Feminist Philosophers – News feminist philosophers can use
Feminist philosophy, more than most areas of philosophy, needs to be informed by real-world information and examples. One of our goals is to help feminist philosophers keep up with philosophically relevant facts and examples.
I’ve really enjoyed this period of looking back at the blog, and hearing from co-bloggers. I’m so very grateful to Lady Day for organising it!
It’s prompted some reflections of my own. One thing it prompted me to do was to try to figure out when the blog started. I couldn’t actually work out how to make wordpress tell me, but I found this interesting one-year anniversary post, which told me that we started in May 2006. I do remember vividly what led me to start it: a conversation in the snow with Sally Haslanger, in which she urged me to start a blog and I resisted, insisting that I wasn’t the blogging type. I decided to go ahead because (a) I was already emailing links round to like-minded friends, and I thought I could put these on a blog, expecting it would only be those friends reading it; and (b) I thought some of my students might be the blogging type. I didn’t expect all that followed from this.
Pretty quickly, the reach of the blog defied my expectations. I expected maybe three readers and we were almost immediately up into the thousands, such was the hunger for something like this. Admittedly, not all of those were probably looking for a feminist philosophy blog (e.g. those who searched “loving wife spanking”, our most popular search in the first year). I’m pleased to say that our all-time greatest hits now include some important posts that weren’t just found by accident. Still, it’s not quite what I expected. Our number one post of all time is just a link to something someone else wrote. But number two is Red Eyed Tree Frog’s Christmas Trees Not So Harmless. The Gendered Conference Campaign comes in at number 7. And then we have a very large number of posts about incredibly bad behaviour in philosophy. I like to think we’ve done some good for the profession by calling attention to these.
Our blogging team also rapidly increased. At the start, it was just me, Stoat, and Monkey. By the end of the first year we had added Cornsay, Digivordig, Edna in the Sea, Heg, Introvertica, JJ, ProfBigK and Telbort. At the moment there are 40 names on the books. (I don’t even know for sure how many people they name!)
I think one of the blog’s greatest successes has been the Gendered Conference Campaign. This has, I think, helped to normalise the idea that people should notice the demographics of their invited speakers, and try to avoid homogeneity. It has been one factor among many helping to inspire similar campaigns in other fields, and additional ones in our own. But my happiest moment associated with this campaign was when it acquired a theme song.
I hope we’ve contributed in other ways: helping people, philosophers and non-philosophers alike, to find feminist philosophy; drawing attention to sexism, and other and overlapping prejudices, in philosophy; and, more generally, helping to build a community that could work together to improve our profession.
Back in the optimistic early days of blogging when we started, we thought we could manage comments with what I called the “be nice” rule. It sounds very feminine, but those who know me know that it’s a reference to the classic Patrick Swayze philosopher/bouncer movie Roadhouse. And of course if you know your classics you know that in addition to there being a time to be nice there’s also a time to be not-nice. The internet has become a complicated place, and figuring out the time to be nice and the time to be not-nice has revealed itself as beyond the abilities of even Dalton, world-famous bouncer with a degree in philosophy. We had many behind-the-scenes discussions about how to draw these lines, and couldn’t agree a clear way forward. But we felt we needed one if we were to continue. That’s no small part of why this blog is ending.
People have asked what I will do next. Which is odd, since it’s not like blogging was my profession and now I need to find a new job. But anyway… I’ve been thinking a lot about my deeply held view that online discussions of difficult issues are currently toxic to the point of being counterproductive. One thing I am trying to figure out is what we can do instead– how to have productive, inclusive discussions of difficult issues. I’ve got some ideas, and I’m trying things out. But I’m not going to discuss them online– not now, anyway.
I’m really looking forward to seeing what all of the FP bloggers and readers do next. There are so many more places and ways to do feminist philosophy online now, and there’s a vast community out there to do it.
There’s an apocryphal quote that is usually attributed to Helen Keller that goes something like this: blindness separates you from things, but deafness separates you from people. It turns out that Kant wrote something about this in his Anthropologie (aside: for all the hours I’ve been thinking about this farewell post, I must say that starting off with a reference to Kant never occurred to me, but blogging has a way of swerving the words on the page).
It’s hard to put into words how excited I became once I discovered the philosophy blogosphere and Feminist Philosophers.
I could finally understand without guesswork what other philosophers were saying, and having the words on the page to be read, not speech-read, meant that I had an equal footing when it came to accessibility. I’d never had the opportunity to communicate with philosophers without having to do the additional work of speechreading inference or working through an interpreter (who didn’t have the background in philosophy the rest of us did).
It was through Feminist Philosophers that I found a sense of community in the informal aspect of academic philosophy. There were many times when we disagreed — sometimes publicly on the comments page, but also on long email threads. I will miss those threads, time-consuming as they were, because of the respect we showed each other, even in times of deep contention. They were also another (inadvertent) accessible feature of doing philosophy that hadn’t been available to me — I learned much from reading and participating in them.
What I find most bittersweet about shutting down Feminist Philosophers is that this venue of informal philosophical exchange will now only exist as an archive. I learned philosophical jargon and ‘insider catchphrases’ by reading the comments, I learned about other feminist philosophers, including about other disabled feminist philosophers of color (our numbers are small, but we exist!) by reading the comments, and I learned that the written word modality of social media was a way for philosophers who were deaf or hard of hearing or had other communication disabilities could participate in conversations that prior to this were difficult to access.
Access to the informal conventions of feminist philosophy will still continue to exist as an archive, but it will be a snapshot of a certain period of time and place. And so, I worry about how others on the margins will gain access to the shifting social capital and conversations that may not be present in their departments — whether this is access related to disability or other factors. My hope is that with the closure of Feminist Philosophers, we can continue the spirit of this blog by continuing to invite others into our conversations, in whatever formats are needed for inclusion.
To my fellow bloggers, I want to say how honored I was to be invited to join you, and what an incredible privilege it has been to work with you to make a difference. To the readers of Feminist Philosophers, I’m grateful for the sense of community you helped to build, and especially for making it possible for me to see the range of ways to engage and sometimes, to spar! To Jenny, thank you for having the vision and the fortitude to keep Feminist Philosophers going, especially when the path was a tangle.
The internet is exhausting. Academia is exhausting. Politics are exhausting. It’s a bit of a miracle—and a testament to the dedication my co-bloggers—that Feminist Philosophers had such a long run, given its subject matter and role in the discipline. It is hard to have productive conversations on the internet about anything, let alone contentious matters of deep social import. And trying to effect change in academia about things as simple as copier use, or keeping a departmental fridge clean, can leave one feeling like Sisyphus—so, when I think about how my predecessors here at Feminist Philosophers successfully shifted the status quo of the entire discipline, I am nothing less than awed with their accomplishments. I’m grateful for everything they’ve done, and it would be unfair to expect more of them. I am, though, one of those who remains optimistic about the potential for online discourse to be a real force for good in the world. I want to use my last post here at Feminist Philosophers to say something about why I think engaging in tough conversations online is still worthwhile, despite its seeming futility.
In the 1960’s, Stanley Milgram, conducted a series of well-known experiments at Yale regarding obedience to authority. If you aren’t familiar with the details, participants thought they had been randomly selected to play the role of “Teacher” in an experiment on memory. Those who were assigned the role of “Learner” were actually part of the research team, though the “Teachers” didn’t know it. The basic experimental set up was this: The Learner was supposed to learn list of words, and then recall it. If they made a mistake when reciting it, the Teacher was supposed to administer a shock to the Learner. Learners weren’t actually given shocks, but the Teachers didn’t know that either (and they were given a low-level shock themselves at the beginning, to have a sense of what it would feel like). They were told the voltage of the shocks would go up with each mistake, until it reached 450 volts. In one version of the experiment, where the Learners were hidden by a wall, once the shocks reached a certain point, they would vocalize discomfort, ask to be released, and when they weren’t, if the Teacher kept going, they’d stop responding, as if they were unconscious. If the Teacher objected, the experimenter would ask them to continue – until the Teacher objected five times, at which point the experiment would end. Roughly 2/3rds of participants continued all the way through, administering the highest voltage. In a variant condition, where Teachers and Learners were in the same room, full compliance dropped to 40%. In a condition where the Teacher needed to touch the Learner to administer the shock, compliance dropped to 30%. Proximity to others—as basic as merely being in the same room—can enable resistance, and consideration, when callous deference to the status quo would otherwise be the norm. Engaging in discourse with each other online is a way of creating cognitive and imaginative proximity when physical proximity isn’t possible.
Of course, whether online discourse is successful will depend on whether we actually talk to each other rather than past each other; and obviously, that’s actually really hard. It’s hard for a lot of reasons. For one, in matters of moral or political dispute, we all tend to think we’re right and the other guy’s a jerk or troll. Elif Batuman illustrates a nearby phenomenon poignantly in The Idiot:
I found myself remembering the day in kindergarten when the teachers showed us Dumbo: a Disney movie about a puny, weird-looking circus elephant that everyone made fun of. As the story unfolded, I realized to my amazement that all the kids in the class, even the bullies, the ones who despised and tormented the weak and the ugly, were rooting against Dumbo’s tormentors. Over and over they laughed and cheered, both when Dumbo succeeded and when bad things happened to the bullies. But they’re you, I thought to myself. How did they not know? They didn’t know. It was astounding, an astounding truth. Everyone thought they were Dumbo.
That we all tend to think we’re the good guy can make genuine discourse about controversial matters especially challenging.
Talking to each other can be hard for another reason though. Who we take to be authoritative, credible, or even legible, is not determined in a vacuum. Our beliefs are deeply interconnected. Our political views are informed by our social networks. What information we recognize as interesting, relevant, or trustworthy is shaped by our social relationships. When our friends communicate, we understand them. When we interact online with people who are very different from us, have different background evidence, different relationships, different interests, different experiences—it can feel as if we’re speaking different languages.
It’s not impossible though.
I know minds can be changed because my own has been, many times. The first feminist philosophy course I took was an independent study. I suspected feminist epistemology was nonsense, and set out, initially, with the aim of arguing as much. That research led me to this blog. I became a regular reader, then a commenter, and in graduate school, a contributor. (If you want to read a genuinely fascinating story—Megan Phelps-Roper, previously of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church—when through a radical conversion via Twitter.)
I’m not naïve. I know engaging online can take a personal toll. We all have limited time, limited energy, and too much to do. There were times during my run as a blogger here where’d I’d get hateful messages posted about me on other sites, or sent to me directly—ranging from ordinary personal insults, to violent threats. Professional philosophers would regularly tell me that, as a graduate student, it was unwise to say much of anything online. If I had a dollar for every time someone said ‘keep your head down, wait till you have tenure,’ I’d have betters odds at being rich than the average graduate student has at actually landing a tenure-track job in the first place. But if we share these burdens—if we take turns engaging, if we’re generous with one another, if we intervene when we witness bad behavior—together, we can accomplish enormous things.
Imagine Sisyphus happy, not because the world is absurd, but because erosion–tedious, slow, challenging–ultimately moves mountains.
As we announced April 23, Feminist Philosophers is shutting down. This is one of a series of posts by FP bloggers looking back on the blog and bidding it farewell
I joined the blog about 4 months after Jenny began it. It has meant a lot of different things to me. One major meaningful feature has been the gendered conference campaign, which has also been extended to other venues, such as anthologies. Of course, applying the idea that there should be adequate representation of women has involved a lot of tedious counting. ‘One anthology in Ethics, fifty entries, three by women’ can’t usually be determined to apply in one look. Still, knowing we were addressing an often scandalous situation made it worth while.
When we started the campaign we were faced with a pretty grim picture: conference after conference with men-only invited speakers, volumes in which there were at most a few women. I had to remind myself that philosophy isn’t really a men-only field.
There’s lots more to notice, but I am going to mention only a few.
First, working on Feminist Philosophers has given me many opportunities to learn a lot.
Sometimes I’ve become much more aware of areas in which I knew little. Disabilty studies has
been one such.
Another thing I’ve come to think as we’ve discussed things is that appeals to intentions or lack thereof veryoften can’t adequately excuse ignorance. In a real sense, intentions may not matter. I think of this every time I hear Joe Biden discuss his touchy behavior. I fear he still fails to have done the work to understand why women have a space problem with grabby men.
Other issues I have had the chance to work out over several years. Through the blog I’ve really had a chance to think a lot about the role of institutions in what can make academic life difficult for women. For example, there’s mobbing.
In the workplace or in academia mobbing is group bullying. It is very harmful to the target
mobbed and also to the group doing the mobbing. It is very tempting in considering mobbing to ask who is at fault. However, people who have studied mobbing see the underlying fault to be more with adminstrations who encourage a wild west ‘might is right’ ethos than with the individuals citizens. It is hard to foster an atmosphere of respect if one doesn’t show such respect.
Another important lesson I think most of us on this blog took to heart is: Don’t suppose you can solve problems in interacting with faculty by appealing to the administration. You could end up with a wrecked career.
As I llok through the blog, there seems tobe so much that won’t become quickly dare. Hve a look!
Finally, let me leave you with a sample of. A feature the blog used to have. The Sunday Cat was started neary 12 years ago, and I think the boom in cute cats on the internet was only starting. Perhaps, indeed, we were among the innovators. The example below is of Maru, a very beloved cat on the ‘net.
As we announced April 23, Feminist Philosophers is shutting down. This is one of a series of posts by FP bloggers looking back on the blog and bidding it farewell.
I started blogging here in the summer of 2012, four years into my Ph.D. program. When I began that program in the fall of 2008, I didn’t know much of anything about feminist philosophy, and I didn’t care to know anything about it. I thought gender was a shallow and inconsequential human category, so there was surely nothing interesting for philosophers to say about it. Furthermore, since it seemed like there weren’t many women in philosophy, I had a suspicion that any sub-field dominated by them (applied ethics, feminist philosophy) was probably not that good.
By the time this blog invited me to join, I had had some major shifts in my epistemic and ethical worldviews, and had switched from specializing in philosophy of physics to philosophy of psychology, with plans to write a dissertation on gender & race stereotypes and self-identity. I had discovered, in large part through blogs and connecting with philosophers over social media, that there was, in fact, a lot of interesting things for philosophers to say about gender (and other socially hierarchical categories.) I had also discovered that the demographics of the field were not such an obvious case of how the meritocratic chips had fallen.
Another half a decade later, I view social & feminist epistemology as my intellectual home base. One of my current interests is how phenomena like epistemic injustice and active ignorance may be playing out inside the philosophy profession, especially in terms of boundary policing and teaching practices. While there is so much work left to do, it is also striking to me what has changed since 2008. Many critiques of the profession that would have been laughed at (that I remember being laughed at about) are now taken up seriously in many places. You can even get published (in philosophy journals!) talking about them.
There is still so much work left to do, so much critical self-reflection the discipline needs to undertake. But there are people doing this work, opening up philosophy to new subfields, new methodologies, new conceptions of itself. I would like to highlight some of the work being done to help us let go of these unnecessarily rigid and hierarchical boundaries…though in some cases a more apt analogy may be that people are taking up sledgehammers to those walls and gates.
Opening Up the Canon
Although by 2014 (my 6th year in grad school) I had heard lots of stories of people leaving the profession, and already knew about criticisms of our eurocentric canon, the discussion of Eugene Park leaving stood out (Park’s Original Post). The way he framed it made it really sink in for me that there’s lots of collective bad faith and active ignorance regarding philosophy’s narrow and eurocentric canon. (The collective part is important–it’s a lot harder to maintain active ignorance if the rest of your peers and role models aren’t also succumbing to it.)
Bharath Vallabha’s commentary similarly emphasizes this point, that we should find it fishy that a discipline that claims to care about universal human truths doesn’t seem that motivated to actually investigate what life (and thought) is like for huge swaths of humanity. These posts fueled my own motivation for getting outside my philosophical comfort zone and exploring areas of philosophy I was/am ignorant about. Two resources I’ll point out are The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, which has short podcasts on the history of Islamic, Indian and Africana philosophy, along with more well-trodden areas. The second resource is The Deviant Philosopher, which has resources for incorporating marginalized areas of philosophy into your teaching, even if you’re not trained in these areas.
Breaking Up White Supremacy in Our Universities
One worry that some have when discussing initiatives such as The Deviant Philosopher is that if we ‘spoon feed’ reluctant white/privileged philosophers fragments of marginalized philosophical traditions (including disability studies, trans studies, etc.), they and their departments may take that as justification for not hiring marginalized philosophers with expertise in these areas. If they think they can teach a bit of Confucius here, the medical vs. social model of disability there, with maybe a sprinkling of Egyptian ethics or the metaphysics of gender somewhere in an elective, then they don’t need to ‘sacrifice’ a whole hire on someone who does Chinese/Africana/Disability/Trans philosophy. In this way, we could crack open the door for some non-standard inclusions in the canon, but maintain an overwhelmingly and disproportionately white university, in terms of tenured faculty and upper administration.
This means that, besides thinking about the canon, we must also continually think about bodies in the room. One philosopher who has continued this work is Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman, who outlines some of the initiatives he’s organized in a post for Discrimination and Disadvantage. With a gadflyish knack for calling a spade a spade, he points out that there is clear interest among students, faculty, and the public to address questions such as “Why Isn’t my Professor Black?” and “Why Is My Curriculum White?” He says of a more recent project,
“It is my duty as a Black British Millennial to exhume the hidden histories of my own generation, in order that I may, through a better knowledge of myself and of how I belong, act as a bridge between the two generations either side of me. Indeed, this is the motivation underpinning my current participation in the Global Warwickshire Collective’s project, Windrush Strikes Back: Decolonising Global Warwickshire, which aims, within the Caribbean community in Britain, to train members of the generation that comes after us, in the tools of historical research that will enable them to recover and record the stories of the generations that came before us. And I think that’s quintessentially what I’ve come to realise my belonging is: it is the role I have to play in an ongoing multi-generational struggle.”
Ed Kazarian at New APPS wrote about Coleman’s experience, and pointed out the structural features by which marginalized junior faculty can be pushed out or set up to fail.
“It would be difficult to write a better recipe for blocking someone’s progress and setting them up to fail. To return to the dance metaphor above, it’s the second phase in a classic two-step: the institution is challenged, so it offers the person issuing the challenge a limited, poorly constructed, and unrealistic ‘opportunity’ to ‘shake things up’ and bring about real change, only to see them fail a year or two later.”
A further aspect of opening up philosophy, one that Coleman and others are excelling at, is demonstrating the need to queer philosophy, and how to do that at a structural and institutional level. Annika Thiem argues in 2015 in a post at Philosopher’s Eye that,
“The goal then has to be not to establish queer theory as a recognized subfield in philosophy, but to elaborate how the questions and methods of queer thought can more generally inform and transform the practice of philosophy and its standards for knowledge production.”
Thiem argues that one strategy for accomplishing this is “to reject the rhetorical gesture that renders queerness as something that “is studied only out of personal interest” or something studied “objectively” from a distance. This gesture positions the “ideal” philosophical authorial voice at a distance to queerness”.
I think another effort that is working to queer philosophy in this way is Shelley Tremain’s extensive series of interviews, Dialogues on Disability, hosted at Discrimination and Disadvantage. (She is now at the blog, Biopolitical Philosophy.) Tremain’s interviews demonstrate a broad understanding of disability, and that philosophers are indeed embodied creatures with embodied experiences that play a role in our research, teaching, and thinking.
Public Philosophy, Leaving Academia, Health, and Hazing Culture
Another topic is rethinking what a philosophy Ph.D. program is for, and how to address the increasing numbers of people with training in philosophy who leave academia (by choice or not) and obtain non-academic employment. Recently, Matt Drabek has written, “Leaving Academia: A Guide” at his blog, Base and Superstructure.
As part of thinking about graduate programs and academia, philosophers have also started to talk more openly about mental health and the ableist stigma they often face. One example is Peter Railton openly discussing depression in his 2015 Dewey Lecture.
Lastly, I think that philosophy (and academia more broadly) has a hazing problem. In many places, we normalize patterns of cruel, humiliating, or abusive behavior that’s meant to ‘toughen up’ people or build a collective identity (“everyone goes through this”). As a result, many graduate students report feeling too terrified/hopeless/unsupported in their programs to work/sleep/ask for help. Furthermore, there is evidence of disproportionately high levels of depression and anxiety in academia, with no reason to think this does not apply to philosophy. To say the least, the onus should be on those who think that cruel and callous trials by fire (on papers, in referee reports, at job interviews) are reasonable actions or sound pedagogy. My sense is that what we frame as ‘rigorous’ criticisms of one another are, often in truth, lazy and unreflective defenses of convention. (See: Dotson’s How is This Paper Philosophy?)
Thankfully, some corners of philosophy are pushing back on this sink or swim (while we fire cannon balls at you) approach to graduate education. One place that I’ve benefited from is the Philosopher’s Cocoon, which “aims to be a supportive environment for early-career philosophers,” including graduate students. I envision a future for our discipline where this type of resource is the norm, instead of an exception.
I’m grateful to have been part of Feminist Philosophers, and to have benefited from those whose advocacy and argument have opened up opportunities for professional flourishing, for myself and others. I look forward to a career of critical self-reflection and contributing to the further opening up of what philosophy can be. (If you’re interested, I talk about this at the end of my paper on women’s ‘interests’ in ‘philosophy’.)
Although some think that most of the worthwhile questions and ideas in philosophy have already been asked and thought, I think we’re just getting started.
I was invited to join Feminist Philosophers in December of 2007, toward the end of its first year. I had written a report to the APA Committee on the Status of Women about the numbers of women in philosophy in the United States, which seemed to be about 21% of postsecondary instructors in philosophy according to the National Center for Education Statistics (up from 1992 stats suggesting we were 13%!). Jennifer Saul emailed me and said that at FP, I could bring attention to the status of women in philosophy to a wider audience. I didn’t realize how true that was. I didn’t know that the blog was already getting 20,000 views a month, that it would eventually reach closer to 200,000 views a month.
I learned in short order that contributors to the blog were spending enormous amounts of time and emotional labor on nights, on weekends, between classes, before dawn. They were writing each other massive amounts of emails to each other about posts, about comments, about what future topics to discuss, about their responsibilities. Jennifer Saul read everything, replied to all. I engaged gradually, not publishing very regularly until a couple of years in. I entered those vast and earnest oceans of conversation.
Effort didn’t always translate into success. But the correspondence of the women and men who blogged here was an honor to witness. They demonstrated courage when I was hesitant to be so public. They demonstrated receptivity to each other’s points of view when I was still sorting out what I thought. And they kept working, raising to awareness topics that might otherwise be overlooked.
The overlooked can easily include the passing of feminist philosophers. I started volunteering to write our obituaries more often. Jean Harvey. Sara Ruddick. Claudia Card. Sandy Bartky, so soon after Claudia. Vicky Davion, who was just nine years older than me. My write-ups fell into a pattern: We report with sadness. We are sad to report.
I think it’s right to wind this blog down. Many of us are doing so much elsewhere and doing less here. I agree with Jenny Saul and Audrey Yap that the Internet has changed so much that a lot of the purposes this blog used to serve are served well in other places. Public discourse is different now. But I find with some surprise that I regret the shutdown means ceasing these recognitions of lost feminists. I don’t know if there is a better place to pause and say, to those willing to attend, that a feminist philosopher has died, that she gave us her time and labor, that she was courageous, that she was receptive, that she kept working.
And of course, those are just the tenured, well-published individuals that we notice. Feminist goals and philosophical aims are realized by prominent individuals sometimes, but far more often require the work of unknown and countless people, in solitary and collective,unrecognized effort. I realize that’s how most of the work of life gets done.
Individually, we each need some recognition, some acknowledgement that we’re here, if only to continue broad-based struggles. The nicest thing about joining a blog called Feminist Philosophers was that its very title said, with some presumption but with puckish impunity, that we’re here and that we are numerous. A blog asserting the presence of feminist philosophers is a declaration of our existence, and our commenters and contributors pushed us to more and better forms of recognition. Readers have taught me to pay attention more deliberately, even to differences, especially to differences.
I notice you, feminist philosophers who pour invisible hours into efforts. I bet that you are giving, wherever you are. I hope you take vacations. I appreciate some fraction of how much you’ve done. I know you keep working. Take turns and take breaks. Be courageous. Be receptive. Recognize each other.
As we announced April 23, Feminist Philosophers is shutting down. This is one of a series of posts by FP bloggers looking back on the blog and bidding it farewell.
I’ve never been a very active blogger here, but I’m a very grateful one. And so, inspired by Prof Manners’ wonderful post In Praise of Ceremonial Gratitude, I’m going to demonstrate my gratitude by sharing a few of my favourite posts. All of these have made me think, some have made me smile, and others – which is the greatest compliment of all – have changed my mind. More than anything, the whole blog has changed my mind about an academic field which I left 15 years ago feeling pretty despondent. I’m busy doing other things now, but I’m so happy the field I still love is in better hands.
As we announced April 23, Feminist Philosophers is shutting down. This is one of a series of posts by FP bloggers looking back on the blog and bidding it farewell.
I joined Feminist Philosophers in July 2015, after having written a pair of guest posts at Digressions & Impressions that received some attention, both positive and negative. That was one of my first forays into public philosophy. Here are Part I and Part II of that piece, and my reaction to its reception by some senior men in philosophy can be found here. Rereading those things, what I find striking is that my immediate response was to frame matters in terms of unproductive adversariality, as per Janice Moulton’s critique of the Adversary Method in philosophy. For those unfamiliar with that work, it’s not the same as a call for civility, which I don’t particularly have a lot of faith in either. But it is a criticism of our tendency in philosophy to treat discussions automatically as debates that can (and ought to) be won.
My training is in analytic philosophy, and in particular in the history and philosophy of mathematics. I was hired as our department’s logician, and I still teach a regular slate of logic courses. But at the time I started on at this blog, I was still making the transition over to thinking of feminist philosophy as my primary research area (which it certainly is now). The way I was doing it at the time was through feminist perspectives on informal logic and argumentation theory.
I have been extremely grateful for feminist philosophy, feminist philosophers, and Feminist Philosophers for helping me develop as a professional philosopher. Though I have not been at all prolific here, the connection to the larger community of feminist scholarship has helped me feel as though there is a place in philosophy for someone like me. Though I still love logic and the philosophy of mathematics, it was never a field that felt like home. Being part of this blogging community helped me to think through what a field that felt like home might be.
These days a lot of my work is centred on issues around gendered violence, and the FP post that I still think about was an attempt to work through some thoughts that didn’t yet have a more formal venue. Many of the things that I wrote in a post called Me Too: But What About You? were also part of a paper that came out the same year in Feminist Philosophy Quarterly.
But that FPQ paper was still framed in terms of how we, from the outside, might view perpetrators of gendered violence. What I think about these days has more to do with how we, as ordinary people, are ourselves contributing to violence and upholding oppression. It is really not that hard for us to hurt each other, and we need to come to terms with that without falling into either quietism or unproductive guilt.
I don’t have another regular public venue in which I write down my thoughts. And I have become a bit more pessimistic about blogging as a general way for me to bring about change. That’s not to say we shouldn’t do it – I was very happy to have written this piece for the APA blog relatively recently, for instance. But at the moment, it doesn’t feel like something I can do effectively or on a regular basis.
I think that activism requires a division of labour, and the work that I feel best about these days are smaller scale. Public philosophy is important, and I do think it’s incumbent on those of us who are relatively privileged to keep working to make the world better in whatever ways we can. But that work can take a lot of different forms. It can take the work of public writing. But it can also take the shape of working in our communities and campuses, or of supporting and amplifying the voices of others who need to be heard.
In the meantime, I’m grateful to the Feminist Philosophers community for giving me the opportunity to contribute in whatever ways I have. And I wish us all the best as we each work out the ways in which we are best suited to resist oppression.
But now it has been found, more research is underway (including a brand new Wikipedia page), and one exciting find is this article, “The Natural Rights of Woman” published in the Boston Monthly in 1825, under the pseudonym D’Anvil which Anne Wollstonecraft also used for articles on botany. Also a clue as to the identity of the writer on rights is that she uses knowledge of Linnaeus’ s botany as a marker of intelligence and education.
The Boston Monthly article is interesting in itself. It does more than rehash the arguments of the time, and in particular it questions the historical nature of patriarchy, claiming that there is little evidence that it ever was natural, but instead that it has been enforced and re-enforced through the ages. Like her sister-in-law, she argues that the failure to educate mothers creates almost insurmountable obstacles for the betterment of daughters, and asks for general reforms of education.
The manuscript on Botany has been digitized and is available here.