Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

What happens when the UK police do NOTHING to protect hundreds of girls? March 14, 2015

Filed under: gender,human rights,politics,sex — annejjacobson @ 9:43 pm

NOTHING. Or rather, one person was allowed to retire early and the others got a lecture.

We wrote about the 300 girls in Oxford. There are a number of other cities where young girls and women were repeatedly trafficked and raped. A report on the first of these cases has been released. From the NYTimes:

LONDON — The recent revelations that teenage girls were systematically raped and trafficked by gangs of older men over long periods of time in several British cities prompted a host of inquiries into why the authorities had seemingly turned a blind eye for so long.

This week, a police report into the first such case to be successfully prosecuted concluded that there had been a forcewide failure to address sexual abuse in the northern city of Rochdale, but that no police officer would face serious discipline.

 

Seduction, Assault, and Consent in Western Art via The Toast November 24, 2014

Filed under: Arts,internet,sex,sexual assault,sexual harassment,violence — Stacey Goguen @ 7:45 pm

If you are not already aware of The Toast’s captioning of pictures from Western art history, it is a thing, and it is entertaining. You can find all the articles in the series here.

In one of the most recent posts, Mallory Ortberg pokes fun at what Wikimedia Commons has labeled instances of “seduction in art.”  She pulls out examples and describes how many of these cannot possibly be instances of “seduction,” unless by seduction we mean assault or harassment.

The piece does a good job of bringing out the cognitive dissonance from accepting “seduction” as aggressively pursuing someone for sex without their explicit consent, thinking that sex requires consent, and accepting seduction as a legitimate part of sex.

If you are not familiar with Ortberg’s series of posts on Western art history, you should note that some of these examples are more hyperbolic than others. She is framing many of these scenes as non-consensual where consent seems ambiguous. (Though part of her point may be, shouldn’t sex and seduction only involve people who are unambiguously excited about engaging in it?) Underneath the hyperbole and satire, Ortberg is posing a serious question: “Why does seduction look a lot like assault and not seem to require any real degree of consent? What kind of thing is seduction if these are what count as examples of it?”

She suggests, “Perhaps you have confused “pushing someone away from you” with “getting seduced.””

You can read the post here:

“Paintings That Wikimedia Commons Has Inaccurately Categorized As “Seduction In Art””

*A few of the pictures contain nudity.

 

Guest Post: Philosophers’ Ethical Non-Monogamy Alliance on Hanna October 21, 2014

Filed under: sex,sexual harassment — jennysaul @ 7:59 pm

A guest post:

We are members of The Philosophers’ Ethical Non-Monogamy Alliance who are dismayed to read Robert Hanna’s article “Sexual McCarthyism, Polyamory, and the First Amendment”.

Polyamory is the practice or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. It is a form of consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy. Polyamory is not a sexual orientation towards some gender or genders, or a gender identity.

We are philosophers. Several of us are polyamorous. Others of us identify as ethically non-monogamous in other ways.

We strongly condemn sexual harassment in all its forms.

We consider it obvious, but we now clarify explicitly for the avoidance of any possible doubt, that polyamory is in no way equivalent to, or an excuse for, the sexual harassment of students or colleagues. Polyamory is neither constituted by nor an excuse for pursuing multiple relationships – whether ‘marriage-like’ or not – without concern for whether the objects of pursuit are comfortable with being thus pursued.

We find it both conceptually confused and highly offensive to associate polyamory with sexual harassment in the manner exemplified in Hanna’s article.

Signed,

Rebecca Kukla, Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins, Kenny Easwaran, Jeff Sebo, Duane Long, Jr., Ada Jaarsma, Ryan Carmody, Rachael Briggs, and Enzo Rossi, on behalf of the Philosophers’ Ethical Non-Monogamy Alliance.

(The PENMA is a group of philosophers interested in exploring political, personal, disciplinary, and theoretical issues surrounding ethical non-monogamy.)

 

Reader Query: Academic work on affirmative consent October 17, 2014

Filed under: queries from readers,sex — philodaria @ 12:11 am

A reader has asked for recommendations of work on affirmative consent policies (either at the university level or in law) for an upcoming course. Suggestions?

 

Naomi Wolf on Aging: What do you think? August 12, 2014

Filed under: academia,ageing,aging,appearance,beauty,body,gender stereotypes,self-esteem,sex — annejjacobson @ 5:50 pm

Is the following just a description, or in part a recommendation? In any case, it carries a lot of information about values, though just whose may not be clear. In any case, what do you think about it? definitely on the right track? Spending too much on yoga, pilates, organic food and expensive hair stylists? Some big flaws? Just wait untill she gets to 65?

When I am at a social occasion, the showstoppers are no longer the young beauties in their 20s. Rather, those who draw all the light in the room are the women of great accomplishment and personal charisma — and these are usually women in midlife. (Indeed, at events I have attended recently, cadres of conventionally beautiful young women seem now to be treated almost like wallpaper or like the catering staff.)

The change in social norms around the issue of women’s aging is immense. There is now an influential and growing demographic of educated, well-off women whose status, sense of self-esteem and sexual cachet rise rather than fall as they head toward midlife. I do not see younger women looking at accomplished women in their 40s with pity or derision: I see them looking ahead with admiration and even envy...

Because of advances in health and well-being awareness, many women I know are entering midlife feeling as good as (and looking better than) they did in college. But they also have professional success, self-knowledge, sexual magnetism and awareness, and even thriving children, admiring husbands or ardent lovers. These signs of accomplishment merely add to the allure of many midlife women — women who, when asked if they would like to be in their 20s again, think of doing so with a shudder.

So male philosophers who hit on young women in classes or conference are what? Incredibly insecure? Following the pro-creation narrative? Out of touch with the values of the cultural elite?

 

A call for consent workshops July 20, 2014

Filed under: academia,consent,rape,sex,sexual harassment — jennysaul @ 4:35 pm

The meaning of sexual consent is often misunderstood in disturbing ways by young people. There’s the idea that if you wear sexy clothing you’re asking for it; that silence during a sex act equals consent; and that women are always falsely accusing men of sexual assault and rape. Surveys have shown that one in two boys and one in three girls think it is OK to sometimes hit a woman or force her to have sex. All of which suggests a new approach is necessary. We need to teach young women and men about affirmative, enthusiastic and informed consent.

[….]

Consent workshops aren’t about preaching or judging. I attended a training session earlier this year that explained how they would work, and we discussed the sorts of things in everyday life we typically ask consent for. This ranged from seeing if a chair is free, to going to the toilet during a class. It revealed that we ultimately ask for people’s consent all the time, so in sex it should be no different. We also discussed how to “check in” with your partner, to see if they consent at different stages of an encounter, and the ways in which people in ongoing relationships can negotiate an understanding of consent. When feeding back to the session, the phrase that kept being repeated was “Just ask”.

The idea of affirmative and enthusiastic consent encourages people to regard sex as a positive, willing action. It’s about teaching women and men not to be ashamed of sex, and to proceed consciously and confidently. An understanding of consent engenders respect for everyone: from those who choose to refrain from sex to those who are in relationships, and those who engage in sex in a wide variety of situations. Consent is about ensuring that people are completely comfortable in their sexual decisions, whatever those might be.

Colleges at Cambridge have taken a big step by introducing consent talks and workshops – but I’d like to see these made compulsory in all universities across the UK. The workshops bring home the difficult truth that we are all capable of violating someone else’s consent, while creating a safe space to discuss the meaning of consenting positively and enthusiastically. They are empowering, and absolutely necessary.

More here.

 

Great minds and ignoble deeds May 21, 2014

It is appalling to read about philosophers sexually harassing/assaulting vulnerable people, but is it surprising? An article in yesterday’s New York Times argues that we should not expect better.

The life of an intellectual, Mr. Ignatieff [Michael Ignatieff, the Canadian academic-cum-politician] claims, provides a petri dish for the universal human experiment of thinking, being and doing. It’s a lovely idea. The trouble is that intellectuals seem no better at it than anyone else. They often think great thoughts, while being ignoble characters. Maybe Mill and Berlin and John Dewey were noble characters. But Marx was a serial adulterer, Karl Popper was a pompous narcissist, and Heidegger was a fascist. Elite thinkers, maybe: but as amateurish humans as the rest of us.

I’m not so sure, but there are a lot of issues that need clarification before we’re in a good position to accept or reject the article. Still, there are some points we can make. Great achievements typically require concentration and caring. The idea of caring that extends to what one says and not at all to what one does is puzzling. One expects a great scientist to care very much about the truth of his words. But then what does that care look like if it allows lying in letters of reference to reward sexual compliance?

And isn’t philosophy, at least when it is about human life, different? On the other hand, maybe moral behavior requires more than morally apt thinking. For example, perhaps a capacity for empathy. And a love of truth in one area may co-exist with a capacity for self-deception that enables a lot of borrowing from others. E.g., plagarism.

Perhaps, then, we need to recognize that there are many character flaws that can disconnect behavior from thought. I myself would still, at least at this point in time, like to think that at least for some areas really vicious behavior will mean one does not have the capacity for some great intellectual tasks. But is that really true?

What do you think?

A remarkable example of disconnect was explained recently by Bob Dylan. I thought of him as the voice (or a voice) of a generation of protestors. But, as he has said, that’s not at all what he was doing. He was just a musician. So where did those wonderfully apposite lyrics come from? It was, he says, simply magic.

In fact, many people report a similar experience (I think). As Feymann put it, suddenly boom, boom, the answer is there. Ownership may seem tenuous, and connection with character very problematic.

 

An awesome sex positive safer sex campaign from Switzerland May 19, 2014

Filed under: advertising,sex — Lady Day @ 11:51 am

A new campaign in Switzerland is doing a great job of promoting safer sex without pathologizing sex or moralizing about it, and with an array of wonderfully inclusive (and erotic!) messages and images. What’s more, to get to the campaign’s website, viewers need to sign on to a manifesto to love life, love their bodies and have no regrets. So far, over 54,000 people have signed on. Check it out here.

(H/t TV!)

 

Richardson on the stubborn influence of the sex difference paradigm May 7, 2014

Filed under: gender stereotypes,science,sex,Uncategorized — Lady Day @ 10:30 am

Philosopher Sarah Richardson has a great piece in Slate this week detailing how a Nature article about the discovery of twelve genes on the Y chromosome that fill the same function as similar genes on the X chromosome quickly morphed into reports in major media outlets about “a major new finding of sex difference.”

The New York Times reported that scientists had discovered 12 genes on the Y chromosome that play “high-level roles in controlling the state of the genome and the activation of other genes.” They “may represent a fundamental difference in how the cells in men’s and women’s bodies read off the information in their genomes.” TheHuffington Post quoted one of the studies’ authors as saying that these “special” genes “may play a large role in differences between males and females.”

Yet what the Nature articles actually show is the exact opposite. The 12 genes residing on the Y chromosome exist to ensure sexual similarity. The genes are “dosage-sensitive,” meaning that two copies are needed for them to function properly. We’ve long known that those 12 genes exist on X chromosomes. Females have the 12 genes active on both of their X chromosomes. If males, who have just one X, didn’t have them on the Y, they would not have a sufficient dosage of those genes. Now we know they do. Just like women.

How did a story about sex similarity become a story about sex difference? Richardson engages in “a little literary forensics” and concludes that science journalists focused on the brief, speculative bit at the end of the Nature article, rather than the article’s actual evidence and conclusions.

Part of this, no doubt, is the result of pressure on journalists (evident well beyond the realm of science journalism) to run with the most provocative story. However, over and above this common journalistic foible, is the pernicious influence of what Richardson terms the “sex difference paradigm.” In short, writes Richardson, “when it comes to sex, scientific reviewers, journals, funders, and reporters simply find similarities less interesting than differences.”

I posted last week on a different way in which our gender biases skew our understanding of biological sex. So, what is an appropriately critical scholar (or lay reader) to do? Richardson ends by plugging Stanford’s Gendered Innovations initiative, which works to show how critical thinking about  sex and gender can lead to scientific innovation.

 

On the “female penis” and why reproductive biologists (and everyone else!) need philosophy of sex April 26, 2014

Filed under: sex,Uncategorized — Lady Day @ 11:21 am

Last week, with the publication of Yoshizawa et al’s “Female Penis, Male Vagina, and Their Correlated Evolution in a Cave Insect,” the media and the intertubes obediently leaped on the phrase “female penis,” with outlet after outlet reproducing the phrase, often with predictable jokes about penis envy and who wears the pants in the relationship.

Yoshizawa et al’s article detailed the authors’ discovery of four species of tiny Brazilian cave insects in which sexual congress involves the female inserting a long, spiny member (a gynosome) into the male’s sexual orifice and using that gynosome to slowly extract sperm and other nutrients from the male, a phenomenon the authors describe as “coupling role reversal.”

The trouble is, of course, that the described phenomenon is not a reversal of the usual sexual roles, for two main reasons: (1) in familiar penis-in-vagina intercourse, the bearer of the penis does not typically extract sperm from its partner; rather, it ejaculates sperm into its partner; and (2) while there are indeed usual sexual roles within species, it is an exaggeration to say that there are usual sex roles across species. In some species, females leave their eggs on riverbeds to be fertilized by partners who arrive later; in some species, one partner impales the other in order to transfer ejaculate into them; some species require more than two mating types. I could go on. Parthenogenesis, exploding genitals… the natural world has it all! …and that’s just the animal kingdom. Don’t get me started on plants.

Given this amazing complexity, why would Yoshizawa et al (and all of the journalists and bloggers) adopt the (arguably) oversimplified, reductivist approach to cave insect sex that they have? In her smart, trenchant take on the story, Annalee Newitz attributes the approach to anthropocentrism. In an equally thoughtful piece (although one that I don’t happen to agree with, in the main), Ed Yong replies that “penis” is used for the female cave insects’ sex organs in the same (more or less) metaphorical way that “foot” is used in “snail’s foot.” For Newitz, treating any sexual appendage as a penis disregards the rich variety of sexual phenomena. Yong disagrees, arguing that extending the term “penis” to include organs with a broad range of sexual functions properly embraces sexual variety.

Yong’s point is an interesting one, and I’m happy to know that there are folks like Yong who know their biology and who adopt thoughtful, pluralistic approaches to sexual function. However, it is implausible in the extreme to suppose that the herd of bloggers and science journalists who piled on to the “female penis” moniker did so for the principled reasons Yong elaborates. Rather, what we see in both Yoshizawa et al’s choice of descriptions, and in the swiftness with which that terminology was taken up by journalists and bloggers, is an inability to conceive of sexual phenomena as escaping the Adam/Eve, Noah’s Ark two-by-two paradigm.

One sees this over and over in biologists’ descriptions of mating behaviour among hermaphroditic species (like flatworms) and species with more than two mating types (like fire ants) — a shoe-horning of non-human sexual phenomena into a familiar human binary. Even today, and even after the revolutionary work of such feminist biologists as Joan Roughgarden and Anne Fausto-Sterling (to name just two), traditional reproductive biology still can’t get past the idea that the magical number for sex is “2”, and that every sexual function/organ is reducible to two paradigmatic ones.

Presumably, the source of all this trouble in the history of ideas is indeed religious/mythological. However, reading the gender biases of one species of evolutionarily recent bipeds onto all of the other species is bad science. It is, moreover, science that ignores what recent developments both sexual reproduction and two-sex sexual reproduction are in the history of life on Earth. Put simply, regardless of what our Sunday school tales and the aisles of our toy stores might encourage us to believe, in the world of reproduction, male and female are not axioms of the system; nor are any particular sexual organs or functions indispensable.

 

 
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