Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

Trigger Warnings August 25, 2015

Filed under: academia,class,free speech,mental health — noetika @ 10:38 pm

There’s been a fair amount of discussion of trigger warnings recently (well, for months now, but especially over the last few weeks) in the media. As the academic year begins, and syllabi are on our minds, the debate is unlikely to go away. My own view is that this entire conversation has been poorly (perhaps, not accidentally) framed. We would do well to avoid false dichotomies that undermine the interests of both purported parties to the debate. That is, the division on this issue appears to be largely between professors and students. It’s the case of Academic Freedom, Intellectual Tradition, and Good Sense, et. al. vs. Entitled, Sensitive, and Zealous Student Activists Who Need to Toughen Up — except, I don’t think it really is.

The AAUP’s report on trigger warnings raises a number of concerns regarding trigger warnings. Among them, concerns of conflict with academic freedom insofar as faculty may be pressured or required to include trigger warnings on their syllabi against their own pedagogical judgement, concerns that students will be encouraged to lodge complaints if a course covers material that they find offensive, concerns that faculty will be held responsible for student trauma, concerns that trigger warnings serve to stifle discussion, and so on. It is interesting that trigger warnings elicit such a plethora of worries and spark intense disagreement when the practice of advising discretion or offering notice of content is more widespread. Lindy West suggests that “trigger warning” might be operating something like a dogwhistle now:

Back in early July, comedian Jimmy Fallon tripped on a rug in his kitchen, caught his wedding ring on the counter as he fell, and suffered a gruesome injury called a ‘ring avulsion’– basically, a medical term for ripping your finger off. Fallon spent 10 days in intensive care and came close to losing the digit, which, unfortunately, most ring avulsion sufferers do. Explaining his massive white bandage when he returned to his late-night show weeks later, Fallon warned: ‘If you Google it, it’s graphic. So don’t Google it’ . . . Odd that the anti-free-speech brigade isn’t up in arms about announcements such as Fallon’s – surely he, too, is “coddling” his audience, withholding valuable ‘exposure therapy’ for avulsion victims and infringing on Google’s free expression. It’s almost as though, coded as feminine and largely associated with rape victims, the antipathy toward trigger warnings is about something else entirely.

Even if West is right, not all of the dissent on trigger warnings is reducible to bias.  I think the most pressing concerns, though, are not in fact concerns about trigger warnings themselves, nor are they fundamentally concerns with student requests for them. They are, rather, at root concerns borne out of the corporatization of the university. Where administrators view students as customers and respond to conflict on campus by way of risk-assessment both faculty and students are worse off; but this isn’t students’ fault and it doesn’t entail that students have no place in discussions about curricula and pedagogy. In fact, this self-same administrative strategy  has greatly contributed to the traumas associated with sexual misconduct amongst students, one of the most salient phenomena requests for trigger warnings are a response to.

As we grapple with administrative creep — with this risk-averse financially-minded way of living together as an educational community increasingly being woven into the fabric of university life — I think it would be a mistake for faculty and students to forget that the sharpest division in the trigger warning debate is an artifice of someone else’s making. Students are (rightfully) frustrated that public relations, athletic titles, and protecting the university brand so often come before student safety.  Likewise, faculty are (rightfully) frustrated  with administrative overreach into their classrooms, their research, and the very structure of faculty governance. When we consider the background dynamics of the trigger warning debate, it seems to me that there is more in these frustrations to unite students and faculty than there is to divide them. Without the fear of administrative creep, disagreement regarding best pedagogical practices would surely remain, but what issue is free from disagreement in higher education? It’s in the context of the neoliberal, corporatized, university that controversy encourages censorship (self-censorship, or otherwise) and that trauma can be exacerbated in unique and challenging ways.

As Aaron Hanlon explains, trigger warnings themselves are meant to encourage greater engagement with a broader range of material rather than discourage it.

I use trigger warnings in the classroom as a way of preparing students who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder while also easing the entire class into a discussion of the material. The thinking behind the idea that trigger warnings are a form of censorship is fundamentally illogical: those who offer warnings, at our professional discretion, about potentially triggering material are doing so precisely because we’re about to teach it! If we used trigger warnings to say, effectively, “don’t read this, it’s scary,” then there’d be no need to warn in the first place; we’d just leave the material off the syllabus.

Trigger warnings are not the end of controversial material in the classroom; they are a new beginning. A way for faculty to reach out to students, who might otherwise struggle, as partners in an intellectual journey into risky territory. They may well have their pitfalls, but perhaps some of the surrounding frustration has been misdirected.

 

Masculinity and struggles with body image

Filed under: appearance,body,masculinity — noetika @ 6:57 pm

There’s a great piece by Tyler Kingkade on dealing with issues of body image as a man in the Huffington Post. I recommend reading in full but here’s just a preview:

About half of all men don’t like having their picture taken or being seen in swimwear, according to an NBC Today Show/AOL Body Image survey from last year. Research from theUniversity of the West of England found a majority of guys felt part of their body wasn’t muscular enough, and more men than women would sacrifice at least a year of their life in exchange for a perfect body . . . Contemporary masculinity does not permit a man to admit his physique is less than ideal. But if men could be more open about their own insecurities, without fear of violating the unspoken rules of masculinity, we’d do better at accepting our flaws in our bodies. And maybe then we could get closer to doing what Blashill recommended: “acknowledging there are many ways to be healthy.” . . . At 27, I’m able to admit I don’t like my body. But it shouldn’t have taken me years to get to that point. I spent too long feeling like I had a secret, that I was hiding my weight issues, unable to talk about it, because rules of masculinity forbid it.

There’s also a follow up piece here.

 

How Philosophy was Whitewashed

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jender @ 1:34 pm

an interview with Nathaniel Coleman:

“Try to find Cugoano in a philosophical syllabus,” Coleman notes. You will fail. Similarly, if you search for “philosophers” in Google Images, you will find only “”white men,” usually with beards.”

According to Coleman, the philosophical canon is socially constructed and unjustly excludes Africans like Cugoano or Anton Wilhelm Amo, an African philosopher who lived in (what is now) Germany, in the 17th century. They were virtually written out of the history of philosophy. It has been recounted that enslaved Africans did not write anything worth reading, and much less anything of philosophical value. And if they did write anything, it was only “stories.” But this is false.

 

Laurie Shrage on Prostitution/Sex Work

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jender @ 1:09 pm

Feminist philosopher Laurie Shrage writes in the NY Times:

This week, participants in an Amnesty International council meeting in Dublin are considering a proposal to endorse the decriminalization of consensual paid sex between adults. The proposal has elements of the both the British model, which rests on the idea that consensual sex between adults should be protected from state interference, and the Dutch model, which is based on the idea that criminalizing paid sex generates more harm than good. The policy draft I read emphasizes the organization’s longstanding commitment to end trafficking, and to insure that, where paid sex exists, it is voluntary and safe.

Yet some prominent feminist groups have organized to oppose Amnesty International’s proposed policy and to endorse the Swedish model of prohibition. Their opposition is based on the assumption that acts of paid sex are inevitably coercive and that the state should intervene in private sexual acts between adults to protect vulnerable people.

The first assumption has been strongly challenged by many sex worker civil and labor rights groups, and the second assumption is subject to the objection that it is overly paternalistic toward adult women. Moreover, opponents to Amnesty International’s proposed policy overlook the fact that it remains neutral on the question of whether there should be public establishments for the purpose of buying and selling sex.

Shrage’s views are controversial, both in the wider world and amongst feminists.  I invite a discussion here, but urge everyone to remember that this is– very clearly– an issue on which reasonable feminists can and do disagree.  Please do observe the “be nice” rules, in particular bearing in mind that very different views can come out of shared feminist commitments.

 

Charlotte Witt on Gender Essences

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jender @ 1:02 pm

In Aeon magazine.

Why can’t the woman candidate simply choose to identify as an aspiring academic, thereby making her attire unimportant?

My answer is that gendered norms – in this case gendered norms of appearance – trump other norms that structure our social agency, in this case again, the clothing-as-unimportant norm that governs being an academic. And, it turns out that what is true of gender norms in the world of philosophy, that lofty and abstract realm, is also true of the social world as a whole. Gendered norms trump, prioritise, and permeate the multitude of norms that structure our agency and lived experience.

 

Women in Gaza – The Guardian August 24, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — kaitijai @ 3:04 pm

The Guardian has published a very good – and distressing – feature about life for three different women in Gaza. It’s good to see the experiences of women victims of military violence centred in this way.

From the article:

I first visited Sabiha, 65, in February. She had lost her house in Khuzaa during the violence and spent last winter living with her three sons, daughter and grandchildren in a manmade tent of tree leaves and nylon next to her devastated home. When asked about how her life had changed, Sabiha said: “I’m afraid of everything. I lost my house. My married sons’ houses were completely destroyed as well. We are all homeless now. We hear about promises of reconstruction but nothing has happened.”

Sabiha’s family asked the Gaza reconstruction committee for help. “We needed a caravan. We were calling for the officials to get us a caravan for more than five months.” Instead the family received a tent but it was insufficient protection during the cold months: “We usually lit a fire to feel warm and cook but the strong winds made it impossible on some days … We only managed to take showers once every two weeks as we had no bathroom. This is not a life. If I had the choice to choose between this life and death, I would choose death.” After Sabiha told me this, she burst into tears.

 

Global Environmental Ethics for Men

Filed under: gendered conference campaign — axiothea @ 12:33 pm

An all male line up for a conference on Justice and Climate Transitions at the IEA, Paris.

(For more information about the GCC, see here.)

 

“How Changeable is Gender?” August 23, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — annejjacobson @ 8:13 pm

Today’s NY Times has a longish article by Richard Friedman with that title. It maintains

At the same time, we have to acknowledge that gender identity is a complex phenomenon, involving a mix of genes, hormones and social influence. And there is no getting around the fact that biology places constraints on our capacity to reimagine ourselves and to change, and it’s important to understand those limitations.

As conciliatory as this remark may seem, many feminists reading the article may find it objectionable in one way or another. Speaking out of concern for our blood pressure(s), let me say I think the most calming move would be to read it as a review article, full of information about what various science-oriented approaches are now claiming (or uncovering). I do also think that one should read it if one want to know what the science(s) is/are now saying, something that’s really useful to know for all sorts of reasons. Not least because one’s students will have views about the latest science that have passed through parents’ all too fallible interpretations.

One thing stressed: trying to change someone from gay to straight won’t work and is generally considered harmful. Of course, quoting the left-wing NY Times on that may not move everyone.

There’s a dearth of feminist references, which is a shame particularly since Ann Fausto-Sterling’s work anticipates much of what is said.

 

Class action lawsuit over trauma and disability in Compton schools August 20, 2015

Filed under: disability,education — noetika @ 6:47 pm

The full story is at NPR. (Perhaps especially relevant and of interest to those following broader discussions going on in academia regarding trauma and student accommodations.)

An unprecedented, class action lawsuit brought against one Southern California school district and its top officials could have a big impact on schools across the country. . .

The complaint is a terrifying read — of kids coping with physical and sexual abuse, addicted parents, homelessness and a constant fear of violence.

One of the plaintiffs, listed as 15-year-old Phillip W., says he witnessed his first murder when he was 8.

“Somebody got shot in the back of the head with a shotgun,” the boy explains in a video on a website dedicated to the case. “And they threw him over the rail, and he was just sitting there bleeding, blood all down the sewer line. It was a horrifying sight.”

The complaint says Phillip has witnessed more than 20 shootings and, in 2014, was hit in the knee by a bullet.

What’s this have to do with Compton’s schools?

Susan Ko of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress says exposure to violence can have a profound effect on the brain’s ability to learn.

“That impacts concentration, the ability to just listen to what the teacher is saying, to understand what you’re reading, to remember something that you learned or what the teacher just said,” Ko says.

Not only that, many traumatized students live in a state of constant alarm. Innocent interactions like a bump in the hallway or a request from a teacher can stir anger and bad behavior.

The lawsuit alleges that, in Compton, the schools’ reaction to traumatized students was too often punishment — not help.

“They were repeatedly either sent to another school, expelled or suspended — and this went back to kindergarten,” says Marleen Wong, who teaches at the USC School of Social Work and has spent decades studying kids and trauma. “I think we’re really doing a terrible disservice to these children.”

The suit argues that trauma is a disability and that schools are required — by federal law — to make accommodations for traumatized students, not expel them. The plaintiffs want Compton Unified to provide teacher training, mental health support for students and to use conflict-mediation before resorting to suspension. . .

This idea — of treating trauma in children as a disability — is new, though the problem is not, says Ko. “Twenty-five percent of kids will have experienced a traumatic event before the age of 16.”

Not all of those children will struggle in school. But many will — and not just in Compton.

 

“You’re starving because…?” August 19, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Monkey @ 1:33 pm

And whilst we’re talking about benefit sanctions…

If we believe that our society should be one where no one is left to starve or to go without food, warmth, and shelter, then there can be no good reason to cut off someone’s only means of procuring these basic human necessities. But this point aside, some sanction decisions are surreal in their awfulness. Here’s a nifty list collated by i100 of the eleven most senseless sanction decisions.

  • A man with heart problems who was on Employment and Support Allowance had a heart attack during a work capability assessment. He was then sanctioned for failing to complete the assessment.
  • A man who had gotten a job that was scheduled to begin in two week’s time was sanctioned for not looking for work as he waited for the role to start.
  • Army veteran Stephen Taylor, 60, whose Jobseeker’s Allowance was stopped after he sole poppies in memory of fallen soldiers.
  • A man had to miss his regular appointment at the job centre to attend his father’s funeral. He was sanctioned even though he told DWP staff in advance.
  • Ceri Padley, 26, had her benefits sanctioned because she missed an appointment at the jobcentre – because she was at a job interview.
  • A man got sanctioned for missing his slot to sign on – as he was attending a work programme interview. He was then sanctioned as he could not afford to travel for his job search.
  • Sean Halkyward, 24, said his benefits were sanctioned because he looked for too many jobs in one week.
  • Mother-of-three Angie Goodwin, 27, said her benefits were sanctioned after she applied for a role job centre staff said was beyond her.
  • Sofya Harrison was sanctioned for attending a job interview and moving her signing-on to another day.
  • Michael, 54, had his benefits sanctioned for four months for failing to undertake a week’s work experience at a charity shop. The charity shop had told him they didn’t want him there.
  • Terry Eaton, 58, was sanctioned because he didn’t have the bus fare he needed to attend an appointment with the job centre.

All of this could be funny in its ridiculousness if it weren’t for the fact that people are, you know, dying as a result of having their benefits stopped.

 

 
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