Feminist Philosophers

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Stereotypes, disability, and teaching moral problems April 9, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 3:15 pm

Wireless Philosophy recently released a video – written and narrated by Molly Gardner (UNC) – on the nonidentity problem. Before I say anything else, I’d like to make very clear that this post isn’t a criticism of Gardner – her explanation of the problem is beautifully clear, and she didn’t do the illustrations, which are what I’m going to criticize. While I’m not the biggest fan of setting up the nonidentity problem in terms of maternal responsibility – given how much everyone already loves to heap judgement on pregnant women – it’s definitely the standard way of presenting the issue, and the narration does a wonderful job of clearly articulating the basic points.

What bugged me about the video wasn’t the narration, but rather the illustration. Gardner describes two women who desire to have children with poor health (notice she never mentions disability at all). The illustration of these two children is this:

Screenshot 2015-04-09 10.41.35

The mothers are modern women in business suits. The doctors are modern doctors in white coats. What is this picture of a disabled Victorian street urchin doing in the middle of this video? (Although, to be fair, this could also be a picture of a disabled hipster. It can be hard to tell the difference.)

The answer, of course, is that this isn’t just any Victorian urchin. This is a readily identifiable disability trope – one that will instantly set many disabled peoples’ teeth on edge. This is Tiny Tim! Tiny Tim has a distinctive look:

He is even instantly recognizable in mouse or frog form:

Okay, so what’s so bad about Tiny Tim? He was a sweet kid, right? The problem with Tiny Tim is both the way he’s presented – the sweet, tragic disabled child who exists to teach a moral lesson (by dying, obviously) to the non-disabled main character – and how archetypal he has become in non-disabled peoples’ minds. Tiny Tim is the cheerful overcomer – his life is sad, but he will make the most of it, so that, e.g.:

“He hoped the people saw him in church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant for them to remember on Christmas Day who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”

An image of Tiny Tim isn’t the image of normal, happy, well-adjusted disabled person. It’s the image of everyone’s favorite maudlin stereotype of disability.

But why does it matter? It’s just a cartoon, right? It matters, in part, because the way we see Tiny Tim affects the way we see normal, everyday, often fully grown up and very much non-Victorian-urchin disabled people. (So much so, indeed, that in a video filled with otherwise modern illustrations, to the go-to depiction of a disabled child was Tiny Tim.) And the way the Tiny Tim stereotype permeates peoples’ perceptions of disability drives disabled people up the goddamn wall. Here, for example, is what disability blogger stothers has to say on the matter:

I hate Tiny Tim.
TT is on the ropes in Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Sickly and dependent, TT is getting shakier and shakier on that homemade little crutch. But he is saved from death by old Ebeneezer Scrooge, who sees the light in the nick of time.
Now, before you go apoplectic at my assault on wee Tim, think about how he helps shape some of society’s most cherished attitudes — charity, pity (for poor little TT), for example. Tiny Tim, plucky, sweet and inspirational, tugs at the public heart.
TT has become Disabled Everyone in popular culture. TT is Jerry’s Kid.
Society idealizes this sentimental image of disability as a pitiful child in desperate need of help. People feel better when they give a few bucks or a little toy for a kid with a disability.
As an enduring symbol of modern Christmas time, Tiny Tim resonates with a deeper, darker meaning for people with disabilities. The problem is that not all people with disabilities are children, but we all tend to be treated as if we are Tiny Tims.
When I’m in the stores and malls this time of year I get a lot of smiles meant for TT. How do I know? Well, I am a middle-aged bearded and balding adult in a power-driven wheelchair. People, mostly women but some men also, flash smiles at me. Not the kind of smiles most men would hope for from a woman, nor the neutral courtesy smile exchanged by strangers passing on the sidewalk, but that particular precious smile that mixes compassion, condescension and pity. It’s withering to the person on the receiving end.
I hate it.

But all too often when we talk about disability in ethics – and especially when we teach ethics – we fall back on the most hackneyed stereotypes and cliches about disability, precisely as this video does. And no wonder – those stereotypes are powerful, and they produce powerful moral reactions. But some of the reactions they provoke are harmful, especially – as is more and more likely to be the case, given the widening access for mainstream eduction that disabled people are achieving – there’s a disabled student in the class.


Discussion of police violence and race at Daily Nous April 8, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 4:50 pm


I don’t feel like I have any words that are worth saying or any words that are adequate. But hopefully those that do will chime in.


History of women philosophers and scientists at Yeditepe, Istanbul. April 7, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — axiothea @ 5:16 pm

Originally posted on Feminist History of Philosophy:

The Department of Philosophy at Yeditepe, Istanbul, is offering, jointly with the University of Paderborn, the world’s first Master’s program in the History of Women Philosophers.

The Department of philosophy will host an event to present the new program Joint Master Program on 9th April. The German Minister for Innovation, Science, and Research of Land Nordrhein-Westfalen, Frau Svenja Schulze, will attend the opening and  Prof. Dr. Ruth Hagengruber, head of Paderborn Philosophy Department, will give a talk entitled “2600 Years History of Women Philosophers”. The event will take place in German and Turkish – program below. Everybody welcome, please share!


yeditepe program

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Filed under: Uncategorized — jennysaul @ 5:11 pm


From here.

Thanks, H!


Professor filing Title IX suit against Harvard

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 12:31 pm

Kimberly Theidon – formerly a tenure-track professor at Harvard – is filing a title IX suit against Harvard university, claiming she was retaliated against when Harvard denied her tenure after her department unanimously voted in her favor. Theidon had been a vocal advocate for victims of sexual harassment and assault at Harvard, and had allegedly been cautioned that these activities could interfere with her tenure case.

More details here can be found here.


‘A Rape on Campus’ was a failure of journalism April 6, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 5:07 pm

In the wake of the incredibly damning Columbia Journalism review of the Rolling Stone article ‘A Rape on Campus’ – which shows systematic failures at all levels, from basic reporting and fact-checking to editorial oversight – Rolling Stone continues to spin the narrative that their failure was primarily one of being overly sensitive to (and perhaps overly trusting of) an alleged rape victim. (In doing so, of course, they continue to heap as much blame as possible on ‘Jackie’, rather than on themselves.) And that narrative appears to be working – today the NY Times calls the fault of their piece ‘a lack of skepticism’, remarking that:

On the most basic level, the writer of the Rolling Stone article, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, was seduced by an untrustworthy source. More specifically, as the report details, she was swept up by the preconceptions that she brought to the article. As much casting director as journalist, she was looking for a single character with an emblematic story that would speak to — in her words — the “pervasive culture of sexual harassment/rape culture” on college campuses.

Journalists are often driven to cover atrocities and personal traumas by the best intentions, chiefly the desire to right wrongs and shed light on injustice — in a word, empathy. It is a noble impulse that animates a lot of important and courageous reporting. But empathy can also be a source of vulnerability for journalists, lowering their defenses against bad information.

But is the failure here really being ‘seduced’ by an untrustworthy source, due to empathy for rape victims? No, of course it isn’t. The failure is not meeting even the basic minimum standards for decent journalism, standards which are fully compatible with empathy for victims.

‘A Rape on Campus’ presents statements attributed to ‘Jackie’s’ friends as direct quotations, when in fact Rubin Erdely never spoke with or interviewed these students. It also makes very serious and very pointed allegations about a specific, readily identifiable group of men without having done even basic investigating. (Rubin Erdely, for example, never asked the fraternity for a list of members which she could cross-check with a list of staff at the aquatic center. She never asked them for information about their social functions on the night of the alleged attack. And so on.) Even some very minimal reporting would have immediately raised questions about the veracity of the account as presented in the article. Her notes reveal how little she did in the way of this sort of fact-checking, but the editors at Rolling Stone let the story through regardless.

That’s not an over-sensitivity to a victim. That’s failure of journalists to do their damn job, all of which could’ve been done while treating the woman at the center of the story with compassion and respect. The bitter irony in all of this is the claim that somehow such errors come from misguided empathy for rape victims, when anyone with genuine empathy for rape victims knows how hard it is to combat skepticism about rape on college campuses, and how much anyone who investigates such matters has a duty to all victims to make sure they do so in a responsible and careful way. Rolling Stone wasn’t trying to help rape victims, they were trying to sell magazines. And as a result of not doing their jobs properly, they’ve done a horrible amount of damage to rape victims in the process.


Northwestern– the President makes it all worse

Filed under: Uncategorized — jennysaul @ 12:20 am

Philosopher Lauren Leydon-Hardy explains.

In view of Kipnis’ refusal to correct the factual inaccuracies in her piece, and as the misleading narrative propagated by her began to reverberate across multiple media platforms, at least two students filed Title IX retaliation complaints against Kipnis. Because, when a professor writes about your Title IX sexual assault complaint in an erroneous, misleading, and condescending way, that pretty straightforwardly raises questions about retaliation under Title IX. As of the publication of Schapiro’s op-ed, though, those complaints had yet even to be assigned investigators. So, here, roughly, is how this unfolded: Kipnis writes a piece in clear violation of the faculty handbook, riddled with falsehoods about students, even as she is discussing the worst thing that has ever happened to these people. And then, while there are two utterly nascent, open Title IX complaints, our university president writes an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal issuing a verdict: Kipnis’ piece is protected speech.


The Rolling Stone story and campus sexual assault April 5, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — magicalersatz @ 7:16 pm

Update: the full Columbia review is now available.

Libby Nelson has written an excellent editorial over at Vox about the importance of the upcoming Columbia School of Journalism Review of Rolling Stone’s partially-fabricated story ‘A Rape on Campus':

Understanding what went wrong in the UVA story is crucial, and not just for journalists. Rolling Stone’s narrative might have been false, but campus sexual assault is still one of the most difficult problems in higher education. Solving it requires accurately understanding how common it is, and figuring out how to balance the interests of victims and the rights of the accused — all things Rolling Stone failed to do.

. . .

The Columbia Journalism School report is expected to focus less on Charlottesville and more on Rolling Stone: how an explosive, criminal allegation wasn’t given even cursory fact-checking before being published in a national magazine, and why the magazine reportedly kept Jackie in the story after she said she was traumatized and asked to no longer participate.

The central question in the Rolling Stone debacle — how do you trust victims of sexual assault while thoroughly investigating their stories? — matters to everyone because it’s not just about journalism.

It’s at the center of dealing with campus sexual assault. False rape reports, on campus and off, are rare. And while it’s not clear how widespread the problem of campus sexual assault is, the best available data (which is still very flawed) suggest it’s far too common.

At the same time, victims of sexual assault often face scrutiny when they come forward, with questions about what actually happened in their experience and whether an assault actually occurred.

Colleges have a tricky line to walk: they must be sensitive to the interests of sexual assault victims while ensuring that they’re not rushing to judgment. While complaints by students who feel their reports of sexual assault were mishandled are far more prevalent, colleges are also facing lawsuits from students who were expelled after being found responsible for sexual assault who say they were not guilty.

The Rolling Stone controversy is part of a larger debate about how campuses should balance their responsibility to students who have experienced sexual assault with their responsibility to protect students who are accused. Learning how, and why, the magazine failed to temper sensitivity with responsibility might help colleges and journalists alike strike that balance better in future.

Meanwhile, a former UVA undergraduate Jenny Wilkinson has written a powerful piece in the Sunday Review detailing her own experience with rape at UVA. Her attacker was found responsible by UVA, and his punishment was having a letter placed in his file. As the Vox editorial notes, whatever else was made up in the Rolling Stone story, it’s true that UVA has never expelled anyone for rape or sexual assault, though they have expelled 183 people for academic misconduct since 1998.


Anonymous marking: better for everyone

Filed under: Uncategorized — jennysaul @ 1:39 pm

Gender stereotypes mess with judgment, as readers of this blog are well aware.  Not long ago we told you about a study showing elementary school girls getting better marks in maths under conditions of anonymity.  Now we bring you its rather predictable correlate– boys getting better marks in reading under anonymity (slightly buried in this article).


From Daily Nous: Lockwood v Tooley April 3, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — annejjacobson @ 11:44 pm

on ‘sexual assault on campus’.   Readers may be aware that Tooley is at Boulder and protested at the allegations of gender hostility in that department.  Lockwood has been a passionate participant in discussions on this topic.  There is a video of the encounter here:


I am at the APA, and haven’t looked at the video yet.  But I doubt our readers need me to vet it.



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