Philosophical memoir about rape and about recovery

Canadian philosopher Karyn Freeman has written a book, One Hour in Paris: A True Story of Rape and Recovery. 

Here is an except from a story about the book in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper:


Before he got drunk on vodka and brutally assaulted her at knife-point for an hour, Karyn Freedman’s rapist made them dinner, chicken and salad. It was 1990 in Paris, and Freedman, then 22, had been backpacking through Europe. On her first night in Paris, she arrived to the apartment of a professor who had mentored one of her friends. The rapist lived there, too, and played host before the vicious attack. Freedman, now an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph, battled post-traumatic stress disorder for more than a decade following the assault. She details her ordeal in the new book One Hour in Paris: A True Story of Rape and Recovery. Blending memoir with psychological and neuroscientific research into what it means to live in a body that has been traumatized, Freedman examines the significant cost of rape on a victim’s life – distrust in relationships, a sex life “corrupted” by paralyzing flashbacks and an understandably tainted view of the capabilities of her fellow humans.

Read the rest here.

Query: Climate Survey Experience?

From Mari Mikkola:

We at the Humboldt-University, Berlin, have recently done a faculty-wide climate survey and are in the process of reviewing the findings. With this in mind, I’m hoping to get in touch with colleagues who have done one at their institution already. We would be interested to hear about your publicly available results, whether there were some particular problems in going through the processes of information-acquisition and –review, whether you have any helpful tips in general. We are asking for this information so that we can compare our results and see how they fare with international counterparts. We’d also appreciate any tips so that we can improve the survey for the future. If you’d rather not respond on the pages of this blog, please email me directly at mari.mikkola[at] Communications will be treated confidentially if need be, and the survey task force will not reproduce any information without permission.

Many thanks in advance!

Reflections on Adoption, part 4

Part 4, from philosopher and adoptive parent Brynn Welch.


Social Convention 4: remember that parenting is really, really, really hard, regardless of the number of parents/children or the path to parenthood and be more forgiving of ourselves and more helpful to others.

What happens in the absence of this convention: expectations, both externally and internally imposed, become insane. This one is tricky. There certainly are others judging our decision to parent and waiting to see whether we’ve really thought it through. But usually, we’re the ones self-imposing the unreasonable expectations we imagine others have of us to keep it all together and be over the moon all the time about parenthood. So although I think there genuinely is a problem with people having unreasonable expectations about how parents will feel about parenthood and handle the complications it presents, those of us who are parents are a big part of the problem. We are often the ones forgetting how hard what we are doing is and expecting ourselves not to show “weakness”. So here’s the real deal with me, and I strongly suspect it’s the unspoken real deal with a lot of people: seeing my son born was the most incredible moment of my life, and I was shocked by how much love I felt in that instant. But when the nurse handed him to me, my first thought was something like “WAIT! What do you mean I’m responsible for him now?! That seems like a terrible idea.” Everyone knows that parenting is hard. But experiencing it is…well, the knowledge that it’s hard just doesn’t come close to capturing the experience of it. I was exhausted, frazzled, on edge. But what people kept asking was, “Are you over the moon?” The answer is complicated: yes, I am. I am happier than I have ever been. I am also now existing in the depths of the underworld. In 11 days, I went from just a person with an adult home and lots of time to sleep to being a very tired mother of an infant with a house full of baby junk. I am feeling ALL OF THE THINGS. But I felt like I should answer “Yes, I am sooooooo happy!” Nevermind that my day now revolves around someone else’s bodily functions, and I have reached the point of exhaustion where I am physically ill. Let’s just leave it at “Yes, I’m soooooo happy!” I suspect all parents feel this way. We internalize the expectation that we will exist in a constant state of gratitude, bliss, and togetherness. Sure, that’s a lofty goal, but it sets us up for certain failure. As a single parent via adoption, I feel this pressure three times over. I feel somehow less free to complain about financial stress or work-life balance because people will be thinking, “Well, you chose to be a single mom!” or “Well, you wanted this!” Although people have in fact said exactly those things to me, both that reaction and my fear of it are irrational. The reaction itself assumes that my choice to become a parent was somehow more deliberate than anyone else’s. The process may have involved more (and far less pleasant) steps, but the decision itself was exactly the same. It further assumes that a second parent would help, and that’s not obviously true. (In fact, I think flying solo is way, way better than most people imagine.) But my fear of that reaction is also irrational because although I am occasionally greeted with “Well, you chose to be a single mom” or “Well, you wanted this!” I have also been offered food delivery, babysitting services, and all the free venting you could want. So although people occasionally reinforce my fear, most do not. Nonetheless, I have internalized unreasonable expectations the few have and projected them onto everyone. After all, I chose single motherhood and got lucky enough to finalize an adoption with a perfect little dude. I need to prove that neither of those were bad decisions, right? What baffles me about the absence of this convention is that every parent I know – regardless of the path to parenthood, the number of parents in the home, the number of children, or the amount of money and professional flexibility – feels something like this pressure to have it all together with smiles on our faces. But we also all know that a) parenting is really, really, really hard and b) that pressure to have it all together is an entirely unnecessary additional stress. We’re trying to raise tiny humans, for crying out loud!

Advice: let’s all be kinder to each other and to ourselves. Let’s remember that new parents are over the moon and more in love than they thought possible, but they’re also getting pooped on and missing sleep, privacy, that guest room, and the ability to just run into the store really quickly. When we focus on the former, we trivialize the latter, and the latter is definitely not trivial. And new parents, people want to help. If you’re tired and want a nap, just say so. No one will judge you, and people are not generally opposed to an hour or two of baby snuggles.

I shall now take the first step toward being kinder to myself about this: tomorrow is my son’s birthday. Of course I will celebrate his birth. I am so, so, so excited that he was born. But you know what else I’ll be celebrating? That I made it an entire year as a single, working mother of a small child. Because let’s be honest: that’s freaking awesome. So there.



On self forgiveness and New Year’s resolutions

Feminist philosopher Kate Norlock writes,

“My research focuses on forgiveness, and most of my work concerns the things we beat ourselves up about. We’re only capable of resolutions because we’re capable of memory, and unfortunately, memory is also what makes us good at focusing on our failures. Self-reproach is a function of memory, and self-inflicted harms – like sacrifice of our plans and hopes, and taking on unworthy images of ourselves – linger and reinforce negative beliefs we already have about ourselves.

The funny thing is, I don’t hear much about self-forgiveness in fitness circles.”

Go read the rest here.

On the “female penis” and why reproductive biologists (and everyone else!) need philosophy of sex

Last week, with the publication of Yoshizawa et al’s “Female Penis, Male Vagina, and Their Correlated Evolution in a Cave Insect,” the media and the intertubes obediently leaped on the phrase “female penis,” with outlet after outlet reproducing the phrase, often with predictable jokes about penis envy and who wears the pants in the relationship.

Yoshizawa et al’s article detailed the authors’ discovery of four species of tiny Brazilian cave insects in which sexual congress involves the female inserting a long, spiny member (a gynosome) into the male’s sexual orifice and using that gynosome to slowly extract sperm and other nutrients from the male, a phenomenon the authors describe as “coupling role reversal.”

The trouble is, of course, that the described phenomenon is not a reversal of the usual sexual roles, for two main reasons: (1) in familiar penis-in-vagina intercourse, the bearer of the penis does not typically extract sperm from its partner; rather, it ejaculates sperm into its partner; and (2) while there are indeed usual sexual roles within species, it is an exaggeration to say that there are usual sex roles across species. In some species, females leave their eggs on riverbeds to be fertilized by partners who arrive later; in some species, one partner impales the other in order to transfer ejaculate into them; some species require more than two mating types. I could go on. Parthenogenesis, exploding genitals… the natural world has it all! …and that’s just the animal kingdom. Don’t get me started on plants.

Given this amazing complexity, why would Yoshizawa et al (and all of the journalists and bloggers) adopt the (arguably) oversimplified, reductivist approach to cave insect sex that they have? In her smart, trenchant take on the story, Annalee Newitz attributes the approach to anthropocentrism. In an equally thoughtful piece (although one that I don’t happen to agree with, in the main), Ed Yong replies that “penis” is used for the female cave insects’ sex organs in the same (more or less) metaphorical way that “foot” is used in “snail’s foot.” For Newitz, treating any sexual appendage as a penis disregards the rich variety of sexual phenomena. Yong disagrees, arguing that extending the term “penis” to include organs with a broad range of sexual functions properly embraces sexual variety.

Yong’s point is an interesting one, and I’m happy to know that there are folks like Yong who know their biology and who adopt thoughtful, pluralistic approaches to sexual function. However, it is implausible in the extreme to suppose that the herd of bloggers and science journalists who piled on to the “female penis” moniker did so for the principled reasons Yong elaborates. Rather, what we see in both Yoshizawa et al’s choice of descriptions, and in the swiftness with which that terminology was taken up by journalists and bloggers, is an inability to conceive of sexual phenomena as escaping the Adam/Eve, Noah’s Ark two-by-two paradigm.

One sees this over and over in biologists’ descriptions of mating behaviour among hermaphroditic species (like flatworms) and species with more than two mating types (like fire ants) — a shoe-horning of non-human sexual phenomena into a familiar human binary. Even today, and even after the revolutionary work of such feminist biologists as Joan Roughgarden and Anne Fausto-Sterling (to name just two), traditional reproductive biology still can’t get past the idea that the magical number for sex is “2”, and that every sexual function/organ is reducible to two paradigmatic ones.

Presumably, the source of all this trouble in the history of ideas is indeed religious/mythological. However, reading the gender biases of one species of evolutionarily recent bipeds onto all of the other species is bad science. It is, moreover, science that ignores what recent developments both sexual reproduction and two-sex sexual reproduction are in the history of life on Earth. Put simply, regardless of what our Sunday school tales and the aisles of our toy stores might encourage us to believe, in the world of reproduction, male and female are not axioms of the system; nor are any particular sexual organs or functions indispensable.

Schliesser on de Gournay: sexism is “serious blasphemy”

Yesterday, at his Digressions & Impressions blog, Eric Schliesser posted a (second) lovely discussion of 17th century philosopher Marie de Gournay and her account of the Church’s role in the subordination of women. Strikingly, de Gournay argues that, in having played this role, Christianity also oppresses men, by encouraging them to make idols of themselves.

For, men have chosen to let themselves be ruled by “superiority of…strength” (73) and not their rational faculty. In fact, she argues that in so doing men have committed “serious blasphemy” because men have elevated themselves above women. For, women are “worthy of being made in the image of the Creator, of benefiting from the most holy Eucharist and the mysteries of redemption and of paradise, and of the vision–indeed, the possession–of God.” (73) Man’s political decision to deny women “the advantages or privileges of man” is, thus, a way to make an idol of himself. 

De Gournay’s argument is a powerful reply to the Pauline-Augustinian argument that woman only expresses God’s image when she is united to man (de Trinitate, Book 12, Ch. 7). I know what I’ll be adding to the syllabus the next time I teach philosophy of gender. Thanks, Eric!