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There is a recently published article on Scientific American, “Are Men the Weaker Sex?” This article has been getting a good deal of attention in my Facebook feed. From the article:

Contrary to cultural assumptions that boys are stronger and sturdier, basic biological weaknesses are built into the male of our species. These frailties leave them more vulnerable than girls to life’s hazards, including environmental pollutants such as insecticides, lead and plasticizers (Source)

I agree with many of the things in this article, but I find it a little hard to read. It seems to be doing something similar to what Emily Martin identifies in “The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Created a Romance Based on Stereotypical Gender Roles.”

The article is full of normative comparisons of non-normative developmental events. For example, it says that the male foetal development is “more complicated” and that

In our species, the female is the default gender, the basic simpler model: Humans start out in the womb with female features (that’s why males have nipples).

Fair enough that ‘female’ is default, but does that necessarily imply “simpler?” Sure males have nipples as a result of vestigial similarities, but also (according to Elisabeth Lloyd) women have clitorises and orgasms as a developmental vestige of male reproductive function.

The article states:

The simpler female reproductive system has to turn into the more complex male reproductive tract, developing tissues such as the testis and prostate.

But is that empirically true that the male reproductive tract is “more complex”? Each seems to have their own unique complexities.

The whole thing kind of strikes me as a bit creepy. Can’t we acknowledge differences without trying to rank them as “more complex, “more advanced,” “simpler,” or “more basic?”

In fact, women and men evolve at the exact same rate. That is what sexual recombination is all about. One is not more simple or more basic and the other more complex or more advanced. This seems all kinds of distorted.

I am emphatically not saying that we should not look at particular vulnerabilities that men might face. I think we should. In addition, we should also look at particular vulnerabilities that women might face. I just don’t see why in doing so we have to rank these differences.

There have been a number of articles recently about the problems with for-profit prisons.

Here is one in which a Pennsylvania judge was sentenced to 28 years in prison for selling kids to for-profit prisons to ensure their continued profitability. Here is another that describes how private prisons are suing states if the prison does not stay full.

But perhaps we think this is fine, since the prisoners deserve to be there as a result of their crimes. Well, here is another article about a Massachusetts crime lab tech who falsified thousands of samples.

Still don’t think it is so bad? Here is a series of videos produced by The Nation and the ACLU about prison profiteers.

Where are the philosopheresses?

Why are there so few women in philosophy? Maybe it is the content of the philosophical cannon, which is incredibly sexist, rather than merely the result of women’s delicate, empathetic minds, or the sexual aggressiveness of male philosophy professors. Maybe it’s not just the climate of philosophy, but also its content.

When discussions of women in philosophy are raised, the issue often turns to the ‘climate’ in which philosophy is taught (rampant sexual harassment, philosophers in positions of power who are not punished for harassing female students, etc.), or to the inadequacies of women as philosophers (lack of interest is abstract theory, unwillingness to engage in ‘aggressive’ debates, etc.). In short, these explanations tend to come in at the level of student preferences and weaknesses or teachers who make the climate inhospitable to women.

For example, from the 2009 version of this debate:

Helen Beebee, director of the British Philosophical Association, says one reason may be that women are turned off by a culture of aggressive argument particular to philosophy, which grows increasingly more pronounced at the postgraduate level. (The New York Times Ideas Blog “A Dearth of Women Philosophers”)

Another discussion focused on women’s inadequacy for philosophical discussion from The Philosopher’s Magazine also from 2009:

…Simon Baron-Cohen is a Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at Cambridge whose theory of mind characterises male minds as “systemising” (driven to analyse or construct systems) and female minds as empathising. “Philosophy is, as you know, the pursuit of logic and the analysis of concepts as logical systems,” he told me. “It therefore requires ‘systemising’ and all areas of systemising (mathss, computer science, physics, engineering, etc) show this male bias.” However he stresses that biological and cultural factors can both play a role in developing these empathising and systemising traits. (Brooke Lewis “Where are all the Women?“)

There are hundreds of examples of sexual harassment, gender-based dismissal, and other issues at the blog What is It Like to Be a Woman in Philosophy? The New York Times 2013 series on women in philosophy from the Stone floats a number of hypotheses (see end of this post for a brief summary of each). But all of these explanations focus on the ‘climate’ of philosophy departments and ignore the content of the cannon itself.

The Content of Philosophy

One thing that I think is sometimes overlooked in these discussions is an examination of what philosophers said about women. It was often very unkind and uncharitable (to put it mildly).

When I was an undergrad, studying ethics, I would *constantly* read things in which my gender was trashed by “the Great thinkers” such as Kant, Aristotle, Hegel, Rousseau and Plato. These passages were often part of the assigned readings, but were rarely discussed in class as though ignoring them would make them disappear or as though such sexism had no bearing on the credibility (and often stark hierarchies) built into their ethics. These passages were salient to me, but in class they were totally ignored.

It can be very demoralizing to read (and then re-read for understanding, and then re-read again for tests and essays) passages that reduce your gender to their reproductive function, and then reduce the reproductive contribution of your gender to something on par with a “flower pot” (Plato), or to hear that women provide the material cause while men provide the formal cause, with the latter treated as clearly more important (Aristotle), especially when the writers clearly think that women don’t contribute much other than reproduction. (So women are only good for reproduction, and our contribution to reproduction is not even that important!)

It is demoralizing to read “Great moral theorists” write that women are so delicate and emotional/irrational that they cannot be serious moral agents (let alone grasp difficult moral philosophy!) and should be confined to “passive citizenship” in which they are protected by the “active citizens” i.e. white, propertied, men (Kant). When one is then asked to write an essay where at least one of these views has to be defended against the others the process of writing the paper can be an assault on one’s self-respect (you mean I have to defend the view of someone who treats me like that???).

I coped with this issue during my undergrad by seeking out feminist reinterpretations, criticisms and discussions of these works. This helped me retain self-respect while doing the work required for a philosophy BA. None of these feminist works were included on the syllabus, however. This meant that doing a BA in philosophy was a lot more work for me than it would have been for many of my male peers who did not have to seek external sources to maintain self-respect in the face of blatant misogyny.

Feminist Philosophy is “Not Real” Philosophy

To make matters worse, even today, feminist philosophies are not considered “real philosophy” by many philosophers (including many female philosophers). Having the opportunity to take a course in feminist philosophies is often the first time that female students will have the chance to criticize and examine these racist, gendered and misogynistic things that have been said about women and non-Europeans. It is often the first time female students will read predominantly female authors, and it can make it seem like philosophy is “for” people like them after all. Reading criticisms of gendered concepts, gender hierarchies, and arguments about how a philosopher’s misogynistic views might, in fact, affect the content of his theory (rather than being merely peripheral) can be validating for those students who suspected as much when they were doing the original reading of the cannon.

When I have taught or TAed for feminist philosophy classes in the past, I have had a number of students express this kind of thing to me. Many women have written in their reviews of the class that it was the first time the read about “First Nations philosophies” or “Women’s views” or “African American philosophies” in a way that represented these views respectfully (rather than, say, talking about how women are not rational which comes up a lot in the history of philosophy). But classes in feminist philosophy are almost never required courses to complete a philosophy degree because they are not considered “core courses” for the discipline. Some departments don’t even offer any courses in feminist philosophy at all.

Conclusion

The result is that women and minorities are explicitly maligned and denigrated in the content of what we teach. Rarely is this denigration and disrespect raised in the context of ‘core’ philosophy courses (ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, ancient philosophy, the rationalists and the empiricists). Instead this sexism and racism is treated as though it were peripheral to the philosopher’s main view. Feminist philosophy and philosophy of race do raise criticisms of the gendered and racialized concepts philosophers have relied on in creating their theories, but these criticisms are themselves treated as peripheral and marginalized within the discipline as it is taught today.

Why are there so few women in philosophy? Possibly because we read texts that explicitly state that women can’t do philosophy. Professors rarely address these statements. And the sub-fields of philosophy that do address and probe these sexist and racist views are themselves treated as peripheral and marginal to the core of the discipline.

Note: 

I started writing this post in 2010 when I read a blog post on Playtonic Dialogues, “Where my Philosophy Girls At?” I left a version of this comment at Playtonic Dialogues‘ post “What it is like to be a woman in philosophy.” At that time, there was a flurry of interest in the lack of women in philosophy. I never published this post, because I intended to improve it first.

Now, once again, the issue of women in philosophy is being raised, in part as a result of recent sexual harassment allegations in the field. The New York Times’ Opinionator Blog, ‘The Stone’ has recently completed a five-part series on women in philosophy (links and a brief description of each blog post are at the bottom of this post). So once again, this topic seems timely. That is why I am publishing it now.

Link Round-Up below the Fold

Continue Reading »

Happy Star Wars Day!

May the fourth be with you.

dino

An Empirial attack ad against celebrating this noble holiday.

Rebels are traitors to the empire, and the force is used for mind control.

Some of the sounds are so memorable, you’d know them anywhere.

Here is a link to the post for May the 4th from last year, with many excellent Star Wars Recruitment posters. And another to some Star Wars Arts and Crafts. Below the fold a few more Star Wars videos. Continue Reading »

Happy Earth Day

Here is a little music from nature in honour of Earth Day.

You can watch more of Diego Stocco’s videos on his Vimo page, or visit his website Diegostocco.com

For valentine’s day, I thought I would post something about preventing spousal violence.

Earlier this year, a Justice Canada federal study was released, which details the incidents and costs of spousal violence. There are some interesting findings from the study. For one thing, the study estimates that the costs of spousal violence are very high: an estimated 7.4 billion per year in Canada (and this is said to be a deliberately conservative estimate). The costs include things like legal bills, emergency room visits, lost wages due to time off from injuries, the costs of personal safety measures such as paying for call display to identify stalking spouses, and possible moving expenses to escape the spouse.

Here is the findings on the incidence of spousal violence as reported by The Toronto Star:

Drawing on a Canada-wide police database, researchers found almost 50,000 cases of spousal violence reported to police that year, more than 80 per cent of them involving female victims. The cases included 65 homicides, 49 of them women. (Source: Beeby)

Here is the break-down of the costs associated with spousal violence by gender:

Altogether, total costs were conservatively estimated at $4.8 billion for female victims and $2.6 billion for male victims. (Source: Beeby)

I think that is interesting. Note that according to the study, 80% of the victims of spousal violence are women and 20% are men, but violence committed against men accounts for 35% of the costs associated with spousal violence. The Star article does not describe why the costs are higher for men than for women. If I had to guess I would say that the higher costs are likely associated with the wage gap, since men earn more than women on average, their time away from work would be more expensive. But that is just a guess. Perhaps the issue is that men have more disposable income on average than women do, and so men spend more on their own protection than women do. Beeby mentions that the study found that 80% of the costs of violence are born by the victim themselves (the remainder is born by public services and employers). I am not sure what else might account for the difference.

So this study shows that shelters save money. But they also save lives. It is interesting to note, however, that shelters tend to save men’s lives more than women’s lives:

Let us look at the statistics and see who is murdering whom. Going back to the 1970s we learn that the domestic homicide rates in the U.S. were about the same for men and for women, around 1,000 such killings per year.

Coming to today, the latest figures available from the Bureau of Justice Statistics provide a comparison of intimate homicide rates for 2005 compared with 1976. Here is the official breakdown for 2005: 329 males and 1,181 females were killed in that year by their intimate partners. Clearly men are much more likely to kill their partners than women are to kill theirs. We know from other research that same-sex homicide is predominantly male, a fact of some significance in the statistical breakdown because some of the male intimate homicide victims are not killed by women at all but by their male partners.

Returning to the discrepancy between the decline in the rates of female-on-male domestic homicide and the male-on-female rates, Statistics Canada (1998, 2005, 2010), and other Canadian sources reveal the same trend has occurred in Canada since the years that the women’s movement took shape. For the year 2009, for example, three times as many Canadian women were killed by spouses and ex-spouses as were men.

So what is the explanation for this striking decline in women killing their partners? Researchers including myself attribute the decline to the fact that women who often killed out of fear for their lives now had an alternative avenue of escape thanks to the availability of women’s hot lines and domestic violence services, including shelters. (Keep in mind that women who kill their partners are generally battered women, whereas men who kill are often striking out due to a break-up or threatened break-up.)

“Exposure reduction theory” is the term coined by Wells and DeLeon-Granados in a 2004 article to explain this phenomenon of the significant decline in male homicides by their partners. This theory holds that if a woman can escape from a dangerous battering situation, she will do so, and that if she resorts to using lethal partner violence, it is most likely a protective mechanism. In any case, it is a paradox, rarely realized that the proliferation of domestic violence prevention for which women and victims’ advocates have fought so hard is saving the lives of battering men more than of battered women. Many of the female victims who obtain help from domestic violence services are eventually stalked and killed. (Source: van Wormer)

Shelters provide women a way of escaping violent relationships, and this is more likely to save their male partner’s life than to save the woman’s own life. Clearly, we still need to be doing more for women, but what exactly? Would men’s shelters help reduce homicide of female partners? Van Wormer’s article is not as clear on that. She does suggest that stresses like job loss might increase the rate at which men kill their partners:

So we can conclude that socio-economic status is clearly a correlate of the male-on-female killings. In contrast, the economic factor is less striking in the female-on-male intimate homicide rates. We should also consider the fact that the recent rise in the numbers of murder-suicides and whole family slaughters is correlated with the high unemployment rates for men. (Source: van Wormer)

So shelters clearly help, and if job loss is correlated with spousal homicides by men, shelters should continue to be funded during times of recession. It is great that shelters save men’s lives, but we still have work to do thinking about how we can reduce the rate of women who die at the hands of their intimate partners.

Link Round-Up

Dean Beeby “Spousal violence costs Canadians billions, study findsThe Toronto Star. December 24, 2012.

Katherine van Wormer “Women’s Shelters and Domestic Violence Services Save the Lives of Men,” Psychology Today. December 11, 2010.

Katherine van Wormer “Reducing the Risk of Domestic Homicide” Social Work Today. Vol. 9 No. 1 P. 18. January/February 2009.

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 15,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 3 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

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