Monica Morrison: hero

Monica Morrison has now let herself be named in her lawsuit against the University of Miami for its mishandling of Colin McGinn’s harassment. Those of us who have written on the internet know the horrific campaigns directed against women who step out of line and complain against misogynistic behaviour. This is true generally, and it is true specifically in philosophy. She has survived one horrible ordeal– harassment, made worse by being so poorly handled, and now the trolls can easily find her. And she knows all this. I am blown away by the immense bravery shown by her filing this suit.

Our field, and academia in general, have the potential to be vastly improved by Miami being held to account. They were given copious records of exchanges like this:

McGinn: I love your essence
McGinn: Plus it gives me a slight erection
Morrison: Can I borrow your philosophy of physics book…the one by lange [sic].

And this:

McGinn: So I expect a hand job when I next see you.
McGinn: Yes.
McGinn: I like to amuse you.
McGinn: Now I’ve got a slight erection.
McGinn: I’m imagining you.
Morrison did not reply to the texts.

Later that month, McGinn pressed her for a response, and she eventually texted, “Yeah, I was a bit surprised” and said “I won’t really know how to respond [sic]…I suppose I should be flattered?”

They knew that:

He emailed her at least once a day between Dec. 19 and Dec. 27, with little response from her. In a Dec. 27 email, he wrote, “I think you owe me unlimited hand strokes and full body grips for abandoning me over Christmas.” Over winter break, which lasted about a month, McGinn emailed her more than 30 times and spoke with her just once, according to his own count in an email he sent her Jan. 15, 2012.

It was clear that he was pressuring her quite explicitly:

McGinn wrote that he missed Morrison and wasn’t able to see her as much as he wanted. He complained about their working relationship, stating in an email he is not “getting much in return” and said “I need you to make a big gesture in my direction–anything would do.”

She resigned her position as his research assistant on Sept. 11, 2012. Two days later, McGinn emailed her, stating “you are much better off with my support than without it. So please think carefully about your actions.”

And yet they treated the case as one of consensual relationship. And as McGinn retaliated in his public statements, including an interview in which he publicly shared information that allowed her to be identified, the university did nothing. They claimed there was nothing that he could do, but he was on their payroll.

The University of Miami maintains that “they chose to pursue this informal route to achieve an immediate resolution.” Importantly, they do NOT claim that they actually believed the relationship to be consensual.

This sort of sweeping-under-the-rug behaviour is shockingly common. But it is what allows perpetrators to continue to flourish in our discipline. Usually it all remains private, and they move quietly from institution to institution, ruining victims’ lives in one place after another.

Monica Morrison is doing an immense service to academia with her towering bravery in refusing to accept the way that Miami dealt with the case. We all owe her a tremendous debt.

Ann Olivarius on Miami, McGinn and Shalala

Some of our readers may have come across this article, which includes criticism by Ann Olivarius of Donna Shalala’s handling of Colin McGinn. Feminist Philosophers has obtained permission from Olivarius to publish the whole of the editorial which is quoted from in the Miami New Times Article. She has also given us some vital background to the editorial.

First, the background:

I am the lawyer representing the victim of Colin McGinn’s sexual harassment at the University of Miami. In an op-ed below, I set out my views about a recent statement by UM President Donna Shalala praising herself in her conduct of this case. But from speaking with Jenny Saul and others, I believe that many philosophers are under some misapprehension about key facts in this case, which as a preliminary matter I seek to clear up here.

Read More »

Responding to gender-based violence (online and elsewhere)

Many readers will recall that recently, John McAdams, a Marquette political science professor, drummed up a spurious reason to make a politically-motivated public attack on Cheryl Abbate, a graduate student of philosophy (our previous posts here and here; Daily Nous coverage here and here. Marquette is taking action against McAdams; its outcome is thus far unclear).

As a result of his actions, Abbate received hateful, misogynistic abuse, disturbing in both content and quantity, in a number of forms and forums. She has now written a blog post detailing the extent of this abuse, exploring her experiences on the receiving end, reflecting on how one should respond to it, and making it quite clear that McAdams bears responsibility for inciting it.

(For those clicking through, I reproduce Abbate’s trigger warning: “This post includes a number of reprinted misogynist and homophobic comments”. She’s not wrong).

Abbate says that she was mostly advised to ignore the abuse, but chose to expose it and draw attention to it, for a number of reasons. This was a brave decision. Abbate says the most important reason she has for speaking out is that, if we aren’t aware that such horrible abuse takes place, we can’t begin to do anything about it. This seems quite right to me. I’m unlikely to receive any misogynistic email myself, and I find it reprehensibly easy and tempting to bury my head in the sand about such things. I really shouldn’t. If someone writes about their experiences with such courage, to read and think about it is the very least I can do.

‘Philosophy Grad Student Target of Political Smear Campaign’

Daily Nous has the story.

A philosophy graduate student and instructor at Marquette University [Cheryl Abbate] is the target of a political attack initiated by one of her students, facilitated by a Marquette political science professor, and promulgated by certain advocacy organizations.

The full story is quite disturbing, and Justin has screen shots of some incredibly offensive (and misogynistic) comments that have been directed towards Abbate as a result.

Justin has also added this update to the story: “Those interested in encouraging Marquette University to support Abbate may wish to write polite messages of support to the dean of the university’s Klingler College of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Richard C. Holz, at, or the interim provost of the university, Dr. Margaret Faut Callahan, at”

Recommended readings for module on distributive justice

I’m putting together my reading list for next term’s module on distributive justice, and aiming that it NOT be a total sausage fest. I’m finding it surprisingly easy – so many great women political philosophers!

There are two topics I (and perhaps other interested readers?) would really benefit from reading recommendations on:

a) prioritarian principles (either arguing for or being critical of them), and

b) so called left-libertarianism. Any ideas?

What is Gay and Lesbian Philosophy? (And Who’s Writing It?)

In 2008, a piece appeared in Metaphilosophy titled “What is Gay and Lesbian Philosophy?” The article was co-written by six philosophers, and addressed “recent trends and major issues related to gay and lesbian philosophy” in ethics, religion, law, scientific research on sexuality, and metaphysics. It was also commissioned by officers of the Society for Lesbian and Gay Philosophy and the APA’s committee on the status of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered People in the Profession.

The piece (or pieces – it’s really six articles in one) starts from the premise that gay and lesbian philosophy is not a field of philosophy, like ethics or metaphysics, but a ‘subject matter’ relevant to any number of philosophical fields. And the six short articles demonstrate this point by covering a wide range of topics: the morality of homosexuality; the ethics of coming out and outing others; the legal history of homosexuality and same-sex unions in the states; the social construction of sexual identity and orientation; homosexuality and monotheistic religions; and whether sexuality (and homosexuality) should be the subjects of scientific research. It’s a great survey piece, and a useful resource for teaching, or for convincing colleagues that LGBT issues really do ‘count’ as sufficiently philosophical.

But to anyone versed in the feminist literature, there are some startling omissions – most obviously, the complete absence of lesbian-feminist writings in both the article’s content and in its citations. Familiar names like Marilyn Frye, Ann Ferguson, Sarah Lucia Hoagland, Monique Wittig, Claudia Card and Cheshire Calhoun are nowhere to be found, and neither are their insights. This is astonishing, given how much these figures have contributed to exactly the questions being asked: the social construction of gender and sexuality, the ethics of coming out or outing others, the ethics of sex and sexualities, and the legal status of same-sex unions and families. And although the papers’ authors claim that ‘gay’ should be understood as shorthand for LGBT, there is no attention to how these topics are complicated by bi and especially by trans perspectives, and equally little citation of recent trans writings. It’s hard not to connect these lacunae to some other problematic features – for example, calling same-sex marriages ‘homosexual marriages’, when not all same-sex marriages are between homosexuals but also bisexuals and other queer persons (neither are all opposite-sex marriages between heterosexuals, for that matter) – and to the fact that all the paper’s authors appear to be men.

How concerned should we be that something taking itself to be an answer to the question, “what is gay and lesbian philosophy?” pays so little attention to the debates and insights of lesbian-feminist philosophy? Can debates around homosexual identities (often, gay male identities) simply be extended to include lesbians, bisexuals and trans persons without transformation or adjustment? These are familiar, and by now, surely, old questions – a survey piece might reasonably be expected to address them. And what of the authors’ genders? The idea of doing critical philosophy, like the philosophy of sexuality, race, or disability, is presumably something more than an identity claim about the author – but if critical epistemology has taught us anything, it’s that the subject-position of the author is never entirely irrelevant, either. What gay and lesbian philosophy is may well depend on who is (seen to be) writing it.

Damaris Masham Conference


Friday 3 October 2008
ST274/275, Stewart House, 32 Russell Square, WC1
In conjunction with the British Society for the History of Philosophy
Supported by the Mind Association and Italian Cultural Institute

Lady Damaris Masham was one of the first English women philosophers. She was the author of two works of moral philosophy, and of a biography of John Locke. Daughter of Cudworth, close friend of Locke, and correspondent of Leibniz, she has only recently begun to be given consideration as a philosopher in her own right. To mark the 350th anniversary of her birth (and 300th of her death), this conference, will highlight the new work on her philosophy and its context.

For more details, see here.

UK Women in Philosophy Stats?

Reader Aaron has written in wondering if anyone has recently done statistical work on women in philosophy in the UK– percentage of PhDs, percentage in full-time posts, percentage in temporary posts, percentage in senior posts, etc. I don’t know of any data on this. Do you? If so, please tell us in comments!