Thoughts from an assault survivor in philosophy

An anonymous guest post:


Over the last few years, the the philosophical community has begun to take public notice of sexual harassment and abuse in our profession. On the whole, this is A Good Thing: It’s hard to address as a profession a problem we pretend doesn’t exist.


But, as is so often the case when the topic of the abuse of women is raised, not all of these discussions have been constructive. There has been a lot of skeptical speculation: “The allegations can’t be true because Professor is clever, well-educated—he’s too smart to put himself at risk”, “they can’t be true because he’s too good-looking, too well-situated in life. Why would he harass someone, rape someone? He must meet loads of interested women”, “the alleged victim has a boyfriend, a husband—she’s lying to cover up a consensual relationship”, “she’s probably just mad he dumped her”, “the alleged victim didn’t complain to the university right away, didn’t call the police—a real victim would never do that”, “I know Professor; he’s a good guy. He would never do a thing like that; if he had, I would have known, there would have been some sign”, and on, and on.


Listening to these discussions, online, on the various blogs and on facebook, at conferences and other professional/social events, I often find myself wondering what impression such speculation makes on victims, who are there among us, whether we know it or not. My speculation, though, isn’t entirely idle. You see, I am a professional philosopher, a senior woman. And when I was in grad school, I was raped by another philosopher.


For the survivors:


The single, most important thing for you to know is it gets better. I remember quite well the aftermath; the feeling of unreality, as if you aren’t quite fully connected to your body. And the feeling of incredible fragility, as if brushing up against another object would cause you to shatter into small pieces. I remember the confusion, the unwillingness to accept that this is something that really happened to you because….well, how could that happen to you? How could another human being do this to you, torture you for his sexual pleasure? And the months of brain fog, the insomnia, the sudden bouts of paralyzing anxiety. The bizarre feeling of deep shame that makes no sense. I remember.


It seems like it will never end. But I promise you, I PROMISE you, it gets better. The fog will lift. You will think again. And, if you choose, you will be a philosopher again. I count myself as a moderately successful philosopher; I am in a research-oriented department; I love my colleagues; they are generous and kind. And I love what I do; I love my students and I love my work. And there are many others out there just like me. We’re aren’t particularly heroic, we don’t have special abilities, we don’t have super strength. But we made it through this. Victims can make it through this.

In saying this, that recovery is absolutely possible, I do not mean to suggest that it is easy. Getting better can be hard work, work that is made a lot easier with the help of supportive friends and professionals. If you continue to have trouble with anxiety, depression, or insomnia, please seek the help of a professional who is trained to help survivors. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN, ) is a good place to start. Please, please take care of yourself.


For the speculators:


Gossip can be fun. I get that. I imagine a few folks in our profession enjoy gossip regardless of its consequences. But I’m betting most folks aren’t like this. Most of us, I imagine, would most like to put an end to the victimization of women in our discipline. And I bet most of us recognize that part of what is required to make that happen is for victims to come forward.


So, let me tell you what a rehearsal of the near-platitudes of dismissal I mentioned above sound like to survivors who are standing right there, I promise you, when you utter them or stand there quietly when you hear someone else do so. The translation is: “I very much doubt these allegations, despite the fact that I am not acquainted with the parties at all, don’t know the particulars, and don’t even have any idea who the complainant is. Nonetheless, I do not believe her.” When you do this, you make it rational for victims to hide. You want to know why a victim didn’t complain to the university, didn’t go to the police, or didn’t go right away? Review these conversations in your head and you have your answer. You, when you casually dismiss serious allegations or when you stand there silently while others do, demonstrate the pointlessness of speaking out. You are the reason victims do not advocate for themselves.


It is within our power to fix this problem. But we need to stand up, speak up. I hope that now you know, you do.

Jason Stanley on the Free-Speech Fallacy

The focus of the piece is on claims by Jonathan Haidt and others who are part of the Heterodox Academy that academia needs to be diversified by the addition of conservative voices.  Stanley responds:

The political diversity at issue in the writings of Heterodox Academy members is the narrow spectrum between liberals and conservatives. These categories are occasionally used as if they naturally corresponded to “Democrat” and “Republican.” This bizarrely narrow view of political diversity conveniently fits into an argument to hire conservatives, but not Marxists or critical race theorists. “Liberal” and “leftist” are used interchangeably throughout their writings, as if there isn’t a feminist critique of liberalism. Where are the Marxists or feminists in economics, a discipline that is, according to Haidt, “the only social science that has some real diversity”?

In a 2014 paper published in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz, a Heterodox Academy member and professor of law at Georgetown University, decries liberal overrepresentation in law schools. But again, most feminists, Marxists, and critical race theorists do not identify as liberals, and law schools notoriously lack advocates of these standard leftist positions. This failing of political diversity is rendered invisible by the partisan setup of this research program.

Ideology and bias


Ideology is a key factor in determining how people assess the credibility of scientific researchers, according to a new UBC Sauder School of Business study.

People who tend toward an elitist world view are more inclined to judge white male researchers as more credible, while people who ascribe to egalitarian beliefs are the opposite: they’re more likely to judge women or people of colour as more credible researchers.

For more, go here.

Whose anger is real?

Myisha Cherry:


What has been problematic about the use of anger in the media these days is the asymmetry that exists: we tend to view the anger of privileged groups (whites or male) as real and the anger of disadvantaged groups (women and minorities) as irrational or imagined. This is not new but part of a long history of emotional dismissal and the privileging of different groups to feel outlaw emotions (i.e. anger) while policing and shunning other groups (usually minorities) for feeling the same.

David Livingstone Smith, on Trump

Trump understands far more clearly than any of his competitors that politicians are salvation peddlers, and he uses that insight to great effect.

I doubt that this is deliberate or calculated. Rather, it seems more like a salesman’s gut understanding of human psychology. And it’s because he successfully positions himself as a savior that those who are hooked on Trump are prepared to turn a blind eye to his shortcomings, incoherencies, and his uneasy relationship with reality.

But how did Trump come to be a savior?

The first task of an aspiring savior is to convince people that they need to be saved. To do this, Trump uses the same rhetorical techniques as Adolf Hitler did during the 1930s.

I understand how incendiary the comparison is, so I use it advisedly — and with respect to this specific talent, if you can call it that, of both men.

For more, go here.

Open letter in support of George Yancy

On December 24, our valued colleague George Yancy published a piece in the New York Times Stone column. Its title was “Dear White America”. It was the culmination of 19 interviews with distinguished thinkers on the subject of race. The interview series brought philosophers into discourse with real time political events, as a new social movement took form bringing international attention to the racial injustice of the US criminal justice system.


Yancy’s column resulted in a storm of hate mail and calls directed his way. The emails he received included violent threats, such as “Someone needs to put a boot up your ass and knock your fucking head off your shoulders,” and included threats to his family. These messages were filled with racial invective, and meant to frighten and intimidate him into silence.


Social movements by their nature raise controversies that go to the heart of a society, whether they are social movements for women’s suffrage, or against abortion. They seek, by their nature, fundamental normative change. Discussing them therefore elicits strong emotions. But we will have no way to digest either their merits or their excesses if we do not have spaces to discuss social movements in a reasoned and respectful way,. George Yancy’s interviews provided a way for philosophers to do this. His culminating column is a call for white America to face the structural facts of injustice, and to recognize the ways individual attitudes are shaped by and contribute to the racism in our society.


In the media, scientific “experts” are regularly brought to bear on public debate. But scientific experts do not play the role of philosophers; the role of scientific expertise is often to put an end to debate, rather than incite it. Since its inception, the Stone has not shied away from fundamental moral and political controversy. Its participants do not pretend to be experts who resolve questions once and for all, but rather to incite debate and challenge. By bringing philosophers into public engagement, the Stone attempts to add something novel to American media engagement with events.


Yancy’s interview series embodies the Stone’s founding ideal: open philosophical discourse and debate about the challenging moral and political struggles of our day. Yancy’s “Dear White America” piece was his own personal message, lessons learned during the process of navigating almost two dozen philosophers through an engagement with what may very well turn out to be an iconic and historically important social movement.


Radical social movements in their time are always viewed as disturbances of the moral order. It is only retrospectively that social movements are viewed as speaking truth to power in ways that make moral sense. In the United States, for example, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. is universally celebrated, including by citizens who share the ideology of those who despised him in his lifetime. This may be used as evidence of their success. But given persisting failures of equality in the United States, a more plausible explanation is that they have been assimilated into a rhetoric that views the polity as ever more just, the society progressively more fair and decent. The fact that social movements make retrospective moral sense does not mean that the practices that accompany them change in materially significant ways.


We can see in the example of the response to Yancy, that the Black Lives Matter too is viewed by some as a disturbance of the fundamental moral order, in much the same way as the Civil Rights Movement was. That the reaction to Yancy’s challenge has taken the form of vicious personal racism is, one may think, good evidence of the need for the message and the movement.


But one need not endorse the aims and goals of the Black Lives Matter movement in order to deplore the reaction to Yancy’s piece. We hold that whatever side one takes on this or other debates, free philosophical discussions on matters of profound social and political importance is a central function of the Stone. We authors of the Stone believe that discussions of the sort we have in its pages are a vital component of a healthy democracy. We stand together in support of our colleague George Yancy, and strongly repudiate these attempts to silence him.


Sincerely yours,

Read More »

Male students underrate female students

From press release about an article in PLOS ONE

Female college students are more likely to abandon studies in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines than their male classmates, and new research from the University of Washington suggests that those male peers may play a key role in undermining their confidence.

Published this week in the journal PLOS ONE, the study* found that males enrolled in undergraduate biology classes consistently ranked their male classmates as more knowledgeable about course content, even over better-performing female students.

The over-ranking equated to males ranking their male peers smarter by three-quarters of a GPA point* than their equally-performing female classmates, showing what researchers say amounts to a clear and consistent gender bias. Female students, on the other hand, repeatedly showed no significant bias in whom they picked as knowledgeable.

Re-Sounding Voices: Women, Silence, and the Production of Knowledge

Registration is now open for the International Women’s Day conference:

“Re-Sounding Voices: Women, Silence and the Production of Knowledge” 

Tuesday, 8th March, 2016.
St. Aidan’s College, Durham University

Keynote Speakers: Mary Midgley, Pamela Sue Anderson, Katharine Cockin

“Re-sounding Voices” is an interdisciplinary conference, with speakers from philosophy, sociology, anthropology, english, history and cultural studies. Philosophical highlights include:

— Pamela Sue Anderson on confidence

— Jen Hornsby on Fregean tone and sexist slurs

— Benjamin Lipscomb on the daughters of 1919 (Midgley, Foot, Anscombe, and Murdoch)

— Mary Midgley on being a woman in philosophy

— Sara Uckleman on Medieval women and the adversariality of logic

To register and for programme details, visit: