Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

“Is it Child abuse to make a trans child ‘Change’?” January 9, 2015

Filed under: bias,gender,human rights,parenting,psychology — annejjacobson @ 7:50 pm

This is the topic for a NY Times “room for debate.” It is in response to the very sad suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a trans child whose parents loved almost everything about her, her mother said. Just not her being trans; they took her to conversion therapy to try to change her back to a boy named “Joshua” (her name at birth).

There’s a special feature to this NY Times debate. Everyone thinks it is an exceptionally bad idea to try to make a trans child change. This is the first “room for debate” I’ve seen when the other side has had no representation.


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.


Cordelia Fine on neurosexism December 4, 2013

Filed under: gender,gender stereotypes,psychology — magicalersatz @ 3:12 pm

Cordelia Fine has written a stunning takedown of the much-reported latest findings about brains and gender.

To give a sense of the huge overlap in behaviour between males and females, of the twenty-six possible comparisons, eleven sex differences were either non-existent, or so small that if you were to select a boy and girl at random and compare their scores on a task, the “right” sex would be superior less than 53% of the time.

Even the much-vaunted female advantage in social cognition, and male advantage in spatial processing, was so modest that a randomly chosen boy would outscore a randomly chosen girl on social cognition – and the girl would outscore the boy on spatial processing – over 40% of the time.

As for map-reading and remembering conversations, these weren’t measured at all.

Yet the authors describe these differences as “pronounced” and as reflecting “behavioural complementarity” – scientific jargon-speak for “men are from Mars, women are from Venus”. Rather than drawing on their impressively rich data-set to empirically test questions about how brain connectivity characteristics relate to behaviour, the authors instead offer untested stereotype-based speculation. Even though, with such considerable overlap in male/female distributions, biological sex is a dismal guide to psychological ability.


Antoinette Tuff is a hero August 22, 2013

Filed under: emotion,moral psychology,psychology,violence — philodaria @ 2:00 am

This woman is amazing. Here’s why we know about her. (More here, because I haven’t found a transcript yet of the call).


Oppressive beliefs and breast size preference February 17, 2013

Filed under: beauty,objectification,psychology,science — hippocampa @ 12:37 pm

A recent study showed that White British heterosexual men’s preferences for larger female breasts were significantly associated with a greater tendency to be benevolently sexist, to objectify women, and to be hostile towards women (Viren Swami and Martin J. Toveé, 2013).

Since the article isn’t open access, I will briefly summarise what they did and found, which will inevitably leave out things that are also relevant and noteworthy, but ok:

Small breast sizeLarge breast sizeBased on self-reports, they selected a sample of 361 males of Britisch White descent, who didn’t indicate being gay or bisexual or didn’t disclose their preference (average age 30, ranging from 18 to 68). Those were asked to rate the attractability of photo-realistic 3D models that were rotated on the screen. I copied and pasted from the article the model with the smallest breast size out of five on the left, and the one with the largest on the right so you get a bit of an idea. In the study they were presented in colour. After having rated the models, the participants were asked to fill in questionnaires that measure sexist attitudes (Hostility Towards Women Scale HTWS, Attitudes Towards Women Scale AWS and Benevolent Sexism BS subscale of the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory ASI) and that measure objectification of women (an adaptation of the Self-Objectification Scale SOS).

What they found was that on average men found the medium breast size model most attractive, with a skewed distribution towards the larger breast size, which seems unsurprising. The men’s preference for larger breast sizes was significantly and positively correlated with hostility towards women, more sexist attitudes towards women, benevolent sexism and objectification of women. They also found that young men were more likely to rate large breasts as more attractive. Neither education nor relationship status had an effect. Benevolent sexism was the strongest predictor for breast size rating, while objectifaction of women and hostility towards women were also significant predictors.

Some highlights from the discussion which I thought were noteworthy:

“[…] insofar as breasts are an index of a gendered difference between women and men, benevolently sexist men may perceive larger breasts as ‘‘appropriate’’ for feminine women; in other words, in the view of benevolently sexism men, a feminine and submissive woman is likely to be someone with large breasts.”

“Based on this set of results, it might be argued that it is the tendency to view women in ways that are subjectively positive for the perceiver rather than to explicitly denigrate women that drives men’s breast size preferences. Of course, both types of sexism stem from issues relating to power, gender identity, and sexuality, and it should also be noted thatbenevolent sexism may also serve to justify hostile attitudes toward women (Glick&Fiske, 1996).”

“Our results also showed that a greater tendency to objectify women was associated with a greater likelihood of rating larger breasts as physically attractive. Previous scholars have argued that, in many socioeconomically developed societies, female breasts have become an important site of objectification of the femalebody (Seifert,2005;Wardetal.,2006). This is evidenced, for example, in media aimed at hegemonic masculinities (Gerald & Potvin, 2009), where large female breasts are fetishized and treated as sexual objects that fulfill the pleasures and desires of masculine men. In this view, the objectification of women’s body parts, including though not limited to their breasts, is an example of the dominance of men over women and is further reproduced through cultural expectations of heteronormativity (Martino & Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2005). Moreover, this normalization compels women to put up with the objectification of their breasts and bodies by men, and even to treat such objectificationas flattering (Pascoe, 2007).”

They acknowledge a number of shortcomings in the research, such as the models all having the same face and waist-to-hip ratio and such, and all the breasts being the same shape. They further indicate the rather standard issues with recruitment method of the participants that might limit the generalisability (if that’s a word) and the possibility of socially desirable responding.

“In summary, the results of the present study showed that men’s oppressive beliefs predicted their idealization of larger female breasts. These results may have important implications for contemporary theorizing of breast size preferences. In addition to considering the distal evolutionary pressures that led to men’s breast size preferences, our findings also highlight the importance of considering the proximate sociocultural context in which thosejudgments aremade (cf. Little, Jones, DeBruine, & Caldwell, 2011). Specifically, it seems clear that the lived experiences of women and men in contemporary societies, and particularly their gendered relations with one another, will have a major impact on their beauty ideals and practices (Forbes et al., 2007).More broadly, future research would do well to more carefully consider the ways in which such beauty ideals shape and maintain gendered divisions in contemporary societies.



Jezebel’s Lindy West on the National Review August 23, 2012

Filed under: evolutionary psychology,fallacy,politics,psychology — KateNorlock @ 6:22 pm

Sometimes, my desire to blog about sexist cultural commentary is frustrated by my desire to avoid driving further blog traffic to a column obviously approved by editors in order to “trend” online.  But this week, Lindy West does all the hard work for me over at Jezebel, as she explains why a recent column in the National Review is over the top with the “Obama might as well have fallopian tubes” thing.


Confronting sexism September 7, 2011

Filed under: bias,psychology — magicalersatz @ 3:41 pm

Via Jezebel, a recent study suggests that – at least in some situations – confronting men about sexist remarks can actually make them behave more nicely toward you (and doesn’t make them like you any less).

Show of hands: how many of us, despite our best principles, have at some point let a ridiculously sexist comment slide because we feared the consequences if we spoke up? While it’s important not to overstate the results of a single study, there’s perhaps reason to think that these consequences aren’t always as bad as we fear them to be.

And if anyone needs a reminder of strategies for confronting sexism (and other ‘ism’s), MIT has a fabulous resource on bystander training here.


Sexual Orientation, Choice and Rights August 1, 2011

Filed under: bias,glbt,human rights,psychology,science,sexual orientation — Jender @ 3:10 am

Really interesting article taking seriously the possibility that sexual orientation might be fluid rather than fixed (as Lisa Diamond has argued in the case of women), and asking what this claim may mean for gay rights arguments. One worry, of course, is that it might lead people to endorse ex-gay therapy. (Though, as the article points out, “changeable” doesn’t mean desirable to change, nor does it mean changeable by ex-gay therapy.) Another is that it might lead some to suggest that gay people don’t deserve equality. (Though, as the article points out, religion is changeable and yet freedom of religion is strongly protected.)

“We live in a culture where people disagree vehemently about whether or not sexual minorities deserve equal rights,” [says Diamond]. “People cling to this idea that science can provide the answers, and I don’t think it can. I think in some ways it’s dangerous for the lesbian and gay community to use biology as a proxy for that debate.”


Self-confidence and Injury April 6, 2011

Filed under: academia,psychology — annejjacobson @ 7:56 pm

World-class athletes who retire sometimes audition for Cirque du Soleil.  They vary in whether they sustain injuries during the initial classes that determine whether they can perform with the circus.  A recent study suggests that a kind of enhanced self-confidence most strongly distinguishes those who will not be injured from those who will.  (It turns out that this result is already known to hold with athletes, which may be why the NY Times says the research is off-beat.) 

 The researchers looked at a quality called self-efficacy, which in psychological terms is a kind of enhanced self-confidence, the feeling that you are easily capable of performing the task ahead.

The hypothesized cause is that lack of confidence distracts one’s attention and so makes one more vulnerable to injury.

     That is also a very commonly hypothesized link for what creates “stereotype threat,” which refers to what happens when someone refers to a group to which one belongs and which is stereotyped as sub-par in its performance.  Drawing attention to their gender can affect women’s and girl’s performance on math tests, for example.  Ditto for white guys and basketball.

     It seems at least reasonable to worry that when people are treated differentially, and some are encouraged to feel self-efficacy and others do not receive that encouragement, or less of it, the latter are given an additional burden that will tend to degrade their performance.

     It does not take much imagination to see that making women feel like the outsiders they in effect are is going to harm women’s performance still more.  And the same goes for other minorities in the profession, including ethnic minorities and disabled students and faculty.


Professor Sarah B. Hrdy September 24, 2010

Filed under: evolutionary psychology,psychology,science — Monkey @ 8:54 am

We’ve mentioned Profession Hrdy a few times on the blog – I know JJ has quoted her in some posts. But I’m just rereading Mother Nature in preparation for a class I’m teaching on evolutionary psychology, and I just thought I’d recommend it most highly to anyone who’s interested in biology and gender. Professor Hrdy is an anthropologist and primatologist who has made several major contributions in evolutionary psychology and sociobiology. A common theme in her work is the behaviour of female primates, particularly mothers. Her personal webpage can be accessed here. There is also a Wikipedia entry.



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