Our policies

We are largely pseudonymous, although some of us aren’t. Why? For several reasons, which each of us undoubtedly weight differently.
(1) Women on the web, especially those who write about sexual topics (as we sometimes do) have been subjected to some pretty nasty harassment. We don’t want that.
(2) Some of us are very junior professionally and we need to able to speak freely in spite of that.
(3) Anonymity makes it harder to act on the basis of hierarchies, encouraging the evaluation of arguments rather than just the prestige of their sources. We like that.
(4) Some of us don’t want to engage in the self-promotion aspect of philosophy blogging, and anonymity blocks that.

But if you’re really curious about who we are, we can tell you this. We are a variety of genders. We are from a variety of ethnic/”racial” groups. We are students, post-docs, temporary lecturers, permanent lecturers, tenured professors, untenured professors, and philosophers with jobs outside academia. Some of us are disabled. We have a variety of sexual orientations. We are on 3 continents. We work in ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, experimental philosophy, equity policy, history of philosophy, analytic and continental philosophy. Oh yeah, and feminist philosophy.

The purpose of this blog
We’re here primarily for feminist philosophers. We think it’s fantastic if others find our work useful, and we’re thrilled that so many seem to do so. But sometimes we will take things for granted that aren’t taken for granted elsewhere– e.g. that feminist philosophy is a worthwhile endeavour, or that sexism exists. That’s not because we think it’s illegitimate to want arguments for these claims; it’s because we’re in one of the few places where we can use these claims as starting points and try to build up something more. We’re usually very happy to explain ourselves to non-feminists or non-philosophers, but sometimes we may just want to get on with something without such explanations. Please don’t be offended if this happens. (Also, if you just want to rant about how you hate the feminists, expect to get deleted. That’s just boring, to us and to our target audience.)

Commenting Policy
Our main rule: BE NICE. Engage arguments, but do not insult people you’re arguing with. When engaging with arguments, do so respectfully. Don’t attribute nasty motivations to people unless they really make it clear that they have those motivations. Try to be as charitable as possible. Abusive comments may be deleted, including but not limited to sexist and racist comments. Repeatedly abusive posters may be blocked. Why do we have this policy? Because we think it’s the best way to facilitate productive dialogue. We might be wrong. But it’s our blog and our policy.

Complications: Sometimes we just have to get ranty. We’re feminist philosophers, and as such the world isn’t always the way we want it to be. And sometimes we want to get ranty about people. That’s OK– as long as they’re not people we’ve got some chance of a productive dialogue with. In practice, this means don’t get ranty about people writing for or commenting on the blog; and don’t get ranty about other living philosophers in such a way that they’re identifiable. So by all means– rant away about George Bush or Sarah Palin. But don’t rant away about named living philosophers. (Note: For those who wonder, this is indeed a change in policy. In an effort to only minimally interfere in discussion, the scope of the “be nice” rule had previously been limited to those actually engaged in discussion on the blog. We’ve re-thought this, and expanded the scope accordingly.)

Further complication: Of course, there will be borderline cases. And we’re just going to have to decide those the best we can. I’m sure you’ll disagree sometimes, as that’s the way borderline cases are. But know that we are really trying to get it right.

Addendum: ‘If your comments are repeatedly expressing views that (intentionally
or otherwise) make this blog an unsafe environment for those who are on the receiving end of oppression, you may be asked to change your behaviour. If this doesn’t succeed, you may be placed in
moderation or blocked.’ For more on this policy, go here.

28 thoughts on “Our policies

  1. Esther Dyson likens anonymity on the Internet to abortion in an interview today, heh. They are both important rights, she says, but they are also both regrettable.

    (I don’t get why abortion is so regrettable, but maybe this isn’t the place for that concern.)

  2. It’s because of this very blog I got myself this ID, just as you were writing down this post :P
    I do some sort of research on the darker sides of internet, and the reasons to be anonymous on the internet, while you are a nice and honest person with (normally!) nothing to hide are very valid. It’s the thing about “normally”. I normally wouldn’t cut someone’s head off, even if I disagree with them, but for some people that IS normal. By all means, remain anonymous!
    Furthermore, it is exactly because of our anonymity that we can be frank, even though we might be “lesser beings” academically.
    I love this blog, I completely agree with the policies. Keep it up!

  3. Quick question: So usually I see only JJ and Jender making posts. Are these names each only one person or are they multiple? (since you mention the variety of people who work on this blog)
    Just wondering! Thanks for the time spent on this blog–I read it daily and love it.

  4. JJ and I are each only one person. But we have a lot of other bloggers who post less frequently than we do. So glad you like it– many thanks!

  5. Dashaway,
    The rest of us are less active – for various reasons, I guess – and we are (or at least, I am) in awe of JJ’s and Jender’s energy and dedication!

  6. I really enjoy this blog, too, though don’t comment all that frequently. I don’t have my own blog, but have been commenting under “helenesch” for years (on a handful of other blogs by female academics). I just don’t think my students and colleagues need to know what I’m saying here, and think I speak more freely when commenting under this pseudonym (this is not my real name). But having a pseudonym is not an excuse for meanness, nor for saying things for which you’re not accountable. I think it’s easier for that to happen when folks are completely anonymous (as opposed to pseudonymous).

  7. Many thanks for the positive reactions!

    As for “energy and dedication” on my part (I do love the thought), one just has to think of the charge anger gives one.

  8. Is the “Comments” category the best place to submit a private (not posted publicly) question about the policies? Thanks.

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  10. Your sense of feeling a bit bizarre, given the context, reminds me of Sandra Bartky’s description of new feminists in The Phenomenology of Oppression, which, unfortunately I cannot find on my shelf right now in order to quote for you. Suddenly we are seeing everything through the lens of a gender analysis, which can be disconcerting, and can certainly make one feel as though one has a bout of paranoia.

    I have found it important, in my own life, to also factor in class, education, opportunity, and so on, as well. That doesn’t mean the gender analysis is “wrong”–there may truth to it, and in my opinion tone of voice and gesture/demeanor must also be considered–but rather one of many possible lenses which, if used simultaneously, give a much more complex (if not frustrating) realm of possible meanings, intentions, etc. And in my opinion it is very difficult, with a complete stranger, to have a sense of the person and/or the intent.

    What to do, then? I like the suggestion to attempt to clarify. Sometimes when you do this people become more aware of what they just said and what it says about themselves (and their “default” lense), and they just walk away embarrassed or apologize. Sometimes, if they did intend a slight, they get irritated that you didn’t just put up with it. And sometimes they suceed at proving to you that they are just not skilled in the discernment of the subtle changes in connotation that come with different ways of prasing a comment.

    But what I have learned is that if you don’t want others to expect you to be perfect when it comes to your own unmindfulness, you need to approach it in a way that acknowledges their humanness as well. Our humanness includes a process of enculturation, and learning (or unlearning) from others, and sometimes moments of unmindfulness.

    But, again, tone and demeanor and gesture make a difference. I wasn’t there.

  11. I am a free lance paralegal looking for sex offenders who are innocent and want to take their case public. I will send you a copy of my PSO paper if you will send a snail mail address. I am not smart enough to send attachments. I am going to try build a web sight soon.


  12. I am currently studying feminist philosophy as part of a broader study of philosophy itself . I hope this blog will provide something interesting to ensure my perception of feminism is up to date as, so far, I have not been impressed with much of the material read. However, looking back historically (and having lived through several decades) does provide a perspective which I trust will not lead me to provide a critique which is imbalanced. Then again as I am not in academia my perspective may have some value to those who are.

  13. Phil, it might be worth thinking about the idea that an viewpoint brought from outside academics is going to be valuable for those who are inside it. Of course, many extraordinary people, such as Darwin, worked formally outside of academia.

    Still, we are all extensively engaged with students who often very bright insights from their worlds and those of their families. At the same time, disciplines have their expertise. One probably wouldn’t think that physicists, mathematicians, art historians and so on might change their views given what someone outside the field thinks. That’s not to say their minds are closed; rather, it marks how hard such people work already to take into account alternative viewpoint.

    If you aim to bring a fresh and valuable insight to us, I certainly wish you the best of luck, but you should know the task is exceptionally difficult.

  14. This is a much more articulate explanation of why one would maintain online anonymity than I managed! As an academic, at the moment, I also feel that online anonymity is the best way for me to blog freely about feminism. It’s not ideal, but its the best decision for me for now.

  15. I come to this blog only once in a while, and I find many of the discussions valuable and interesting, but I would urge you to rethink your policies or prodecures regarding the policing of ideas on the site. Apparently, people who control this blog regularly scan comments and eliminate comments — and sometimes erase entire threads — to make sure only the right sorts of things appear in comments. For instance, we were warned that comments on a post about infertility would be ‘closely monitored’ given the sensitivity of the topic, and when one reads this, one feels not only that you operate with an assumption of our untrustworthiness (as though people participating here can’t wait to say something hurtful) but also that one might as well not bother spending time reading, thinking and making a comment, since someone, at whim, can come along and delete one’s comment, if is it deemed at all insenstive. For instance again, the blog on sexism in a recent tenure denial was just removed inexplicably, and I did not find the thread offensive, insulting, or anything of the sort, but someone in control of the blog must have. Pulling a thread that people were reading with interest, and taking time to contribute to, deters some of us from participating in this blog at all.

    By contrast, I manage an open philosophy listserv with several hundred subsribers, and only once in the four years of my managment has someone been removed from the list for incivility. On occassions when someone posts something that they probably shouldn’t, I send them a note to that effect, but still I never remove them or prevent them from posting. The interfering hand of an authority in a public discussion forum is really best left for the rare odd-ball who does not know how to act.

    Obviously, a public forum for discussion needs someone in authority to take care of occassional issues of incivility, but a well-run comminity has a ‘police force’ that hangs back most of the time to let the community flourish on its own, rather than, like in a police state, scanning what everyone is saying and controlling the community by eliminating spaces for discussion — or particular comments — that are thought by someone to be unruly. You need to chill out and hang back more, and just allow the community to flourishing without your purning.

  16. Hello, Anonymous. Sorry to hear that you or anyone feels deterred by blog management. Please note that this is a collaborative blog to which many contribute on a voluntary (read: free, in our spare time) basis. There aren’t authorities who control it. There are, instead, donations of blog-posts and comment moderation by bloggers who build and maintain this site.

    Indeed, over the years the bloggers here have regulated the comments on this site, even (though rarely) removing an entire discussion. Perhaps not coincidentally, management of those comments has grown with the readership. On any given day, we get thousands of readers; frequently, we get over four or five thousand readers a day, and according to some metrics are the most-read philosophy blog (I’m taking other sites’ word for this, as I’m no web-statistician). Therefore, problematic conduct is not so rare for us. This is not a subscribed listserv community; the internet is wide open, and this site hosts anonymous, passing commenters cruising the internet highway, many of whom enter fake email addresses and/or post as ‘anonymous.’ This makes us a substantially different blog from, for example, Brian Leiter’s “Leiter Reports,” a Typepad blog at which all comments are moderated in advance, and a verifiable email address, if I recall, must be provided.

    Comments that appear here are not written by odd-balls (those sorts arrive too, “I hate women” and so on, and go to our spam filter every day. And I do mean every day. We get a lot of inappropriate messages that the readership does not see). But sometimes the comments we get are written with problematic results, for example, when comments speculate as to the character or professionalism of others in a way that potentially thrusts the hosting of (even unintentionally) rather harmful statements upon us. When that happens, such as during the recent discussion of Zachary Ernst’s well-written essay, we have to consider many issues, and issues of fairness on that occasion included the fact that individual named colleagues are bound by rules of confidentiality and cannot respond to speculative claims made about them during an active tenure case.

    It is regrettable that as we’re keen to host a blog on sensitive topics, we often find that we have to manage the comments. It is unfortunate that the very powerful appeal of some posts can yield sincere, heartfelt comments which are nevertheless inappropriately character-visiting, speculative, or tend to effects which neither the poster nor perhaps the commenters intended. If it makes you feel a bit better about our policies, I can assure you that unlike a police state, in a million years we couldn’t “scan what everybody is saying”! We all work full-time at jobs. And I mentioned the four thousand a day thing, right?

    Last, it is depressing to read that anyone thinks we delete things on a whim. Actually, almost every speculation I’ve read as to our motives for deleting things tends to be uncharitable. But like you said, one can’t control everything. Laissez les bons temps roulez.

  17. I used to follow and sometimes participate here, but I gave up a while ago. Just wanted to take another look (I finished my last class for the semester!), but I don’t think I’ll return.

    The new(er) “safe place” part of your rules crosses the line for me. At least the “be nice” rule had some hope of being applied in a fair and neutral way, although it often wasn’t. The “safe place” rule has a built-in ideological bias. Of course, many very good blogs have ideological bias, and there’s no problem with that, but ideological rules controlling the comments create an echo chamber, which is unattractive to me, and I believe in the long run counterproductive.

    By the way (just looking at the comment above), *of course* there is authority being exercised over comments – it’s not the authority of one person, and nobody is getting paid to exercise it, but it’s *obviously* authority nonetheless. And it doesn’t really matter what your intentions are (I don’t mean profbigk in particular, but ‘you’ collectively). You might be misunderstanding some expressed worries as “speculations… as to our motives for deleting things.” The motives are not to the point, any more than the motives of conference organizers who line up eight men and no women are the point. You can have the best intentions and still manage comments with authoritarian effect, implicit bias, … but you understand all this better than I do. I just find it striking that you think the issue is intentions.

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