On the other hand…

Earlier today I linked enthusiastically to Deborah Cameron’s post on the Just Not Sorry app.  But just now I’ve read Helen De Cruz’s post, in which she discusses the advice she gives younger women as a mentor, on their cover letters.

In such materials, whenever I see hedging or phrases that could be seen as self-undermining, e.g., candidates professing a love and passion for teaching, mentioning how fortunate they were being a graduate student under X, how honored they would be to be part of institution Y, I mark such phrases and encourage deletion. Women are not the only ones who write such phrases, but I am vigilant about them especially, given that women already are less likely to than men to be described as outstanding candidates in letters of recommendation, and more likely to be described as ‘hard-working’. When candidates unwittingly enforce such stereotypes through their self-descriptions, it would seem important to alert them to this.

And I realised that I do the same thing, especially in preparing students (both male and female) for their job interviews.  I spend quite a lot of effort helping them to sound more confident and less hesitant.  And I remain firmly convinced that this is right.

So at the end of the day (literally) I find myself thinking that a more nuanced view is needed here.  The app is, as Cameron says, terrible: it is wildly overgeneralising about the functions that words like ‘sorry’ play, which in fact vary from context to context. And it sends a damaging message that women are especially defective in their speech.  But in the right circumstances, it can certainly be helpful to urge people to sound less hesitant.  And, our culture being what it is, women will probably need this advice more often than men do.

The Question of Rehabilitation and Resources in the Aftermath of Sexual Assault

[Discussion of sexual assault and it’s effects on people below.]
This past summer, Buzzfeed published a long-form article about Hanna Stotland, a lawyer who helps students accused of “sexual misconduct” re-apply to other universities. You can read it here.

In response to the article, Abby Woodhouse, a rape survivor, published an open letter. You can read it here.

There are two big issues that caught my attention from these articles:

(1) The way we culturally conceive of rape is often that it is either (a) an unforgivable, unintelligible act of evil, or (b) it’s not really rape, aka rape-rape, so it’s something like “gray rape” or “a mistake” or “an unfortunate miscommunication involving not-fully-consensual sex,”

I think the “unintelligibly” of committing rape is in one way a hindrance to seeking justice for those who experience it. In a way similar to how mass shooters are often portrayed as crazy and unintelligible, the sociopathic, evil rapist is not something we need to try to understand–thankfully. Because, if rape were a perfectly intelligible result of cultural suggestions that men’s value comes from their power of control and mastery over the world, and that a major reward for being powerful is entitlement to sex, (and that being a man is the best thing you could be),  well then, we are all awash in images and messages that condone rape, and we ourselves condone messages that are on a spectrum whose extreme ends in rape–so we are all potential rapists. There but for the grace of my blood alcohol levels go I.

What is really unintelligble to us, I think, is that the word of a woman, the way that a single woman perceives and experiences an event, could be the arbiter of whether another human deserves to be ostracized or punished.
A woman having that much authority in the world? Talk about inconceivable. The poor souls who would be subjected to such standards of ‘justice’…

…which leads me to a second major issue:

(2) It is striking that there often seems to be more resources and public empathy available for those who are accused of committing sexual assault than there is for those who experience it.

I myself feel the tug on my heartstrings when I hear a story about a young man who may have been falsely accused of a crime, and he contemplates how many less opportunities he may now have in life.

I feel more numb when I read Abby Woodhouse’s account of the “trauma and pain” that she has been left to deal with. We are often asked to consider what it would be like for a single mistake to potentially ruin a young person’s chances at a normal, happy life. We are rarely asked to consider what it would be like to not have not made any mistake, but being made to live potentially with haunting memories, broken trust in your fellow human beings, and an inescapable sense of feeling wholly unsafe in your own skin.

Stotland makes a valid point that, unless we think a person should suffer social death when they commit sexual assault, we need to figure out what the process should look like for reincorporating them into higher education.

But a sad and shameful aspect of this story is that survivors of rape and sexual assault also struggle with various degrees of social death. Many struggle to stay in school, stay connected with their families and social circles, etc. due to the effects of PTSD, depression, unshakable feelings of shame, and our deep cultural insensitivity to those who are brazen enough to be taken advantage of and insist on reminding us it–reminding us of their vulnerability (and ours) with their presence.
There but for the grace of the skirt I wear go I.

So where are the counselors to help them switch schools or rebuild their resume? Why is that not something that we prioritize?

How often do women philosophers receive extended discussion?

Eric Schwitzgebel has done some more really useful analyses, this time of the frequency with which women philosophers receive extended discussion.  His results show improvement over the decades, though they also still clearly indicate a problem:


Ethics: 8/92 (9% women)
General journals: 4/134 (3%)

Ethics: 3/77 (4%)
General: 0/137 (0%)

Ethics: 20/147 (14%)
General: 9/189 (5%)

Ethics: 16/184 (9%)
General: 16/229 (7%)

Ethics: 19/120 (16%)
General: 27/244 (11%)

For more, including his methodology, click here.


Just say ‘no’ to Just Not Sorry

The ever-awesome linguist Deborah Cameron:


When I’ve written about this subject before, my message has been addressed to the producers of bullshit: stop policing women’s language. But this time I’m going to focus on the consumers. Women, please understand: it’s not you that’s undermining yourself by using powerless language; it’s the bullshitters who are undermining you with their constant incitement to anxiety, insecurity and self-censorship. And you don’t have to let them get away with that; all you have to do is ignore them. Don’t buy their books. Don’t sign up for a training course. Don’t laugh at jokes about women saying sorry all the time. And don’t download the Just Not Sorry app. Because the suggestion that removing ‘just’ from your emails will significantly advance your career is an insult to your intelligence. And that really does demean you.

For more go here.  And you really should.

George Yancy on racism … And sexism

George Yancy has written a letter to White People. In it he models a possibly white awareness of inner racism on his awareness of his own sexism. It is a must read.

I think this is my favorite paragraph:

What I’m asking is that you first accept the racism within yourself, accept all of the truth about what it means for you to be white in a society that was created for you. I’m asking for you to trace the binds that tie you to forms of domination that you would rather not see. When you walk into the world, you can walk with assurance; you have already signed a contract, so to speak, that guarantees you a certain form of social safety.

It also makes interesting reading along side of Chemaly’s piece on HRC and bathrooms. There is clearly a lot of institutional racism. But bathroom facilities in many contexts are based on male means of urination. Is there anything exactly comparble with race? What do you think?

#RhodesMustFall Oxford Website

The social movement #RhodesMustFall has a new website for its work at Oxford, here. They also a page on facebook, here. The movement’s main website is here.

From the Oxford website’s “About Us / Out Aim” page:

Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford (RMFO) is a movement determined to decolonise the institutional structures and physical space in Oxford and beyond. We seek to challenge the structures of knowledge production that continue to mould a colonial mindset that dominates our present.

Our movement addresses Oxford’s colonial legacy on three levels:

1) Tackling the plague of colonial iconography (in the form of statues, plaques and paintings) that seeks to whitewash and distort history.

2) Reforming the Euro-centric curriculum to remedy the highly selective narrative of traditional academia – which frames the West as sole producers of universal knowledge – by integrating subjugated and local epistemologies. This will create a more intellectually rigorous, complete academy.

3) Addressing the underrepresentation and lack of welfare provision for Black and minority ethnic (BME) amongst Oxford’s academic staff and students.

RMFO is about more than a statue. In fact our first action as a movement was getting the Oxford Union to admit it is institutionally racist after their ‘Colonial Comeback’ cocktail. We are determined to tackle Oxford University’s problem with race – and its perpetuation of the legacies of empire in all their insidious forms – from a multitude of angles.

However, we believe that statues and symbols matter; they are a means through which communities express their values. The normalised glorification of a man who for so many is a symbol of their historical oppression is a tacit admission that – as it stands – Oxford does not consider their history to be important. This is incompatible with a community that posits itself as progressive, enlightened and intellectually honest.

*edited details for accuracy

Congratulations, Daniel!

Congratulations to Feminist Philosophers blogger Daniel Silvermint on being awarded 2nd place (the Strange Quark prize) in 3 Quarks Daily’s Philosophy Prize 2015 for his June post “On How We Talk About Passing.”

Here’s what 3QD’s John Collins had to say about the post:

Silvermint’s piece, occasioned by last summer’s Rachel Dolezal incident, avoids the thorny issue of why, exactly, self-identification might be taken to be authoritative in the case of gender though not race, and asks us instead to hesitate and reconsider what we are doing when we rush to police the trespass of socially constructed categories that are tracked by highly unreliable markers. There is a valuable discussion here of the varieties of passing, though I found myself unsure as to whether to accept Silvermint’s suggestion that we apply the concept even to cases where there is neither misidentification nor intent. Can, for example, a white cisgender man, who, through privilege has had the luxury of never giving these matters a moment’s thought, really be said to be “passing” as white and male? Silvermint comments that “a trans woman that passes isn’t a man pretending to be a woman – she is a woman”. I agree wholeheartedly with the main point there, but I’d be inclined to add that her being a woman means that she isn’t simply passing as a woman either. (Whether a trans person might be said to—or want to?—pass as cisgender is another matter.)

Read about the other winners here.

HRC’s bathroom break

There was a five minute break in the Democratic Debate on Dec. 22nd. HRC was late in returning, and the debate started without her. That struck me as a bit outrageous, but it wasn’t high on my list of things to think about. Maybe I should have felt differently as the comments by the conservatives started up. But now I can be glad the Huffington Post has done a great job and saved me the effort.

Everything in the article is worth reading. I’m picking out a snippet that seems to me quite rich with observations, and I hope others will want to read more.

The author is Soraya Chemaly:

I write and talk about controversial subjects all the time – violence, rape, race – but I have never received as vitriolic a response as last summer, when I wrote about the disparity in public facilities for men and women, The Everyday Sexism of Women Waiting in Bathroom Lines; it was a piece about norms and knowledge. Angry people mostly men, by the hundreds, wrote to tell me I was vulgar, stupid, ignorant and should learn to stand in order to pee, because it’s superior. It continued for weeks, until I wrote a follow-up piece on the ten most sexist responses.

People may think that women no longer face sexism in media or politics when they speak, but that ignores the very obvious fact that even before women say anything they have already, in split seconds, jumped through hundreds of “what if I said something about sexism” hoops. Can you imagine the backlash and media frenzy if Clinton had actually, in some detail, pointed out that the women’s room was farther away or that there is often, especially at large public events like this debate, a line that women patiently wait in while men flit in and out and makes jokes about women’s vanity? That the microaggressive hostility evident, structurally, in so many of our legacy public spaces is relevant to women every day. “Bathroom codes enforce archaic and institutionalized gender norms,” wrote Princeton students Monica Shi & Amanda Shi about their school’s systemic sexism this year.

It’s boxing day!

From Wiki:

Boxing Day is a holiday traditionally celebrated the day following Christmas Day, when servants and tradesmen would receive gifts, known as a “Christmas box”, from their masters, employers or customers,[1] in the United Kingdom,The Bahamas, Barbados, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, Bermuda, New Zealand, Kenya, South Africa, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and other former British colonies. Today, Boxing Day is a public holiday usually falling on 26 December.

In South Africa, Boxing Day was renamed Day of Goodwill in 1994. In the Roman Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar, the day is dedicated to St. Stephen, so is known as St. Stephen’s Day to Catholics, and to the population generally in Italy, Ireland, Finland, Alsace and Moselle in France. It is also known as both St. Stephen’s Day and the Day of the Wren or Wren’s Day in Ireland. In some European countries, most notably Germany, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands and those in Scandinavia, 26 December is celebrated as the Second Christmas Day.[2]


Various competing theories for the origins of the term boxing day circulate in popular culture, none of which is definitive. However, the Oxford English Dictionary gives the earliest attestations of the term as being from England in the 1830s, defining it as ‘the first week-day after Christmas-day, observed as a holiday on which post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box’.

The term Christmas-box, meanwhile, dates back to the 17th century, and among other things meant:

A present or gratuity given at Christmas: in Great Britain, usually confined to gratuities given to those who are supposed to have a vague claim upon the donor for services rendered to him as one of the general public by whom they are employed and paid, or as a customer of their legal employer; the undefined theory being that as they have done offices for this person, for which he has not directly paid them, some direct acknowledgement is becoming at Christmas.

In Britain, it was a custom for tradespeople to collect “Christmas boxes” of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year.[6] This is mentioned in Samuel Pepys’ diary entry for 19 December 1663.[7] This custom is linked to an older English tradition: since they would have to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, the servants of the wealthy were allowed the next day to visit their families. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts, bonuses and sometimes leftover food.


One approach to under-citation of women

Ned Markosian writes that he recently sent the following email:


Dear ____,

Thank you for your two emails about my reason for declining a referee job. I recently adopted a policy of not refereeing any paper that cites zero female authors, if it seems clear to me that there are relevant papers by women that should have been cited. I gave a lot of thought to the argument that it would be better to referee such papers, so as to encourage the authors to cite some women. I can see the advantages of that policy. In the end I decided to go with the policy I have chosen instead because I decline so many refereeing requests anyway, simply because I can’t referee 24 papers a year, and I prefer to donate my limited time for refereeing to authors who are not contributing to the alarming gender imbalance in philosophy citation practices.

My view is that the gender imbalance in philosophy citations is a serious problem in our profession, and one of the many systemic biases that contribute to the unacceptable lack of diversity in our field.

As you point out, I have myself been guilty of failing to cite women. In fact, although you didn’t point this out, I have been one of the worst offenders! I feel extremely remorseful and downright embarrassed about this, and I very much wish someone had drawn my attention to this failing on my part a long time ago.

Anyway, I hope that is helpful. Please let me know if you have any other questions, and please still feel free to call on me to referee for ______.

Best wishes,

What do readers think of this approach?