Canadian feminist philosopher Anne Minas remembered

Canadian Feminist philosopher Anne Minas died last week at the age of 78.

Minas completed her doctorate at Harvard in 1967. Her first job in Canada was at Wilfrid Laurier University, but she soon moved down the street to a post the in Waterloo Philosophy Department. She taught at Waterloo from 1966 until 2002. She published in various sub-disciplines in philosophy, including philosophy of language and philosophy of religion, but is best known for her work in feminist philosophy which included publications in venues such as Ethics (where, in 1977, she wrote on what was in those days quaintly called “reverse discrimination”).

Her main claim to fame as a scholar, though, is her important edited collection Gender Basics: Feminist Perspectives on Women and Men (Wadsworth, 1993, with a second edition from Wadsworth in 2000). This book became a standard introductory textbook in the field, and is still widely used.

Anne Minas made a lasting mark on the University of Waterloo with her endowment of the Humphrey Professorship in Feminist Philosophy. This professorship allows the Department to bring distinguished feminist philosophers to the University of Waterloo for a term. Christine Overall, Marilyn Frye, Janna Thompson, Lisa Schwartzman, Ann Garry, and Anita Superson have all held the professorship.

Upon learning of Minas’s death, Overall wrote:

I first knew of Anne Minas in her capacity as the editor of the textbook, Gender Basics: Feminist Perspectives on Women and Men, an anthology of diverse readings first published in 1993, and reissued in a second edition in 2000. But I met her in person in 2003, when I had the honour of being appointed as the Inaugural Humphrey Professor of Feminist Philosophy at the University of Waterloo, a position that she endowed. I have fond memories, while at Waterloo, of sharing her office, where we both spent productive days reading and writing. Dr. Minas had a deep commitment to supporting research and teaching in feminist philosophy. Her generosity in funding the Humphrey Professorship was a concrete expression of her dedication to ensuring that feminist philosophy would both survive and thrive in Canadian academia.

Superson too praised Minas’s contribution to feminist scholarship:

It is often said that philosophy is not practical. Feminist philosophy flies in the face of this charge. The seminar on Bodily Autonomy that I taught at the University of Waterloo, made possible by Ann Minas’s generous donation, is one stark example. We studied the issues of the role our bodies play in making us who we are, the freedoms and legitimate prohibitions on how we can use our bodies, and how others can legitimately treat our own bodies. My wonderful students, drawn from Philosophy and from Women’s Studies, shared my thirst for answers to these questions, as they affect our lives in a most fundamental way. Their enthusiasm goes unmatched. My colleagues at the University of Waterloo showed me how feminist philosophy was not only welcome, but strongly encouraged in their department. They excitedly came to my talks and gave me very beneficial feedback. At these same talks was Anne Minas. Little did I know, two decades ago when I reviewed her anthology, Gender Basics, that I would have the pleasure and honor of holding the Humphrey Professorship in Feminist Philosophy which was endowed through Anne’s generosity. I had reviewed her book very favorably, believing it to be the best of its kind on the market, and to this day I still cite articles from it. I am glad that I had the opportunity to meet Anne and tell her in person what I thought about her book. I think she was happy to hear this — she was soft-spoken and a quiet person, certainly not one to brag. I do know that she enjoyed the lunches and dinners we had during my visit, and I do know that she was deeply committed to the advancement of women, and of feminism, in the profession. If I help to fulfill her commitment through my teaching, my research, and my service, I will have honored her memory.

Both personally and by endowing the Humphrey Professorship, Anne Minas was part of a significant evolution in Philosophy at University of Waterloo. She was the first feminist philosopher in a department that now prides itself on having a range of excellent scholars doing specifically feminist work, and many others whose work is informed by and sympathetic to feminist scholarship. She will be greatly missed.

An epic shitshow: disability, communication, and Anna Stubblefield

Tensions are running high around the case of Anna Stubblefield, the Rutgers-Newark philosophy professor convicted of sexually assaulting a disabled man. This post is a – no doubt inadequate – attempt to explain some of the complexities involved, and also an attempt to explain why those of us (like me) who think there’s very damning evidence that Stubblefield committed sexual assault and should absolutely go to jail nevertheless find so many of the issues here tricky and complicated, and find the whole thing almost unbearably sad.

  • ‘Mental age’ – The subject of assigning ‘mental age’ to cognitively disabled adults is deeply controversial within the disability rights community. This blog post gives a good outline of the main points of contention. This post gives a first-person narrative of why the idea of ‘mental age’ can be so offensive, and links the writings of various non-verbal autistic persons who, prior to having access to the technology which has allowed them to express themselves, were thought to have the ‘mental age’ of children. ‘Mental age’ is simply meant to assess specific aspects of cognitive function, but too often when we say that someone, e.g., ‘has a mental age of 13’ we assume that they are basically a permanent 13-year-old. This kind of slide has shown up over and over again in the reporting on the Stubblefield case.
  • Communication and cognitive disability – There are many very sad cases of cognitively disabled people being denied access to the communication methods and communicative technology they need. And this lack of access has contributed to incorrect assumptions of incompetence and lack of awareness, especially for autistic people (see above). So in the disability community there’s both skepticism about mental age assessment and a deep desire for better communicative technologies.
  • Facilitated communication – Enter facilitated communication, which is purported to be a method of communication for cognitively disabled persons whereby they can communicate with others via the help of a ‘facilitator’ who helps them to point to letters or symbols on a keyboard or other communication device. And it would be wonderful if this method of communication works. But the overwhelming scientific consensus is that it doesn’t (at all). And there’s also substantial evidence that the facilitator influences the result, sometimes to terrible consequences.
  • Sexual abuse and cognitive disability – Disabled people are, in general, very vulnerable to sexual abuse, and evidence suggests that cognitively disabled people are especially vulnerable. Abuse often comes from caregivers or those with assistive roles in the person’s life.
  • Sexual desire and cognitive disability – On the flip side, we tend to forget that adults with cognitive disability very often have sexual needs and urges. The language of ‘mental age’ no doubt contributes to this. A 10-year-old doesn’t have sexual needs. An adult with a so-called ‘mental age of 10’ certainly can.
  • Consent and cognitive disability – Meaningful consent is a necessary condition of non-abusive sex. But how on earth do we determine meaningful consent in the case of cognitive disability? This is an incredibly difficult issue, with the twin specters of sexual abuse and infantilization looming on either side. And it’s an issue that, personally, I have no idea how to think about.

I don’t believe Anna Stubblefield had meaningful consent – I don’t think there’s any way facilitated communication could have provided her with meaningful consent. And Anna Stubblefield worked with DJ in a professional capacity, as his communicator. That’s enough for me to think that what she did was horrifically abusive, whatever her intentions or beliefs may have been. And I also think that her gender, her victim’s gender, and her self-identification as a feminist are coloring many people’s reaction to the case. (If she was a man and DJ was a woman, I think the reaction would be very different.) But such an ugly coalescence of all these incredibly fraught, painful issues is also just incredibly sad.

Could a woman director change film history?

It is so easy to forget that there are many gaps between being a prodigy and being known at all well as a genius, a potentialy or actually transformative figure. So though I hope I am not the only who won’t recognize the subject of these quotes, I suspect I am not.

She was 25 when she made her groundbreaking “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” (1975). That film, which runs more than three hours, follows a widowed housewife as she prepares food, does chores and receives a gentleman who pays her for sex. The minimalist repetition builds quietly to a traumatic climax.

“ ‘Jeanne Dielman’ is a film that created, overnight, a new way of making films, a new way of telling stories, a new way of telling time,” said Nicola Mazzanti, the director of the Royal Belgian Film Archive. “There are filmmakers who are good, filmmakers who are great, filmmakers who are in film history. And then there are a few filmmakers who change film history.”

Chantel Akerman is The director of “Jeanne Dielman,” which is available on Hulu. See also She made a large number of exploratory films. Supposing a lot of others do not recognize this seminal (ovular) figure, I would guess it is because she was largely ignored in Hollywood and NYC.

Akerman died in Paris at 65 on Mon, Oct.5. No cause has been reported.

Another article notes:

Ms. Akerman’s last film, “No Home Movie” (a title that can be read two ways), is largely set in her mother’s Brussels apartment and documents their conversations in the months before the older woman’s death.

“No Home Movie,” which is to be screened Wednesday and Thursday (Oct 7 and 8) at the New York Film Festival, ends with Ms. Akerman alone in the empty apartment. It was heartbreaking when I saw it last week and it is devastating now.