Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

Gender stereotypes and the gender gap in higher education April 4, 2016

There’s an interesting op-ed on the role of gender stereotypes in gender differences in college participation and performance in the New York Times today by Andrew Reiner who teaches a course on masculinity at Towson University, and I thought our readers might be interested. Here’s a snippet of it:

In many ways, the young men who take my seminar — typically, 20 percent of the class — mirror national trends. Based on their grades and writing assignments, it’s clear that they spend less time on homework than female students; and while every bit as intelligent, they earn lower grades with studied indifference. When I asked one of my male students why he didn’t openly fret about grades the way so many women do, he said: ‘Nothing’s worse for a guy than looking like a Try Hard.’

In a report based on the 2013 book “The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What It Means for American Schools,” the sociologists Thomas A. DiPrete and Claudia Buchmann observe: “Boys’ underperformance in school has more to do with society’s norms about masculinity than with anatomy, hormones or brain structure. In fact, boys involved in extracurricular cultural activities such as music, art, drama and foreign languages report higher levels of school engagement and get better grades than other boys. But these cultural activities are often denigrated as un-masculine by preadolescent and adolescent boys.

. . . By the time many young men do reach college, a deep-seeded gender stereotype has taken root that feeds into the stories they have heard about themselves as learners. Better to earn your Man Card than to succeed like a girl, all in the name of constantly having to prove an identity to yourself and others.

 

HRC’s bathroom break December 26, 2015

There was a five minute break in the Democratic Debate on Dec. 22nd. HRC was late in returning, and the debate started without her. That struck me as a bit outrageous, but it wasn’t high on my list of things to think about. Maybe I should have felt differently as the comments by the conservatives started up. But now I can be glad the Huffington Post has done a great job and saved me the effort.

Everything in the article is worth reading. I’m picking out a snippet that seems to me quite rich with observations, and I hope others will want to read more.

The author is Soraya Chemaly:

I write and talk about controversial subjects all the time – violence, rape, race – but I have never received as vitriolic a response as last summer, when I wrote about the disparity in public facilities for men and women, The Everyday Sexism of Women Waiting in Bathroom Lines; it was a piece about norms and knowledge. Angry people mostly men, by the hundreds, wrote to tell me I was vulgar, stupid, ignorant and should learn to stand in order to pee, because it’s superior. It continued for weeks, until I wrote a follow-up piece on the ten most sexist responses.

People may think that women no longer face sexism in media or politics when they speak, but that ignores the very obvious fact that even before women say anything they have already, in split seconds, jumped through hundreds of “what if I said something about sexism” hoops. Can you imagine the backlash and media frenzy if Clinton had actually, in some detail, pointed out that the women’s room was farther away or that there is often, especially at large public events like this debate, a line that women patiently wait in while men flit in and out and makes jokes about women’s vanity? That the microaggressive hostility evident, structurally, in so many of our legacy public spaces is relevant to women every day. “Bathroom codes enforce archaic and institutionalized gender norms,” wrote Princeton students Monica Shi & Amanda Shi about their school’s systemic sexism this year.

 

The male Gaze in retrospect December 14, 2015

From CHE (Open access).

In 1975, the avant-garde filmmaker Laura Mulvey published her landmark essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” in the journal Screen. Bringing feminist theory to bear on a new wave of psychoanalytic film criticism, the essay set out to demonstrate how the structure of Hollywood films — camera angles, lighting, editing — foisted a masculine point of view on audiences watching passive, eroticized female objects. Mulvey’s notion of the “male gaze” made waves not just in film studies (four members of Screen’s editorial board resigned in protest of it and other psychoanalytic criticism) — but also across much of the humanities.
Forty years later, mainstream journalists casually toss off the phrase “male gaze” and it’s the name of a San Francisco post-punk band. But much has changed: Successive generations of feminists have debated women’s agency — for example, as not just subjects but also consumers of pornography. The notion of the lesbian gaze has gained currency. With the rise of social media, both men and women participate in a self-presentation that makes them the objects of the gaze as often as they are the gazers. Even the neat division of people into male and female seems, to many people, archaic.

Is Mulvey’s theory still relevant? How has it been most productively applied? How does it need to evolve? Here, four scholars reflect on those questions, and Mulvey responds.

 

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.

 

Shame/blame/guilt: a good way to produce nurturing, helpful women July 4, 2015

Filed under: gender stereotypes,psychology — annejjacobson @ 7:00 pm

Please note:  I suspect that the passage shown below is in fact drawn from studies of cis white women.  One difficulty in telling how ethnicity and gender queerness interact with the prevalence of depression in woman is that the facts discussed in the quoted passage below are not even well-recognized in the quasi-popular literature.  It’s as though continued assaults on the souls of young women aren’t medical enough.

(I am not saying that the passage below is correct; rather the point is the kind of explanation that it provides and that needs to be considered. Also, please excuse my occasional lapses into hyperbole.  I’m really, really pissed off.)

I think the passage below can be said to say the following:  continual criticism of girls and women for not being good enough in caring about others has an upside and a downside.

The upside: We get better mothers and more nurturing people in the society.

The downside: a lot of them become mentally ill.

And another shocker: this is way post Betty Friedan.  That is, it was released in 1997.

image

From Guilt and Children, ed by Jane Bybee.

 

What women voters want: a pink campaign bus. February 18, 2015

Filed under: gender stereotypes,gendered products — jennysaul @ 6:40 am

Really?

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(Thanks, Mr Jender.)

 

Reader Query: “The Science of Sex Appeal” February 6, 2015

A reader writes:

Has anyone seen the documentary “The Science of Sex Appeal,” and if so, could you please recommend academic sources that counter the claims made by this video?” While Cordelia Fine’s book is great for arguing against this evolutionary psychology bullshit more generally (sorry; maybe it isn’t all bullshit, but THIS stuff is), I’d really like to be able to point to specific claims made in the video and offer specific, scientifically supported claims to the contrary. I haven’t found anything through database searches.


UPDATE: This post has been a nightmare to moderate.  Do to many requests, I tried to confine comments to ones that really address the reader’s query, rather than dealing in big generalisations about whether feminists hate evolutionary psychology, etc. I’m now closing comments.

 

FURTHER UPDATE: This is being briefly re-opened.

 

The FEM Bible: feminist critiques of social media December 10, 2014

The FEM Bible is a new initiative set up by some undergraduates in philosophy, and it’s great. Here’s their description:

“We are a feminist community fed up of the offensive posts being shared via Facebook & the internet. Our mission is to de-construct these posts by offering factual reviews on their damaging and oppressive nature.”
– FEMBible

The way the site works is simple: users submit a post or article of the kind often shared on social media that they found offensive, specifying who was harmed by it, how, and why it matters. . Posts intelligently discuss issues of sexism, classism, heterosexism, and shaming of survivors of sexual violence, among other issues. Websites purveying self-described ‘lad’ humour come in for a lot of justified criticism, as do various ‘clickbait’ type articles. Examples of material criticized includes facebook posts that sexualize breastfeeding, articles that applaud boys who have been sexually abused by female teachers as ‘lads’, and a Christmas card that offers ‘ten reasons why Santa must live on a housing estate’ (sample reason: ‘he only works once a year’ … yes, I know).

This initiative seems to sum up a lot that’s great about the kind of feminist activism that I’m seeing around my university at the moment: engaging, inclusive, intersectionally aware, media savvy. It’s fantastic to see such smart pushback from young activists against oppressive online material – check it out!

 

Ladybird drops gendered book branding November 20, 2014

Since we frequently point out the occasions when toy manufacturers and the like make depressingly gender-normative gestures with their products, it’s a pleasure to also point out the occasions when they get things right. So: three cheers for Ladybird, the popular publisher of childrens’ books, who have undertaken to remove any gendered labelling from their collections of stories, since “we certainly don’t want to be seen to be limiting children“.

In the interests of editorial impartiality, it should be noted that other publishers have made the same pledge: Dorling Kindersley, Miles Kelly Books, and Chad Valley have also undertaken to refrain from publishing new titles with gendered branding.

This is a result of pressure from the Let Books be Books campaign, a subsidiary of the Let Toys be Toys campaign, worthwhile enterprises both.

 

Barbie F*cks It Up and Feminist Hackers Save the Day November 19, 2014

…So, I wasn’t going to click the link. Sexist books and toys are ubiquitous, and one grows weary of reading about them. But it turns out that even though the Barbie I can be… A Computer Engineer book is even more awful than you might expect (Barbie herself doesn’t write the code: she needs Steven and Brian for that.), Pamela Ribon’s righteous rant in response to Barbie’s ersatz engineering is worth the price of admission:

THE FUCKING END, PEOPLE. Despite having ruined her own laptop, her sister’s laptop, and the library’s computers, not to mention Steven and Brian’s afternoon, she takes full credit for her game design— only to get extra credit and decide she’s an awesome computer engineer! “I did it all by myself!”

Flip the book and you can read “Barbie: I can be an Actress,” where Barbie saves the day by filling in for the princess in Skipper’s school production of “Princess and the Pea.” […]

When you hold the book in your hands to read a story, the opposite book is upside down, facing out. So the final insult to this entire literary disaster is that when you read “Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer,” it appears that you are so fucking dumb, you’re reading “Barbie: I Can Be an Actress” upside down.

Even better, if it weren’t for Barbie I can be… A Computer Engineer, we would never have gotten to enjoy the Feminist Hacker Barbie site, at which readers are invited to improve the original book. Here’s one user’s suggested improvement:

Barbie, wearing glasses and flowing blonde hair, sits at a computer; the screen is showing multiple lines of computer code. Two young men stand beside her smiling.

Update: Great news! A female PhD student in computing has re-written the book to make it what it ought to have been in the first place. Here’s her version. Yay, intertubz!

 

 
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