Whatever Happened to Understanding the Authors we Cite?

James Baldwin understood moral complexity, but James Baldwin also understood power and privilege. This New York Times article (asking Whatever Happened to Moral Rigor) purportedly holds up Baldwin as a thinker in whose footsteps we ought to follow. But it also uses him to criticise recent trends associated with things like the #MeToo movement, which seems to fly in the fact of the fact that so much of what Baldwin wrote had to do with injustice and inequality. It seems insulting to use a person who made great contributions to the literature on racial justice, in the service of a cause that most feminists are painfully familiar with: asking “what about the men?” Lee Siegel bemoans what he sees as our rush to moral condemnation and our relatively recent lack of willingness to suspend moral judgement in many cases (and of course the cases he considers are those of sexual harassment/assault, and racial profiling). He takes this as a sign of a collective decline in moral rigour and a general social unwillingness to engage with genuine moral complexity. In his article, Siegel writes,

If, in a spirit of free intellectual and imaginative inquiry, you dared to suggest that a man who masturbated in front of a woman he barely knew without her consent might have been acting out, in an attitude of aggressive contempt, his own shame and emasculation — if you tried to understand his actions, without justifying them — you would be shouted down and vilified.

Imagine the outcry if you went further and speculated about why Harvey Weinstein allegedly manipulated some actresses dependent on his power into watching him while he was naked. Could it be that Mr. Weinstein, who reportedly had often been mocked for his appearance, wanted to dehumanize these women as well, while at the same time turning himself into a person who is watched and admired, like a person of beauty?

The problem is, plenty of feminists do this kind of speculation. Plenty of feminists, and philosophers who write about oppression more generally, talk about the reasons why oppression exists, and why people are treated poorly as a result of it. And plenty of feminists even write about the problems that patriarchy causes for men. bell hooks, in her Feminism is for Everybody, writes (in a chapter about feminist masculinity!) that

what is and was needed is a vision of masculinity where self-esteem and self-love of one’s unique being forms the basis for identity. Cultures of domination attack self-esteem, replacing it with a notion that we derive our sense of being from dominion over another. Patriarchal masculinity teaches men that their sense of self and identity, their reason for being, resides in their capacity to dominate others.

This sounds an awful lot like an explanation of why patriarchal masculinity might result in people like Harvey Weinstein acting in the way that they do. But guess what? It’s perfectly compatible to say that there are social factors that result in people becoming sexual predators while at the very same time condemning that predatory behaviour. I’m not sure what made that bit of logical complexity go unnoticed in this article, but it seems like quite the oversight.

The point is that a lack of empathy for men (see also: Kate Manne’s concept of himpathy) is not the driving and urgent problem facing us today. In a society in which assault victims are regularly disbelieved, and people tend to be very sympathetic to perpetrators, especially those who are young and white, what we need is more justice, and more ways to dismantle the oppressive social structures that enable and exonerate predatory behaviour. Doing that without condemning that behaviour seems quite difficult, and really, why would we want to refrain from condemning it? It’s possible to condemn things like sexual assault and simultaneously argue against seeing perpetrators as some kind of moral monster (at least I happen to think so).

Just to close this rant with a bit more Baldwin, though. I think Baldwin did understand disagreement and moral complexity, but he also understood ways in which one might come to view one’s oppressors as terrible people.

Most Negroes cannot risk assuming that the humanity of white people is more real to them than their color. And this leads, imperceptibly but inevitably, to a state of mind in which, having long ago learned to expect the worst, one finds it very easy to believe the worst. The brutality with which Negroes are treated in this country simply cannot be overstated, however unwilling white men may be to hear it. In the beginning—and neither can this be overstated—a Negro just cannot believe that white people are treating him as they do; he does not know what he has done to merit it. And when he realizes that the treatment accorded him has nothing to do with anything he has done, that the attempt of white people to destroy him—for that is what it is—is utterly gratuitous, it is not hard for him to think of white people as devils.

Maybe there’ll be a bit more room for more moral complexity after we’ve made room for believing BIPOC, women, disabled people, and all the rest of us. I’ll look forward to that.

Online Misogyny in Philosophy

Cassie Herbert has written a piece for the APA Blog about online misogyny in professional philosophy.:

https://blog.apaonline.org/2018/07/04/women-in-philosophy-online-misogyny-and-our-profession/

She makes interesting points about misogyny and its connection to the pragmatics of various online interactions, including the uses of anonymity.

These sorts of interactions variously position women and gender minorities as incompetent epistemic agents, drain their epistemic resources, position them to speak for all other members of the group, and demand their attention in order to ‘prove’ their commitments and credentials. Intentionally or not, the pragmatic upshot is to manipulate the epistemic agency and subject positioning of their targets.

The anonymous philosophy blogs bring together these various levels of misogyny. They utilize both the threat of a media storm and the pragmatic structure of the comments to maintain a system of power within the profession. Sometimes the comments are explicitly misogynist: they denigrate women, non-binary folks, and trans folks. They debase their targets and call for “naming and shaming” philosophers from underrepresented groups who they don’t think have “earned” their successes. In choosing to out me as a survivor, while at the same time calling me a liar and characterizing themselves as my saviors, they multiply positioned me as powerless. All of these strategies draw on a system of power that works to maintain the status of privileged men. They position their targets as incompetent epistemic agents, and by extension incompetent philosophers.

 

 

 

Most Dangerous Places for Women

A Thomson Reuters Foundation poll ranked the 10 most dangerous countries for women, based on the responses of experts. They considered gendered issues such as violence, healthcare, and economic access.

Here is a link to the reporting: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-women-dangerous-poll-factbox/factbox-which-are-the-worlds-10-most-dangerous-countries-for-women-idUSKBN1JM01Z

And here is a ranked list of the countries:

  1. India
  2. Afghanistan
  3. Syria
  4. Somalia
  5. Saudi Arabia
  6. Pakistan
  7. Democratic Republic of Congo
  8. Yemen
  9. Nigeria
  10. United States

Incels and the Literary Canon

I’m recently back from talking about Kate Manne’s important book Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny at the Canadian Philosophical Association (CPA) conference. It has a lot to say about the normalization of male entitlement to women’s attention. Women who do not provide in accordance with gendered norms are often criticized  as being cold, stuck-up, aggressive, etc. And there are many cases, correspondingly, of men reacting badly, sometimes violently, when women do not give them things to which they feel entitled.

This analysis applies extremely well to incel (involuntary celibate) culture online. So with this on my mind, I saw this interesting article linked on a friend’s Facebook page, which had a lot to say about how popular and canonical literature reinforces this mindset. (We should probably also include movies – I’m looking at you, romantic comedies!)

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jun/04/incel-movement-literary-classics-behind-misogyny

Reassessing the canon allows us to see that one of the reasons why “he was a lonely virgin” sounds like reasonable justification to us for a spree killing is that we have long valorized male isolation. Our literary canon treats such desire as if it is a (if not the) central topic in the lives of white men. It treats the frustration of male desire as if it merits exploration time and again. Maybe people like Jordan Peterson and Ross Douthat (two mainstream writers who have recently entertained the possibility that society would benefit from “sex redistribution”) wouldn’t think male isolation was a privileged social problem (rather than an individual psychological problem) if our literary culture didn’t also support that idea. Maybe Donald Trump wouldn’t have won the presidency in a country that didn’t worry so much about what white men think all the time.

CFP: Public Feminisms

The following CFP for Signs on Public Feminisms might be of interest to some of our readers:

Even as antifeminist and right-wing forces have gained footholds worldwide, feminists have forcefully asserted themselves in the public sphere as key voices of resistance. From the Women’s Marches around the world that took place the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated, to the 2012 protests in Delhi, to a new resurgence of writers proudly adopting the moniker, feminists have organized to claim public space and a public voice. It is no overstatement to claim that “the resistance” is being led by women, with intersectional feminism at its core.

Meanwhile, a shifting media landscape has enabled contradictory dynamics: feminists—through innovative uses of social media and online media outlets, as well as mainstream media—have found (and created) platforms to amplify their public voices, yet the pool of public intellectuals and the punditry continues to be largely dominated by white men.

This special issue seeks to address these dynamics through a multifaceted and interdisciplinary discussion of “Public Feminisms.” Signs has sought—through the creation of the Feminist Public Intellectuals Project—to actively advocate for feminist voices in both the scholarly and the public sphere, building a critical mass of public intellectuals who speak with a feminist voice to audiences outside of academia. These multipronged efforts have engaged feminist theorizing and historicizing with the pressing political and social problems across the globe. This special issue seeks to further extend the discourse of public feminisms.

Possible areas of focus might include:

  • How have new forms of media enabled new public forms of feminism (or antifeminism)? How does changing media create new risks for feminist discourse or feminist individuals?
  • How are feminist publics and public feminisms represented in literature, film, television, theater, dance, or other cultural forms today and in prior moments of resistance? How can these forms of expression be put to feminist use?
  • How has feminism either challenged or contributed to the concept of publicness itself? What historical models of publicness has feminism adopted or transformed?
  • How has claiming public space related to claiming discursive space, or vice versa? How have feminisms conjured new publics or counterpublics?
  • How do race, nation, religion, class, sexuality, and caste structure where and which feminisms tend to become public? How have feminists across time challenged these dynamics?
  • How do nonfeminist forces shape what circulates in the name of feminism, and how can feminists combat it?
  • What can comparisons among different historical eras, geographical areas, or political climates tell us about the conditions under which public feminisms can emerge?
  • To what extent are new languages necessary to shifting public discourses about feminism? How are new conceptual languages or vocabularies adopted as part of public discourse?

Signs particularly encourages transdisciplinary and transnational essays that address substantive feminist questions, debates, and controversies without employing disciplinary or academic jargon. We welcome essays that make a forceful case for why public feminism demands a specific and thoughtfully formulated interdisciplinary feminist analysis and why it demands our attention now. We seek essays that are passionate, strongly argued, and willing to take risks.

The deadline for submissions is September 15, 2018.

Please submit full manuscripts electronically through Signs’ Editorial Manager system at http://signs.edmgr.com. Manuscripts must conform to the guidelines for submission available at http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/journals/signs/instruct.

Chapel Hill Public Philosophy Workshop

From Caleb Harrison:

I am co-organizing a Public Philosophy Writing Workshop at UNC in May (along with Macy Salzberger and Barry Maguire). The workshop will include talks by folks who have experienced success in writing and publishing public philosophy (Myisha Cherry, Anita Allen, David V Johnson, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong), along with workshop sessions for attendees and presenters to work through ideas they have for written public philosophy. We have some funds set aside to help offset travel costs for early-career and non-tenured folks, and are looking for more submissions.

The workshop information can be found here: https://philevents.org/event/show/40486.

The new deadline for submission is March 20.

Hypatia: Call for Nominations for Editors

On behalf of the Editorial Search Committee for Hypatia:

Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy is seeking an editorial team to serve a term of five years, beginning July 1, 2018. The journal issues a call for nominations for editors every five years in order to consider new proposals and directions for the journal and to give others a chance to be involved. All proposals will be judged on their merits. We encourage self-nominations as well as nominations of others. This search began in 2016 but was interrupted last summer. We commence the search anew, recognizing the necessity of a shortened timeline.

Nominations are due March 15, 2018, proposals on May 1, 2018.

Hypatia is the preeminent journal for feminist philosophy; it has a wide international readership and a robust institutional subscription base. It serves as an important resource not only for philosophers, but for all those interested in philosophical issues raised by feminism, including interdisciplinary women’s and gender studies scholars. The journal publishes work covering a wide range of philosophical traditions and topics, and therefore we encourage nominations (including self-nominations) of editors who have diverse interests and expertise in sub-areas and methodologies of philosophy and feminist studies. Hypatia is committed to the inclusion of trans, critical race, transnational, critical disability, decolonial, and queer scholarship in feminist philosophy, and we especially encourage nominations of those whose experiences include marginalization or underrepresentation in feminist philosophy.

Candidates should have a record of publication in feminist philosophy. Some previous editorial experience is desirable. Individuals constituting an editorial team need not be members of the same institution. At least one member of the editorial team should be at an institution with graduate students in Philosophy, Gender/Women’s Studies, or another related program who can serve as managing editors and editorial assistants. Candidates should also indicate what types of institutional support they expect to receive and the manner in which members of the editorial team would share the work of the journal.

If you are nominating yourselves, please send brief CVs for each member of the editorial team. Also, please include a statement of interest that indicates how the work of editing the journal will be shared and where the journal will be housed, as well as brief statements regarding your previous relevant experience and the directions in which you would like to take Hypatia.

If you are nominating others, please send an email briefly stating your reasons for nominating them, as well as their institutional/postal addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses. We will contact them and request that they provide the same materials as self-nominators, should they wish to be considered.

As noted above, we have a shorter timeframe than usual for the search process: After reviewing the nominations submitted by March 15, 2018, the search committee will invite a subset of nominated editorial teams to submit full proposals by May 1, 2018.

Further instructions for the preparation of proposals will be posted on this Hypatia website and a sample of past proposals will be made available.

Nominations (including self-nominations) should be sent by March 15, 2018, to the Chair of the Search Committee:

Kim Q. Hall, hallki@appstate.edu

Please write “Nomination for Hypatia Editorial Team” in the subject line of the email. If you have any questions about the nomination process, please contact Kim Q. Hall.

Other Search Committee members include: Ann Garry, Desirée Melton, and Paula Moya.

Dialogues on Disability: Shelley Tremain interviews Kit Connor

The new instalment of Dialogues on Disability is up, in which Shelley Tremain interviews Kit Connor. This extremely interesting piece contains a lot of insights relevant to feminist philosophy and the tools it can provide:

Feminist philosophies give me tools and company in which to begin to ask and articulate the questions: what could it mean to subvert, transform, make different these kinds of scaffoldings within the material worlds and workings of oppression in which they are maintained? To bear weight? To hold grief differently? What could it look like to celebrate unpredictability in the outskirts? I look to philosophy—in, within, and outside the academic institution—as a mode in which to collide personal histories of my hatred for my willing parts and their usefulness without reducing this collision to a story only about subjugation, resistance, subversion, or celebration, as a mode to recognize this hatred within collective intersecting histories and realities of containment.

But also ways in which feminist spaces can remain exclusionary:

Even within spaces of academic feminist communities, which may be at work to make themselves permeable, to interrupt the constructs and barriers that prevent inclusion and movement of certain bodies in them, I often find that I am usually not what is expected.

You can read more here: http://philosophycommons.typepad.com/disability_and_disadvanta/2017/11/dialogues-on-disability-shelley-tremain-interviews-kit-connor.html

Me too: But What About You?

If you’ve been on social media much in the last few days, you might have seen a lot of status updates saying “Me too” with or without explanation. The idea is to raise awareness of the magnitude of the problem of sexual assault and sexual harassment, particularly of women, though my personal take is this ought to be something for people of all genders. While it seems likely that the nature of the violence would vary depending on the genders of the people involved, we do ourselves no favours in framing sexual violence as exclusively a women’s issue.

But now that we see each other as survivors, what are some next steps? One, I think, is to know that many people do not feel comfortable speaking up about their own experiences, for a variety of reasons, and that we ought not make assumptions.

But another piece of this: who has been causing the violence? There are huge numbers of people speaking up about their experiences of harassment and assault, but let’s not ignore the fact that these wrongs have all been committed by someone. And who are those people who have perpetrated these wrongs? The hard truth is that in many cases it is also us. I think that the common narrative of perpetrators as predators, deviant, outsiders, and others, has resulted in a great deal of harm. It does not help us see that in a world run through with injustice, it is very easy to be ignorant of ways in which we harm one another and perpetuate injustices.

Perpetrators of assault and harassment need not be monsters. They can be us, having watched too many movies portraying the relentless pursuit of an unwilling romantic partner as charming rather than terrifying. Or having internalized women’s resistance to sex as obligatory behaviour, and not necessarily reflective of a woman’s actual desires. Or having accepted an ideology of pity, that disabled bodies are inherently undesirable, and anyone who is disabled (or otherwise not-conventionally-attractive) should be grateful for sexual attention of any kind. It is not that hard for us to hurt each other without being monstrous in moral character.

So perhaps instead of just feeling heartbroken and helpless in the face of wrongs perpetuated only by others, it would be a good time to wonder about situations in which we have ignored boundaries to which we ought to have attended, or interpreted situations in line with our desires rather than another’s. But the point isn’t just to feel bad about this, either, or to treat it as just a sign of your own bad moral character. The point is that there is a reason that this behaviour is easy to ignore on your part, as well as on the part of others. It is easy to disbelieve that a friend has committed sexual assault because you know them to be at heart a good person, and think that the two things are incompatible with each other.

All of this needs to go. Guilt and shame are not ends in themselves here, and the mere recognition of our own wrongdoing is not enough. Recognizing wrongs in retrospect at times like these does not change the fact that many of these wrongs did not seem so wrong at the time. And it is this last fact that needs to change before these problems can be solved. Without that work, these confessions seem (as many other things do to me) like just more yelling into the void.