Archive for the ‘feminism isn’t philosophy’ Category

This is what the chair of a Leiter top-20 department says about feminist philosophy. When asked, “What, pray, are the RIGHT reasons to dismiss philosophy?”, he answers, “Much, though not all, postmodernism, and a good chunk (but, again, not all) of feminist philosophy.” Hopefully the portion some of us work on isn’t part of the good chunk

“Like watching a car crash”

Posted: April 15, 2012 by Jender in feminism isn't philosophy

My college recently hosted an undergraduate conference. One of our female students gave a paper on self-objectification in Beauvoir. There was a professor from across town attending whom she had never met before. Dr. X responded to the student’s paper in the Q&A session. The gist of his response was that there is a self-identified feminist in his department and he doesn’t understand why she complains about objectification as a women’s problem because it seems that men are objectified as much as if not more than women in pornography, which he enjoys to watch and has since childhood. “Are you calling me sexist?”, he implies. No other professors from his department were present so I suppose he felt safe telling us this without consequences. The paper was not about pornography. It was about how objectification uniquely affects feminine ideas of the self, implying that he hadn’t listened to her argument. Visibly uncomfortable, the student described portrayals of women versus men in pornography (camera angles, use of force, facials, etc.) and suggested that these differences might signify differences in how we value these people. These can be seen in pretty vanilla pornography, but forced the student admit to watching pornography to a room of her professors and peers to properly respond all the same.

Watching this play out felt like watching a car crash that I was powerless to stop. To clarify, I do think philosophy needs frank conversations about sexuality that respects subjective experiences. I also get that people tend to personalize conversations about sexuality because they affect us in the most intimate parts of ourselves. But I wonder when responding to abstract arguments with your own experience stops being constructive and becomes unfair. If these experiences are brought to the table, those who bring them should reflect on gender/status differentials in that space and how they might shape the conversation they’re able to have within it. It is hard enough to call abstract ideas unethical, so framing these conversations personally makes this almost impossible.

His response also picked on a specific female faculty member who is both new to his department and extremely talented in feminist philosophy. He seemed to use this an an opportunity to vent about her in a way he would not had she been present. Responding to basic feminist arguments so incredulously makes me wonder how seriously he takes her work. This also scares me for my own future as a feminist philosopher. I will hopefully operate under the assumption that my colleagues respect me. Now I have to silently hope that they don’t publicly undermine me to strangers as well, but maybe I should be thankful to learn this lesson second-hand.

Just a reminder, there are philosophy departments out there that are a nightmare for women. No woman professors ever hired, professors (male of course) sleeping with graduate students, humiliating, sexist remarks made to women researchers on public occasions, and of course, last but not least: a war on the field of women’s studies and any and all related fields. (This means you, phenomenology.)

People crack alot of jokes about gender balance, and question whether people go too far with this kind of sensitivity. But there are alot of demoralized women out there. The women at the department I am talking about are probably too afraid to post on this blog.

When I was a tenured Associate Professor with one monograph out and another forthcoming, I was invited to speak at a university in capital city X. My female host sent out my talk title, abstract, and an invitation to attend to a list-serv for everyone interested in Philosophy-in-X. The talk was from the forthcoming book (to be published with Impeccable Credential University Press Z) on a topic in feminist philosophy, and included reference to a pop cultural example. In response to the posting, Famous Male Philosopher Y sent a message to all subscribers saying (pompously) that he thought my abstract was a joke, that such rubbish lowered the tone for all philosophers, and that he hoped no such further nonsense would be advertised. My host forwarded that message to me; I still don’t really understand why. I wondered if she too wanted me to ante up and give a “real philosophy” talk, as opposed to the bullshit I had proposed? We corresponded about what to do if Y turned up and started haranguing me. In the end, only a few people attended the talk anyway, almost all students, they were a perfectly decent audience, and I realized too late how totally throwaway Y’s posting had been. But I lost sleep over it for weeks, and seriously considered canceling the talk. (Y has been in the news a lot lately, trumpeting the cause of excellence and fairness in higher education.)

When I was on a job interview at a small college a decade and a half ago, I gave a paper on sexual harassment. Things were going well until the dinner, when one male professor who was quiet up until that time, spoke up and said, “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with feminists: they need to be dominated by a man.” The other department members (all male) remained silent. I engaged this fellow for a short time, but realized quickly that his character was not one that could be changed. I didn’t get the job. I didn’t want it. I reported the incident to the APA Committee on the Status for Women, and I believe I saw the department listed on the “censured list” a few years later.

I am an female undergrad philosophy major at a highly-ranked university (who just happens to be hiring this year). Prior to the start of class one day, some students and the (male) professor were discussing which areas of specialization were needed in our department and therefore likely to get hired. One undergrad mentioned that our school has a need for someone studying feminist philosophy. The professor responded, “Yah, maybe…” Immediately, a male undergrad made the remark, “Who wants to study the philosophy of having a vagina?” Instead of correcting the rather immature young man, the professor simply responded “Well…” and turned to his computer to prepare for class.

I just want to weigh in to the discussion about the quality of feminist philosophy with a brief (and hopefully obvious) point: of course there is a lot of bad feminist philosophy going on, just as there is a lot of poor scholarship going on in just about every branch of philosophy, and every other discipline too. What is bizarre is how quick some apparently intelligent philosophers are to make the fallacy of the sweeping generalization. It reminds me of this.