Call for comments: Writing on feminist topics?

I’d like to solicit thoughts from philosophers reading this blog: what are your views on how graduate students can integrate feminist topics into papers? First, probably, is the question of whether we should, given the job market and the fact that these topics aren’t viewed as mainstream.

Just a reminder that while we require an email address for commenters, we do allow pseudonyms and never share your information. Still, if you feel comfortable giving some background on yourself and where you are (size school, area, etc.) that might be helpful as well.

Happiness in philosophy

There’s been a bit of conversation around the philosophy blogosphere about the state of jobs in the profession. Some of the most recent chatter, linked to by Leiter here and here, is about whether young philosophers today have a sense of “entitlement” in their expectations.

Among the claims made:
To be happy as a professor, you don’t need to teach in buildings that win architectural awards. You don’t need a two-course-a-semester load to publish (I published during my first years in Birmingham, despite teaching nine or 10 courses a year). You don’t need your university to give you a dedicated blog site or IT personnel to support your home computer. You need a tenure-track job, and then you need to work hard at the three things we are expected to do: teach students who want to learn, publish about things you care about, and be a good academic citizen through service to your institution and field. That’s the deal. If it doesn’t sound good enough, then maybe you should try bartending in San Francisco. And when you do, lots of adjuncts will apply for your job.

And, contrasting:
When, as a grad student I and some others were grousing about the poor adjunct pay at a local state college, another household name who overheard the conversation asked us why we even took a job with such poor wages. Why not simply refuse? He couldn’t grasp that we needed to pay the rent and eat, and didn’t have a 6 figure salary like he did. I remember staring at him in stunned silence. If you spend several years around folks with quarter million dollar salaries, minimal teaching duties, palatial offices, and brilliant undergrads, you start to think that your first job, if not that grand, ought to be better than teaching 8 courses a year to unprepared slackers at some underfunded State U. in fly-over country.

Here’s where I’m thinking the tie-in to feminist concerns may be: what are the expectations of female philosophers (and other minorities, blacks, LGBT persons, etc) and what are the expectations of male philosophers? How do they compare and what gets labeled “entitlement”? Other thoughts to explore may be the role of generational perspective in assessing “entitlement” (as a thirty-something teaching Gen Y students, I bemoan the same problem), misconceptions about philosophy as a career, etc.

Further, how much is happiness a function of our ability to thrive despite not having our ideal environment? And how much do social injustices, or even the lack of local culture, matter?

I’d like to encourage feminist conversation both here and at Leiter’s blog, although I’ll leave cross-posting at reader discretion. (Remember that this is a thread about jobs in philosophy and not Brian Leiter’s interpretation of jobs in philosophy.)

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today is the 10th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. As we think about how to teach about racial prejudice, gay marriage rights, women excluding men from conferences, and other excellent and worthwhile topics recently broached on this blog, let’s not forget that there are people who have lost their lives over the way they present their gender. Let’s not forget that fear of violence, not only exclusion, threatens transgendered persons as well as those who, regardless of how they identify, do not fit into neat social norms.

This is not a thing of the past, it happens regularly.

There are events all across the United States today–see if you can find one to attend.

Feminism and labels

Most readers will have already seen this poll by the Daily Beast evaluating attitudes towards gender in the past election cycle, but I’m curious about your thoughts. In particular, the statistic that only 20% of women are comfortable calling themselves “feminists.”

Some points to discuss:
1. The legitimacy of the poll (sample size, margin of error)
2. The implications of the poll
– Is this evidence that “feminist” is a dirty word in our society?
– Or, have so many feminist goals been reached that “feminist” now wrongly connotes an extremist?
– Is it important to call oneself a feminist in order to support gender and sex equality?

Another Election First: Transgender Mayor in Oregon

Silverton, Oregon has elected what may be the first transgender mayor in the United States (although given the history of transgender persons passing, it’s possible others may have so served without people knowing).

Here’s what the article says:

Stu Rasmussen served two terms as the Mayor of Silverton in the 1990s. But he hadn’t admitted to being transgender. He’s not the same man now that he was then. Today he wears a skirt and high heels. He has breast implants, and long red hair. He looks like a woman – but he’s not.

I think philosopher Sally Haslanger might have a problem with the last statement that Rasmussen is not a woman, given her distinction between sex and gender (and so might many others, especially since the writer refuses to use “she” in reference to the mayor-elect). However, in addition to the historic nature of Rasmussen’s election, the article draws attention to another facet of the story–the fluidity of how people understand gender, both as a general term and in application to themselves. Here’s how Rasmussen describes herself:

“I identify mostly as a heterosexual male,” Rasmussen said. “But I just like to look like a female.”

Rasmussen is a man. He even has a girlfriend. He says he’s always been transgender, but he only “came out” a few years ago.

Perhaps using “she” is not accurate, then? There is a lot going on in this short piece. There’s the assumption that Rasmussen having a girlfriend has implications for her/his gender identity (it doesn’t, since many biological females have girlfriends and there are FTMs who transition and identify as homosexual males). There’s the question of what is the dividing line between man/woman–if Rasmussen has breast implants and looks like a female, why say “Rasmussen is a man”? There’s the association between a mid-life crisis and “acquiring cleavage”, and the concluding description of a tear “gently running through his eyeliner, and onto his cheek.”

Regardless of the thorny philosophical (and journalistic?) problems this story raises, I think we can agree that Rasmussen’s election is a signal that gender identity is becoming less central to society’s judgment about people’s competency.

Readers…have at it. Your thoughts?

Final Debate Open Thread

Readers who watched last night’s debate and want to weigh in on any of the feminism-related topics that were raised, use this thread. To get you started, here are a few topics:

1. The Lilly Ledbetter conversation and the candidate’s views on the Supreme Court Case
2. McCain’s claim that “pro-abortion” folks use “women’s health” to justify abortions too often
3. McCain is “proud of” Palin (see Feministing’s take)
4. Also via Feministing, those “evil T-shirts” McCain was complaining about may be these. Warning: blurry profanity.
5. Does “Joe the Plumber” used again and again as an icon alienate women voters?

If possible, try to paraphrase or quote the candidates and provide links to factual resources, so we don’t wind up tossing around empty claims (there’s been enough of that in the debates themselves). FYI, MSNBC has a good visual breakout of the debates with their tool here so you can go directly to each candidate’s responses and search by keyword.

Link: Redefining the Gender Gap

bathroom signIn today’s Inside Higher Ed, a book review of The Gender Gap in College by Linda J. Sax. Among the author’s findings:

Of particular concern, Sax writes, is that women appear unwilling to believe or admit that “they are as competent as their performance would suggest,” and that this lack of confidence generally appears to grow during college.

She also notes that

…male students tend to perform better academically when they have campus peer groups that support “traditional gender roles.” And at campuses with a strong emphasis on the arts, male academic performance tends to suffer.

I’ll have to add the book to my (always-growing) reading list. The data, of course, are only part of the picture. However, ascertaining how traditional gender roles can be broken down without impacting academic performance appears crucial, if, that is, the connection withstands further scrutiny. I’m still formulating my own thoughts with regard to philosophy departments, but those of you with ready opinions, have at the comment thread!

Derbyshire on Obama, race and science

In The National Review, John Derbyshire is arguing that Barack Obama is bad for science because:

Barack Obama was raised in an atmosphere of “cultural Marxism. His mind was set that way, and he retained the essential precepts of the creed into adult life, as his close association with somewhat-more-than-cultural Marxist Bill Ayers illustrates (as of course do Obama’s remarks quoted above). Obama would fill his administration with cultural Marxists like himself, whose attitude to human-sciences research is the one spelled out by Edward O. Wilson in his book On Human Nature.

Derbyshire’s argument in a nutshell is that science is increasingly giving us hard evidence that variations among humans is genetically determined, meaning that systematic differences we perceive between sexes or races are probably not from “nurture” but “nature.” Since Obama is a “cultural Marxist”, he wouldn’t be willing to fund the good science that supports these “metaphysical implications more disturbing than..those of quantum mechanics.”

The article is hard to read, for me at least, because of its a) misrepresentation of established science, b) racist undertones and c) sexist overtones (see his definition of geneticist v genomicist). However, the vast majority of people in this country still view race as a biological entity, a natural kind. Further, scare tactics appear to be successful in many arenas, including arguments about conspiracies in the scientific community (e.g., that creationism is being methodically suppressed). Derbyshire may be wacky, but his views resonate with people. It’s worth watching how these threads: anti-intellectualism, racism and sexism interrelate.

See PZ Myers for just a few rebuttals to Derbyshire’s claims. Readers, add your own analysis in the comments. And please, so we can all follow along, if you make a claim about a scientific fact, please provide a citation, either via web link or journal article. Thanks!

“Palin has more testosterone”

I don’t have time to comment on it, but today’s op-ed by Frank Rich in the NY Times contains this line:

“So what if [Palin] is preposterously unprepared to run the country in the midst of its greatest economic crisis in 70 years? She looks and sounds like a winner. You can understand why [the GOP] believe that. She has more testosterone than anyone else at the top of her party.”

Among the things which could be discussed about the article are:
– The image that runs with it
– Why “relentless ambition” is paired with “testosterone”
– Whether “ice cold” personality traits are made colder by being displayed by a woman

I’m no Palin supporter and I do think she displayed a bewildering lack of sensitivity to Biden’s emotions in the Thursday debate. However, I still wonder how that lack of sensitivity is being read when it’s part of a female personality. Readers, any thoughts?