Feminist Philosophers

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Progressive Rhetoric For Regressive Ends (2) March 12, 2015

Filed under: Canada,intersectionality,politics — lanternerouge @ 10:14 am
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An earlier post reviewed an example of progressive rhetoric in the service of non-progressive ends. Perhaps the most striking cases of this strategy are those in which the rhetoric of women’s rights is invoked to justify precisely actions taken against women themselves. In 2011 (with Jason Kenney as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), Canada banned the wearing of the niqab during the citizenship oath-swearing ceremony. (“Frankly, I found it bizarre that the rules allowed people to take the oath with a veil on,” Kenney explained.) When a federal court overturned that law last month, ruling that new Canadian Zunera Ishaq had the right to wear her otherwise perfectly legal religious garments during her swearing-in, the Prime Minister of Canada himself weighed in to impugn her choice. “That is not the way we do things,” Stephen Harper pronounced.

In Harper’s case the argument was initially couched in terms of an appeal to fear of secretive foreigners: “This is a society that is transparent, open and where people are equal, and I think we find that offensive. I believe, and I think most Canadians believe that it is — it is offensive that someone would hide their identity at the very moment where they are committing to join the Canadian family.” But the appeal to equality surfaced in there too, and sure enough, now even Harper’s What are you hiding? remarks are being spun as defenses of gender equality.

The optics of a group of powerful men, lawmakers and representatives, telling a woman how she may dress for a public event are already awful. They take on a jaw-slackening character when those men go on to preen for having burnished their feminist credentials so wonderfully. How could legislation forcing women of some religions or ethnicities to partially disrobe in public ceremonies, against their explicit wishes, be depicted as a blow struck for women’s rights? One answer is that respect for women’s choices has practically nothing to do with the rationale for such a law. A likelier aim is just to blow the dogwhistles harder, while hoping to confound those critics sensitive to the genuinely fraught intersectionality of practices for which considerations of culture, religion, gender, and individual choice may pull in different directions.

This is not mere conjecture; the Conservative government is convicted by its own supporting rhetoric. Current Immigration Minister Chris Alexander recently tweeted in response to the Zunera Ishaq case that the hijab – a headscarf not typically understood as covering the face – also ought not be permitted during oath-taking. Remarks like these indicate that the purpose of such a law and such rhetoric is based neither on “transparency” nor on equality, but on simple negativity towards anything identifiably Islamic. The citizenship oath becomes a ritual of compulsory renunciation and humiliation for people of different languages, cultures, religions and practices. In the way of dogwhistles more generally, dropped hints like Alexander’s are kept rare enough to avoid alienating somewhat moderate voters, but are nevertheless fodder to energize the more extremist base without whose votes, money and voluntarism the Party would be disadvantaged. Again the appeal to gender equality functions as a preemptive defense against criticisms of such calculated religious and ethnic bigotry.

 

Progressive Rhetoric For Regressive Ends (1)

Filed under: Canada,intersectionality,politics — lanternerouge @ 9:34 am
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International Women’s Day 2015 saw many professions of support for women’s rights from politicians worldwide. One of them was a tweet from Canadian politician Jason Kenney, a long-time Conservative MP, Cabinet fixture and new Defense Minister for Canada. “On #IWD2015,” wrote Kenney, “thank-you to the @CanadianForces for joining the fight against #ISIL’s campaign to enslave women & girls.” Accompanying this message was a collection of three photos: two showing women in niqabs wearing chains, and one showing a smiling middle-aged bearded man with his arm around a crying young girl – the implication plainly being one of child-marriage.

The evidence is pretty compelling that the Islamic State treats women with horrifying brutality, though Kenney has a relationship with the truth that left it no great surprise when all the images in his tweet were fake or misinformed at more than one level. The trope of particular interest in his tweet, however, is the use of progressive rhetoric in the service of non-progressive ends. In this case those ends include some combination of self-congratulation for a politically divisive military campaign launched by Kenney’s government, and anti-Islamic pandering that excites a range of emotional reactions to terrorism, Islam, and foreigners, in the run-up to a Canadian federal election.

The political strategy is reasonably clear. The use of cherry-picked examples, dogwhistles and selective emphasis to smear a target group invites charges of bigotry. These charges might be forestalled, though, if one can turn the focus to misogynistic or patriarchal aspects among (sub-groups of) the targeted population. Some people who would otherwise push back against both misogyny and racist or religious bigotry are horrified by media reports of the treatment of women under the Islamic State, and this may leave them conflicted or less motivated to criticize the anti-Islamism being played for votes here. Even if critics are not deflected, progressive noises in defense of this same-old-pandering will at least confound listless mainstream media analysis that relies on different sides to distinguish themselves through the language they choose. And it will inoculate one’s voting base against the force of the criticisms. What do you mean, the Conservatives have dismantled or slashed funding to all manner of women’s programs, and refuse even to discuss a formal inquiry into the epidemic of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada? Why, they’re the ones fighting the real misogynists in this world!

Some of the most effective propaganda and media management currently on display in the Canadian context, and no doubt more widely, aims at colonizing the language of progressive causes, or at least destroying its power to differentiate between political actors.

 

Philosophers’ Carnival #171 by Nick Byrd January 11, 2015

Filed under: history of philosophy,intersectionality,rape — annejjacobson @ 6:06 pm

Nick gives us an interesting collection of recent web material, including some book reviews. Perhaps understandably, my attention was first caught by the following entry:

Human Errors and My Errata. Anne Jaap Jacobson has written four posts over at The Brains Blog. The overall project: “My intention in planning these four posts was to close on a kind of contribution very developed in feminist thought. The contribution has concerned how we account for human cognitive successes when we are actually rather error-prone creatures. The very general approach is to give up a kind of Cartesian picture of the mind. What is instead emphasized is the extent to which our knowledge depends on our social interactions”.

Other topics in the four posts include radically different senses of mental representation, both in contemporary and historical work, the neuroscience of action and its implications for standard philosophers’ understanding of belief-desire explanations (not good). Accompanying the different senses of ‘representation’ are different models of the mind’s cognitive relation to its environment.  OCD, affordances and dopamine are discussed, along with the implications of the abundance of fakes in our environment. Woven in among this are some reference to red pandas, including Rusty, the red panda who went for a walk about from the National Zoo in DC. I think iconoclastic members of other species should usually be treasured, and I understand that Rusty is something of a hero at the Smithsonian, which runs the zoo.

There’s a great deal of material in the Carnival; it would be possible to spend most of a day following the rewarding links.

 

Examples of implicit racial bias at work January 4, 2015

An article in the NY Times contains important information on research into implicit bias. It also has a number of useful, though upsetting, examples. Here are some of them:

■ When doctors were shown patient histories and asked to make judgments about heart disease, they were much less likely to recommend cardiac catheterization (a helpful procedure) to black patients — even when their medical files were statistically identical to those of white patients.

■ When whites and blacks were sent to bargain for a used car, blacks were offered initial prices roughly $700 higher, and they received far smaller concessions.

■ Several studies found that sending emails with stereotypically black names in response to apartment-rental ads on Craigslist elicited fewer responses than sending ones with white names. A regularly repeated study by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development sent African-Americans and whites to look at apartments and found that African-Americans were shown fewer apartments to rent and houses for sale.

■ White state legislators were found to be less likely to respond to constituents with African-American names. This was true of legislators in both political parties.

■ Emails sent to faculty members at universities, asking to talk about research opportunities, were more likely to get a reply if a stereotypically white name was used.

■ Even eBay auctions were not immune. When iPods were auctioned on eBay, researchers randomly varied the skin color on the hand holding the iPod. A white hand holding the iPod received 21 percent more offers than a black hand.

■ The criminal justice system — the focus of current debates — is harder to examine this way. One study, though, found a clever method. The pools of people from which jurors are chosen are effectively random. Analyzing this natural experiment revealed that an all-white jury was 16 percentage points more likely to convict a black defendant than a white one, but when a jury had one black member, it convicted both at the same rate.

A number of these can also be used as examples of white privilege.

 

Fantastic new directory of philosophers from underrepresented groups! December 18, 2014

Ruth Chang writes:

It is fully searchable and really neat. If you’re a conference organizer looking for philosophers in your city who work on X, you can search the directory and come up with a list of such philosophers from underrepresented groups that fit the bill. If you’re on a hiring committee, and the usual suspects keep coming to mind but you’d like to do a more thorough search, you can pull up the directory and find all philosophers in the directory who work in a general AOS or even on a specific research topic. If you’re an editor looking for a list of possible candidates to invite to contribute to a volume or to referee a paper, the UPDirectory can help you.

This sounds like a really wonderful tool. Go check it out!

 

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!

 

A philosophy conference so diverse it merited a news story August 18, 2014

The Diverse Lineages of Existentialism meeting was a far cry from a typical philosophy conference. In a discipline dominated by white men, this conference hosted as many women as men and a large number of people of color along with white participants. In a discipline often characterized by its esoteric isolation from public and politics, instead there was outpouring of conversations about social justice and lived human experience. Given the recent public and professional conversations about the lack of diversity in philosophy, the Diverse Lineages of Existentialism (DLE) conference is a hopeful glance into the future of the discipline – one that is long overdue and necessary if philosophy is to continue as a viable and relevant living and growing field, both in the academy and in the public imagination.

More here.

 

Girls left out August 3, 2014

Filed under: empowering women,intersectionality,poverty,race,rape — annejjacobson @ 9:26 pm

This post follows on an earlier one about My Brother’s Keeper, Obama’s program for boys of color.

From Colorlines:

Kristie Dotson knows what it’s like to have to do her homework on the backs of cars because she doesn’t have a home to go to after school’s out. “I too have gone homeless,” Dotson said of her youth in South Central Los Angeles. Today, she’s a professor of philosophy at Michigan State University but, she said, voice shaking, “Even when you get out, there is no getting out.”

On Tuesday night Dotson, who’s African-American, and a dozen other girls and women of color testified about their experiences coming up in Los Angeles in poor, disenfranchised black and Latino neighborhoods. The event, organized by the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) and UCLA School of Law’s Critical Race Studies Program, was the third of such hearings held around the country this year to lift up the experiences and struggles of girls of color. It’s also a pointed response to My Brother’s Keeper, President Obama’s $200 million initiative to support boys of color.

“This hearing was necessitated by the silence around girls of color that we’ve seen in the discourse around the school-to-prison pipeline and more recently in the silence in My Brother’s Keeper,” said Kimberlé Crenshaw, a professor of law at Columbia University and UCLA and a host for the evening’s proceedings. Too often, said Crenshaw, people settle for fallacies that suggest that girls and women of color suffer less than men of color do from racism. The truth, said Crenshaw, is that “girls experience some of the same things boys experience and some things boys never dream of.”

Much of the rest of the short article is about things many of us can at best half-imagine. It ends importantly with:

Single black and Latino women have a median wealth of $100 and $102, respectively, while single black and Latino men have a median wealth of $7,900 and $9,730, respectively, according to the Insight Center for Community Economic Development (PDF). Dotson is confounded that My Brother’s Keeper could ignore this reality.

“My Brother’s Keeper doesn’t want to talk about the fact that those boys of color coming off those mentor programs are going to come back to these same households supported by these women of color who are struggling,” said Dotson. “Does anyone care?”

 

Women of Colour Urge Inclusion in “My Brother’s Keeper” June 17, 2014

Filed under: gender,intersectionality,race — Jender @ 3:01 pm

Read the letter here. (Thanks, K!)

While we applaud the efforts on the part of the White House, private philanthropy, social justice organizations and others to move beyond colorblind approaches to race-specific problems, we are profoundly troubled about the exclusion of women and girls of color from this critical undertaking. The need to acknowledge the crisis facing boys should not come at the expense of addressing the stunted opportunities for girls who live in the same households, suffer in the same schools, and struggle to overcome a common history of limited opportunities caused by various forms of discrimination.

We simply cannot agree that the effects of these conditions on women and girls should pale to the point of invisibility, and are of such little significance that they warrant zero attention in the messaging, research and resourcing of this unprecedented Initiative. When we acknowledge that both our boys and girls struggle against the odds to succeed, and we dream about how, working together, we can develop transformative measures to help them realize their highest aspirations, we cannot rest easy on the notion that the girls must wait until another train comes for them. Not only is there no exceedingly persuasive reason not to include them, the price of such exclusion is too high and will hurt our communities and country for many generations to come.

 

“Dark-skinned and plus size” June 29, 2013

If you are watching the trial of Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin, you’ll probably get that the title above refers to Rachel Jeantel, with whom Martin was talking on the phone shortly before he was killed. It is from the Salon article linked to below.

I have seen her mostly on CNN, but I see many other members of the press to pick up the same theme: She is so different from white people, how can anyone side with her and her narrative? Well, at least there’s some recognition of the fact that racism is alive and well, but couldn’t they register that this is not a good thing?

Some commenters said she should have been trained to give testimony. I think that’s very close to saying that in court you have to sound like whites to be believable. On CNN Mark Garegos has been insisting that our court system is deeply affected by race. That certainly seems what most commenters believe. And there’s a lot of evidence in this trial – not to mention many others – that should frighten any supporter of a person of colour in a trial.

Back to the Salon article: Brittany Cooper tells us in Salon.com:

The thing about grammars, though, is that they rely on language, on a way of speaking and communicating, to give them power. And Rachel Jeantel has her own particular, idiosyncratic black girl idiom, a mashup of her Haitian and Dominican working-class background, her U.S. Southern upbringing, and the three languages – Hatian Kreyol (or Creole), Spanish and English — that she speaks.

The unique quality of her black vernacular speaking style became hypervisible against the backdrop of powerful white men fluently deploying corporate, proper English in ways that she could not do.  The way they spoke to her was designed not only to discredit her, but to condescend to and humiliate her. She acknowledged this show of white male power by repeatedly punctuating her responses with a curt but loaded, “Yes, Sir.”

Even more, she seemed very good at picking up on assumptions a question was carrying. “That’s real retarded, sir” was her (unfortunately abelist)comment on one.

If you look for her on youtube, avoid the comments unless you are feeling strong. I saw ones i’m hoping to forget.

Disrespecting one of zimmerman’s lawyers:

 

 
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