A Reply to “The Gender Academy”

In a July 5th article, “The Gender Academy,” University of Colorado Boulder philosophy grad student Spencer Case complains about his department’s new “Best Practices” document, which recommends, among other things, that classroom discussion facilitators make an effort to assist students from underrepresented groups in participating in discussion “by, for example, intervening when such students are interrupted or spoken over while attempting to contribute.”

“This is micro-managing and worse,” he objects, “Instead of being an objective facilitator of learning for all, the teacher must now be an advocate for some.”

Kudos to University of Colorado Boulder philosophy grad student Sofia Huerter, who wrote a reply to Case, drawing on Jenny Saul’s work on implicit bias and stereotype threat:

“I have, for some months, permitted myself to remain silent with regard to the climate in my department because I have become so preoccupied with my own fears of confirming stereotypes about women in philosophy, namely that we aren’t very good at it for one reason or another. I have felt fearful that any slip-ups on my end will result in accusations of fallacious and misguided reasoning, engendering yet more negativity in the debate about the status of women in philosophy…

Stereotype threat is a psychological phenomenon which affects the way that members of stigmatized groups perform. Victims of stereotype threat tend to under-perform on relevant tasks, such as writing papers, because they are unconsciously preoccupied with fears of confirming stereotypes about their groups…

As women enter graduate programs in philosophy, they are likely to be reminded of their under-representation in various ways. For instance, as Jennifer Saul notes, in most classes, other than perhaps feminist philosophy, they are likely to encounter syllabuses consisting overwhelmingly of male authors, and the people teaching most of their classes are likely to be male. Further, those who are teaching are susceptible to implicit bias. As such, we are likely to witness in philosophy departments the same well-documented asymmetries in the treatment of male and female students that have been observed in other areas of academics. For instance, we are likely to see teachers calling upon male students more often than female students…”

(See here for the full reply.)

UPDATE: Case has published a reply to some of his critics, in which he argues that feminism is not a sub-discipline of philosophy and ought to “be discussed alongside conservatism, libertarianism, liberalism, fascism, and socialism in political-philosophy classes.” Presumably his arguments are directed at feminist philosophy, and not feminism — which is not (and as far as I know has not ever been) characterized as a “sub-discipline of philosophy.” Even under this charitable reading, however, Case’s argument is little more than a classic example of a straw-person fallacy; the argument shows merely that feminist philosophy should not be “insulated” from “criticism” — which, of course, is not a conclusion that anyone would contest. What the “Best Practices” document recommends is that philosophers refrain from disparaging sub-disciplines of philosophy, not from providing a rational critique.

Seriously, Schwyzer?

There are very few things that leave me temporarily at a loss for words these days. But last Friday’s pathetic and manic Twitter meltdown of “feminist” pornography professor and frequent Jezebel contributor Hugo Schwyzer did just that. Among other things, Schwyzer admitted to rampant infidelity, sexting (“of course”), ignoring his own maxim that men should sleep with women their own age, and sleeping with students — “two dozen female students, somewhere in there,” he says in a Daily Beast interview, “it’s a ballpark thing.”

There are just so many problems with this story that I hardly know where to start.

First, why did Pasadena City College allow him to “make amends” by “swearing off sleeping with women” — and why was he permitted to continue teaching pornography and gender studies courses, rather than the history courses he was trained to teach?

How was Schwyzer able to get tenure as a medievalist and British historian, when his primary “publications,” per his own admission, were blog posts for Jezebel and an article for The Atlantic?

Why does Schwyzer seem to think that, once out of the hospital, he’ll be able to either continue teaching or be placed on permanent disability? Are all forms of debauchery excusable as a mental illness, and thereby grounds for graceful separation from the university?

And why, oh why, is it that the voices of male feminists carry more weight than their female counterparts? (As Slate blogger Noah Berlatsky points out, New York magazine practically came running to interview him last month when he announced that he was going to quit for a while. Would they have done the same if a female feminist decided to throw in the towel?)

“Rape Joke” appears to have final word in the rape joke debate

I thought Jezebel blogger Lindy West was going to have the final word in the debate about rape jokes that emerged earlier this month in the wake of the comedian Daniel Tosh’s inane comment that it would be funny if a member of the audience “got raped by… five guys, right now.” West’s brilliant and sassy piece, “How to Make a Rape Joke” made me laugh out loud — and even made an interesting pass at suggesting a few criteria for acceptable jokes about offensive topics. But, despite West’s earlier attempt to point out that responses in the form of threats to rape and kill her only proved her point, the debate continued.

Then poet Patricia (Tricia) Lockwood published “Rape Joke” at The Awl last week.

It went viral within hours — and based on the tone of comments, tweets and blog responses, seems to have silenced — or at least taken the wind out of — those who think that all rape jokes are forms of protected speech.

Aesthetics for Birds to offer diverse lineup of guests this fall

Philosophers of science have argued that having a diverse community of researchers can help promote the objectivity of scientific communities and minimize the negative influences of explicit and implicit biases in scientific reasoning. Much of this is grounded in work on cases in the history of science where well-intentioned but homogeneous communities of scientists made problematic context-based assumptions, adopted unwarranted stereotypes, or reasoned in ways that were limited by their own experiences, values, and interests.

But is there any reason that this epistemic justification for diversity should be limited to the sciences?

Wouldn’t a group of researchers working in, say, aesthetics and philosophy of art, benefit just as much from the sorts of diversity that are likely to minimize context-based assumptions and unwarranted stereotypes?

The line-up of guest bloggers and philosophers/artists to be interviewed on the Aesthetics for Birds blog this fall provides a good example of a relatively diverse community of researchers, including both academics and non-academics and both junior and senior philosophers from a broad range of private and public universities. It will be interesting to see what new ideas emerge from the mix!

How to be right for the wrong reason

Hot off the multi-media press: a veiled putative video parody posted to YouTube yesterday by a group of University of Colorado Boulder students, describing a movement they call #BroChoice. “A bro-choice is where I am pro-choice because I am a man and if women don’t have access to abortion on demand then I won’t get laid as often”:

Lessons from “The World’s Ugliest Woman”

Among the lessons, according to this Yahoo! Shine article, is to “stop staring and start learning”:

When she was in high school, Lizzie Velasquez was dubbed “The World’s Ugliest Woman” in an 8-second-long YouTube video. Born with a medical condition so rare that just two other people in the world are thought to have it, Velasquez has no adipose tissue and cannot create muscle, store energy, or gain weight. She has zero percent body fat and weighs just 60 pounds.

In the comments on YouTube, viewers called her “it” and “monster” and encouraged her to kill herself. Instead, Velasquez set four goals: To become a motivational speaker, to publish a book, to graduate college, and to build a family and a career for herself.

The “World’s Ugliest Woman” YouTube clip has been removed, but was viewed more than 4,000,000 times before it was taken down.

At just 23, Lizzie appears to have already accomplished two of her four goals: she is a motivational speaker with more than 200 presentations to her credit, and is author of two books, including a newly released book, Be Beautiful, Be You. As a senior majoring in Communications at Texas State, she is also well on her way to accomplishing the third goal.

Videos, interviews, information about how to book her for a speaking engagement, and a link to Lizzie’s YouTube channel are all available on her website.

(Thanks, S!)

Thanks For the Dadflys

This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which was signed into law by then-President Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972, six days after the Watergate break-in.


The law is an astoundingly simple 37 words:


 “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”


Note that this says nothing about sports.


And yet the world of sports is the arena in which the Title IX political game has been played – with an overwhelming victory for female athletes. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, about 294,000 girls competed in high school sports the year before Title IX became law. Last year, the number was nearly 3.2 million, an increase of about 980%.


One of the great ironies of the Nixon administration might be the fact that the Watergate week marked a watershed moment for the future of, literally, hundreds of millions of American women.


Things seem to be so solid for women’s sports as Title IX reaches the four decade mark that it is tempting to say the job is done. Every girl who wants to play a sport, or two or five, is playing them. Title IX, schmitle IX, who cares? Let’s say thanks, and move on.



We should say our thank yous, but I don’t think it’s time to move on. In fact, I think the struggle to enforce Title IX is more relevant than ever.


(Again: who ever said it was about SPORTS? Why are we content with giving our daughters balls and bats, without also using looking for ways to use Title IX to wage a political war against the other forms of discrimination that are apparently rampant at U.S. educational institutions – all of which receive Federal financial assistance, through Pell grants, Stafford loans, and so forth?)


But since the 40th anniversary should be a time for celebration, and not for griping, let me say thanks.


Respect and thanks are of course due to the early pioneers: to Bernice Sandler, who used President Johnson’s Executive Order 11375 to wage a legal battle for her job at the University of Maryland in 1969, and then joined Representative Edith Green in the congressional hearings where the idea for Title IX was born; to Representative Patsy Mink, who prepared an early draft of the legislation; to Senator Birch Bayh, who was the author and chief sponsor of Title IX, etc.


But I think thanks are also due to the legions of gadfly fathers – “dadflys” is the term Sports Illustrated writer Alexander Wolff recently coined – who took the legislation to heart and pushed for change in sports programs and stadiums across the country.


One of my favorite dadflys is a retiree named Herb Dempsey, a 75-year-old grandfather from Battle Ground, Washington, who is a self-proclaimed “nasty old man”, and has spent the past 20 years making Title IX enforcement his full-time hobby. He uses Google Earth to identify possible shoddy sports facilities – and, if his investigation turns up an underfunded girls’ program, he uses Title IX to force change.


Dempsey has filed more than 1000 complaints with the Office of Civil Rights challenging inequities in high school athletics. One example was a case in Castle Rock, Washington, where girls’ soccer games had to be shortened to 32 minutes from 80 minutes because there were no lights on the field—even though a football field with lights was available not far away.


“It’s hard to believe how bad it still is,” Dempsey told Sports Illustrated, “because people want to celebrate how good it has become.”

Hey Zuckerberg: where’s the dislike button?

So by now we all know that the Facebook IPO mess highlights a plethora of corporate governance problems. But here’s yet another problem that doesn’t bode well for the future of Facebook stock:

Facebook has become much more profitable and innovative since Mark Zuckerberg brought COO Sheryl Sandberg on board. Sandberg brings a diverse perspective outside of the all white-dude mind frame that previously dominated Facebook’s senior leadership. Despite Sandberg’s successes as COO, Zuckerberg has chosen to exclude women from Facebook’s board. So the questions stands: Will Facebook be able to continue to innovate with zero women at the boardroom table, when its demographics are composed of 55% women?

According to the Catalyst report, The Bottom Line, Corporate Performance and Women’s Representation on boards, Fortune 500 companies that had at least three women boards of directors saw on average:

  • Return on equity increase by at least 53%.
  • Return on sales increase by at least 42%.
  • Return on invested capital increase by at least 66%. Diversifying boards also brings different perspectives to companies’ big picture objectives, product development, and problem solving. Companies can’t continue to innovate without diverse leaders at the table.

(Aha! Fortune 500s with least 3 women on the board. I think I might have to try tweaking my portfolio using this principle, and see what happens.)

CFProtesters 4.28.12

“Unite Women”, a new non-partisan organization of women and men, has issued a call for a wave of marches and rallies across the U.S. (and on Facebook) on Saturday April 28, 2012.

The YouTube promo video has some great images of women protesting. Anyone got ideas for poster slogans?

Here’s the call:

Texas turned down $35 million in federal funds for the Medicaid Women’s Health Program. This means that at least 300,000 low-income and uninsured women in Texas will have no access, or significantly reduced access, to basic reproductive health care.

A proposed bill in Arizona requires women to prove to their employers that they need birth control in order to treat a medical condition if they want their prescription to be covered by their insurer.

Pennsylvania and Texas require all women seeking a legal abortion undergo a medically unnecessary vaginal ultrasound probe, including rape victims. Pennsylvania’s governor suggests women “close their eyes” during the procedure.

Oklahoma passed a personhood amendment declaring a fertilized egg is a person, which could make birth control illegal and partial miscarriages unable to treat until the woman’s life is in danger.

Topeka, Kansas decriminalized domestic violence in late 2011, hoping to balance their budget.

Today, women pay up to 50% more than men for the same health coverage.

Being a woman is not a pre-existing condition.

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Join the Facebook event

Help defend women’s rights and pursuit of equality. Join the movement all across the United States on April 28th, 2012, as we come together as one to tell members of Congress in Washington, DC and legislatures in all 50 states, “enough is enough.”

Follow Unite Against the War on Women at:

Website: http://www.UniteWomen.org

Twitter: http://www.Twitter.com/NatlWOW

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/UniteWomen

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhQrhtHZpgQ