Trigger Warnings and our “incapacity to unexperience”

I just want to draw readers attention to a really interesting piece by Leigh Johnson over at her blog

A few weeks ago in my Philosophy and Film course, we screened Werner Hertzog‘s film Grizzly Man for our “documentary” week. Grizzly Man tells the story of Timothy Treadwell, who spent thirteen summers in the Alaskan wilderness living with grizzly bears– all the while filming his trans-species communion– before being tragically attacked and killed by a bear in 2003. Treadwell was filming on the day that he died, though he did not have time to remove the lens caps from his camera before being attacked, so there remains only an audio recording of his (and his girlfriend, Anna Huguenard’s) gruesome death. Hertzog does not include that audio in his documentary.  In fact, there is a scene in the film where we see Hertzog listening to the recording for the first time and then, afterwards, remarking to Treadwell’s friend: “You must never listen to this.” What is more, in a gesture practicallyverboten for documentary filmmakers, Hertzog instructs Treadwell’s friend to destroy the tape.

You can literally hear the regret in Hertzog’s voice, his longing to unring the bell, as he instructs Treadwell’s friend to destroy the recording.  For cinephiles like myself, this is an especially powerful injunction, coming as it does from Hertzog, a man who was once shot during an interview and responded only with the calmly stoic remark: “it was not a significant bullet.”

. . . I’m still unsure if we should have listened to the recording in class or not.  If we had–which, again, we did not–this would have constituted (for me, anyway) an unequivocal case for a trigger warning. That this is an “unequivocal” case is important, as I’ve found myself increasingly ambivalent about the merits and demerits of trigger warnings over the last year or so.

Read the whole piece here. 

Response to Nancy Fraser

In her recent piece in Comment is Free, “How feminism became capitalism’s handmaiden — and how to reclaim it” Nancy Fraser draws on her own work in political theory to argue that feminism at best has been co-​opted by neoliberalism and at worst has been a capitalist venture of the neo-​liberal project. What appears at first glance to be a reasoned self-​reflection, one that takes stock and responsibility for past alliances and celebrations of strategic moves for the betterment of women’s lives, at second glance reveals the innate and repetitive myopia of White feminism to take account, to converse and think along with Black and Third World Feminists.

Read on.

Happy Persons Day Canada

“They’ve been called visionaries, feminists, trailblazers and Canadian heroes- Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby and Nellie McClung changed the Canadian political landscape forever. They fought to be recognized as persons under the law. On October 18th, 1929, after an arduous legal and political battle the British Privy Council recognized women as persons under the BNA Act.”

Persons Day is an annual celebration in Canada, held on October 18 each year. The day commemorates the celebrated case.

Monica Morrison: hero

Monica Morrison has now let herself be named in her lawsuit against the University of Miami for its mishandling of Colin McGinn’s harassment. Those of us who have written on the internet know the horrific campaigns directed against women who step out of line and complain against misogynistic behaviour. This is true generally, and it is true specifically in philosophy. She has survived one horrible ordeal– harassment, made worse by being so poorly handled, and now the trolls can easily find her. And she knows all this. I am blown away by the immense bravery shown by her filing this suit.

Our field, and academia in general, have the potential to be vastly improved by Miami being held to account. They were given copious records of exchanges like this:

McGinn: I love your essence
McGinn: Plus it gives me a slight erection
Morrison: Can I borrow your philosophy of physics book…the one by lange [sic].

And this:

McGinn: So I expect a hand job when I next see you.
McGinn: Yes.
McGinn: I like to amuse you.
McGinn: Now I’ve got a slight erection.
McGinn: I’m imagining you.
Morrison did not reply to the texts.

Later that month, McGinn pressed her for a response, and she eventually texted, “Yeah, I was a bit surprised” and said “I won’t really know how to respond [sic]…I suppose I should be flattered?”

They knew that:

He emailed her at least once a day between Dec. 19 and Dec. 27, with little response from her. In a Dec. 27 email, he wrote, “I think you owe me unlimited hand strokes and full body grips for abandoning me over Christmas.” Over winter break, which lasted about a month, McGinn emailed her more than 30 times and spoke with her just once, according to his own count in an email he sent her Jan. 15, 2012.

It was clear that he was pressuring her quite explicitly:

McGinn wrote that he missed Morrison and wasn’t able to see her as much as he wanted. He complained about their working relationship, stating in an email he is not “getting much in return” and said “I need you to make a big gesture in my direction–anything would do.”

She resigned her position as his research assistant on Sept. 11, 2012. Two days later, McGinn emailed her, stating “you are much better off with my support than without it. So please think carefully about your actions.”

And yet they treated the case as one of consensual relationship. And as McGinn retaliated in his public statements, including an interview in which he publicly shared information that allowed her to be identified, the university did nothing. They claimed there was nothing that he could do, but he was on their payroll.

The University of Miami maintains that “they chose to pursue this informal route to achieve an immediate resolution.” Importantly, they do NOT claim that they actually believed the relationship to be consensual.

This sort of sweeping-under-the-rug behaviour is shockingly common. But it is what allows perpetrators to continue to flourish in our discipline. Usually it all remains private, and they move quietly from institution to institution, ruining victims’ lives in one place after another.

Monica Morrison is doing an immense service to academia with her towering bravery in refusing to accept the way that Miami dealt with the case. We all owe her a tremendous debt.

Getting our sh*t together

In light of today’s news of the lawsuit against Miami, and in light of Eric Schliesser’s post from a few days ago, I wanted to open a thread in the hopes of encouraging a conversation about what we can do better as a discipline in responding to problems of equity in our community. Conversations about sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination more broadly in philosophy are difficult. They are difficult because none of us are perfect. They are difficult because the subject matter is painful. They are difficult because social dynamics are such that some feel they cannot even public offer affirmation or support for victims without inviting retaliation or scrutiny upon themselves. They are difficult because some people who want to say something don’t know what to say. They are difficult because many still do not believe there is even much of a problem to discuss in the first place. They are difficult because some of us who want to be part of the solution have been problems ourselves. They are difficult because it feels like we have the same conversations over and over and don’t get very far. But I think it’s important to keep talking because, to be blunt, we need to get our sh*t together.

(I will moderate this thread — but I do invite conversation and reflection on the issues raised by Eric’s post mentioned above, affirmations of support for victims in philosophy, queries about how one can contribute to cultivating a healthier professional dynamic in the discipline, or suggestions.)

Working fathers speak out

In Career OR fatherhood? Super Busy Dad asks whether being a good father and having a career are mutually exclusive. He talks to six dads juggling work and young children.

Keith, age 42 from Wolverhampton, strives to be a star employee and a great dad to his 2 boys:

“I’m not going to pretend it’s easy. I’ve had to make big sacrifices. But I’m lucky. My wife babysits twice a week and empties the dishwasher. She takes a real interest in the kids too”.

I love how ridiculous this all sounds when the genders are flipped.

Nancy Fraser in The Stone

As I see it, the mainstream feminism of our time has adopted an approach that cannot achieve justice even for women, let alone for anyone else. The trouble is, this feminism is focused on encouraging educated middle-class women to “lean in” and “crack the glass ceiling” – in other words, to climb the corporate ladder. By definition, then, its beneficiaries can only be women of the professional-managerial class. And absent structural changes in capitalist society, those women can only benefit by leaning on others — by offloading their own care work and housework onto low-waged, precarious workers, typically racialized and/or immigrant women. So this is not, and cannot be, a feminism for all women!

Read on.