Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

Support for Women’s and Gender Studies at Mount Allison February 4, 2016

Filed under: academia,Uncategorized,women's studies — Lady Day @ 8:48 pm

Canadian feminist scholars are joining forces to try to prevent the closure of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick.

Here’s a note from a philosophy student and student leader there explaining the situation and requesting help:

Dear all,

I am writing to inform you of an urgent need for support of Mount Allison University’s Women and Gender Studies program. Yesterday our university announced that they were effectively cutting the program by removing its funding for next year, refusing to offer any core WGST courses, and refusing to let students sign up for our WGST minor. Students were not consulted about the cut, and the university failed to release a public statement, leaving the announcement up to the program’s Acting Director. Though our university only offers students the option to minor in WGST at the moment, the program has tripled in size over the past few years, with long waitlists for introductory classes. It is also worth noting that the founder, champion, and department head of the program sadly passed away less than two months ago.

Last year, CBC reported that Mount Allison has the highest sexual assault rate of New Brunswick universities, and had the second highest rate among Canadian universities and colleges over a five-year period. Our university president was awarded the Order of Canada this year. Clearly, there is a very real and immediate need for Women and Gender Studies programs.

We believe that this administrative action speaks to the university’s disregard for learning from, listening to, and supporting marginalized voices. As I’m sure you know, Women and Gender Studies teaches essential critical thinking skills, which are needed now more than ever in light of pervasive rape culture across university campuses, the stronghold of neoliberal and corporate forces over universities, eroding collegial governance, and continued disparities and inequities experienced by women and other marginalized groups. We also worry that this move opens the door to further discrimination – particularly topical given our students’ ongoing push for the Indigenization of Mount Allison.

We urge you to publicly and vocally condemn Mount Allison’s decision. There are many ways in which you may do so.

-If you send me a public statement on behalf of your department, I will collect, publish, and disseminate these through our Women and Gender Studies Student Society or program faculty.

-You can sign and circulate this petition:


-You can tweet your support to @MTA_WGSTsociety or use the hashtag #WGSTcuts.

-You can write a letter to one of our university’s senior administrators. Their e-mails have been included below.

Dr Campbell (University President): rcampbell@mta.ca
Dean VanderLeest (Dean of Arts): deanofarts@mta.ca
Dr Grant (Provost & Vice-President, Academic & Research): kgrant@mta.ca
Mr Inglis (Vice-President, Finance and Administration): ringlis@mta.ca

If you have further comments or questions, please feel free to get in touch with me. You may also contact Katharyn Rose Stevenson, our Women and Gender Studies Student Society President at krstevenson@mta.ca or Dr Lisa Dawn Hamilton, Acting Program Director, at ldhamilton@mta.ca.

Many thanks and in solidarity,

Caroline Kovesi

Student of sociology and philosophy

Mount Allison ’17



Is diversity just too hard? A hypothesis January 31, 2016

Filed under: academia,academic job market,achieving equality,bias — annejjacobson @ 5:51 pm

Preamble: Below you see a hypothesis presented. I don’t think “hypothesis” carries with it any suggestion of truth or really even plausibility. If a question has been bothering you, sometimes it is a help to form hypotheses as possible answers. It may be that what occurs to one in such a process is something that’s been worked over below consciousness and is on an interesting – or even right – track. But also maybe not. The thought that maybe the missing butter is in the bathroom might be right, or it might be the product of an association based on the first letter of each word.

Nothing below should be read as asserting the hypothesis I describe. This is purely trying something out. What I am most interested in now is what others think.

The question: Why isn’t philosophy making a lot more progress on diversity? Quite often someone announces a fact about the discipline’s failure in diversity. Many of us think, “Something must be done,” but the statistics don’t change much. Why not?

The hypothesis: Diversity is just too hard, or at least harder than most participants in the field realize.

Some evidence:  I started to take thinking about the hypothesis to be more promising when I read some of John Dovidio’s latest work.** (He’s psychology, Yale.)

Suppose we have two groups: Group A, socially the higher status group, and B, the lower status group. It may seem that all we need is to get them together into one group with which each can identify. Then we will have shared knowledge, goals and even friendships. We will even break down some of the regularities that have give rise to implicit biases. As Joe Biden so memorably stated, he came to see Barak Obama as, among other great things, “clean”.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Here I’m going to summarize and probably simplify Dovidio’s work: We cam think of the resulting group as a melting pot or more as an interdisciplinary cluster. If we suppose that in, e.g., hiring, inviting speakers and refereeing, we want a melting pot, then there are going to be big problems. The problems come from the fact that members of the dominant group have a very vested interest in continuing in their dominant ways, and they tend not to be interested in changing and absorbing the others’ ways of doing things. In effect, the subordination and isolation from power of the subordinate group will continue. As it will if we go for the interdisciplinary model unless members of the dominant group are willing to open their ranks to people who are different from them.

Is there any evidence that philosophy has this problem? That is, do we need for the dominant group to accept, to put it very briefly, some changes in their standards, topics, etc. And has that proved unworkable? I can only think of one piece of evidence. I think it is telling, but others may not. Here it is: when people are assigned to a disadvantaged position for reasons irrelevant to their quality as thinkers, they often acquire interests in topics surrounding ideology, justice, discrimination, etc. Such topics may in fact affect their research and teaching interests. But, I hear time and again, these topics are not really philosophical topics, or at least not very important philosophical topics. They are, rather, political, and one definitely doesn’t need them represented in a philosophy department.

Do note the idea that members of the groups are different is said merely to be a difference between occupying dominant and occupying subordinate social positions.

Do also note that this whole post is merely about a hypothesis that has some grounding in empirical research. Is it right or even worth more thought? What do you think?

**Included but Invisible? Subtle Bias, Common Identity, and the Darker Side of “We”
JF Dovidio, SL Gaertner, EG Ufkes, T Saguy, AR Pearson
Social issues and policy review 10 (1), 6-46, 2016


Gender Bias in Student Evaluations January 12, 2016

Filed under: academia,bias,science,Uncategorized — jennysaul @ 1:52 pm

From Inside Higher Ed:

There’s mounting evidence suggesting that student evaluations of teaching are unreliable. But are these evaluations, commonly referred to as SET, so bad that they’re actually better at gauging students’ gender bias and grade expectations than they are at measuring teaching effectiveness? A new paper argues that’s the case, and that evaluations are biased against female instructors in particular in so many ways that adjusting them for that bias is impossible.

As the UK embraces a new system of ranking teaching effectiveness, and allowing this to partly determine funding, it’s really important to bear this in mind.  If NSS (National Student Satisfaction survey) scores are key to the TEF (the new system), and the best way to get high NSS scores is to have men doing the teaching, there might be a worrying incentive for discrimination.



Wheaton, Larycia Hawkins, and what it means to worship the same God January 6, 2016

Filed under: academia,political protests,politics,religion,Uncategorized — philodaria @ 4:04 am

Wheaton College has recommended that tenured Prof. Larycia Hawkins be terminated for her statements in solidarity with Muslims, citing tension between her statements (that Muslims and Christians are “people of the book” and “worship the same God”) and Wheaton’s doctrinal convictions (see here).

Of course, I think there are very serious worries raised by the mere fact that Wheaton thinks termination might be an appropriate response at all to the expression of solidarity in the face of discrimination — but it doesn’t even appear that Prof. Hawkin’s statements are clearly in tension with Wheaton’s doctrinal convictions in the first place.  Following her suspension last month, Michael Rea (Notre Dame) wrote an op-ed, “On Worshiping the Same God” calling into question whether any tension between her statements and Wheaton’s statement of faith can be found without first making substantive (and controversial) theological and philosophical assumptions not found in the statement of faith itself:

One would hope that there are complexities to this situation known only to Wheaton insiders, because from the outside Wheaton’s position looks puzzling at best, and politically, rather than theologically, motivated at worst. Their statement of faith affirms, in its opening line, belief in one God; it then goes on to affirm a variety of familiar and distinctively Christian beliefs about the nature and actions of God, many of which are indeed inconsistent with traditional Islamic doctrines. Anyone suitably informed about Islam would be correct to conclude that someone who fully believes the Wheaton statement of faith ought to think that Muslims are deeply mistaken about what God is like. But surely one can be mistaken–even deeply mistaken–about what God is like and still worship God.

Christians and Muslims have very different beliefs about God; but they agree on this much: there is exactly one God. This common point of agreement is logically equivalent to thesis that all Gods are the same God. In other words, everyone who worships a God worships the same God, no matter how different their views about God might be.

On the assumption that there is exactly one God, then, saying that someone does not worship the same God as Christians do–as, for example, might be the case with someone who claims to worship a perfectly evil being–amounts to saying that they have not managed to worship any God at all. To say this of someone is to go well beyond saying that they are deeply mistaken about what God is like; it is to go well beyond saying that they are not worshipping in a way that is acceptable or pleasing to God. It is to say that the acts that they call ‘worship’ do not even manage to qualify as defective worship, that they are so wrong about what God is like that the word ‘God’ in their mouths is absolutely meaningless, or that they are inadvertently using the word ‘God’ to refer to some other thing that they mistakenly believe to be divine–e.g., a mere human being, an animal or plant, an inanimate object like a rock or a star, or an abstract object like a number, or love, or some such thing. There might well be interesting reasons for Christians to affirm such claims about Muslims, or for Muslims to affirm them about Christians; but it can hardly be said that any such view is a straightforward implication of Wheaton College’s statement of faith.

Those who think that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God commonly justify their opinion by appeal to the vast dissimilarity in Christian and Muslim beliefs about the nature of God. But one should be careful here, for this is a maneuver that threatens more division among religious believers than most Christians would want to accept. God as understood within some quarters of American evangelicalism looks very different from God as understood by the majority of Christian theologians in the Middle Ages. But we do not say that contemporary evangelicals worship a God different from the one medieval Catholics worshipped. God as understood by Jonathan Edwards looks very different from God as understood by Rob Bell; but who would go so far as to say that Edwards and Bell worship different Gods? It is hard to imagine that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob believed that their God was triune; but most Christians do not for this reason deny that we worship the same God that they did.

Rea’s full piece can be read here.


Another reason for anonymous marking January 5, 2016

Filed under: academia,appearance,bias,science,Uncategorized — jennysaul @ 9:09 pm

A recent study provides evidence that:


among similarly qualified female students — those who are physically attractive earn better grades than others. For male students, there is no significant relationship between attractiveness and grades. And the results hold true whether the faculty member is a man or a woman.

The attractiveness gap disappears in online courses.  And would presumably do so in an effective anonymous marking regime as well.



You known who will be hot on the market, but you don’t know why? December 4, 2015

Filed under: academia,academic job market,graduate students,intersectionality — annejjacobson @ 6:50 pm

Could it really just be a matter of slash and dash? Well, maybe.
Before you read the quote below, remember that practice can make you faster. Don’t let the unfamiliar derail you. If you haven’t used SKYPE before, get a friend or mentor to take you through some sessions.

A behaviour that’s linked to higher perceptions of charisma.

People who are mentally quick on their feet are seen as more charismatic by friends, a new study finds. Speed is of the essence, though, the researchers found, while IQ and mental agility were not as vital as they expected.

Professor William von Hippel, who led the research, said:
“Our findings show that social intelligence is more than just knowing the right thing to do.
Social intelligence also requires an ability to execute, and the quickness of our mind is an important component of that ability.”

Professor Hippel was fascinated by why some people exude more charisma than others.
He said:
“… When we looked at charismatic leaders, musicians, and other public figures, one thing that stood out is that they are quick on their feet.”
The study included 417 people who were rated on their charisma by friends.
They also took tests of personality and intelligence.
Each was then asked 30 questions which are common knowledge, such as: “Name a precious gem.”
People who were quicker to come up with easy answers like this were perceived as more charismatic by their friends, the results showed.
This was even true when people’s personality and intelligence was taken into account.

Professor Hippel said:

“Although we expected mental speed to predict charisma, we thought that it would be less important than IQ.

Instead, we found that how smart people were was less important than how quick they were. So knowing the right answer to a tough question appears to be less important than being able to consider a large number of social responses in a brief window of time.”

Being mentally agile also allows people to consider different social responses on the spot.
This enables charismatic people to rule out inappropriate actions as well as pick out potentially witty responses.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science (von Hippel et al., 2015).

See also our post here, and particularly the work of the 2 Eric’s.


Sex/gender and the brain: addition. December 3, 2015

Filed under: academia,gender stereotypes,masculinity — annejjacobson @ 11:18 pm

Gendered genes, gonads and genitals line up quite strongly.  That is, if you have a female version of one, the odds are very high that you will have female versions of the others.  Similarly for male versions.  Rebecca JordanYoung has argued in a number of venues that behavioral traits do not line up anything like as neatly.  Rather, bits of behavior and parts of character traits seem mixed up in comparison.  We may think that being nurturing and compliant go together in women and aren’t present in men, but in fact there are compliant and nurturing men, non-nuturing and compliant men, and so on.  Similarly for women.

This picture should lead us to suspect that the brain, in which our bodily movements originate, should manifest the same diversity.  And if female genes, gonads and genitals aren’t matched with a fairly uniform set of female character traits, we should wonder whether there is much like “a female brain” or a male one.

The topic of the gendered brain is widely discussed, but a new view is opening up, and it is much what one would expect, given the information above.  Using MRI imaging, researchers have looked at regions of the brain in which there are zones more reactive in men and others more reactive in women.  But the percentage of individuals possessing only the male zones or only the female zones is extremely small.  The women possessing only the womanly features – nurturing, compliant, more artsy than scientific, and so on and on – form a tiny group.  Ditto for men.

As a somewhat dense, but really exciting article in the Guardian puts it:

[What we expect is] Not a “male brain”, or a “female brain”, but a shifting “mosaic” of features, some more common in females compared to males, some more common in males compared to females, and some common in both.

This is exactly what the new study found for the first time, with colleagues from Tel Aviv University, the Max Planck Institute, and the University of Zurich. They tested this prediction by analyzing magnetic resonance images, which directly capture structural properties of the brain, from more than 1,400 human brains from four large data-sets. They identified in each data set the regions showing the largest differences between women and men. Next, they defined a “male-end” (males more prevalent than females) zone and a “female-end” (females more prevalent than males) zone for each of these regions, based on the range of scores of the most extreme third of men and women, respectively. They found that between 23% and 53% of individuals (depending on the sample) had brains with both “male-end” and “female-end” features. In contrast, the percentage of people with only “female-end” or only “male-end” brain features was small, ranging from zero to 8%.

Cordelia Fine is one of the authors of the article above; the other is Daphna Joel, a scientist on the study reported.  Cordelia Fine should be familiar to our readers as a splendid researcher on issues about sexism in neuroscience.

Addition:  I’ve just seen the somewhat dismissive NY Times report

Overall, the results show “human brains do not belong to one of two distinct categories,” male and female, the researchers concluded.

Larry Cahill, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Irvine, who didn’t participate in the new study, said he agreed that brains contain varying mixtures of male and female anatomical traits. But that doesn’t rule out differences in how the brains of the two sexes work, he said.

There’s “a mountain of evidence proving the importance of sex influences at all levels of mammalian brain function,” he said.

That work shows how much sex must matter, “even when we are not clear exactly how,” he said in an email.


Though we are not told about it, Cahill most certainly has a dog in this fight.  He concedes that we don’t have male and female brains, but he wants to emphasize what he’ll see are some important differences.  He may well have in mind, among other studies, “Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain,” from PNAS, vol 111, no 2.  The study claims to show the familiar idea that “male brains are optimized for intrahemispheric and female brains for inter hemispheric connections.”  It would take at least one book to sort out the history of this claim, but let me note that the research in the study is hotly contested.

Cordelia Fine, writing in Slate, summarizes challenges to the PNAS study, and notes that a subset of the study’s authors have published contradictory research.  She suggests the original paper may be the most neurosexist report of the year.

I’m not claiming to settle the issue, but rather to make it clear that agreement that there aren’t in general male and female brains is significant, given how fraught the research in this field is.


CHE: Why getting rid of predatory faculty can be so hard: addition October 26, 2015

Filed under: academia,gender,human rights,women in philosophy — annejjacobson @ 7:18 pm

Tenure and the reactions of faculty peers can be a significant part of the problem, according to the CHE (in an artcle unfortunately behind a firewall):

Even a professor who is the subject of regular misconduct complaints often cannot be easily removed from a campus. Tenure protects many professors from quick dismissal. Their faculty peers, who are often charged with assessing whether an accused colleague bears responsibility, may view the cases as attacks on tenure. College leaders, who often don’t have the power to terminate a professor without consulting the faculty, may fear damage to their institution’s reputation. Students who experience harassment may not file complaints if they feel they have little chance of being taken seriously.


Nor, as the last sentence suggests, is the victim usually keen to file charges. As Mr Isicoff, the lawyer defending the University in the McGinn case, is quoted as saying, “you’re walking in with the odds largely stacked against you,” as a student.

Part of the solution may consist in steps taken before hiring, as the philosopher Heidi Lockwood said.

…Ms. Lockwood sees it. She said colleges can take clear steps to improve how they handle claims of misbehavior by professors. She recommended, among other changes, that colleges conduct harassment-specific background checks before hiring professors.

Added: I’ve just noticed that the article is utterly silent about the role – or lack of roles – for bystanders. I’m unhappy that I didn’t notice this right away and think we might put some effort into reminding ourselves we should be thinking of taking action. In the Macy case, for example, the situation was well known to a lot of people before formal complaints were made.


Trigger Warnings and our “incapacity to unexperience” October 22, 2015

Filed under: academia,teaching — philodaria @ 3:32 am

I just want to draw readers attention to a really interesting piece by Leigh Johnson over at her blog

A few weeks ago in my Philosophy and Film course, we screened Werner Hertzog‘s film Grizzly Man for our “documentary” week. Grizzly Man tells the story of Timothy Treadwell, who spent thirteen summers in the Alaskan wilderness living with grizzly bears– all the while filming his trans-species communion– before being tragically attacked and killed by a bear in 2003. Treadwell was filming on the day that he died, though he did not have time to remove the lens caps from his camera before being attacked, so there remains only an audio recording of his (and his girlfriend, Anna Huguenard’s) gruesome death. Hertzog does not include that audio in his documentary.  In fact, there is a scene in the film where we see Hertzog listening to the recording for the first time and then, afterwards, remarking to Treadwell’s friend: “You must never listen to this.” What is more, in a gesture practicallyverboten for documentary filmmakers, Hertzog instructs Treadwell’s friend to destroy the tape.

You can literally hear the regret in Hertzog’s voice, his longing to unring the bell, as he instructs Treadwell’s friend to destroy the recording.  For cinephiles like myself, this is an especially powerful injunction, coming as it does from Hertzog, a man who was once shot during an interview and responded only with the calmly stoic remark: “it was not a significant bullet.”

. . . I’m still unsure if we should have listened to the recording in class or not.  If we had–which, again, we did not–this would have constituted (for me, anyway) an unequivocal case for a trigger warning. That this is an “unequivocal” case is important, as I’ve found myself increasingly ambivalent about the merits and demerits of trigger warnings over the last year or so.

Read the whole piece here. 


“contemptible and inexcusable” October 15, 2015

Geoffrey Marcy is resignng from UC, Berkeley.  (For background, see here.). According to the NY Times:

In a statement announcing Dr. Marcy’s resignation, the university’s chancellor, Nicholas B. Dirks, and the executive vice chancellor and provost, Claude Steele, said they had accepted Dr. Marcy’s resignation and added: “We want to state unequivocally that Professor Marcy’s conduct, as determined by the investigation, was contemptible and inexcusable. We also want to express our sympathy to the women who were victimized, and we deeply regret the pain they have suffered.”




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