Laurie Shrage on Prostitution/Sex Work

Feminist philosopher Laurie Shrage writes in the NY Times:

This week, participants in an Amnesty International council meeting in Dublin are considering a proposal to endorse the decriminalization of consensual paid sex between adults. The proposal has elements of the both the British model, which rests on the idea that consensual sex between adults should be protected from state interference, and the Dutch model, which is based on the idea that criminalizing paid sex generates more harm than good. The policy draft I read emphasizes the organization’s longstanding commitment to end trafficking, and to insure that, where paid sex exists, it is voluntary and safe.

Yet some prominent feminist groups have organized to oppose Amnesty International’s proposed policy and to endorse the Swedish model of prohibition. Their opposition is based on the assumption that acts of paid sex are inevitably coercive and that the state should intervene in private sexual acts between adults to protect vulnerable people.

The first assumption has been strongly challenged by many sex worker civil and labor rights groups, and the second assumption is subject to the objection that it is overly paternalistic toward adult women. Moreover, opponents to Amnesty International’s proposed policy overlook the fact that it remains neutral on the question of whether there should be public establishments for the purpose of buying and selling sex.

Shrage’s views are controversial, both in the wider world and amongst feminists.  I invite a discussion here, but urge everyone to remember that this is– very clearly– an issue on which reasonable feminists can and do disagree.  Please do observe the “be nice” rules, in particular bearing in mind that very different views can come out of shared feminist commitments.

Charlotte Witt on Gender Essences

In Aeon magazine.

Why can’t the woman candidate simply choose to identify as an aspiring academic, thereby making her attire unimportant?

My answer is that gendered norms – in this case gendered norms of appearance – trump other norms that structure our social agency, in this case again, the clothing-as-unimportant norm that governs being an academic. And, it turns out that what is true of gender norms in the world of philosophy, that lofty and abstract realm, is also true of the social world as a whole. Gendered norms trump, prioritise, and permeate the multitude of norms that structure our agency and lived experience.

Women in Gaza – The Guardian

The Guardian has published a very good – and distressing – feature about life for three different women in Gaza. It’s good to see the experiences of women victims of military violence centred in this way.

From the article:

I first visited Sabiha, 65, in February. She had lost her house in Khuzaa during the violence and spent last winter living with her three sons, daughter and grandchildren in a manmade tent of tree leaves and nylon next to her devastated home. When asked about how her life had changed, Sabiha said: “I’m afraid of everything. I lost my house. My married sons’ houses were completely destroyed as well. We are all homeless now. We hear about promises of reconstruction but nothing has happened.”

Sabiha’s family asked the Gaza reconstruction committee for help. “We needed a caravan. We were calling for the officials to get us a caravan for more than five months.” Instead the family received a tent but it was insufficient protection during the cold months: “We usually lit a fire to feel warm and cook but the strong winds made it impossible on some days … We only managed to take showers once every two weeks as we had no bathroom. This is not a life. If I had the choice to choose between this life and death, I would choose death.” After Sabiha told me this, she burst into tears.

“How Changeable is Gender?”

Today’s NY Times has a longish article by Richard Friedman with that title. It maintains

At the same time, we have to acknowledge that gender identity is a complex phenomenon, involving a mix of genes, hormones and social influence. And there is no getting around the fact that biology places constraints on our capacity to reimagine ourselves and to change, and it’s important to understand those limitations.

As conciliatory as this remark may seem, many feminists reading the article may find it objectionable in one way or another. Speaking out of concern for our blood pressure(s), let me say I think the most calming move would be to read it as a review article, full of information about what various science-oriented approaches are now claiming (or uncovering). I do also think that one should read it if one want to know what the science(s) is/are now saying, something that’s really useful to know for all sorts of reasons. Not least because one’s students will have views about the latest science that have passed through parents’ all too fallible interpretations.

One thing stressed: trying to change someone from gay to straight won’t work and is generally considered harmful. Of course, quoting the left-wing NY Times on that may not move everyone.

There’s a dearth of feminist references, which is a shame particularly since Ann Fausto-Sterling’s work anticipates much of what is said.

Class action lawsuit over trauma and disability in Compton schools

The full story is at NPR. (Perhaps especially relevant and of interest to those following broader discussions going on in academia regarding trauma and student accommodations.)

An unprecedented, class action lawsuit brought against one Southern California school district and its top officials could have a big impact on schools across the country. . .

The complaint is a terrifying read — of kids coping with physical and sexual abuse, addicted parents, homelessness and a constant fear of violence.

One of the plaintiffs, listed as 15-year-old Phillip W., says he witnessed his first murder when he was 8.

“Somebody got shot in the back of the head with a shotgun,” the boy explains in a video on a website dedicated to the case. “And they threw him over the rail, and he was just sitting there bleeding, blood all down the sewer line. It was a horrifying sight.”

The complaint says Phillip has witnessed more than 20 shootings and, in 2014, was hit in the knee by a bullet.

What’s this have to do with Compton’s schools?

Susan Ko of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress says exposure to violence can have a profound effect on the brain’s ability to learn.

“That impacts concentration, the ability to just listen to what the teacher is saying, to understand what you’re reading, to remember something that you learned or what the teacher just said,” Ko says.

Not only that, many traumatized students live in a state of constant alarm. Innocent interactions like a bump in the hallway or a request from a teacher can stir anger and bad behavior.

The lawsuit alleges that, in Compton, the schools’ reaction to traumatized students was too often punishment — not help.

“They were repeatedly either sent to another school, expelled or suspended — and this went back to kindergarten,” says Marleen Wong, who teaches at the USC School of Social Work and has spent decades studying kids and trauma. “I think we’re really doing a terrible disservice to these children.”

The suit argues that trauma is a disability and that schools are required — by federal law — to make accommodations for traumatized students, not expel them. The plaintiffs want Compton Unified to provide teacher training, mental health support for students and to use conflict-mediation before resorting to suspension. . .

This idea — of treating trauma in children as a disability — is new, though the problem is not, says Ko. “Twenty-five percent of kids will have experienced a traumatic event before the age of 16.”

Not all of those children will struggle in school. But many will — and not just in Compton.

“You’re starving because…?”

And whilst we’re talking about benefit sanctions…

If we believe that our society should be one where no one is left to starve or to go without food, warmth, and shelter, then there can be no good reason to cut off someone’s only means of procuring these basic human necessities. But this point aside, some sanction decisions are surreal in their awfulness. Here’s a nifty list collated by i100 of the eleven most senseless sanction decisions.

  • A man with heart problems who was on Employment and Support Allowance had a heart attack during a work capability assessment. He was then sanctioned for failing to complete the assessment.
  • A man who had gotten a job that was scheduled to begin in two week’s time was sanctioned for not looking for work as he waited for the role to start.
  • Army veteran Stephen Taylor, 60, whose Jobseeker’s Allowance was stopped after he sole poppies in memory of fallen soldiers.
  • A man had to miss his regular appointment at the job centre to attend his father’s funeral. He was sanctioned even though he told DWP staff in advance.
  • Ceri Padley, 26, had her benefits sanctioned because she missed an appointment at the jobcentre – because she was at a job interview.
  • A man got sanctioned for missing his slot to sign on – as he was attending a work programme interview. He was then sanctioned as he could not afford to travel for his job search.
  • Sean Halkyward, 24, said his benefits were sanctioned because he looked for too many jobs in one week.
  • Mother-of-three Angie Goodwin, 27, said her benefits were sanctioned after she applied for a role job centre staff said was beyond her.
  • Sofya Harrison was sanctioned for attending a job interview and moving her signing-on to another day.
  • Michael, 54, had his benefits sanctioned for four months for failing to undertake a week’s work experience at a charity shop. The charity shop had told him they didn’t want him there.
  • Terry Eaton, 58, was sanctioned because he didn’t have the bus fare he needed to attend an appointment with the job centre.

All of this could be funny in its ridiculousness if it weren’t for the fact that people are, you know, dying as a result of having their benefits stopped.

“Benefit sanctions helped me write my CV”, and other despicable lies

Benefit sanctions – a morally repugnant and empirically flawed system, where claimants have their benefits stopped by jobcentre staff, who are themselves under pressure to meet sanctions targets.

In just another twist to the surreal awfulness, Welfare Weekly has found out that a leaflet produced by the Department for Work and Pensions about the system, contained fictional profiles supposedly about claimants who’d had a positive experience with sanctions. Yes, that’s right. They included profiles that were entirely made up. One profile was of ‘Sarah’, who was really glad her benefits had been stopped because it helped her to rewrite her CV (because having no money to buy food is really good at focusing the mind):

As one twitter user nicely put it:

Dialogues on Disability – Anne (“Doc”) Waters

The latest installment in Shelley Tremain’s excellent series of interviews with disabled philosophers is out today. This time, she interviews Anne (“Doc”) Waters about disability, indigenous/First Nations philosophy, transforming academia and other things:

Anne has lived with anxiety and depression for most of her life and is disabled in other ways. From her mother, she learned that privilege is something to be respected, never turned down directly, but rather transferred around, to be regenerated among less privileged people. She thinks that this is the most important lesson that she has learned about privilege and regards it as her own Native American principle of fairness. Her work also addresses the development in philosophy of transformative non-binary ontologies. She currently lives in her mother’s hometown of many generations, in the swamps of the Gulf of Mexico at the Tamiami Trail near the Withlacoochee River, where she spends much of her time hiking, writing poetry, and doing horticulture with her husband.

Read more here.

How not to address sexual harassment

Missouri legislature edition (via HuffPo):

“We need a good, modest, conservative dress code for both the males and females,” state Rep. Nick King (R) said in an email to colleagues. “Removing one more distraction will help everyone keep their focus on legislative matters.”

The state legislature began working on its new intern program policies after Missouri House Speaker John Diehl (R) resigned in May, when the Kansas City Star revealed he sent sexually suggestive text messages to a 19-year-old intern.

Two months later, Sen. Paul LeVota (D) resigned after two interns accused him of sexual harassment. In a statement, he denied any wrongdoing.

But the problem appears to be more widespread. Dozens of women have said they were sexually harassed while working at the state capitol. In that report, a former state senator called the culture in Jefferson City “very anything goes.”

On Monday, state Rep. Kevin Engler (R) sent out a list of proposed changes for the program to his fellow House members. The Kansas City Star reported that that’s when several legislators, initiated by state Rep. Bill Kidd (R), responded by suggesting Engler should add an intern dress code to the list.