Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

Reflections on running a women-only summer school in philosophy September 30, 2015

Filed under: empowering women,women in academia,women in philosophy — jennysaul @ 2:33 pm

Really interesting reflections from the organisers of the MCMP Summer School in Mathematical Philosophy.

Organizing such a summer school two years in a row does not yet allow us to draw conclusions about the impact this event has on the issue of female underrepresentation. However, we collected some data to address the more general question of how female students perceive philosophy as an academic discipline and themselves within that discipline. One striking result that seems to emerge from our data is that while female students do not necessarily see the immediate need and advantage of female-only events in advance, experiencing the event and being exposed to interaction and discussion with only female studies has a positive impact on them. While they initially consider the status quo as the ‘norm’ and acceptable, being exposed to a female-only event gives them a wholly new idea of how the experience of academia could be different. The experience allows them to compare such an environment to the status quo they encounter in their everyday university setting, which makes them see things differently. Female students who have experienced such a female-only environment can make their needs and worries explicit and voice concrete suggestions about how they think the academic environment should change to make it accommodating and comfortable for them.


Papineau v. Manne on Twitter August 18, 2015

Filed under: academia,gender,women in philosophy — annejjacobson @ 9:24 pm

The snapshot below of the twitter exchange is pretty self explanatory. It might help to know that Papineau is referring to a letter from Manne that the TLS printed, with unfortunately one sentence ommitted that’s unfortunate because the ommitted sentence, as I underrstood it, went into some specifics about how philosophical combat works against women. This missing material is brought up in the exchange.

Part of Manne letter is copied here.

There was quite a bit more to the twitter exchange. I’m putting it up because it vivdly illustrates how a senior philosopher with a great deal of experience of academia, can be quite clueless about a powerful negative feature women face.

And I’d love to hear what you all think.

Unfortunately the links on the snapshot don’t work.



Yup, definitely being taken over by women August 16, 2015

Over the last year, we have heard a lot about the feminist/women’s (there are different versions) takeover of philosophy. That line of thought is nicely put in perspective by the various other similar claims discussed here.

The idea of a gender perception gap is borne out by studies in other areas. In one study on gender parity in the workforce, sent my way by colleague Flavia Dzodan, it was found that men “consistently perceive more gender parity” in their workplaces than women do. For example, when asked whether their workplaces recruited the same number of men and women, 72 percent of male managers answered “yes.” Only 42 percent of female managers agreed. And, while there’s a persistent stereotype that women are the more talkative gender, women actually tend to talk less than men in classroom discussions, professional contexts and even romantic relationships; one study found that a mixed-gender group needed to be between 60 and 80 percent female before women and men occupied equal time in the conversation. However, the stereotype would seem to have its roots in that same perception gap: “[In] seminars and debates, when women and men are deliberately given an equal amount of the highly valued talking time, there is often a perception that [women] are getting more than their fair share.”

How do you give men the impression of a female majority? Show them a female minority, and let that minority do some talking. This is how 15 minutes of Fey and Poehler becomes three hours of non-stop “estrogen,” how a Congress that’s less than 19 percent female becomes a “feminized” and male-intolerant political environment, and how one viable female Presidential candidate becomes an unstoppable, man-squashing Godzilla. Men tend to perceive equality when women are vastly outnumbered and underrepresented; it follows that, as we approach actual parity, men (and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, for some reason) will increasingly believe that we are entering an era of female domination.

(Thanks, L!)


Feminist philosopher and activist Lisa Guenther August 4, 2015

Feminist philosopher Lisa Guenther has been getting some well-deserved attention lately. There is a profile of her in the August 3 Chronicle. And, for those of us blocked from reading that article by the paywall, Daily Nous offers a great summary.


Papineau on Women in philosophy. July 17, 2015

Filed under: women in philosophy — annejjacobson @ 2:29 am

I am very grateful for the help various members of the blog provided.  I’ll try to list them tomorrow.

David Papineau has written a review of Women in Philosophy: What Needs to Change? a collection of essays edited by Katrina Hutchison and Fiona Jenkins for the TLS.  I think it is exceptionally difficult to review adequately an extended examination of biases and other obstacles encountered by a disadvantaged group if one is not a member of that group.  This problem is particularly severe when the examination reflects a number of viewpoints from members of the group which are elaborated with some exquisite detail.  So why did the TLS ask Papineau to write the review?  He does not have a history of distinguished contributions to the field of feminist philosophy, sociological treatments of bias and discrimination, and so on.

Well, who knows their actual reasons?  It might, however, be because they thought he’d write a thoughtful and fair review, as indeed I think he has.  Here his review contrasts markedly with recent discussions of microaggression, which are discussed below.  This was not my first impression, however, and so when I mention complaints, do remember that his task was actually exceptionally difficult.  Indeed, it isn’t clear to me he realized how difficult it was.

Let me first say that readers may want to pay particular attention to his discussion, both for the information conveyed and for the model of discourse that is presented.  Among other things, Papineau’s discussion reveals he has listened seriously to those invoking empirical research on implicit bias and stereotype threat.  He is critical of the role of aggressive discourse.  Perhaps most remarkably, he considers whether the typical topics of philosophical discourse should be enlarged to consider issues about, for example, power and gender.  Papineau’s comments argue an unusual ability to expand one’s imagination.

To take a more critical view: I will mention two problematic areas in his discussion:  1.  His view of the place of the excellence required by philosophy, and 2.  Two assumptions he makes about women in relation to philosophy.

The first:  Carol Dweck was one of the early theorists who saw a difference between two approaches to academic excellence.  One view is that achieving excellent is a matter of utilizing a talent existing independently of one’s training.  The other view is that the crucial factor is sustained long-term effort.  Which view one takes may not reflect any fundamental feature of the field.  If we take this idea to Sarah Jane Leslie’s thesis that philosophy’s image of itself has it requiring some sort of given brilliance, we can notice that the idea of inborn excellence may be a conceit of a field, but that does not mean it is true.  Indeed, I was extremely surprised to see blog discussions asserting that our field does require a high level of pre-existing intelligence. Papineau, who discusses Leslie, appears to take a realist’s view.   Such a view invites us to take biased pictures of the likely embodiment of such brilliance.  One would not be surprise if  most instances are male.

2.   The first:  the supposedly distinctive traits of women:  It doesn’t really matter whether or not in the end there turns out to be any real difference between women and men. The problem with positing that there is is that this is a claim that has been made so many times in ways that harm women’s interests that it ought to be handled with extreme caution. Papineau doesn’t show the caution needed.   Of course this doesn’t make his point malicious or sexist, but the assumption that women are relevantly different can be a huge distraction in solving the problem of women’s low participation.

The second assumption:  the problems of marginalised groups:  Papineau says,  “There are obvious reasons for wanting political institutions to include a suitable proportion of women and other under-represented groups. A similar case for affirmative action can be argued more widely, even for such technical professions as law and medicine. Good practice in these areas often demands familiarity with the problems of marginalized groups, as well as purely theoretical expertise. However, this line of thought has no obvious application to philosophy, or to snooker for that matter. On the face of things, neither profession has the function of representing particular groups.”   A contrary view is that philosophy is a valuable enterprise and its value lies in the way it helps us make sense of complex and troubling aspects of human existence and experience, and not just those problems shared by men of European origin.  [See comments 1 & 2 below]. Some time ago Lorraine Code observed that the concentration in epistemology on “S knows that P” abstracts epistemology from all the issues about why knowledge is important.  The progress fueled by her work and that of others shows how important a very wide array of viewpoints can be.  Similar points have recently been made against the idealizations so standardly employed in ethics, political philosophy or philosophy of science, at least until recently.

These two hypotheses together lead Papineau to say: ‘Even if we assume that women are voluntarily selecting themselves out of philosophy, as in snooker, and that there is no special social need that warrants affirmative action, as there may be in law and medicine, it does not yet follow that philosophy’s gender imbalance is benign.’  Such mere assumptions made in the context of a philosophical argument or an article of this sort may not be neatly confined to their context. They often spill over to subsequent debates. The thought of having to spend more time than is already necessary explaining to people why one shouldn’t assume that women are just less interested in philosophy and arguing that familiarity with the problems of the marginalized is important for doing good philosophy fills one with dismay.  That his review could have this outcome is unfortunate, given that it contains so many good points.


Anti-harassment policy at various scientific/technical conferences June 24, 2015

Filed under: academia,sexual harassment,women in philosophy — annejjacobson @ 5:29 pm

I’ve seen this policy announcement at a conference of an association for computer memory and at one for the vision science society. The second adapted the first’s. It ends with strong wording:

Anti-Harassment Policy
The open exchange of ideas and the freedom of thought and expression are central to ACM’s aims and goals. These require an environment that recognizes the inherent worth of every person and group, that fosters dignity, understanding, and mutual respect, and that embraces diversity. For these reasons, ACM is dedicated to providing a harassment-free experience for participants at our events and in our programs.

Harassment is unwelcome or hostile behavior, including speech that intimidates, creates discomfort, or interferes with a person’s participation or opportunity for participation, in a conference, event or program. Harassment in any form, including but not limited to harassment based on alienage or citizenship, age, color, creed, disability, marital status, military status, national origin, pregnancy, childbirth- and pregnancy-related medical conditions, race, religion, sex, gender, veteran status, or any other status protected by laws in which the conference or program is being held, will not be tolerated.

Harassment includes the use of abusive or degrading language, intimidation, stalking, harassing photography or recording, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention. A response that the participant was “just joking,” or “teasing,” or being “playful,” will not be accepted.

Individuals violating these standards may be sanctioned or excluded from further participation at the discretion of the organizers or responsible committee.

It is the last sentence that may be especially interesting to philosophers who were concerned about the APA’s reference to legal liability.** We probably should remind ourselves that actions do not necessarily follow words. For example, it may be that a complaint has to meet a very high standard of proof before any sanctioning occurs.

**(That is in fact a concern I share since I have seen how easily one can end up with costs over $100,000, and in fact for that reason declined to pursue fully my own interests in a case I initiated.)


“One Hundred Years of Fortitude” May 20, 2015

Filed under: achieving equality,women in philosophy — annejjacobson @ 5:39 pm

The post title is also the title the NY Times gives to a piece about Carmen Herrera, one of the six artists who are “A very small sampling of the female artists now in their 70s, 80s and 90s we should have known about decades ago.”  The look at the six women is a wonderful and stunning interactive piece.

Carmen Herrera, 99, a regal Giacometti-thin woman with bone-white hair, could be the poster child for late-in-life recognition. Her work will be included in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s much-anticipated show this month, inaugurating its new building at the foot of the High Line. There, a painting of hers — the diptych “Blanco y Verde,” 1959 — will hang for the first time alongside works by Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella, Agnes Martin and Jasper Johns, publicly granting her a status in the canon that — according to curators at several major institutions — should have been hers for years. She will be a centenarian this month. A documentary about her life, “The 100 Years Show,” made its festival premiere in April.

Her painting, Blanco y Verde:


One could weep, but instead let us note that it is time we paid attention to the older women in philosophy who could be considered to be in comparable positions where they are “now in their 70s, 80s and 90s [and] we should have known about decades ago.”

So the first question is: what are the comparable positions?
Maybe next is: what should we do?


O no! Irrational philosopher May 15, 2015

Filed under: women in philosophy — annejjacobson @ 5:22 pm

The Guardian characterizes the lead character in Woody Allen’s new film, “Irrational Man”:

Joaquin Phoenix plays Abe Lucas, a sketchily imagined philosophy professor with a reputation as a devilishly handsome wild man. He is a charismatic lecturer and a great seducer of women, both faculty members and students (the movie is notionally set in the present, but seems to come from a pre-90s age in which this latter campus activity was not rigorously policed and frowned upon).

Consider yourself warned/policed.





More on reclaiming the role of women in the canon May 14, 2015

Filed under: women in philosophy — noetika @ 6:37 am

From the Atlantic:

In his first work, published in 1747, Immanuel Kant cites the ideas of another philosopher: a scholar of Newton, religion, science, and mathematics. The philosopher, whose work had been translated into several languages, is Émilie Du Châtelet.

Yet despite her powerhouse accomplishments—and the shout-out from no less a luminary than Kant—her work won’t be found in the 1,000-plus pages of the new edition of The Norton Introduction to Philosophy. In the anthology, which claims to trace 2,400 years of philosophy, the first female philosopher doesn’t appear until the section on writing from the mid-20th century. Or in any of the other leading anthologies used in university classrooms, scholars say.

Also absent are these 17th-century English thinkers: Margaret Cavendish, a prolific writer and natural philosopher; Anne Conway, who discusses the philosophy of Descartes, Hobbes, and Spinoza in The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy (which is influenced by the Kabbalah); and “Lady” Damaris Masham—the daughter of a Cambridge Platonist and a close friend of John Locke who published several works and debated ideas in letters she exchanged with the German mathematician and philosopher G.W. Leibniz.

Despite the spread of feminism and multiculturalism, and their impact on fields from literature to anthropology, it is possible to major in philosophy without hearing anything about the historical contributions of women philosophers. The canon remains dominated by white males—the discipline that some say still hews to the myth that genius is tied to gender.

Andrew Janiak, an associate professor of philosophy at Duke University, was a graduate student in the 1990s when he came across Kant’s startling reference to Madame Du Châtelet. “I remember thinking: Did he really mean Madame?” Janiak said. “It was the only time I’d seen a philosopher refer to the ideas of a woman.”

Now, Janiak and a team of Duke students and researchers, along with colleagues at Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania, have launched a site that features the forgotten voices of women philosophers, giving academics and students a rare opportunity to study and promote their work.

And we’ve posted it before, but you can find that site here. 


McGinn, Miami, Harassment, and Institutional Betrayal April 28, 2015

Filed under: sexual harassment,women in academia,women in philosophy — philodaria @ 8:08 pm

Many of you will have already seen this story, published earlier today by the Miami New Times, on the University of Miami’s handling of accusations of harassment against Colin McGinn. As the article notes, the New Times reviewed hundreds of messages between McGinn and the student who was subject to his advances while researching the story. What they found reveals a familiar pattern in universities’ handling of sexual misconduct—institutional betrayal. (Note: Miami has also been in the news recently for giving a student found responsible for sexual assault merely a one semester suspension as a sanction.) The story paints a picture of a woman not only harmed by being subject to excruciatingly inappropriate sexual advances by someone who she hoped might be her mentor and the beginning of a strong professional network, but further by her university seeking to expeditiously extract itself from a difficult situation without consideration for their responsibilities to her nor for the effects their way of handling it would have on her wellbeing and her future. The university chose to ask McGinn to resign for violating their consensual relationship policies—sidestepping a more complicated process—while the student contends there was nothing consensual about it:

Claire’s big break came two days before the end of her first semester, on the afternoon of December 12, 2011, when she received an email from McGinn. “I want you to be my official research assistant (with pay! but not much),” he wrote.

That was at 1:36 p.m. She quickly responded: “I would be absolutely delighted…! It would be great to work with you. I really enjoy our conversations.”

For the rest of the afternoon, Claire’s thoughts raced. She pictured herself cowriting books and papers with McGinn. Careers in philosophy are hard to come by, but with such a mentor, everything seemed within reach — especially when McGinn said he would turn her into a genius.

Claire couldn’t wait. That evening, she began finger-painting. Around 7 p.m., she emailed her new boss, relating the art to their research. “I have started a painting of some hands,” she wrote. “More like I am painting the hand using the hand as a tool.”

The response came as a shock: “I would love to see your paintings and your messy hands. It sounds somewhat erotic (I have a wide definition of the erotic).”

The word “erotic” glared at her from the laptop screen. The twinge of unease would deepen during the next nine months. In hundreds of messages reviewed by New Times, the illustrious, 63-year-old, married professor repeatedly used terms like “slight erection,” “handjob,” and “Lolita,” which he said was his favorite book. He even asked Claire to have sex with him — “three times over the summer when no one is around.”

Claire contends she tried to deflect McGinn’s advances by steering conversation to their research. But McGinn wouldn’t let up, she says. She lost weight from the stress. Her passion for philosophy waned, and for the first time, she began turning in assignments late.

So on September 14, 2012, Claire did what she calls “one of the most difficult things I have done.” She accused the most famous philosopher in the department of sexual harassment. She submitted his offensive emails to Wilhemena Black, the coordinator who oversees the university’s compliance with Title IX, a landmark federal statute that prohibits schools receiving financial aid from the Department of Education from discriminating by gender or allowing sexual harassment.

Thirty-five days later, UM officials ruled there was insufficient evidence. Instead, they accused McGinn of the more tepid “failure to disclose a consensual romantic relationship.”

McGinn didn’t tarry. He resigned before he could be found officially responsible for anything, then took to the internet to proclaim his innocence. This spurred a spate of high-profile stories about the case from Slate, the New York TimesChronicle of Higher Education, and elsewhere. Claire — whom New Times has given a pseudonym because she is an alleged victim of sexual harassment — declined their requests for comment but spoke to New Times for the first time.

“I never slept with him or had sexual contact with him. I never even kissed him. So how was his obsession consensual or romantic?” Claire says. “I came to UM to learn and grow as a philosopher, not to have my professor tell me he had an erection when he thought about me and found me a stimulating mental construct to masturbate to.”

Far too often universities approach sexual misconduct as if the primary concern is risk management for their own brand, rather than as a matter of community justice and equal educational opportunity, and it seems (unsurprisingly, but nonetheless, wrongly) that’s what happened here. The handling described by the New Times is precisely the kind of response that can severely exacerbate trauma and discourage victims from reporting–it also raises serious questions about Miami’s compliance with the law.



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