Northwestern and Title IX

Justin has a very thorough post up covering recent developments at Northwestern.  I urge you to read it!

Kipnis has turned her story about her refusal to correct her confused and possibly misleading account of a Title IX complaint allegedly involving rape into a sweeping epic about her time on the front lines of the heroic battle defending academic freedom. Now that more facts are out there, I leave it to the reader to decide whether that is where her story really belongs. She claims that “What’s being lost, along with job security, is the liberty to publish ideas that might go against the grain or to take on risky subjects in the first place.” That she says these words in academia’s most widely read news publication is an irony she neglects to remark upon.

A woman of color at the Hypatia conference

More from the ever-excellent Discrimination and Disadvantage blog – Meena Krishnamurthy blogs about her experience as a woman of color at the Hypatia Diversity in Philosophy Conference. Summary headline:

Now, this isn’t to say that the Hypatia Conference wasn’t a success. It certainly was. There was a diverse range of really great women and men giving really great talks. The conference organizers should be commended for this.  However, there is still some way to go when it comes to making women of colour feel truly welcome.

Fighting implicit bias while sleeping.

The study, published in Science, began with two Pavlovian-style conditioning exercises designed to counter race and gender biases. In the first, participants were shown female faces with words linked to maths or science and in the second, black faces appeared with pleasant words.

During the tasks, two distinctive sounds were played – one that came to be strongly associated with the gender pairs and the other with the race pairs.

Following the training, participants took a 90 minute nap and once they entered a deep sleep, without their knowledge, one of the sounds was played repeatedly.

After the counter-bias training exercise, and before the nap, people’s bias tended to have fallen, but without the extra cues during sleep, their level of bias had almost recovered to baseline after the nap. However, when participants were played the sound cues during sleep, their bias scores reduced by a further 56% compared to their pre-sleep score. Their scores remained reduced by around 20% compared to their initial baseline when the participants were tested one week later.

I am filing this one under “important if true”.

On microaggressions

Via Daily Nous, I came across this post by Steve Horwitz on microaggressions. Horwitz suggests that the ‘fuss’ about microaggressions is unjustified, and that – while annoying – such social interactions really aren’t a big deal. Those who complain about them are just being – of course! – too sensitive.

The examples Horwitz draws on are from his own experiences of being Jewish in a small, largely non-Jewish town. People routinely assume his family celebrates Easter, ask his children what they’re getting for Christmas, etc. And while he wishes people were more reflective about their assumptions and more aware that not everyone celebrates Christian holidays, he’s always just reminded himself of their good intentions and shrugged these interactions off. If only we could all be so magnanimous.

It’s hard, though, to draw a general moral here about microaggression theory. To begin with, most the examples he mentions wouldn’t actually be classified as microaggressions according to many popular ways of understanding microaggression. It’s often – not always, but often – taken to be a necessary condition of a microaggression that it implies something demeaning about a person’s social group, reinforces a negative stereotype, etc. So, e.g., if you said to an male acquaintance you saw wearing a wedding ring “What does your wife do?”, that wouldn’t, on many versions of microaggression theory, be a microaggression. It would be an unfortunate instance of heteronormative assumptions, but microaggression is often – again, not always, but often – taken to be something more specific. Contrast to the case in which, e.g., you say to your male acquaintance “Wow, I’m surprised how normal of a couple you and your husband are!” That’s a microgression.

Internal debates of microaggression theory aside, Horwitz’s main concern is that micoaggressions just aren’t a big deal. But here he just seems to be missing the point of talking about microaggression. No one thinks individual microaggressions are a big deal. The entire point of talking about microaggressions is talking about the net effect of their continued, repeated patterns, especially for groups who are already structurally disadvantaged. If you’re followed by a security guard when you go into a store one time, it’s a nuisance. If you’re followed by a security guard almost every time you go into a store, and you’re also always picked out for ‘random’ security checks, and you’re also forever getting asked to show ID at your workplace when your colleagues aren’t, etc, etc, etc then the overall pattern is much more than a nuisance. Each individual microaggression is almost insignificant. The repeated relentlessness of them, over and over each and every day, is very significant. (Lots of very small things can add up to a very big thing. It’s not that complicated.)

Horwitz feels he wasn’t particularly harmed by the comments and assumptions his fellow townspeople made. And he probably wasn’t. By his own telling these were occasional comments centered around holidays, and given his social status as a white male professional he wasn’t in a particularly vulnerable position when these comments were made. The situations where microaggression theory has been put to the most useful work – the daily experiences of black Americans, of women in male-dominated fields, of visibly disabled people seeking accommodation – are very different, so it’s hard to see why Horowitz thinks there is a close parallel.

But Horwitz insists that the very fact that we are talking about microaggressions is a sign of just how little oppression we actually face:

I do not deny that microaggressions are real. I simply question whether they are really so important as to justify the fuss. When we can afford to spend so much energy worrying about nuances of language and how much space people occupy, it’s probably because we’ve made significant progress on the much bigger and far more dangerous problems. And living in a society in which that is true is the invisible privilege of those who think they are the constantly microaggressed against victims of the privilege of others.

Now Horwitz’s broader point is undoubtedly right – it only makes sense to start talking in detail about microagressions in certain social contexts. But he seems to slide from that to the view that microaggressions, and their cumulative effects, are not important. We should all just shrug our shoulders, be less sensitive, and disappear into a Taylor Swift dance montage (haters gonna hate, etc.) But this slide is absurd. Yes, things could be worse. But it doesn’t make any sense to tell black Americans not to complain about structural racism because, hey, at least they aren’t slaves. And it doesn’t make any sense to tell women not to complain about sexism because, hey, they can vote now. Yes, social conditions are worse in other places and at other times. That doesn’t mean it’s not okay to talk about structural inequalities – of which talk of microaggression is one piece of a very complicated puzzle – that exist here and now.

Spare Rib now available online

Well, this is cool: JISC’s journal archives now include Spare Rib, and selected highlights from Spare Rib are introduced at a British Library page. From the British Library page:

Spare Rib was an active part of the emerging women’s liberation movement in the late 20th century. Running from 1972 – 93, this now iconic magazine challenged the stereotyping and exploitation of women, while supporting collective, realistic solutions to the hurdles women faced. Spare Rib became the debating chamber of feminism in the UK, and it now provides a valuable insight into the lives of women in this period.

Distinguished Woman Philosopher Nominations are Open!

Call for Nominations

Each year the Eastern Division of the Society for Women in Philosophy comes together to honor a woman philosopher whose contributions to the support of women in philosophy and to philosophy itself are outstanding and merit special recognition.  A panel and reception celebrating the honoree’s accomplishments will be organized for the Eastern Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association, January 6-9, 2016 in Washington, DC.

Nominations should include a copy of the nominee’s curriculum vitae and a minimum of two supporting letters, which summarize the nominee’s contributions to philosophy and support of women in philosophy.Two-thirds of letter writers for any given nomination must be members of the Society for Women in Philosophy in good standing.

Please email all nominations to Johanna Luttrell, ESWIP Secretary ( no later than June 15th, 2015.  Please put “DWP Nomination” in the subject line.Johanna C. Luttrell, Ph.D. Post-Doctoral Visiting Scholar in Political Philosophy,The Hobby Center for Public Policy University of Houston,

Ann Olivarius on Miami, McGinn and Shalala

Some of our readers may have come across this article, which includes criticism by Ann Olivarius of Donna Shalala’s handling of Colin McGinn. Feminist Philosophers has obtained permission from Olivarius to publish the whole of the editorial which is quoted from in the Miami New Times Article. She has also given us some vital background to the editorial.

First, the background:

I am the lawyer representing the victim of Colin McGinn’s sexual harassment at the University of Miami. In an op-ed below, I set out my views about a recent statement by UM President Donna Shalala praising herself in her conduct of this case. But from speaking with Jenny Saul and others, I believe that many philosophers are under some misapprehension about key facts in this case, which as a preliminary matter I seek to clear up here.

Read More »

James Rhodes, on the importance of bearing witness

“It’s important to bear witness, but also it’s important to give a message that bad things happen and we don’t lie about it, we don’t hide it, we don’t pretend it hasn’t happened, we don’t do everything we can to remove every piece of evidence that it happened, to erase the past.”

This is from an interview regarding his legal battle to publish a memoir in which he discusses his experience of being sexually abused as a child

But, he says, it’s also “a book about music. It’s a love story, it’s a book to Hattie, my wife, who’s the greatest thing ever. It’s a book about my son, about composers, about the extraordinary lives that these composers and musicians lead, it’s about all the things that are important to me. I don’t ever want this to be ‘the guy who was abused as a kid’, any more than I want, ‘this is the guy who’s a Pisces. This is the guy who’s 5ft 11in … 10½ … I live in Queen’s Park, I’m married to a woman who is a 10 when at best I’m a five and a half or a six on a really good day, I play the piano. . .

Last year, his previous wife took out an injunction against publication, on the basis that to have these “toxic” details in the public domain would harm their son. This was rejected in the first court case, but upheld on appeal, and in an elaborately restrictive judgment. “It ended up being a bunch of judges having editorial control over what I said. Literally to the point where I wasn’t allowed to use graphic language or vivid and colourful descriptions. I could use the word ‘rape’, but I couldn’t use the phrase ‘getting raped’ … ”He pauses, and recalls: “The shock of being told, in effect, you can’t say that. Not only can you not write it in a book, but we are trying to gag you from speaking anywhere in the world on any medium – on Twitter, in interviews, on TV – about not just sexual abuse but mental illness. Can you imagine? I wouldn’t be able to tell you now that I’m in treatment for mental illness without being threatened with imprisonment, had this been successful.”

Thankfully, he won in court. You can read the full story here.

CFP: Social Kinds (Journal of Social Ontology)

Professor Mari Mikkola, co-editor of the Journal of Social Ontology, writes to share this note:

Call for Papers: SOCIAL KINDS

Journal of Social Ontology (JSO) will publish a special section devoted to social kinds. The deadline for submissions is October 15, 2015.

Social kinds include money and marriage, recessions and unemployment, as well as race and gender. It is often argued that social kinds depend in some way on people’s attitudes, activities, habits and practices. Actions and attitudes of individuals may both determine what social kinds exist and what the particular nature of different social kinds is, and may causally bring about and sustain social kinds. Even so, social reality is “stubbornly real” in that the extent to which individuals can change it is rather limited. This raises a number of questions concerning the ontology of social kinds.

Questions to be addressed in the special section include (but are not limited to):

– THE NATURE OF SOCIAL KINDS: Are social kinds uniform, or might ‘money’ and ‘gender’ for instance be fundamentally different kinds? Does essentialism apply to any social kinds? Should we adopt some form of realism about them? What kind of ontological dependence is at stake? On what does the existence and identity of social kinds depend on?

– SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION: Social construction plays a central role in the debate on social kinds. What is it? And what role do social practices play in it? Is social construction merely a causal process, or is it also a matter of constitution? How can notions such as bootstrapping, or looping effects contribute to our understanding of social kinds?

– KNOWLEDGE: It has been argued that the knowledge that those who do the construction have about their constructs is infallible. Is this indeed the case, and if so does it hold for all social kinds (including recession and unemployment) or only for some (perhaps money and marriage)? Do social kinds depend on collective intentionality? Which social kinds, if any, require common knowledge? If social kinds require collective acceptance, is this part of the very concept of a social kind? Can people be mistaken about any feature of institutions, or do some have a privileged status?

– FUNCTION: Which functions do social kinds fulfill? Is the function of some or all social kinds to solve coordination problems? In which sense (if any) is a status function a function? (How) can social kinds be dysfunctional? Does analyzing social kinds in terms of (regulative or constitutive) rules serve to shed light on social functions?

– NATURAL KINDS: How if at all do social kinds differ from natural kinds? Which insights from the philosophical study concerning natural kinds extend to the study of social kinds? If social kinds are homeostatic property clusters, what holds those properties together? How do theories concerning substantial kinds or primary kinds apply to social reality? How does the ontological nature of social kinds affect the theory of reference to social kinds? Do the social sciences rely on social kinds in the same way as some have suggested that the natural sciences rely on natural kinds?

– NORMATIVITY: Many if not all social kinds have a normative or evaluative dimension. What roles do norms and appraisals play in social kinds? What role do deontic powers play in institutions? Might some social classifications (like gender and race categories) uphold unjust practices? If so, does this pose special problems for social criticism? How can the normative dimension of such social constructions be justified or criticized? How if at all are ideologies implicated in social kinds?

We welcome any paper-length submissions (up to 8500 words) related to the topic of social kinds, and not restricted to these questions. All submissions should be suitable for anonymous review. The deadline for submissions is October 15, 2015. For further info, please contact arto.laitinen[at]; f.a.hindriks[at] or mari.mikkola[at]