Accessing Feminist Philosophers

As we announced April 23, Feminist Philosophers is shutting down. This is one of a series of posts by FP bloggers looking back on the blog and bidding it farewell.

There’s an apocryphal quote that is usually attributed to Helen Keller that goes something like this: blindness separates you from things, but deafness separates you from people. It turns out that Kant wrote something about this in his Anthropologie (aside: for all the hours I’ve been thinking about this farewell post, I must say that starting off with a reference to Kant never occurred to me, but blogging has a way of swerving the words on the page).

It’s hard to put into words how excited I became once I discovered the philosophy blogosphere and Feminist Philosophers.

I could finally understand without guesswork what other philosophers were saying, and having the words on the page to be read, not speech-read, meant that I had an equal footing when it came to accessibility. I’d never had the opportunity to communicate with philosophers without having to do the additional work of speechreading inference or working through an interpreter (who didn’t have the background in philosophy the rest of us did).

It was through Feminist Philosophers that I found a sense of community in the informal aspect of academic philosophy. There were many times when we disagreed — sometimes publicly on the comments page, but also on long email threads. I will miss those threads, time-consuming as they were, because of the respect we showed each other, even in times of deep contention. They were also another (inadvertent) accessible feature of doing philosophy that hadn’t been available to me — I learned much from reading and participating in them.

What I find most bittersweet about shutting down Feminist Philosophers is that this venue of informal philosophical exchange will now only exist as an archive. I learned philosophical jargon and ‘insider catchphrases’ by reading the comments, I learned about other feminist philosophers, including about other disabled feminist philosophers of color (our numbers are small, but we exist!) by reading the comments, and I learned that the written word modality of social media was a way for philosophers who were deaf or hard of hearing or had other communication disabilities could participate in conversations that prior to this were difficult to access.

Access to the informal conventions of feminist philosophy will still continue to exist as an archive, but it will be a snapshot of a certain period of time and place. And so, I worry about how others on the margins will gain access to the shifting social capital and conversations that may not be present in their departments — whether this is access related to disability or other factors. My hope is that with the closure of Feminist Philosophers, we can continue the spirit of this blog by continuing to invite others into our conversations, in whatever formats are needed for inclusion.

To my fellow bloggers, I want to say how honored I was to be invited to join you, and what an incredible privilege it has been to work with you to make a difference. To the readers of Feminist Philosophers, I’m grateful for the sense of community you helped to build, and especially for making it possible for me to see the range of ways to engage and sometimes, to spar! To Jenny, thank you for having the vision and the fortitude to keep Feminist Philosophers going, especially when the path was a tangle.

In Memoriam: Anita Silvers (1940-2019)

We report with sadness the death of Professor Anita Silvers of San Francisco State University on Thursday, March 14, 2019. She was known for her work in aesthetics, bioethics, feminism, philosophy of justice, philosophy of disability, philosophy of law, and social and political philosophy. Dr. Silvers was the author of dozens of articles and author and editor of several books, including Disability, Difference, Discrimination: Perspectives on Justice in Bioethics and Public Policy with David Wasserman and Mary B. Mahowald (Rowman & Littlefield, 1998); Americans with Disabilities: Exploring Implications of the Law for Individuals and Institutions, co-edited with Leslie Francis (Routledge, 2000); and Puzzles About Art co-authored with Margaret Battin, John Fisher, and Ron Moore (St. Martin’s Press, 1989).

In addition to her groundbreaking scholarship, Professor Silvers was a disability rights activist with a storied history of service to the profession. She was longstanding Secretary-Treasurer of the American Philosophical Association (APA) Pacific Division (1982 to 2008), and she chaired the APA Committee on Inclusiveness in the Profession (2010-2013). She was the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2009 APA Quinn Prize for Service to the Profession, the 2013 APA and Phi Beta Kappa Lebowitz Prize for Philosophical Achievement and Contribution, the 2017 California State University (CSU) Wang Family Excellence Award for extraordinary contributions to the CSU system, and the inaugural California Faculty Human Rights Award.

I’ve been at a loss for words since I first learned of Anita’s passing. It was unexpected; she was currently working on several projects with me and also with many others. She was first my advocate, then mentor, then colleague and friend. Feminist Philosophers has a tradition of featuring a passage from the work of the philosopher we memorialize. Anita’s work on disability justice was grounded in her experience as a disabled person and her activism on behalf of people with disabilities. She was a fierce advocate and a brilliant strategist of disability accommodations. I leave you with these words, the conclusion from her essay “Formal Justice”.

Listening to the voices of people with disabilities in their own words quoted throughout this essay, we cannot help but have observed that, foremost, they desire a public sphere that embraces their presence. For them, equality means taking their places as competent contributors to well-ordered cooperative social and cultural transactions. For them, justice must offer, first, the visibility of full participatory citizenship, not a spotlight that targets them as needing more than others do. (Disability, Difference, Discrimination; p. 145)

Information about a memorial service for Professor Silvers will be posted later.

Longing For The Male Gaze

Jennifer Bartlett’s provocative opinion piece in the New York Times today considers the role of street harassment and cyber-harassment as she reflects upon the  tension between her longing to be viewed as sexually desirable and her feminist leanings.

I also do understand what it feels like to get attention from the wrong man. It’s gross. It’s uncomfortable. It’s scary and tedious. And in certain cases, traumatic. But I still would much rather have a man make an inappropriate sexual comment than be referred to in the third person or have someone express surprise over the fact that I have a career. The former, unfortunately, feels “normal.” The latter makes me feel invisible and is meant for that purpose. I like it when men look at me. It feels empowering, not disempowering. Frankly, it makes me feel like I’m not being excluded.

More here.


Job Searches and Members of Under-Represented Groups

As the recently appointed Acting Chair of the APA Committee on Inclusiveness in the Profession, I’ve been getting a number of emails from job search committees asking for help in identifying listservs and websites that reach members of under-represented groups in philosophy. The APA Resources on Diversity and Inclusiveness is a good start, as is the UP Directory of philosophers from under-represented groups. The UP Directory even has a bulletin board service that emails job listings every Monday. (You do not have to be listed in the directory to subscribe to the bulletin board service.)

I’m hoping that Feminist Philosophy readers can help identify listservs that reach philosophers from under-represented groups, and am asking that you note these in the comments. I’ve already conferred with Amy Ferrer this morning and she’s agreed to add this information to the Resources on Diversity and Inclusiveness page. Given that the job search season is upon us, it would be great to put a centralized resource of philosophy listservs for job search committees to use this season.

MUN Professor Refuses to Accommodate Disabled Student

A professor at Memorial University in Newfoundland has refused to wear an FM assistive listening device to accommodate hard of hearing student William Sears, citing religious grounds for her refusal. This is not a first occurrence: Professor Panjabi also refused a similar request from a student in 1996, telling CBC News that her religious beliefs prevented her from wearing an assistive listening device to accommodate a student with a hearing impairment. CBC also notes that in 1985 she was also reprimanded for a similar complaint.

Contrary to popular misconception, assistive listening devices (ALDs) are not recording devices, but merely amplify sound. The more sophisticated devices work with digital hearing aids to deliver custom amplification tailored to a hearing aid program designed for ALDs, which is far superior to the amplification of a standard microphone. One reason for this is that the background noise picked up by hearing aids is dampened if one has an ALD program — the primary sound that one hears is the speaker’s voice. The ALD amplification cannot be heard by people who are not wearing ALD receivers or hearing aids with telecoils.

(As a lifetime user of ALDs, my personal experience is that the amplification and clarity is significantly better than a house microphone — this assessment is shared by most of the ALD users I know, though as with any accommodation, the person with the disability is in the best position to judge whether this is a feasible accommodation for her.)

Over the 40+ years and thousands of hours of ALD use in my lifetime, I’ve had similar experiences of professors and (conference) lecturers refusing to wear an ALD transmitter. When queried, they usually explained their opposition was because they believed it was a recording device in addition to an amplification device. This is a false belief.Read More »

“How Are You Diverse?”

Keisha Ray offers an important perspective on diversity and racial insecurity in the current job market:

But the possibility that you are being used to satisfy either an interview quota or a hired faculty quota adds a unique component to the job search for diverse applicants that deserves more attention.             Applicants who have been deemed diverse are thrown into a system that seemingly values their diversity but then that value is determined by individuals with biases and individuals who are forced to meet certain standards determined by their bosses and HR departments. We’re asked to identify, prove, and convince others that unchosen features of our being adds to the value of our candidacy when those very same unchosen features can be used against us. And in the instance that our unchosen features contribute to our appeal as a scholar and colleague, then we are left wondering if our unchosen features override our accomplishments.

Pregnant Deaf Woman Sues for Interpreter Access During Delivery

Cheylla Silva has filed an emergency motion in U.S. federal court (Miami) to obtain signed language interpreter access during childbirth. 

Silva is hoping the delivery goes smoothly because if there are serious problems, she might be at a loss to communicate with her doctors and nurses. Silva is profoundly deaf, and, for months, Baptist administrators have refused to provide her with an American sign language interpreter, she says.

“Can you imagine going to a doctor’s office and not being able to understand what they are talking about? And it’s about your care. How would you feel?”

 “One of the essential elements of personal dignity,” the pleading adds, “is the ability to obtain the necessary information to make an adequate and informed choice about one’s own medical treatment. Medical treatment and childbirth are some of the most intense and important experiences for a person.”

Then again, it should be easy enough to just write notes in one’s second language during childbirth, right?

Sign Language is not Performance Art

The exoticism of signed language interpreters and signed language gets uptake in mainstream media, but deaf people’s views are ignored. Here’s one response to this phenomenon, written by my colleague, Dr. Caroline Solomon, a deaf professor of biology and her brother, Jeffrey Archer Miller, a hearing lawyer who regularly represents deaf people.

The subtle subtext of the media’s approach has been to introduce its readers to American Sign Language as an oddity, more in the vein of a story about Cirque du Soleil than as a window into a sophisticated means of interpersonal expression. Wall Street Journal reporter Elizabeth Williamson delights in describing how Mr. Painter interprets “fiscal cliff” and “kick the can down the road” from English to American Sign Language. Would its readers be equally interested in a story about an interpreter translating arcane Washington bureaucratese into Spanish? We suspect not.


Disability and Graduate School Considerations

Helen de Cruz has a great post up at NewAPPS that discusses, among other things, why graduate students might opt to attend unranked programs.


Another, often overlooked, consideration in play for some graduate students is disability. Some campuses are more friendly and accommodating to students with particular kinds of disabilities, some local communities have more resources than others, some states have policies that make it easier to be funded by vocational rehabilitation than others, some states (in the U.S.) provide tuition waivers to students with certain disabilities, and so on.


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Cochlear Implants, Viral Videos, and Sexism

Once again a video of the miracle of hearing via cochlear implants has gone viral. I find this bothersome, but not for the reasons you might think, given that I’m a member of the signing Deaf* community, a bioethicist, and philosopher. Instead, I’m annoyed by the framing of the cochlear implant narratives and the gendered aspects of cochlear implant videos that go viral.


Before I say more, I want to note that I am delighted and touched by the joy of the cochlear implant recipient, Joanne Milne. Joanne Milne has had a life-changing experience. Most hearing people will watch the video, appreciate her happiness, and perhaps reflect on their own capacity to hear. I hope that we can push the conversation further along here at Feminist Philosophers.

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