Ageism in philosophy?

After spending years at conferences where women had to struggle to be heard, i thought that sorry situation changed considerably in 1986.  Suddenly it was recognized that women could do philosophy, or so it seemed to me.  But there was a problem.  Men acted, again from my point of view, as though women became able to do philosophy in 1986.  With few exceptions, the older women were not taken more seriouly than before.

Surely I exaggerate for the sake of a neat narrative.  Perhaps so.  But it may be worth asking ourselves if there is ageism operating in philosophy.  Equally, we could ask if this bias affects women more than men.

If ageism is active, it would do us well to start looking at it by reminding ourselves of its presence in all sorts of areas.  And so here’s a bit from HuffPo about another industry.  (

You have to look wide and far to find people over 60 in the 100 top-grossing films of 2015, and when you do find them, they are demeaned by ageist language and presented inaccurately and unfairly, says new research conducted by Humana and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Among the researchers’ more disturbing findings:

1. Older people are underrepresented in film.

While 18.5 percent of the population is 60 and over, just 11 percent of film characters were that age.

2. More than half the films with older characters direct ageist comments at them.

Out of 57 films that featured a leading or supporting senior character, 30 contained ageist comments; that’s more than half of the films. Characters were called things like, “a relic,” “a frail old woman” and “a senile old man.” The report does not name specific films, nor would study representatives identify in which movies those three sample quotes were from.

3. Older people are stereotyped as tech-illiterate.

Only 29.1 percent of on-screen leading or supporting characters aged 60 or older are depicted using technology, while 84 percent of aging Americans report that they use the internet weekly.

4. Older people are portrayed as anti-social shut-ins.

On screen, just one third of seniors pursue interests or hobbies and 38.5 percent attend events, while in reality, they are more than twice as likely to engage socially with friends or relatives on a weekly or monthly basis.

5. Seniors are rarely shown as the masters of their own destinies.

The top five traits respondents rated as most important to aging successfully were self-reliance, awareness, honesty, resilience and safety. In film, seniors are rarely depicted as in control of their lives.

The pity, of course, is that people believe what they see on-screen.


Karen Warren on facing death and considering options

Eco-feminist philosopher Karen Warren has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

In a moving piece in Psychology Today, she writes,

This was the start of my personal journey confronting death. As a philosophy professor for nearly 40 years with an expertise in ethics, I often lectured about euthanasia. So, I am quite aware of arguments for and against various end-of-life options. But I never anticipated that my academic expertise would turn into a lived experience: Every day I watch myself deteriorate from a fatal and excruciatingly painful disease. And every day I do so knowing that I cannot legally choose to end my life before I become immobile. Because in my home state—Minnesota—it is illegal to help someone die.

The crux of the debate about aid-in-dying options centers around medical ethics. Physicians take an oath to help their patients and “do no harm.” Many interpret this oath as requiring that patients be kept alive at all costs. The goal of the medical community is to make us live as long as we possibly can—even when our body would long be gone without medical equipment and our quality of life is next-to-nothing.

See more here.

Katherine Hawley on Kristie Dotson

in Psychology Today.


Misunderstandings can sometimes occur despite everyone’s best efforts. But this becomes an ethical issue when the audience really should have known better, when open eyes and open ears would have allowed them to empathize more, and acknowledge that they don’t have the full picture. Professor Dotson writes movingly of ways in which black women, in particular, can be on the receiving end of such avoidable but harmful misunderstandings. As she points out, this can lead women to self-censor, because silence seems preferable to routine dismissal or rejection.   Dotson calls this ‘testimonial smothering’ – a reminder that although it may seem like self-censorship, it arises from anticipation of others’ negligence.

cognitive science and feminist philosophy: online conference session

The Minds Online Conference has a great deal of interest, but the second session addresses quite explicitly topics in feminist literature. A number of us, most notably Sally Haslanger, have been working on figuring out the social nature of the destructive bias and and discriminations so many experience.  Bryce Huebner gives a stellar presentation on this topic.

In the same session, Stacey Groguen expands the topic of stereotype threat in a way that clarifies some important issues.

I haven’t yet looked at the rest of the papers, but I do urge readers to have a good look at them.



Trial of anonymised university admissions

Exeter, Huddersfield, Liverpool and Winchester will pilot a system this year where the names of applicants are not seen during admissions.

The aim is to stop “potential bias” about students’ race and identity.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson said he backed attempts to “stamp out inequality” in higher education.

The pilot project aims to see if masking the names of applicants will remove any “unconscious bias”.

This is interesting, but UK university admissions in so many places is just matter of A-level scores that I’m dubious how much difference this will make.



Misogyny may become a hate crime in England and Wales

from the Guardian:

Police forces across England and Wales are considering expanding their definition of hate crime to include misogyny after an experiment in one city that saw more than 20 investigations launched in two months.

The initial success of Nottingham’s crackdown against sexist abuse has drawn national interest after the city’s police revealed that they investigated a case of misogyny every three days during July and August, the first months to see specially trained officers targeting behaviour ranging from street harassment to unwanted physical approaches.

Several other forces have confirmed they are sending representatives to Nottingham this month to discuss the introduction of misogyny as a hate crime.

Police and campaigners said the initial figures were broadly in line with other categories of hate crime such as Islamophobia and antisemitism but were likely to rise significantly as awareness increased.

They are not thinking of banning ‘wolf whistles’.  Rather, the crimes involve physical contact or very aggressive bullying.

Annaleigh Curtis on trigger warnings and unusual phobias

Really super-thoughtful and interesting.

I wouldn’t expect the world to give me grasshopper trigger warnings. How could I? But if something like 1 in 5 or 1 in 3 students also had a grasshopper phobia, it would be a whole lot more reasonable to expect others to know this and take it into account. It takes work to build a classroom—or a society—where everyone can participate meaningfully. Part of that work is taking into account your students’ life experiences, to the extent that you can know what they are. Whenever I meet someone new and expect that we might be in a situation together where we’ll encounter a grasshopper, I give them a sort of reverse trigger warning. I tell them that I have this phobia, and that I might suddenly start acting weird, running away or suddenly stopping in my tracks. I try to prepare them for my own erratic behavior. We can’t expect this of trauma survivors, but we can work on the assumption that any college classroom contains a few of them. Providing basic trigger warnings about sexual assault, given that knowledge, is the minimally decent thing to do in creating an environment where everyone can succeed.

Read the whole thing.