Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

Men on Death and the afterlife November 25, 2015

Filed under: gender,gendered conference campaign,sex — annejjacobson @ 3:22 pm

For an explanation of our Gendered Conference Campaign, see here.


Death and the Afterlife
22 January 2016

This symposium is an interdisciplinary exchange focused on the recent book Death and the Afterlife, by Professor Samuel Scheffler (New York University). It will bring together perspectives from social anthropology, philosophy, and political theory…It is open to scholars from all fields, and papers will be presented with a broad audience in mind.

Confirmed speakers:

Professor Samuel Scheffler (Department of Philosophy, New York University)
Professor Hallvard Lillehammer (Department of Philosophy, Birkbeck College, University of London)
Professor Joel Robins (Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge)
Dr James Laidlaw (Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge
Dr Jonathan Mair (School of Arts, Languages, and Cultures, University of Manchester)
Dr Paul Sagar (Deparment of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge)


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.


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.


“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.”



Best practice for tracking gender of survey respondents? October 13, 2015

Filed under: gender,queries from readers — Lady Day @ 8:04 pm
A reader sends the following query:
Is there any consensus on the best method for asking gender information on surveys? I’m reviewing a proposal for a research committee, and their approach is “A. Male B. Female C. Other”. On the one hand, hooray for having more than 2 options. On the other hand, “Other” is kind of, well, ‘othering’.
My suggestion would be to leave a blank that participants can fill in as they wish, but don’t know if there are other approaches.

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.


Lovely overview of stereotype threat September 8, 2015

Filed under: gender,science,stereotypes — jennysaul @ 5:57 pm

from an MIT student.  And it contained a discussion of a remarkable study I hadn’t come across before, on how to eliminate the gap between men and women on mental rotation.  It turns out that just spending a little time imagining oneself as a stereotypical male raises women’s scores so dramatically the gap is reduced to statistical insignificance.

In a now-famous study, psychologists at the University of Berlin falsely told participants that they had been selected to participate in a series of tests “to measure the ability to put oneself in someone else’s position” – a fabrication devised to avoid confounding factors in their real study on gender identity priming. They prepared a text describing a day in the life of a “stereotypical woman” who takes care of her family, works part time, and is insightful, helpful, and agreeable. They also prepared an equivalently-structured text outlining the activities of a stereotypical manly man who is tough, risk-taking, and does weight training after work. Subjects were randomly given one of the two texts, and then asked: “If you were the person described in the text, which adjectives would you use to describe yourself?”

Soon after participants described themselves with either the male- or female-associated traits, they were asked to take a mental rotation test presented as independent of the first part of the study, supposedly to measure their personal spatial aptitude. On this mental rotation test, women who were “primed” with the female identity scored an average of 3.86 on the exercise, compared to the female-primed males’ average of 5.14. Okay, expected. But then when primed with the male text, women scored an average of 5.49, while men scored 5.53… wait a second, what?

As it turns out, there is zero statistically significant gender difference in mental rotation ability after test-takers are asked to imagine themselves as stereotypical men for a few minutes. None. An entire standard deviation of female underperformance is negated on this condition, just as a man’s performance is slightly hindered if he instead imagines himself as a woman. (well then.) Although this study is of course not a logically definitive answer to all things “nature versus nurture,” it does add a tremendous structural asset to the growing mountain of evidence that “natural” ability differences are confounded by identity and subconscious self-stereotyping. Demographic expectations may be subtle or overt, but they are omnipresent, and they are likely much more powerful than most of us have ever considered.

Thanks to S, and S, for calling this article to my attention!


Gender in International Relations Syllabi August 31, 2015

Filed under: gender inequality — Stacey Goguen @ 2:06 pm

Synopsis of some research by Jeff Colgan, political science, here.

“The data suggest that 82 percent of assigned readings in IR proseminars are written by all-male authors (i.e., women or co-ed teams account for the other 18 percent). That percentage is high, but it is also roughly consistent with the gender pattern of articles published in top IR journals (81 percent male-authored).”

“We found that female instructors tend to assign more readings by female authors than male instructors. Men or all-male teams authored “only” 71.5 percent of readings in courses taught by female instructors. By contrast, male authors wrote 79.1 percent of readings in courses taught by male instructors.  “

“Female instructors are also considerably more averse to assigning their own research as required readings. They assigned an average of 1.68 readings that they themselves had written (as solo or co-author). Male instructors assigned about twice as much of their own work: an average of 3.18 readings. “


How not to address sexual harassment August 19, 2015

Filed under: appearance,gender,gender inequality,politics,sexual harassment — noetika @ 1:11 am

Missouri legislature edition (via HuffPo):

“We need a good, modest, conservative dress code for both the males and females,” state Rep. Nick King (R) said in an email to colleagues. “Removing one more distraction will help everyone keep their focus on legislative matters.”

The state legislature began working on its new intern program policies after Missouri House Speaker John Diehl (R) resigned in May, when the Kansas City Star revealed he sent sexually suggestive text messages to a 19-year-old intern.

Two months later, Sen. Paul LeVota (D) resigned after two interns accused him of sexual harassment. In a statement, he denied any wrongdoing.

But the problem appears to be more widespread. Dozens of women have said they were sexually harassed while working at the state capitol. In that report, a former state senator called the culture in Jefferson City “very anything goes.”

On Monday, state Rep. Kevin Engler (R) sent out a list of proposed changes for the program to his fellow House members. The Kansas City Star reported that that’s when several legislators, initiated by state Rep. Bill Kidd (R), responded by suggesting Engler should add an intern dress code to the list.


Papineau v. Manne on Twitter August 18, 2015

Filed under: academia,gender,women in philosophy — annejjacobson @ 9:24 pm

The snapshot below of the twitter exchange is pretty self explanatory. It might help to know that Papineau is referring to a letter from Manne that the TLS printed, with unfortunately one sentence ommitted that’s unfortunate because the ommitted sentence, as I underrstood it, went into some specifics about how philosophical combat works against women. This missing material is brought up in the exchange.

Part of Manne letter is copied here.

There was quite a bit more to the twitter exchange. I’m putting it up because it vivdly illustrates how a senior philosopher with a great deal of experience of academia, can be quite clueless about a powerful negative feature women face.

And I’d love to hear what you all think.

Unfortunately the links on the snapshot don’t work.




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 10,808 other followers