?