Sex and socialism: what happens when women’s needs matter

Among the other effects of socialism: twice as many orgasms. In a quite riveting piece, we are told

“.. it was so easy for women before the Wall fell,” Daniela Gruber, East Germany, told me, referring to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989. “They had kindergartens and crèches, and they could take maternity leave and have their jobs held for them. I work contract to contract, and don’t have time to get pregnant.”

This generational divide between daughters and mothers who reached adulthood on either side of 1989 supports the idea that women had more fulfilling lives during the Communist era. And they owed this quality of life, in part, to the fact that these regimes saw women’s emancipation as central to advanced “scientific socialist” societies, as they saw themselves.

The author of this fascinating piece, however, thinks we cannot achieve the same situation today. I myself am doubtful of her explanation of the obstacles:

Some liberal feminists in the West grudgingly acknowledged those accomplishments but were critical of the achievements of state socialism because they did not emerge from independent women’s movements, but represented a type of emancipation from above. Many academic feminists today celebrate choice but also embrace a cultural relativism dictated by the imperatives of intersectionality. Any top-down political program that seeks to impose a universalist set of values like equal rights for women is seriously out of fashion.

The job search is almost over

And you are down to two candidates. One is a young man, with two very professional articles in good journals, in addition to a PhD from a very good dept. The other, a middle-aged woman whose appearance among the finalists is due to some pesky people, has some early lackluster articles, and a spotty employment record. She has support among people who speak of her originality, but in highly analytic philosophy the best work is done by the young. Right?

If the older woman is not chosen, your department’s loss may be very significant. Marina Ratner, whose career in some ways reflects the lack of support she had, did extremely important and influential work after 50. Her work underpins that of two people who won Fields Medal, the Nobel Prize of mathematics. From the NY Times:

Her dynamics research helped unravel mathematical problems that had resisted more direct, traditional approaches of attack.

Dr. Avila said Dr. Ratner’s work had been the basis for that of younger mathematicians like Elon Lindenstrauss and Maryam Mirzakhani, two winners of the Fields Medal, the most prestigious honor in mathematics. Dr. Mirzakhani, the first woman to win a Fields, also died this month.

“What is remarkable about these results of Ratner is how many unexpected applications they had,” Dr. Lindenstrauss said in an email. “It is almost as if this dynamical fact was a philosopher’s stone that allowed many mathematicians to show quite remarkable things, in remarkably diverse situations.”

She found little support in Russia, where she was born, and not much in Israel.

“She had a very hard time in Russia,” said Alexandre Chorin, a colleague at the University of California, Berkeley. “The Russians took a variety of steps to penalize her.”

Dr. Ratner and her daughter immigrated to Israel in 1971, where she was a lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She was able to pursue her mathematical research but was unable to find a permanent position.

Her work caught the attention of Rufus Bowen, however, at Berkeley, and he lobbied the university to hire her. It did, in 1975, initially for a temporary position, and even that, given her relatively meager record, was controversial in the department. She eventually became a tenured professor.

So this brilliant woman who produced transformative work started out as an adjunct! Awwwkkk!

Your hiring choice is clear.

An aside: the article remarks

Dr. Ratner’s style of working may have contributed to her not receiving as much acclaim as some thought she deserved. She always worked alone. At Berkeley, she earned high marks as a teacher of undergraduates but was the thesis adviser to only one doctoral student.

The remark seems naive to me. Her survival may have depended on her being able to work alone. In any case, many women in a dept are not included in the community of researchers.

Finally, is she really the cause of her not having grad students?

Are we seeing the end of white privilege?

ACcording to an opinion piece in the NY Times, the economic differences between white and black populations in the US have remained the same for 50 years.

The income gap between black and white working-class Americans, like the gap between black and white Americans at every income level, remains every bit as extreme as it was five decades ago. (This is also true of the income gap between Hispanic and white Americans.)

In 2015 — the most recent year for which data are available — black households at the 20th and 40th percentiles of household income earned an average of 55 percent as much as white households at those same percentiles. This is exactly the same figure as in 1967.

Indeed, five decades of household income data reveal a yawning and uncannily consistent income gap between black and white Americans across the economic spectrum. Fifty years ago, black upper-class Americans had incomes about two-thirds those of white upper-class Americans, while the black middle class — those in the 60th percentile — earned about two-thirds as much as its white counterpart. Those ratios remain the same today.

The median white household has about 13 times the wealth of the median black household — and much of that wealth is transferred between generations. This remarkable gap helps perpetuate the consequences of centuries of social and economic injustice.

Many readers commenting on this piece ‘argue’ that it is not white privilege or racism that is creating the gaps. Rather, despite a lot of contrary facts, they believe it is the fault of black Americans.

The Great Bustard:

When I read today about efforts to reintroduce the great bustard on Salisbury Plain, my immediate reaction was, “now there’s a phrase that could be very useful.” “You behaved like a great bustard,” might convey a meaning that one wouldn’t want to make completely transparent. Then I looked at the male courtship dance and saw that the term could get turned into a boast. E.g., “I concluded with a great bustard” might come to signify a deadly rhetorical flourish.

Note: the sound does not enhance the video, IMHO

But on second thought it does seem the bird is going to extremes with an artificial sex surrogate, one very unlikely to satisfy. That and other behaviors returned the phrase to its possibly critical nuance. For example, the males go in for dominance competitions. Ugly and really uninteresting.

In any case, don’t be a great bustard!

APA Good practice Guide II

Academics may be right to worry about new things introduced in the summer, when it can be hard to get a good critical response. But we can still take action.

The APA has introduced its good practices guide and we need to discuss it. As you will see, there are only two people commenting on the blog, and one of them is going to stop unless more people join in. Please help!

One set of comments is here:

There is now a Part Two that has been started.

During the public comment period, which will last through spring 2018, we encourage you to read the draft Good Practices Guide and share your thoughts, questions, and concerns about its contents. To facilitate broader discussion about the Good Practices Guide, the APA Blog is running a series of posts covering each section of the guide in detail (the first of which will be posted on the blog today), and listening sessions will be held at each of the three divisional meetings in 2018. You can also send feedback and suggestions directly to


The passage below comes from a review in the NY Review of Books.

I know that I am not the only female philosopher who came from a background pretty discontinuous with the life of an academic. So I decided others may find the reflections below interesting, if in some striking ways different from our experiences.

One of the differences is that what to Toibin are literally different locations can for us live side by side in the same house or neighborhood. So the experiencing of changing back to the academic person may be more difficult. And if one spends time as an adjunct, one may then live a twilight kind of life, with another kind of life always waiting in the shadows.

So comments please on your experience anjd on whether you can offer advice, describe problems, and so on. It would also be so interesting to see whether people think gender makes a difference. (I tried belatedly to ask about race in this context. See the first comment.)

By Colm Toibin

Those of us who move from the provinces pay a toll at the city’s gate, a toll that is doubled in the years that follow as we try to find a balance between what was so briskly discarded and what was so carefully, hesitantly, slyly put in its place. More than thirty years ago, when I was in Egypt, I met a cultivated English couple who invited me to stay in their house in London on my way back to Ireland. They could not have been more charming.

The only problem was that they had an Irish maid who, as soon as I arrived as their guest, began to talk to me in the unvarnished accent of home, as though she had known me all of her life. Since she was from a town near mine, we spoke of people we knew in common or knew by name or reputation. It was all very relaxed and friendly.

Later, after supper, my two English friends asked me if I minded them raising a subject that troubled them. Did I know, they asked, that my accent and tone, indeed my entire body language, had changed when I met their maid? I was almost a different person. Was I aware that I had, in turn, changed back to the person they had met in Egypt once I was alone with them again?

I asked them, did they not also speak in different ways to different people? No, they insisted, they did not. Never! They seemed horrified at the thought. They looked at me as if I was the soul of inauthenticity. And then I realized that those of us who move from the periphery to the center turn our dial to different wavelengths depending on where we are and who else is in the room. In this world, memory becomes a form of reparation, a way of reconnecting the self to a more simple time, a way of hearing an old tune before it became textured with orchestration.

New UC System changes in policies on sexual harassment

The article is from the CHE, June 29, 2017. I’m copying all of it below.

The deadlines and the fact that information about outcomes is shared are both important.

The University of California system has new policies to respond to allegations of sexual misconduct by faculty and staff members, the university announced in a news release on Thursday. Changes will be in place systemwide by September 1.

The changes include a clear timeline for completing investigations; chancellor or chancellor-designee approval of discipline proposed for a staff member’s supervisors; and informing complainants, as well as respondents, of all outcomes.

In the news release, Kathleen Salvaty, the system’s Title IX coordinator, said the new polices aimed to strengthen the adjudication process across campuses. “For the past year,” she said, “campuses have been hard at work shoring up their resources and improving their processes for implementation of these systems.”

Other changes include:

Clear roles and responsibilities for Title IX offices and other campus offices in the adjudication and discipline processes for cases of sexual harassment and violence.
Completion of investigations within 60 business days. And 40 days after an investigation is completed, a decision on discipline should be made. After an investigation, respondents and complainants can communicate with the decision maker about the outcome.
Review and approval by a chancellor or chancellor-designee of discipline proposed by a staff member’s supervisors. For faculty members, a peer-review committee on each campus will help the chancellor come up with a resolution that includes discipline. All complainants and respondents will be informed of any outcomes.
The policy also states that in sexual-misconduct cases the chancellor’s designee or a faculty-member review committee will add another level of deliberation to the process. The system’s Title IX office will train all parties to best make decisions about sexual misconduct.

“I am sorry; therefore, I exist”


Becca Rothfeld, a graduate student in philosophy at Harvard, has reviewed Sarah Ahmed’s Living a feminist Life, In the CHE, 6/25/2017. There is a lot to like about the review, and I’ve included below some of my favorite passages. The idea that the manifestations of sexism we may have to deal with are a kind of ethical stupidity certainly fits the experience we find recounted in what is it like to be a women in philosophy? In fact, the question I wwant to raise is about a very related claim. This is the claim that the problem is affective, not intellectural.

***In an earlier post I think I was raising something like this possibility. What I’d really like help with are the questions (a) How new is this thought and (b) who else has been saying it.***

I don’t really do ethical theory, but I’d think this is a common idea. However, then I remember that many of us are surprised by Eric Schwitzgebel’s finding that philosophers working in ethics are not more moral than those of us working in other areas. Is ethics too often treated like an intellectual exercise, as opposed to one that might engage our motivation? One antidote for this might be to include a section on what we get wrong in our obligations. (I may here be indebted to my Somerville tutors – Anscombe and Foot – who seldom left their students motivationally unchallenged.)

Quotes from the review:

How exhausting it is to have to defend your right to excel, and to take on the additional burden of having to explain that you shoulder this burden at all. Sometimes I find myself enmeshed in a nested doll of apologies, apologizing for apologizing until apology supplants apologia and the seed of self that once grounded it and “Sorry!” is all that’s left. The female cogito, the basis of a brutal gender dualism, is this: I’m sorry, therefore I am. We’re allowed to exist in the first place only because we’re pre-emptively sorry for it.

The problem, I think, is not intellectual but affective: Sexism in the university and in the world of arts and letters is more often a failure of empathy than a failure of understanding. Ahmed says as much: “Diversity work is emotional work,” she writes. Callousness and cruelty are a kind of ethical stupidity, and their remedy is a sentimental, not a theoretical, education.

Is there a trend?


Note: And now there’s a third:  See end of post.

I just noticed a second cover which has a woman with her back to the reader. It makes me uneasy, but I’m sure there are other interpretations that can leave one feeling part of the endeavor.  Mostly I thought it is an odd coincidence on which people might want to comment.  We could think of this post as allowing an odd interlude for free association.

Let me note that Edouard posted several versions of his cover, and I don’t know that he selected the one I am showing. Each has the female figure with her back showing.