Men, sexual assault, and the military

GQ has published an in-depth report on male sexual assault (that is, the sexual assault of men) in the US military. The piece is long, but very much worth reading in all of its horrifying detail. Here’s the abstract:

Sexual assault is alarmingly common in the U.S. military, and more than half of the victims are men. According to the Pentagon, thirty-eight military men are sexually assaulted every single day. These are the stories you never hear—because the culprits almost always go free, the survivors rarely speak, and no one in the military or Congress has done enough to stop it

Mount St. Mary’s student survey tried to find out which students were depressed

In the now infamous student survey given out to first year students at Mount St. Mary’s University to determine which bunnies needed to be drowned (=first years needed to be culled), many of the questions focused on the students’ attitudes and mental health. And it some cases it is clear that the questions are direct attempts to assess which students are depressed. Here are screenshots of part of the survey:

Survey 1

Survey 2



And finally, they come right out and ask point blank:

Survey 3


Now, to be clear, I don’t know what anyone’s intent was with these questions. But I do know they were part of this effort:

The president, Simon Newman, acknowledged to The Washington Post that he was pushing a plan to intervene early on with students who may be having difficulties. But he said that this was to help them, although he said that the help in some cases might be for them to see that they might be better off a less expensive public institution.

And I also know that it is illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities. I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that there are massive legal – not to mention moral – violations taking place here.

Jenny Saul on ‘racial fig leaves’

Jenny Saul has an interesting article in the Huffington Post about Donald Trump and the phenomenon she labels ‘racial fig leaves’. Many of us are familiar with the political use of ‘dog whistles’ – subtle political messages meant to appeal to biases without explicitly championing those biases, or in some cases to appeal to a target audience without being readily identifiable as such an appeal to those who aren’t the target audience. But, as Jenny points out, Trump’s rhetoric is a long way from the subtlety of dog whistle politics:

Donald Trump is no dogwhistler: he proudly tosses around racial terms, paired with the most hideous stereotypes. And he rises, and rises, and rises in the polls. Does this mean that the Norm of Racial Egalitarianism is no longer in place? I’m not so sure. Some of Trump’s supporters clearly reject this norm, openly advocating white supremacy. But there is no reason to believe that this group of voters ever accepted it–the norm was widely accepted, but not universal. So what of the other supporters? It seems to me that two important things are happening: First, Trump is employing another technique in place of a dogwhistle, one which still allows supporters to believe that he (and so they) are not racist. And second, he’s revealing just what a shallow and limited norm Racial Egalitarianism is.

The technique Trump has been employing is one I’ll call the “racial figleaf”. It involves uttering what would otherwise be clearly a racist claim, and then following up with something that just barely covers it. On some level, we all know what’s there–something you’re not supposed to show in public–but the figleaf lets us avoid acknowledging it.

As she points out, the phenomenon of fig leaf discourse probably doesn’t explain the whole of Trump’s racist speech, but it’s at least an interesting aspect of it, and a clear departure from previous political discourse.

Kindness isn’t tone

As I’ve discussed before, I often find myself frustrated with aggressive ‘call-out culture’ (=the tendency, in conversations about social issues, for participants to pounce on people, often harshly, for having said something they deem offensive.) Part of this frustration is that well-intentioned people can end up excluded from conversations and  part of it is that those conversations can get sidetracked by terminological issues. But that’s far from all of it. Instead, much of my frustration comes from the fact that call-out culture has a palpably negative impact on my everyday experience as a disabled person.

Let me explain. If you are disabled, some people are going to be awkward around you. That’s just how that goes. But I increasingly find that the people who seem most awkward are my most progressive, socially aware friends. And the thing is, I can’t blame them. If they’ve looked into online conversations about disability at all – and of course it’s my most well-intentioned, socially aware friends that have – they’ll have seen the ‘person-first wars’ (with some people claiming anything other than ‘person first’ language is deeply offensive, others claiming that the motivations behind the use of ‘person-first’ language are themselves offensive), they’ll have seen some people saying that it is always offensive and inappropriate to ask questions about a person’s disability, others saying you can ask questions but not about the physical impairment, only about the accessibility needs, and so on. It’s understandable that someone, having read these conflicting bits of advice (and especially the dogmatic, sometimes even vitriolic way they’re often doled out) would be utterly confused and worried that they would do or say something offensive. Hell, I’d be confused and worried too, if I was in their shoes. And if you are confused and worried about what to say and how to act, you’re going to be awkward.

So here’s my worry. One of the most irritating things about being disabled is how perpetually awkward and uncomfortable people are around you. And, though it’s intended to make things better for disabled people, my suspicion is that aggressive call-out culture makes this worse. A lot worse.

I also suspect I’m not alone in perceiving bad effects of hostility in online conversations about social issues. I recently had a conversation with a friend, for example, who expressed annoyance with the same issue, though for slightly different reasons. This friend is a member of a marginalized group, and was explaining their frustration with online discussions about issues by and relating to that group. The aggressiveness of much of the discourse made my friend (who is shy and soft-spoken) deeply uncomfortable. And so their frustration was this: these were online communities were they should have felt welcome and accepted, but instead they felt completely alienated. And as a result, they felt that the online ‘voice’ of their community often ended up being the people willing to be the meanest and shout the loudest. People like themselves – more reserved and less comfortable with hostile conversations – were pushed to the sidelines.

The way we conduct conversations about social issues – whether we are kind, charitable, respectful, etc – can have a lot of (perhaps unexpected) knock-on consequences. My anecdotal impression, though, is that it’s increasingly common to see any requests for charitable discourse – again, especially online – labeled and dismissed as tone policing. Before I say anything else, I want to be absolutely clear that I think tone policing is a serious problem, and it’s one which disproportionately affects marginalized groups. Members of such groups are often criticized for being ‘too angry’, as though their anger wasn’t justified or an important part of relating their experience. And, of course, what gets interpreted as ‘angry’ in one person can be interpreted as ‘forceful’ and ‘assertive’ in someone with different social markers.

That being said, tone isn’t everything. There’s so much about how we interact with each other as people that goes beyond tone. There’s respect, kindness, care, patience, etc. Emphasizing the importance of these virtues in how we interact with each other needn’t be a matter of tone policing or suppressing anger – anger can be expressed with kindness and respect, after all. And, more importantly, the value of these virtues isn’t limited to making those who have a certain type of privilege comfortable in conversations about those who lack that privilege.

‘Be nice’ has always been a governing – if hard to pragmatically implement – principle of conversations here at Feminist Philosophers. But calls for niceness and its correlates have begun to get a bad rap in activist circles, especially online ones. So consider this post a plea for niceness, kindness, respect, and charitable interpretation in discussion about sensitive issues (even and perhaps especially online). Asking for this isn’t – or isn’t always, at least – a question of tone policing.

Black philosophers in elite philosophy journals

Liam Kofi Bright has a post at The Splintered Mind analyzing the number of publications by black philosophers in elite philosophy journals over the period of 2003-2012. The numbers are sobering, to say the least. Black philosophers are substantially less well-represented in the journals Bright looked at than they are in the profession as a whole, authoring less than .5% of the relevant journal articles:

In total there were 30 publications by US BIPs for all journals during this period. By contrast, there were 10659 publications overall during this period. This means that publications by US BIPs were 0.28% of the publications during this period. Of the 30 publications, 15 were research articles as opposed to book reviews. There were 7638 research articles overall in this period, meaning that research articles by US BIPs were 0.19% of the research articles published. Assuming that 61.5% of the population were US philosophers, this would make black philosophers 0.46% of the US philosopher authors. Likewise US BIPs would be 0.32% of US authors of research publications.

In line with the findings of What is the State of Blacks in Philosophy? I found that the publications of US BIPs were clustered around certain topic matters. In the 2014 article we found that the top 5 most common AOS among US BIPs were (1) Africana, (2) Race, (3) Social and Political, (4) Ethics, and (5) Continental philosophy. I hand coded the topic matters of the 15 research articles on the basis of their titles and abstracts. Almost two thirds (9 of them) concerned at least one of: philosophy of race, political philosophy, or ethics. One journal, Ethics, accounts for almost half of the US BIP publications (13 of them). Note that in the 2014 article we coded people’s AOS by self-identification on their CV or webpage rather than looking at their publications, so this is not circular. None the less, any bias towards certain AOS’ that was involved in producing the initial database of US BIPs may have been reproduced in this count.

Not many US BIPs published research articles in this period. The 15 journal articles were produced by 11 US black philosophers, 9 of whom were men and 2 of whom were women. For some perspective, Timothy Williamson published 15 research articles in the journals under study during this time period.

Chris Lebron on the invisibility of black women

Chris Lebron (Yale) has a wonderful new piece in The Boston Review on the invisibility of black women in our discussions of race and civil rights.

Over the past few years, as the mainstream media reported a seemingly endless stream of stories about black men being killed by police, one could be forgiven for thinking that black women are not victimized to the same degree. Such a contention would be tragically misguided and would be complicit in black women’s public invisibility. Though Sandra Bland’s suicide following her abusive arrest made national headlines—as did the shooting of nineteen-year-old Renisha McBride when she sought help at a white family’s door after crashing her car—few Americans have heard about the many other black women who have fallen victim to the same racist forces that choked the life out of Eric Garner: Yvette Smith, Malissa Williams, and Rekia Boyd name but a few.

And then there is the horrific fact that more than sixty thousand black women are missing in America. To put that number into perspective, black women make up roughly 8 percent of the population in the United States but nearly 37 percent of missing women. The explanation for the missing women is often unclear; it includes the typical suspects, including murder, running away, abduction, and so on. But it is clear that there are at least two problems having to do with our treatment of this full-blown crisis. First, the media tends to publicize stories of missing white women or girls so much more than it does stories of missing women of color that there is a term for it: Missing White Woman Syndrome. Second, what little bandwidth the media does have for missing black people tends to be filled with discussion of the American shame of mass incarceration, which disproportionately affects black men, cast as a metaphorical “missing.” While that phenomenon is a travesty and deserving of all the attention it receives and more, the concurrent absence of media coverage about the epidemic of missing black women renders them doubly invisible: gone and seemingly forgotten.

Prof. Lebron’s piece offers specific, pragmatic suggestions for addressing this problem. Go read the whole thing!

‘Black, Disabled, and Proud’

The HBCU Disability Consortium and Association on Higher Education And Disability have teamed up to create a wonderful new resource for disabled black college students – Black, Disabled, and Proud.

Disabled people color face unique challenges – including complex social stigmas and limited access to adequate healthcare, among many others. And it’s no secret that the disability community has, historically, not done a great job of being racially inclusive or paying attention to the experiences of disabled people of color. So new initiatives like this are particularly important.



Click to access Health-and-Health-Care-Disparities-Among-People-with-Disabilities.pdf

Click to access Health-and-Health-Care-Disparities-Among-People-with-Disabilities.pdf

Click to access Health-and-Health-Care-Disparities-Among-People-with-Disabilities.pdf

Rape and the porn industry

In the wake of the multiple rape allegations against porn star James Deen, former porn actress Aurora Snow has written a fascinating piece for The Daily Beast about pornography, the normalization of violence toward women, and the affect this has on performers:

Rape in an industry where sex—and even violent sex—is treated as just another day at the office can become a bit muddled for some.
From my experience, I’ve learned that certain professionals in porn have varying definitions of what rape is—yet the standard definition should still apply. On-set behaviors and attitudes that would be shocking to most and sometimes even criminal are normalized, and after years of performing, it can be hard to separate the work from reality.