Thoughts from an assault survivor in philosophy

An anonymous guest post:


Over the last few years, the the philosophical community has begun to take public notice of sexual harassment and abuse in our profession. On the whole, this is A Good Thing: It’s hard to address as a profession a problem we pretend doesn’t exist.


But, as is so often the case when the topic of the abuse of women is raised, not all of these discussions have been constructive. There has been a lot of skeptical speculation: “The allegations can’t be true because Professor is clever, well-educated—he’s too smart to put himself at risk”, “they can’t be true because he’s too good-looking, too well-situated in life. Why would he harass someone, rape someone? He must meet loads of interested women”, “the alleged victim has a boyfriend, a husband—she’s lying to cover up a consensual relationship”, “she’s probably just mad he dumped her”, “the alleged victim didn’t complain to the university right away, didn’t call the police—a real victim would never do that”, “I know Professor; he’s a good guy. He would never do a thing like that; if he had, I would have known, there would have been some sign”, and on, and on.


Listening to these discussions, online, on the various blogs and on facebook, at conferences and other professional/social events, I often find myself wondering what impression such speculation makes on victims, who are there among us, whether we know it or not. My speculation, though, isn’t entirely idle. You see, I am a professional philosopher, a senior woman. And when I was in grad school, I was raped by another philosopher.


For the survivors:


The single, most important thing for you to know is it gets better. I remember quite well the aftermath; the feeling of unreality, as if you aren’t quite fully connected to your body. And the feeling of incredible fragility, as if brushing up against another object would cause you to shatter into small pieces. I remember the confusion, the unwillingness to accept that this is something that really happened to you because….well, how could that happen to you? How could another human being do this to you, torture you for his sexual pleasure? And the months of brain fog, the insomnia, the sudden bouts of paralyzing anxiety. The bizarre feeling of deep shame that makes no sense. I remember.


It seems like it will never end. But I promise you, I PROMISE you, it gets better. The fog will lift. You will think again. And, if you choose, you will be a philosopher again. I count myself as a moderately successful philosopher; I am in a research-oriented department; I love my colleagues; they are generous and kind. And I love what I do; I love my students and I love my work. And there are many others out there just like me. We’re aren’t particularly heroic, we don’t have special abilities, we don’t have super strength. But we made it through this. Victims can make it through this.

In saying this, that recovery is absolutely possible, I do not mean to suggest that it is easy. Getting better can be hard work, work that is made a lot easier with the help of supportive friends and professionals. If you continue to have trouble with anxiety, depression, or insomnia, please seek the help of a professional who is trained to help survivors. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN, ) is a good place to start. Please, please take care of yourself.


For the speculators:


Gossip can be fun. I get that. I imagine a few folks in our profession enjoy gossip regardless of its consequences. But I’m betting most folks aren’t like this. Most of us, I imagine, would most like to put an end to the victimization of women in our discipline. And I bet most of us recognize that part of what is required to make that happen is for victims to come forward.


So, let me tell you what a rehearsal of the near-platitudes of dismissal I mentioned above sound like to survivors who are standing right there, I promise you, when you utter them or stand there quietly when you hear someone else do so. The translation is: “I very much doubt these allegations, despite the fact that I am not acquainted with the parties at all, don’t know the particulars, and don’t even have any idea who the complainant is. Nonetheless, I do not believe her.” When you do this, you make it rational for victims to hide. You want to know why a victim didn’t complain to the university, didn’t go to the police, or didn’t go right away? Review these conversations in your head and you have your answer. You, when you casually dismiss serious allegations or when you stand there silently while others do, demonstrate the pointlessness of speaking out. You are the reason victims do not advocate for themselves.


It is within our power to fix this problem. But we need to stand up, speak up. I hope that now you know, you do.

Sunday’s Dateline: UPDATE

I don’t think of FeministPhilosophers as a recommendation source for tv shows, but this item is an exception. Here is what my tv listings says:

A look at the way students and universities deal with the issue of campus sexual assaults.

My main questions: Will it be bearable? How full of errors? Any friends featured?

UPDATE:  you can watch it here.

A lack of respect for women

We just recently published an anonymous letter to the profession (Part I and Part II) about the problem of sexual harassment in philosophy. Why does this problem exist? Why isn’t it going away?

I think the letter gives us some indications about one factor that holds the behavior in place, and indeed may even in effect spread it. A foundational problem, one can see from the letter, is a pervasive lack of respect for women.

This lack of respect shows up in the 34 responses the writer gets when attempting to talk about the problem. No where do we see “O my god, that’s awful. What can we do about it?”

I think the lack of respect can show up even more chillingly in the treatment that women as outsiders can receive. And here I certainly do not mean to suggest that only men can do this. Women can also inflict the damage described in this passage:

Bias thrives in unstructured environments, where objective excuses for hostility are available, and where stakes tend towards doling out in-group rewards rather than punishing out-group exclusion. When professional rewards are discretionary, distinction between in- and out-group membership is heightened, the perceived flaws or weaknesses of out-group members are exaggerated, members are blamed more harshly, weaknesses are attributed to the person (“she’s not very smart,” “she’s crazy,”…) not the circumstances, excuses are less available, and punishment is swifter and more severe. Withholding professional respect, excluding women from philosophical conversations, refusal to acknowledge their contributions or minimizing their significance in favor of those of male colleagues, are all examples of discretionary rewards that even the best-intentioned philosophers are prone to deny women in informal settings. The presence of a male philosopher displaying overt hostility or aggression towards a female philosopher licenses further in-group hostility towards her, and where an objective rationalization is available for explaining this behavior (he has an objection to her argument, say, or she behaved somewhat inappropriately, etc.), it is often taken to justify this response. Women philosophers thus also suffer judgments that are harsher than their male colleagues’, more hostile, quicker and crueler dismissals of their views, and these judgments are multiply-reinforced by even their well-intentioned peers (my stress).

One particularly awful fact is that once one is positioned as an offending outsider, the complete lack of respect may be communicated to younger scholars. “O, she is just awful,” even if, for example, she has been chosen by peers for leadership positions, is generally described as at or near the top of the profession, and so on. The lesson here is: No matter what sort of reputation she manages to get, she does not deserve the sort of respect we give our male colleagues because she is a feminist, or she behaved in appropriately, etc. Junior scholars may not need to learn this behavior by example; they may be instructed in it. And so it goes on and on.

One problem for women who get this sort of treatment is that Equal Opportunity people may not see that it is gendered and so an offense against Titles VII or IX. “The department has a lot of jerks, but being a jerk is not illegal,” they may say. However, being a sexist jerk who is creating a hostile environment for a woman is. So it is well to go to any meeting to complain with a list of the kind of gendered cliches that show up in denegrations of women. Here’s the start of one and a few references.

So, supposing I’m right about the problem, what do we do? Suggestions, biblios, etc., are very welcome.

Men Writing About Sexism (Well) and the Phenomenology of Doing Feminism

This recent article from the video game site Rock, Paper, Shotgun (RPS)  is a well-written article about sexism in the gaming industry.  (All quotes below are from the article.)

Game Developers Conference 2013

Even if you are not particularly interested in the intersection of feminism and video games, the article touches on an emotionally charged sub-topic: the phenomenology of social justice, a.k.a., the weird psychological and epistemological stuff that happens when we partake in these discussions.

“In having written about the subject of women and games over the years, I’ve received a significant amount of abuse. (I’m not going to fret about saying, “But of course not as bad as…”, because of course it’s not as bad as…) Most of the abuse I receive is lazy insults, and until recently I tended to assume them fairly innocuous. Some has been extreme, such as forum threads dedicated to associating my name with acts of child molestation to skew Google results, personal threats, and deeply personal insults. All of it has one purpose: to intimidate.”


It is reassuring and interesting when other people talk about the psychological effects of the backlash for talking about the -isms.  Also, it’s impressive when a guy writes about the backlash he receives and I find myself genuinely sympathetic because he ‘gets it’.


“Generally the motivation for my writing any sort of polemic on RPS is because I’m angry about something – constructively angry about something a person should be angry about – and I want to see positive change. That’s what causes me to start typing, including this piece. But as I go along, those words creep in. “You’re just saying this to win the approval of others.” “You’re just trying to make girls like you.” “You think women need you to stand up for them.” And so on. They get to me. They’re getting to me right now. They’re evil spells, cast to insidiously infect.”


So I want to ask people about their own experiences with studying the -isms.  I find the phenomenal and psychological aspects of engaging in social justice projects fascinating because I am going through a (for lack of a better term) paradigm shift in how I understand the norms of human action.  In short, I’m shedding the worldview of pull-your-self-up-by-your-bootstraps atomized individualism that I grew up with and adopting a more…sociological?…understanding of human interaction.  Things I used to hold as mantras I now see as false:  It does matter what other people think of you; words can do more than break bones–they can rend souls; and there is no such thing as a self sufficient person–only a really privileged person who gets to enjoy the illusion of self sufficiency.


Have other people experienced things like this?  Do you look back five or ten or twenty years in the past and realize you had a completely different understanding of how the world works?  Do you struggle with managing the psychological aspects of using feminism in your work? (e.g. intimidation, isolation, social disapproval, wondering if you are insane or totally misled, etc.)  I find these things creeping in whenever I write or say anything about the -isms. They get to me.  It helps to know they get to other people, too.

Central APA: meeting up? UPDATE ON MEETING

There,s another important meeting on Fri evening, so we’ll meet up on Thurs, when the beer is free! Let’s head for 8:30 to 9, at the reception, near the beer!


The program is, I hope you will think, remarkedly diverse. It’s got some wonderful speakers on analytic philosophy, feminist philosophy, and critical race theory/Black Experience. On one count I figured we had 20 main program sessions on black experience. I doubt that’s quite right, but there are a lot, relatively speaking.

And inevitably some important concerns have been left out.

Rachel McKennon and I have communicated about getting some of us together. Some people can’t make Thurs evening, so let’s meet at the reception(aka “smoker”)on Friday. It starts at nine. How about meeting up at 9:30, near the place where one buys beer?

I’m thinking of “us” as FP commenters, and others who are interested in diversity, the state of the profession, etc.

What do you think?

Feminism Fizzles !?!

It’s the CHE again. The author, Rachel Shteir, maintains that Friedan’s book was wonderful, energizing, liberating, etc, but few people read it today, and contemporary stuff is uninspired and narcissistic.

A taste of now and then:

Friedan wades into women’s lives, painting a picture of how myriad forces created the feminine mystique. It is as though she is reworking one of the great reform classics of the early 20th century, like The Pit or The Jungle. You believe completely in the vortex sucking women under: In the first few pages, the reader is swept into birthrates, education, India, kitchen design, and diets.

Compared with Friedan’s 1963 book, the new W(orks)onW(women) also fall short as works of writing. They seem to either chirp or thunder rather than evoke, as Friedan does. They do not offer her sweeping take on women and society, and not only do they reject psychology, but they seem not to understand it. Slaughter is outraged when some female assistant professors asked her to stop talking about her children in public, telling her that it detracted from her “gravitas.” She reflects: “It is interesting that parenthood and gravitas don’t go together.” She goes on to insist that her colleagues add her children to her bio when they introduce her.

The article seems to me to be a mishmash of ideas. She writes as though a revolutionary book must be followed by revolutionary books, and does not seeem to realize that the next step will likly be the details, with lots of mistakes, etc. And there is no mention of vibrant feminism outside the US borders.

I think the article is available to all.

On Insults

NSFW:  I use swears/slurs in this post.

I recently got into a discussion with a few of the other bloggers on this site about insults and blog etiquette, particularly in light of ableism.
(Here’s a starting point if you’re not familiar with the concept.  If you are interested in reading more on ableism or activism for mental health, I recommend the blogger Daisy Bee at Suicidal No More, who is a fantastic writer and incredible human being and Renee at Womanist Musings who has an seemingly endless amount of stamina when it comes to social justice and calling out bullshit.  Neither of these blogs are of the ‘101’ variety so please be aware of that should you choose to leave a comment on either.)

To sum up the issue at hand: I think using the word “crazy” to insult people is somewhere in the territory of using a slur.  I think it only works as an insult because it is relying on the stigmatized status of people with a mental illness.  It’s an easy and nasty way to silence people, claim that their perspective is illegitimate, and dehumanize them.  In future posts of my own I’m probably going to ask commenters to not use that word or similar words in this manner.


This is a controversial stance, though, even in the context of anti-ableism and anti-sexism.  I invite others to think about this along with me.  My own thoughts on insults and especially the word “crazy” have changed drastically in the past five years, and I expect them to morph further in the years to come.  While personal insults might seem trivial in the grand scheme of things politically, I take the concept of  “safe spaces” very seriously, even if they are ultimately ideals that are unachievable in theory or practice. (This is not to imply that others don’t take this seriously, but only to articulate my own priorities.)

Also please note: I’m not arguing that the word “crazy” should be stricken wholly from the English language.  Also, in this context, I’m much less concerned about words with sketchy histories than I am with words that trade on current oppression to silence and insult people.  However, maybe I’m wrong in thinking that I can make that division and at least temporarily avoid the slippery slope concern.


(much more after the jump)
Read More »

So it is possible, if you have the money

Education to a professional, post-doctoral level can represent a heavy substantial financial investment; it is also something from which a country’s economy can benefit greatly. So what do we do about the apparently large number of people who take a break in their scientific careers because they having conflicting caring responsibilities?

Money may well help, a fact all too depressing to relatively unsupported disciplines such as philosophy, which is seen as making little difference economically:

From: UAS Race Equality
Date: 31 July 2012 16:03:44 GMT+01:00
To: “”
Subject: EPSRC funding to support research scientists with caring responsibilities: Call for proposals

Dear REN

Please find attached information on funding available via the From: UAS Race Equality
Date: 31 July 2012 16:03:44 GMT+01:00
To: “”
Subject: EPSRC funding to support research scientists with caring responsibilities: Call for proposals

Dear REPlease find attached information on funding available via the EPSRC to support and retain research scientists with caring responsibilities, including:

· Women and men who have taken, or are currently taking, a career break to care for a child or close relative (including for maternity/paternity/adoption reasons)
· Women and men who are working part time because they have caring responsibilities.

Applications should be sent to by 5pm on 31 August or 21 September 2012.

Whilst this may not be of direct interest to you please can we ask you to publicise this funding as widely as possible. A successful pilot of this strategic funding was carried out in 2011/12 and it had a real impact on enhancing the grant holders research.

Thank you in advance for your help in spreading the word.


Caroline Kennedy
Equality and Diversity Unit
University of Oxford
University Offices
Wellington Square
Tel: 01865 289825

Thanks, Nathaniel!

Why are Nepalese women killing themselves?

Unfortunately, the answer is unclear, but apparently, suicide is the leading death cause in women aged 15-49 in Nepal. This is puzzling, because worldwide, suicide isn’t even in the top 10 in causes of death (WHO stats here).

I haven’t been able to find detailed stats on mortality rates in Nepal, but generally, men are far more prone to suicide than women. It is just flabbergasting that suicide is the number one cause for mortality in women, in a country which used to have perinatal circumstances as a leading cause for death. It would probably be overly optimistic to think that the perinatal circumstances have improved so dramatically that it fell behind as a major cause of mortality.

When googling for mortality causes and rates, I did come across this interesting WHO graph about suicide in the world. The red bits are where suicide rates are higher. So that’s one huge block of red in the Orient.

But still. It is worrisome that suicide is risen so high amongst women in the reproductive age in Nepal.

It is bit of a sad possibility that both the practice of forced marriages and the custom of outcasting widows has to do with it, but there are no data on that.