What feminists and friends are doing about what it’s like

February 11, 2014 § 8 Comments

Thanks to Anne Jacobson, Amy Olberding, Neil Sinhababu, Hilde Lindemann, Tom Dougherty, Sally Haslanger, Laurie Schrage, Elizabeth Harman, Sabrina Bano Jamil, Annaleigh Curtis, Ned Markosian, and Alison Reiheld, for adding to efforts to do something about What It’s Like!

Why I’m thanking them: At Leiter Reports, a set of criticisms of the APA’s CSW Site Visit team was featured, which gave more prominence to deploring the feminism of our colleagues as viciously biasing than I’m accustomed to witnessing.  Philosophers Peggy DesAutels and Carla Fehr worked to create a Site Visit program, and with Valerie Hardcastle wrote the report resulting from their visit to CU-Boulder.  The critic of their work ended on the following note: ” There are plenty who wish to end sexual harassment in the profession despite having a very low opinion of ‘feminist philosophy’: I am one of them. Departments bringing in a CSW team deserve to have at least one team member whose ideological commitments will not be furthered by making a finding against the department.”

This really dropped my jaw, and I’m glad to see I was not alone.  Philosophers, including many women, have replied to defend DesAutels, Fehr, and Hardcastle as women who are working so hard to contribute to ameliorating sexism in the profession, and many have argued against the cartoonish characterization of feminism.  My reply was this:

Kate Norlock said…

I am mildly surprised to see the statement [from a reader*], “There are plenty who wish to end sexual harassment in the profession despite having a very low opinion of ‘feminist philosophy.'” If there are plenty, and if the Physics colleagues have been successfully doing similar site visits for decades, then why didn’t the ‘plenty’ of philosophers who deplore feminists start a site-visit program? Indeed, feminist philosophers including Peggy DesAutels and Carla Fehr started the site visit programs in part because of their concern for women and gender issues. Now that they’ve done most of the work, it is somewhat insincere to argue that only one member of a site visit team can/should have such a view, and that the effort should be more “balanced.” The philosophy profession, on the whole, seems to have been content to let a few hard-working colleagues do a very unbalanced share of the work of improving this aspect of the profession.

Last, as a feminist and philosopher, I’m somewhat appalled to see the criticism that my colleagues on the Site Visit team have their “ideological commitments … furthered by making a finding against the department.” This seems a clearly hostile statement imputing determined unfairness to Hardcastle, DesAutels and Fehr as the report authors, and borders on a smear.

*Note that the statement which shocked me so was by a correspondent of the blog host, and not written by the blog host.

§ 8 Responses to What feminists and friends are doing about what it’s like

  • […] Site Visit teams are “unbalanced” when all its members are feminists, and I share it at What We’re Doing because I know not all of our FP readers frequent Leiter Reports, and because I won’t have […]

  • Rachel says:

    Leiter is cavalierly editing people’s comments, such as my own.

    • beta says:

      I doubt his editing is cavalier. Heck, I was tempted to edit your adverb! But the editing should be noted when it happens.

  • What would balance a feminist? A misogynist? Right, a good team should include a feminist, a misogynist, and maybe someone oblivious. This person’s claim is like saying an anti-racist should be balanced by a racist. Frigging nuts.

  • Vincenzo Politi says:

    I think it’s just a matter of terminological confusion, really. There are women philosophers who are also feminists. And then there is “feminist philosophy”, which is not synonymous of “feminism”. Not every women-philosophers-who-are-also-feminists do feminist philosophy. (And, perhaps, not every women philosophers are necessarily feminists.)
    One can appreciate and admire the work of women philosophers who work to defend a feminist cause and yet dislike the so called “feminist philosophy”. One can even have a very low opinion of “feminist philosophy” and yet wish to end problems such as sexual harassment, inequality and so on.

  • lp says:

    replies like vincenzo’s, above, keep happening. this idea that there’s a certain sort of ‘feminist who’s a philosopher but isn’t a feminist philosopher’ who’s okay, and we like her. we just don’t like ‘feminist philosophers’… do feminist philosophers just need to do more to (publicly, and perhaps especially, on the philosophy blogosphere) very explicitly tell people about what sorts of stuff one does in feminist philosophy? …seems like people read ‘feminist philosopher’ as something like ‘person who spends all her time ranting about patriarchy while taking up an office in a philosophy department that could be used by someone who’s doing philosophy’. and it mightn’t be that people are being biased; it might be genuine ignorance. right?

  • People who invoke “feminist philosophy” as if it were one thing, all of a piece, probably have never read any.

    • beta says:

      Noelle, this sounds more plausibly true of our colleagues, but our students sometimes retain the all-of-a-piece view even after reading more than one thing. I think it’s incumbent on those of us to teach feminist philosophy to convey the wider picture of its multiplicity. (Unfortunately, a lot of students with limited exposure just get one feminist reading, tacked onto a syllabus that shows robust readings in other areas and not in feminism.)

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