Black Women** and the “#me too” movement

Writings on the recent and welcome focus on women’s pervasive experience of harassment too often tend to proceed as if white women and women of color are just the same in this respect.  I’m not in a position to speak for women of color, but I can mention some resources that arguably we should all read.  I don’t want to claim they are all completely true, but they are worth knowing about.

(**The authors of the remarks below are all black, but women of color more generally may find themselves left out or disadvantaged in the #me too movement.  In fact, factors other than ethnicity may create problems for other groups of women, such as disabled women.)

Here are three resources:

1. Reporting the neighborhood harassers: A black woman has some reason not to do this.  Involving the police with the neighborhood bad guys can get the latter sucked into a horribly unjust legal system or even get them killed.

2. Learning from the experiences of other women at work:  A black woman may be left out of the white women’s collective knowledge about harassers.

3.  Actress and producer Gabrielle Union argues that white women benefit the most from the recent attention.  She says, “I think the floodgates have opened for White women,” Union says. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence whose pain has been taken seriously. Whose pain we have showed historically and continued to show. Whose pain is tolerable and whose pain is intolerable. And whose pain needs to be addressed now.”



‘Feminism’ is Merriam-Webster dictionary’s word of the year


A leading US dictionary has named “feminism” as its word of 2017 following a surge in online searches.
Merriam-Webster said interest in the term was driven by women’s marches, new TV shows and films on women’s issues and the string of news stories on sexual assault and harassment claims.
The number of people searching for the word was up 70% on 2016, it said.
The dictionary defines feminism as “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes”.
It adds that it is also “organised activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests”.

Odd One Out

This morning I was excited to see a posting regarding a new anthology in my field, Chinese philosophy. But then I looked through the table of contents only to have one more of those too-familiar moments of deep discouragement.

In my area of philosophy, it remains commonplace for women scholars to be underrepresented in the typical fora of scholarly conversation. Edited volumes, conferences, and such will often include a woman, but too often it is just that: a woman, one woman among a roster full of men. That by itself is discouraging given the number of talented women philosophers and scholars in the field, but what I want to address here is something I have found far more discouraging. Some conferences and edited volumes with this pattern or low representation of women also include a particular man – David Tien – whose presence among the “elect” selected for these projects something that renders the scarcity of women not just discouraging but an affront.


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CFA: Philosophy of Pregnancy, Birth and Early Motherhood (SWIP UK annual conference)

In association with SWIP, BUMP & PHILBIRTH,

University of Southampton

Thursday 21st June – Friday 22nd June 2018

Conference aims

Although philosophers have explored some issues related to pregnancy, birth and early motherhood – most obviously abortion and the value and metaphysics of coming into existence – relatively little philosophical attention has been paid to pregnancy, birth and (early) motherhood themselves. These are remarkable omissions because pregnancy, birth and early motherhood raise many interesting and important philosophical problems in metaphysics, ethics, epistemology, feminism, the philosophy of science, and other areas.

Pregnancy is unlike anything else that a human being experiences. It involves the production of a new person through a deeply intimate process that can radically transform not only the pregnant person’s body, but also their understanding, values, and who and what they take themselves to be. Pregnancy is also the nucleus of a series of unique physiological processes surrounding reproduction: conception; pregnancy; birth; post-natal recovery and breastfeeding. These processes are of great significance for individuals and society. These are key aspects of human life that are under-investigated in philosophy and are often not dealt with adequately by existing ways of thinking, because they do not fit the paradigm of humans as discrete independent individuals with firm boundaries. In these unique physiological processes, the boundaries between human beings are blurred. This may require rethinking key conceptual schemes – or even how we understand human value. This conference will aim to address such issues.

Pregnancy, birth, and early motherhood inescapably involve issues of gender. Most people who undergo these physiological processes are women. Gender expectations contribute to how we understand the duties of pregnant women and mothers. However, not all persons who are pregnant, give birth, or lactate, identify as women or as mothers, and not all mothers experience pregnancy, birth, or lactation. The conference welcomes papers that address the concept of motherhood from a variety of perspectives, including the perspectives of those who have been pregnant but do not identify as mothers, perspectives of those who identify as mothers but have not been pregnant, and trans perspectives.

These issues are not just interesting and important in their own right, but are also relevant to public policy: pregnancy, birth and early motherhood are constant issues of public controversy and policy development. For this reason one of our keynote speakers will talk about policy during the conference. The conference will also host the SWIP annual general meeting and we will organise a practical advice panel on parenting and work-life balance in philosophy.

Invited speakers

Rebecca Schiller (Chief Executive at BirthRights – policy)

Barbara Katz Rothman (City University of New York Graduate Center – sociology)

Maggie Little (Georgetown – ethics)

Sarah LaChance Adams (University of Wisconsin – feminism)

Guy Rohrbaugh (Auburn University – metaphysics)

Elselijn Kingma (University of Southampton – philosophy of science)

Fiona Woollard (University of Southampton – epistemology)

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Women’s Refuges At Risk?

Women’s refuges in the UK are poorly funded – there are not enough places for the number of women needing help. One source of income they have relied upon until now is housing benefit. The women staying at the refuges pay housing benefit to the organisation during their time there. On average, refuges receive 53% of their funding from this source. However, the government is planning to change housing benefit rules so that it can no longer be paid for this type of accommodation. Councils will instead receive a sum of money that is to be used for short-term, supported accommodation. This includes housing for the elderly, homeless people, those with mental health issues, and drug addicts as well as women’s refuges. Councils can decide which type(s) of supported accommodation to fund. Typically, these are all areas where provision of services is not enough to meet demand, so councils will have to make difficult decisions. Since more than a tenth of women’s refuges currently receive no council funding, there is concern that they will not begin to receive any once the new restrictions on housing benefit are introduced.

Katie Ghose, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “The government’s proposed reforms to supported housing will dismantle our national network of lifesaving refuges and put the lives of women and children trying to escape domestic abuse at risk. This is a matter of life or death.”

The government have committed to examining how refuges are funded in November 2018. But with no alternative plans yet on the table, refuges are understandably concerned.

More on this here.

The ASA: mansplaining, whitesplaining, othering, silencing

AND sexual harassment.  All at the recent American Society for aesthetics.  Three attendees describe what went on here, and there is another discussion of it here  One example:  an African-American artist was asked to discuss his recent work on urban youth.  The audience’s questions, in contrast, focused on the exotic features of the unknown culture.  Such as the risks of baggy pants falling down.

If you don’t quite get this example, think of giving a talk about poverty in Uganda and receiving mostly questions about the styles of women’s hair.

One cause of the situation may well be, as various writers suggest, the Society’s rapid movement toward diversity and inclusion.  The effects of the efforts have left some members unsocialized, at least as fas as dealing with a mixed program goes.

There may well be another problem:  members of introspective fields are ill-positioned to detect how socially out of it they are. [West, R. F., Russell J. Meserve, and Keith E. Stanovich. (2012). Cognitive Sophistication Does Not Attenuate the Bias Blind Spot. Journal of personality and social psychology, Online First Publication. ].

Further, a fair number of our colleagues may doubt that being with-it brings any epistemic advantages.  This might not be so bad but for the profession’s long term view, as it seems to me, that nothing distinctive about the excluded groups could be of professional interest to philosophers.

So what to do when one efforts at inclusion means that members of ill-represented groups are treated in ways reflecting too familiar racist and/or sexist clichés?  Let me make one suggestion:  one could try implementing something like bystander intervention.  I’ve seen this done fairly recently a couple of times and it is a way of alerting a whole meeting to a problem.  In effect one says during the Q&A, hopefully as nicely as one can, something like “Let me express a concern that so far questions are not bringing what our speaker really has to offer.  Let’s try to address instead his art and its … “.  There are probably at most conferences enough people interested in promoting diversity to change at least some of the meetings.

One warning, though:  don’t be too surprised to find out that you may not initially have much support.