Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

On writing about the Cologne attacks February 10, 2016

Filed under: bias,sexual assault,Uncategorized — jennysaul @ 7:03 pm

Excellent piece by Helen Lewis.

And that brings me to the other reason I didn’t want to write about the Cologne attacks. All the people who piously enquired as to whether I, as a feminist, had “anything to say” about them didn’t really care whether I did or not. They wanted me to say what they wanted to hear: that Muslims are uniquely sexist, and that letting in refugees from Muslim-majority countries will mean rolling back women’s rights and importing the worst excesses of sharia law to the streets of Coventry. Unless Western liberals wake up, Islamists will be chopping off hands outside Pret A Manger by 2018.

To put it politely, this is not the framing in which any reasonable conversation about women’s rights can happen…

A note: Before commenting, please actually read the piece.  She does in fact write about the attacks.

 

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

 

Dealing with gender/topic biases in teaching evaluations January 21, 2016

Filed under: bias,race,teaching,women in academia — lanternerouge @ 2:44 pm
Tags: ,

A reader solicits practical strategies for facilitating the sensible institutional interpretation of student evaluations of teaching, given the empirically well-founded worry (as was noted on this blog recently) that such evaluations express a substantial bias against women instructors.

Hello wonderful community of feminist philosophers, I’m hoping that you can help me with a problem that is not just mine but is one that so many of us share. This is the problem of teaching evaluations. Teaching evaluations as a method of assessing teaching leave much to be desired. However, their use becomes even more problematic or worrisome when (as in my case) they are used as one of three main criteria for annual departmental evaluations and promotion.

There is good evidence to show that anonymous course/teaching evaluations are biased against women and a number of other underrepresented groups. Most recently, there is this study. But in addition to evaluations being generally biased against women, I’m facing the additional issue: namely, in all of my courses I include a good deal of feminist and critical race theory. Having recently read my course evaluations, I noticed that a good number of my students reacted negatively to this material. For example, there were many comments that spoke to the “problem” of so much feminist philosophy, about how I’m trying to “indoctrinate them,” and about how if they didn’t simply agree with my (feminist) positions then I would give them low grades. Of course, all of these claims are false but nonetheless I am worried about their presence. It seems that on the basis of the content of my courses (in addition to the gender bias), my evaluations are importantly lower than those of others (and for reasons that have nothing to do with my actual teaching abilities).

So I’m wondering whether and how people in other departments have dealt with this problem. I’m pretty certain that my institution (big, public university) is committed to keeping them, so abolition is not on the table at this point. Still, I wonder if there is any way to take into account these known biases so that certain groups of people are not systematically disadvantaged. Have any departments tried other methods of assessing teaching either instead of or in addition to the required ones? Even though my university probably isn’t going to stop using teaching evaluations any time soon, it is possible that my department might be persuaded to use a different method of assessing teaching when it comes to departmental annual merit reviews (or at the very least, supplementing the university required teaching evaluations with some other methods).

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this matter.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

Student evaluations gender bias December 13, 2015

Filed under: bias — axiothea @ 8:00 pm

The researchers took two online course instructors, one male and one female, and gave them two classes to teach. Each professor presented as his or her own gender to one class and the opposite to the other.

The results were astonishing. Students gave professors they thought were male much higher evaluations across the board than they did professors they thought were female, regardless of what gender the professors actually were.

See the full article here.

 

Are boys sexist? November 9, 2015

Filed under: bias,gender,human rights — annejjacobson @ 7:11 pm

[ I’m more short on time than I had realized; readers are invited to give a more nuanced account.  Tim King in particular seems to open the way for more layered views]

The New York Times has a discussion on whether boys are today raised with sexist attitudes.. It is unfortunately largely conducted in terms as general as the title of this quote.

Leonard Sax and Christine Hoff Summers show up as gender essentialists, to put it perhaps unkindly, and in general the discussion of all five participants seems bereft of positive examples of parents or schools getting it right.

Two other essayists tend to converge on the following

Girls knocking against traditional male doors are aspirational, while boys gravitating toward anything traditionally feminine are devalued. And suspect. True gender equality can’t exist until both boys and girls can embrace the full range of their humanity.

It isn’t clear that we have solved the problem of raising at least most girls to insist on equal treatment. Nor is it clear that it is in their interests always to do so. No one seems to consider that various senses of privilege are adding to the problems.

 

The Politics of Sympathy October 12, 2015

“Of course, this is hardest for Geoff in this moment. For those who are willing and able, he certainly can use any understanding or support they can offer (this wouldn’t include endorsement of the mistakes he acknowledges in an open letter on his website). I ask that those who have the room for it (now or later), hear him out and judge whether there is room for redemption in all that will transpire.”

That quote is from an email sent out by Geoff Marcy’s department head, in the wake of it being made public that he has been found responsible for sexual misconduct, and that Berkeley decided in lieu of sanctions, to sign an agreement with him about what would happen if he was found responsible again.

Sympathy is complicated. I’m not a moral psychologist, so I won’t pretend to be one — but I am a philosopher who thinks about the way social and political structures can influence our beliefs. And in view of tense and complicated conversations following several cases of issues of discrimination and violence related to members of our professional communities, I haven’t been able to help but think for awhile now about how, like credibility, distributions of sympathy are political.

This seems perfectly predictable, in a certain sense. We’re ready to lend a sympathetic shoulder to our friends. We tend to consider the interests of those in our own social circles more readily than those of others at a distance. Nonetheless, the experience of it can be unexpected. The first time I was ever told that a friend had been sexually assaulted by someone I knew, my reaction was — to me — utterly surprising. Though I knew the wrong-doer, he wasn’t a friend. He wasn’t someone I cared for. The only time I ever spent around him was not of my own choosing, but rather the begrudging result of our having multiple mutual friends. Yet, when I found out that he had assaulted my friend, I found myself absolutely weeping. First, for her – that wasn’t the surprising bit – but then, for him too.

I felt more deeply for him, suddenly, and unexpectedly, than I ever had before I knew what kind of wrong-doing he was capable of. That feeling, I think, was borne out (in part) of the recognition that even in the best of possible futures, there would be no undoing what he had done. If things went as well as they could, given what had already happened, he would recognize the wrongness of his actions, and seek to make what recompense there might be. And how painful would it be to live with that knowledge? How would you cope with knowing that you have irrevocably changed someone’s life by harming them so severely? I also think this was, in part, simply because I knew him.

To be clear, I blamed him. I was angry. I wanted him to be held responsible. At the same time, I felt deep lament and sympathy. My heart ached. I wished that it weren’t true. It didn’t take much reflection to understand a little better why we can be so recalcitrant and resistant in the face of claims to harm against our friends. If I could feel so much sympathy for someone who I didn’t even like, how would I feel had he been a friend? Family?  What would I think, if I didn’t also know the victim, or the extent of the evidence? What if I were his department chair, and he were one of my department’s star researchers? 

All of this is to say, I get it. I can understand how the pull of sympathy might disrupt our priorities in a harmful way. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay.

Of course it’s fine — perhaps good hearted, even — to feel sympathetic to those among us who have acted wrongly. Sympathy for those who have acted wrongly need not necessarily conflict with an appropriate sense of justice (indeed, I think it can enrich it). But we do need to be careful about what follows. When we’re not so careful, victims can be harmed by the politics of sympathy in many ways. It isn’t news that those who attempt to come forward with allegations against the powerful, well-connected, or socially-established, often find that with friends so well-placed to offer protection and so ready to offer understanding to the perpetrator, evidence simply isn’t enough. Perpetrators may be easy to sympathize with for other reasons (like their gender, being central to a department’s research profile, their interests being closer to our own, their being well-meaning, or sincere). Victims are unjustly harmed when this translates into a resistance to the belief that a perpetrator could be guilty, or results in, once again, concern for victims’  well-being having been sacrificed for the sake of the one who harmed them as we consider the (real or imagined) difficulties that they face while setting the victims’ to the side.

All of this, of course, can be exacerbated by the fact that it’s just easier to look the other way in the first place. As Judith Herman writes, “It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.”

Sympathy can be valuable, but when readiness to feel it is tied up in our social relationships, it will also, inevitably, have a political element — and that’s something we need to be especially careful with in view of the possibility of mistaking our fellow-feeling for evidence of innocence, or when it signals that we prioritize justice and care for the perpetrator over justice and care for their victims. 

It is precisely that prioritizing that is so offensive in the email quoted above. These women who came forward risked their reputations, professional prospects, being subject to public scrutiny, to seek redress for harms they never wanted to be subject to in the first place. The university responded, having found their allegations justified, by doing (roughly speaking) nothing. I am sure Geoff Marcy is having a difficult time right now, and it’s fine to recognize that. But let’s not add insult to injury for his victims.

 

Yup, definitely being taken over by women August 16, 2015

Over the last year, we have heard a lot about the feminist/women’s (there are different versions) takeover of philosophy. That line of thought is nicely put in perspective by the various other similar claims discussed here.

The idea of a gender perception gap is borne out by studies in other areas. In one study on gender parity in the workforce, sent my way by colleague Flavia Dzodan, it was found that men “consistently perceive more gender parity” in their workplaces than women do. For example, when asked whether their workplaces recruited the same number of men and women, 72 percent of male managers answered “yes.” Only 42 percent of female managers agreed. And, while there’s a persistent stereotype that women are the more talkative gender, women actually tend to talk less than men in classroom discussions, professional contexts and even romantic relationships; one study found that a mixed-gender group needed to be between 60 and 80 percent female before women and men occupied equal time in the conversation. However, the stereotype would seem to have its roots in that same perception gap: “[In] seminars and debates, when women and men are deliberately given an equal amount of the highly valued talking time, there is often a perception that [women] are getting more than their fair share.”

How do you give men the impression of a female majority? Show them a female minority, and let that minority do some talking. This is how 15 minutes of Fey and Poehler becomes three hours of non-stop “estrogen,” how a Congress that’s less than 19 percent female becomes a “feminized” and male-intolerant political environment, and how one viable female Presidential candidate becomes an unstoppable, man-squashing Godzilla. Men tend to perceive equality when women are vastly outnumbered and underrepresented; it follows that, as we approach actual parity, men (and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, for some reason) will increasingly believe that we are entering an era of female domination.

(Thanks, L!)

 

clinton, Mind-reading and attributions of racism July 25, 2015

Filed under: bias,gender,politics,race — annejjacobson @ 8:30 pm

There’s a kind of mind-reading that seems to me to be very prevalent in the US.  It often goes so far as to assume that someone other than X is better able to tell what X thinks than X is.  This not a harmless assumption, and it is built on a false assumption about our access to other minds.  In fact, our mind-reading is prone to a lot of mistakes once we get beyond the very simple tests used on 4 year olds in psychology.

Most recently Hilary Clinton is being victimized by mind-reading.  She said:

Race remains a deep fault line in America. Millions of people of color still experience racism in their everyday lives.

Here are some facts.

Let’s be honest: For a lot of well-meaning, open-minded white people, the sight of a young Black man in a hoodie still evokes a twinge of fear. And news reports about poverty and crime and discrimination evoke sympathy, even empathy, but too rarely do they spur us to action or prompt us to question our own assumptions and privilege.

 

Apparently, a lot of people looked at this and said she wouldn’t have said this unless she felt that fear. So she is a racist.

But in fact the comment about fear was one of a long list of bad facts about racism in the States. And she said we must admit these features exist and get rid of them.

So the racism is most certainly not in her words. It is an injustice to report that it is in her head.

Many thanks to Rachek McKinnon for bringing this up on facebook. Of course, as Rachel said, on the left this might all just be misogyny. If so, hang on because it’s probably going to be a horrible election season.

 

 
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