Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Guest-Blogger Shiloh Whitney on the Hendricks Affair

[Introductory note from Dr. J: Hello, readers. Just a quick introductory note about today's "guest blogger." Shiloh Whitney (pictured left) is a PhD candidate in Philosophy at McGill University. She submitted a rather long comment to the previous discussion taking place on this blog surrounding the Hendricks affair, so I asked her if she wouldn't mind letting me post it as a separate entry. This is our first foray into "guest blogging" at this site, so I appreciate Shiloh's willingness to be our test-case. Her text begins below the break.]
---------------------------

My first exposure to philosophical dialogue was a philosophy club meeting I attended during my first term as an undergrad. A professor gave a talk on political philosophy. I challenged him at every turn. What he said, I was sure, couldn't be true. It was inconsistent with a whole constellation of beliefs I had always maintained. I was quite vocal in that discussion--looking back on it, it was a bit presumptuous of me to take up that much space in a club meeting my very first time there. The conversation didn't end satisfactorily for either party: I didn't see what he saw, and I wasn't interested in being shown. I was interested in proving him wrong. At a certain point in the conversation, I could see him recognize this, and withdraw, letting the students in the club take my bait. As he gathered his things to leave, I had a sudden worry that perhaps I had been a bit of a jerk after all, and that if I wanted to talk to this man again, it would be prudent to smooth things over. I approached him. "Dr. W--." He turned to look at me. "I hope I wasn't... too combative." He looked a little surprised, as if he had been bracing for something else. His countenance shifted, regarding me thoughtfully. He waited until I looked him full in the face. "I don't think you are combative," he said quietly. "I think you are ignorant."

It is not an exaggeration to say that that moment changed my life. Because somehow, I believed him. The suspicion grew in me that perhaps he could see something I couldn't. I glimpsed for a moment the possibility of my own ignorance. And what I felt then was wonder--and desire. I no longer wanted to prove him wrong. I wanted to see what he saw. I wanted to know the things I didn't already, the things that didn't fit, the things that could change everything. I wanted to stop defending what I thought I saw, and learn to see something new.

No doubt many of us have had an experience like this in our introduction to philosophy. We were doing an excellent job as proper young adults collecting plausible beliefs, shoring up the order of things as we were familiar with it, working out its kinks. Then a philosophy class came along, and we encountered something that didn't fit but couldn't be dismissed; something that upset the order of things as we had been conceptualizing it, and gave us a glimpse of a different one. And suddenly the world was new and wondrous again. As Socrates shows Meno, the lesson that you have something to learn is the first and most important lesson in any education. And the most difficult one: how do you see that there is something more to be seen unless you already see it?

As I read over many of the detracting comments on the thread following Dr. Johnson’s second post about L’Affaire Hendricks, I at first want to engage their combativeness: to point out their errors and misunderstandings, to explain the steps they have missed. But by the end I no longer see their combativeness as their most salient, response-worthy feature. I see instead their ignorance. The detractors in this thread do not see sexism in the pictures. We are looking at the same pictures, considering the same facts that made up their context of use, and they do not see it. I was similarly startled when I first read the Hendricks interview Dr. Johnson discusses in her post. "He just doesn't get it," I thought. Which is exactly the news Dr. Johnson's post relays: he doesn't get it.

One indignant commenter (Ticu) lists failure to assume a burden to prove the photos' sexism as a "logical fallacy" in Dr. Johnson's post. This is a startlingly brazen refusal of the possibility that his own ignorance could be the problem. The audience of Dr. Johnson's post is clearly those who already CAN see the sexism in the pictures (and as the widespread indignation over the photos shows, that is no small population). This is evident in the fact that the post's core message is to report the news, parsed from the text of the recent interview, that Hendricks "SOOOOOO does not get it." That is, that he is not one of us who see sexism when we look at the photos. That indeed, he seems to have learned nothing from the reproach his photo opportunity has merited, because his interview shows that he thinks people who see sexism in the pictures are under the influence of an unfortunate "misunderstanding." Though he uses the word "sexism," he doesn't understand what it means. Or to be kind: he is using the word "sexism" in different sense than the way it is used by the people who reproached the photos and his use of them as "sexist."

For the uninformed, I will take a moment to explain: Hendricks uses the word "sexism" as if it refers to individual's beliefs and intentions (he claims that the criticism is a "misunderstanding" because he did not intend to offend anyone), while his critics use the word "sexism" in what has come to be called a *structural* or *systemic* sense (Dr. Johnson says explicitly in her post that she means this sense of the word). In brief, the use of this structural sense of the word means that the claim that the pictures are sexist is not primarily a claim about Hendricks' personal character, beliefs, and intentions. It is rather a claim that his actions participated in a pre-existing practice that purveys and perpetuates sexist stereotypes that are damaging to women in philosophy (if you can't see how that would work, you can start trying to understand by reading Emma B's excellent post later in the comment thread). His claims that his intentions were above reproach should make a difference to how we judge him personally if indeed we do judge him personally, but they are no defense against the feminist demand to censure his behavior. Just so, a person who defended her use of the n-word by claiming she did not mean to offend might be dealt with more gently than a brazen white supremacist, but would nonetheless be sternly informed that it is in most contexts utterly inappropriate (because racist) to use that word. Caj, the commenter who was concerned about the claim that "Hendricks is sexist" should take note of this. When Caj says "Prima facie, it looks as though you're suggesting that an agent uttering something that is overtly sexist is a sufficient condition on that agent being a sexist. That would be a very strong claim. I doubt you actually endorse it," s/he is indeed mistaken about the claim being made. It is not a claim about the agent. It is a claim about the behavior--and a demand on the agent to change that behavior.

When a person participates in sexist behaviors (notice I am using the structural sense of the word), it is not incorrect to say that they are or have been sexist. But when we use the word in a structural sense, this is not primarily a claim about their personal character, their motives, or their dispositions as an agent. It is a claim that they have participated in a practice that is dangerous and potentially damaging to women, or to some party defined in terms of their sexual difference. You can see how the claim about the agent is simply not the primary feminist concern: if we truly care about the damage these practices can do, we will not sequester ourselves within the question of whether and how much to judge the individual. All other things being equal, praise and blame are beside the point. Our priority is to place a demand on the person that they cease the behavior, and to do so publicly so that others who are well-intentioned but ignorant will take note of the fact that those behaviors are considered inappropriate. The best outcome in fact would be that the behaviors do not "stick" to or permanently mark the agent: that the individual reflects on the feminist reproach, accepts it, realizes that she does not want to be the kind of person who purveys the sexist practices, and takes steps to learn how to avoid more of those behaviors. This is hard to accomplish when the individual is primarily concerned with insisting on her own blamelessness, and believes that what is primarily at issue in the feminist criticism her behavior has warranted is a trial of her personal guilt or innocence. It’s understandable that folks sometimes react this way to feminist critique, but it demonstrates either a lack of concern about the claim that there are larger injustices at stake, or else ignorance of what those claims mean.

To return to the commenter who accuses Dr. Johnson of the "fallacy" of failing to shoulder "the burden of proof" that the photos are sexist: you need to take a moment to reflect on how patronizing your remarks are. If you are, like Hendricks, not one of us who sees the sexism in the photos and his use of them, then I am afraid it looks as if the original post was not written with you in mind. That is not grounds for criticism. If you are prepared to listen to an argument that the photos are sexist, then you should respectfully request one. Preferably after committing to some reflection on the matter given what I have said about the meaning of the word “sexist.” Learning to see something you could not before will require your cooperation, your assumption of some of the burden of communication. You will have to acknowledge the possibility that there is something you have yet to learn here, a lesson that may oblige you to engage in a process of discovery, one whose effort cannot simply be dismissed as if it is someone else's job.

Commenter Pavelka chides Dr. Johnson's rhetoric, aiming to discipline its snark, its abrasive edge. He sagely reflects that he has identified the stumbling-block on which feminism is (as he sees it) currently "struggling": its "proponents' inability" to "appeal" to the uninformed (which is to say, him, by his own admission) in terms they can already understand. Commenter Pavelka, I say this without malice, because I can read in your tone that you do not mean to be patronizing: you also need to take a moment to reflect on how patronizing your remarks are. If the uninformed become intransigent when they are told that they need more background knowledge in order to understand the point being made, then their haughtiness has made them unteachable. And that is not the fault of those who would teach them. If you are interested in engaging in a dialogue about Dr. Johnson's post, my advice is to stop demanding her humility, stop defending the foolish pride of the ignorant, and start asking some thoughtful questions.

At this juncture I think it is appropriate to explain that I am making what is known in feminist circles as a point about "conversational politics." You will have noticed a pattern in my responses to my fellow commenters: I think many of the detractors in this thread have behaved as if communication gaps between themselves and Dr. Johnson's post signify a failure on her part, and have taken affront to her for informing them that the problem was their own lack of the requisite background knowledge to understand. In the cases of the detractors who admit the possibility that she could have a point, they chide that she should be nicer, or they question her "netiquette." You should know that these responses fit troublingly snugly within another set of sexist practices: the sort that patronize women interlocutors, that demand or simply presume our humility, and that reproach and punish women who are proud, confrontational, challenging, demanding, feminist, or who fail to make others' comfort a priority. Not only photographs, but also discussion and debate can be occasions to participate in sexist practices, and occasions to call them out. Some of the people in this debate are not only lacking background knowledge. They are also lacking a self-awareness of their own implication in sexist practices. If you want to be part of the solution to philosophy's problem with sexism, you should start by reflecting on the demands you place on your feminist and women colleagues in the way that you speak to them. Do you demand their humility? Do you make your discomfort and hurt pride their problem?

In sum, when I read over the comments on this blog post, I find myself convinced that many of the commenters need to learn that they have something to learn from Dr. Johnson and her response to these photos. They need to learn the lesson I learned in my first encounter with a philosopher, the lesson I keep relearning, the lesson I have come to love and desire as part of my love of philosophy: Meno's lesson, the lesson that you have something to learn, the lesson that there is something there to be seen that you do not yet see. Dr. Johnson looks at the Hendricks photos and their placement on the website for his logic course, and she sees sexism. As do many of us. We see a piece of the problem that keeps women out of philosophy, that keeps our gender gap wide, that keeps harassment common in our departments, that fetters our bright young women scholars with sexualization, condescension, underestimation, subordination, anger, alienation and self-doubt. If you do not see this in the pictures, I think that in itself should give you pause, and occasion to question your own perception. There IS a problem of sexism in philosophy. If you acknowledge that, but do not see the problem here where others who are knowledgeable on the subject of sexism claim the problem shows itself, then you should take seriously the possibility that we see something you do not, and that there is a learning opportunity for you here.

35 comments:

Emma B. said...

This is a brilliantly clear and careful post, not to mention generous to a fault! Thanks for taking the time, Shiloh.

fred ecenrode said...

This is extremely helpful for the purpose of separating structural critiques and moral criticisms, which is what I assume (correct me if I'm wrong) would be the character of a criticism of intentions of agency. But I'm not quite clear on your distinction between behavior and agency. [Dr. Johnson is well aware of my hesitancy to embrace the concept of agency. For her sake I apologize for again reiterating this.] How is there agency at all without moral obligation, and the corresponding praise or blame that accompanies it? If the feminist demand is not primarily concerned with agency, yet indirectly assumes its functionality, in whatever sense, then how does this demand not at least indirectly subject the one demanded of to moral criticism? If the concern is to change behavior, can it be done without the technique of moral criticism, and thus of moral agency as subjection? I am inclined to think not.

B. Ecenrode said...

I want to add, that it seems to me the feminist call to justice is more of an invitation to the possibilities of a world without such violence. But perhaps I'll be misunderstood to be more or less asking of women that they make no demands at all. I don't want to suggest that. I am instead searching for a type of language that calls out rather than one that subjects. Although I said that I'm not inclined to think it's possible to effect behavior change without the implication of agency, I ought to have stated it more moderately; for I am somewhat hopeful that I'm wrong about that.

B. Ecenrode said...

Somehow that follow up comment posted under my wife's google account. Sorry.

Shiloh Whitney said...

Commenter Ecenrode, you write: "If the concern is to change behavior, can it be done without the technique of moral criticism, and thus of moral agency as subjection?" That's an EXCELLENT question. And I think it's a question where there's more at stake than facing the ontological music about whether we can consistently dismiss the questions about praise and blame as beside the point. The moral affects are powerful, and that gives us a reason to appeal to them even when the structure of that appeal "subjects" the individual by appealing to her desire to distinguish herself from "the bad guys," purifying her own subjectivity of any stain of sexism. I feel very ambivalent about making those sorts of appeals, but I do make use of them. There are lots of people who are not at all concerned with the oppression of women, but who very much do not want to be called "sexist," or to have to think of themselves as "sexist." Teaching someone who does not already to perceive and care about the oppression of women is a gigantic task that in most cases I have no opportunity to even attempt. But if they dread having sexism on their conscience, then at least in that way the claim that a behavior is sexist carries weight with them, and that can be leveraged to influence their behavior and get them to stop doing some of the sexist things they are doing. As you can see from my post though, I think appealing to guilt and shame is dangerous insofar as it is at cross purposes with the goal of cultivating feminist perception, and getting the deeper and more enduring cooperation and sensitivity that only comes with that shared vision.

You know, I used the language of agency in this post only because the commenter (Caj) I was responding to most directly at that point in my own discussion had used it. It's not indigenous to my vocabulary about these things. So I find I'm not really invested in that particular distinction (between agency and behavior). The distinction was a rhetorical move whose purpose was to get folks thinking in terms of behavior, and not in terms of agency. I DO think that we can influence behavior. But I have a very deflated view of the privileged capacity an individual enjoys to influence her own behavior, and I take it a more inflated view of that is the definitive feature of conceptualizing that behavior-influencing potential as "agency," and speaking of a person as "an agent."

You answer your question "I am inclined to think not." I DO think it's possible for feminist criticism to bypass an "an appeal to the agent," and for feminist efforts to influence behavior to bypass an "appeal to the agent to change the behavior." I think that involves invoking affects other than the subjectivating affects of shame and guilt. Examples: invoking excitement over a shared vision of a more equitable collective life, invoking anger or sorrow about oppression and injustice, cultivating empathy with a lived situation of which your privilege had previously left you ignorant, or sharing the joy of discovering that you are not alone, or the joy of finally coming to understand your situation and no longer be burdened with confusion and objectless anger.

Mihai Martoiu Ticu said...

Correct me if I reconstruct your argument wrongly.

Premise 1: You were ignorant when I contradicted my philosophy professor.
Premise 2: Some people contradict Dr. J.
Conclusion: Those people are ignorant.

I don’t see any argument here.

==The audience of Dr. Johnson's post is clearly those who already CAN see the sexism in the pictures (and as the widespread indignation over the photos shows, that is no small population).==

It sounds like sectarianism to me: Dr. Johnson's audience is clearly those who already CAN see the end of the world coming in 2012.

== that is no small population==

Fallacy: ad populum.

== One indignant commenter (Ticu) lists failure to assume a burden to prove the photos' sexism as a "logical fallacy" in Dr. Johnson's post. This is a startlingly brazen refusal of the possibility that his own ignorance could be the problem.==

Thus, what you say here, is that if someone asserts that the Earth is an elephant on the back of a turtle and I ask for the evidence, then I’m dogmatic because of my brazen refusal of the possibility that my own ignorance could be the problem.

Fallacy: ad ignorantiam.

== It is rather a claim that his actions participated in a pre-existing practice that purveys and perpetuates sexist stereotypes that are damaging to women in philosophy==

Fallacy: non sequitur. From the fact that there exists a “practice that purveys and perpetuates sexist stereotypes that are damaging to women in philosophy”, does not follow that those pictures are sexist.

== To return to the commenter who accuses Dr. Johnson of the "fallacy" of failing to shoulder "the burden of proof" that the photos are sexist: you need to take a moment to reflect on how patronizing your remarks are.==

Imagine the following discussion in a tribunal:
Prosecutor: He's guilty of murder.
Defender: I want some proof that I’m guilty.
Prosecutor: You are patronizing.
Judge: Indeed, he’s patronizing. Guilty. Next case.

Fallacy: Avoiding the burden of proof.

== If you want to be part of the solution to philosophy's problem with sexism, you should start by reflecting on the demands you place on your feminist and women colleagues in the way that you speak to them. Do you demand their humility?==

I demand from the feminist and women colleagues the same I demand from every man: to prove their arguments.

In conclusion: you produced 2632 words, but no positive argument that the photographs are sexist. You produced a bunch of fallacies. The main message is that those who ask you to prove your arguments are just too ignorant to see the truth.

You are patronizing.

katems said...

Ticu, I think you might have missed Shiloh's line where she suggests that if you'd like a proof that those photos are sexist, you should respectfully request one. Neither of the posts on this topic have attempted to provide one, so you have twice committed that error.

Further, as someone who very much appreciates excellent logic, I have to say that your attempt to tear down this thoughtful post only betrays your complete stone-wall resistance to thinking through the argument it's making. You might want to listen carefully, and think through what's being said, before you draw out all your "fallacies". You're trying to make a straw man out of a very robust position, and it's not convincing anyone.

mihai martoiu ticu said...

@Katems

You still did not prove that the pictures are sexist. Your fallacy is a red herring. Just like the post above and the second post about Hendricks. On turns around in circles, attacks the person, talks about other things, but not about the thesis of the argument.

Shiloh Whitney said...

@Katems: many thanks for the thoughtful contribution.

fred ecenrode said...

Shiloh, thanks for taking the time to respond to my comments and questions. I like where you've gone with your explanation, but I must clarify my question, and expand it.
Regardless of any appeal to agency, any appeal that might call for a willed response on the part of the person appealed to, does the attempt to effect behavioral change in another not in and of itself subject the other? This question is not meant to imply any ill intent on the part of the one attempting to affect behavioral change. It's a question of the structure of psyche. In other words, is it at all possible to interrupt the habitual continuity of human behavior without inevitably causing the onset of some kind of psychical malady? Be it that of guilt, that of defensiveness, that of hatred, that of resentful submissiveness? (I might be taking a liberty in applying the term 'malady' to these, but it seems to me to be most appropriate. Further, this term applied here is, in my opinion, synonymous with agency.) If so, if it is possible to chance to effect change without causing agency, then does the person effected not necessarily have to be already open to change, even longing for it, waiting for it as one waits to be freed from imprisonment? (Both you and Dr. J have suggested something along these lines, but I must put it again here against the alternative I'm proposing.) Suppose there are both of these, those for whom the feminist "demand" (call) produces but illness, and those for whom it comes as liberation, what is to be done for the former? How does the feminist get to the former? Finally, is a change of behavior sufficient without the remission of the malady of agency?

Brian Blake said...

Emma, I think you strongly suspect, as I also do, that many of the people chiding Dr. J for her "lack of etiquette" are largely doing so for sexist reasons (in addition to their own ignorance of the literature.) Perhaps, you ended up writing practically all of your blog comment with that concern and audience in mind.

If I am interpreting you correctly, though, I'm not sure I agree with your etiquette section of the post. Rather than just assume, though, I'd like to ask for clarification: exactly what argument does this section advance?

[b]In the cases of the detractors who admit the possibility that she could have a point, they chide that she should be nicer, or they question her "netiquette." You should know that these responses fit troublingly snugly within another set of sexist practices: the sort that patronize women interlocutors, that demand or simply presume our humility, and that reproach and punish women who are proud, confrontational, challenging, demanding, feminist, or who fail to make others' comfort a priority. Not only photographs, but also discussion and debate can be occasions to participate in sexist practices, and occasions to call them out. Some of the people in this debate are not only lacking background knowledge. They are also lacking a self-awareness of their own implication in sexist practices. If you want to be part of the solution to philosophy's problem with sexism, you should start by reflecting on the demands you place on your feminist and women colleagues in the way that you speak to them. Do you demand their humility? Do you make your discomfort and hurt pride their problem?[/b]

In particular, I'm wondering to what extent do you think any people, who accept the soundness the Hendrix arguments but are critical their rhetoric, specifically as used in the posts, can escape "fitting neatly" into troubling sexist practices and traditions?

It seems to me, initially anyway, that the apparent audience and purpose of the blog posts makes a criticizing their tone and language potentially legitimate.

mihai martoiu ticu said...

@Brian
The quote you just used is a good example of the bad argumentation she uses. It's like the psychoanalyst that meets an old school mate on the street:

Psychoanalyst: Hey, how are you?
Friend: Very well, I'm very happy. I have a good job, a charming perfect wife, great children…
Psychoanalyst: Oh, I see, you suffer from a childhood traumatic experience. You were sexually abused by your father, and you are traumatized because you enjoyed it because you were fixated on your anal stage. That's why you married a woman and believe you are happy.
Friend: No, no, how do you conclude such a thing?
Psychoanalyst: See, you deny it. You are in denial. That's what all people fixated on the anal stage do.

In other words her argument is a continuous fallacy named affirming the consequent. Example:

Premise 1: If one is ignorant than one contradicts philosophy professors.
Premise 2: Reacting people contradicted Dr. Johnson
Conclusion: The reacting people are ignorant.

Shiloh should stop psychoanalyzing us and produce some argument why the pictures are sexist.

Caj said...

Part1: When a person participates in sexist behaviors (notice I am using the structural sense of the word), it is not incorrect to say that they are or have been sexist. But when we use the word in a structural sense, this is not primarily a claim about their personal character, their motives, or their dispositions as an agent.”

I still don’t understand what you mean by “structural” and how it’s suppose to link-up to personal responsibility.
It looks like you want to attribute to me some sort of epiphenomenal view.

Let me just say that I am a behaviorist, perhaps in a similar sense that Daniel Dennett is a behaviorists (he calls it “heterophenomenology,” but it’s more like radical behaviorism without all the silly Skinnerian restrictions on scientific theorizing). Anyway, if your structural analysis is what I think it might be, I don’t think it does the work you want it to. Obviously, analysis of any kind of learned behavior requires consideration for overt environmental stimuli acting on an individual (as far as I can tell, the overtness of the stimuli is what you mean by ‘structural’. I’d appreciate clarification). Yet, crucially, it is essentially impossible to account for operant behavior without referring to the “motivations,” “dispositions” (‘establishing or abolishing operations’) and “character” (‘behavioral repertoires’ , ‘stimulus preferences’, control of ‘conditioned stimuli’) of an individual. I guess I really don’t know what you mean by “primary” sense of the word.

“You can see how the claim about the agent is simply not the primary feminist concern: if we truly care about the damage these practices can do, we will not sequester ourselves within the question of whether and how much to judge the individual.”
You’re going to have to make some kind of (practical) judgment about the individual if you want to reinforce pro-feminist behaviors that will successfully compete with sexist behaviors.

All other things being equal, praise and blame are beside the point.
There are plenty of people who think libertarian free-market theory is a sound economic theory because “ All other things being equal, the free market ensures the best outcome.” What exactly are your reasons for believing praise and blame are "besides the point?"

“Our priority is to place a demand on the person that they cease the behavior, and to do so publicly so that others who are well-intentioned but ignorant will take note of the fact that those behaviors are considered inappropriate. “
Problem behavior can be maintained by access to social attention, even in the form of reprimands. Here are some (non-clinical) examples you might be familiar with: (1) The Phelp’s church protesting funerals (a severe case); (2)a more mild case, how students misbehave when a substitute (without ‘stimulus control’) is teaching. I think that academic feminists are insufficiently selective of who they choose to publicize. I think this has often lead to counter-productive results.

Continued...

Caj said...

Part2:
This is hard to accomplish when the individual is primarily concerned with insisting on her own blamelessness, and believes that what is primarily at issue in the feminist criticism her behavior has warranted is a trial of her personal guilt or innocence.
But what are peoples actual moral and political behaviors, and how resistant to change are they?
If we implemented a differential reinforcement procedure on pro-feminist behaviors, an individual might ask, “Why are you rewarding that man for not doing sexist things? As a woman, I never get anything for not being sexist. I won’t vote for you again as education administrator.” Now, is this just a failure on her part to understand that the we are reducing the man’s sexist behaviors via differential reinforcement for the Greater Good…a failure to understand that reinforcement can be more effective than either punishment or extinction? I suppose it could be. But part of our job as behavior changers is to treat the whole person. If we tried to make her “understand,” we’d be focusing on her stimulus preferences (for a fair reinforcement schedule) which isn’t easy to change. It’s something of a dilemma: the political ‘will’ necessary to use effective procedures to change sexist behaviors could run up against deeply entrenched psychosocial values, such as fairness or just dessert, which make such procedures highly aversive.

This is hard to accomplish when the individual is primarily concerned with insisting on her own blamelessness, and believes that what is primarily at issue in the feminist criticism her behavior has warranted is a trial of her personal guilt or innocence. It’s understandable that folks sometimes react this way to feminist critique, but it demonstrates either a lack of concern about the claim that there are larger injustices at stake, or else ignorance of what those claims mean.

If folks commonly react to feminist critiques “in this way”, then perhaps the message academic feminists are sending is packaged in a way that is difficult to learn/ineffective. That’s not to say that feminists haven’t been effective in the past, but maybe we could be even more effective? I sketched part of a proposal in one of my earlier posts ( in the context of teaching philosophy in public high school). I could expand on that if you like.

. In the cases of the detractors who admit the possibility that she could have a point, they chide that she should be nicer, or they question her "netiquette." You should know that these responses fit troublingly snugly within another set of sexist practices: the sort that patronize women interlocutors, that demand or simply presume our humility, and that reproach and punish women who are proud, confrontational, challenging, demanding, feminist, or who fail to make others' comfort a priority.

Posting Dr. Hendricks email in that manner would have been bad netiquette and bad tactics regardless of whether the poster was a woman or a man, regardless of the subject. Also, Dr. H is a man of color (regardless of where from). In U.S history, the addresses of black men who broke Jim Crow norms were commonly made public so they could be intimidated, beaten, or even killed. I personally doubt that his email would have been posted if he were white.

Caj said...

@mihai martoiu ticu

Jesus, what's your deal with fallacies?

Why would we care about a bunch of informal fallacies? That's not the 'logic' philosophers learn (many philosophers would consider informal fallacies to be non-logical in character). You're pointing to a bunch of rhetorical rules of thumb which sometimes reveal weak arguments and acting like they are decisive refutations of the arguments at hand.

"Imagine the following discussion in a tribunal:
Prosecutor: He's guilty of murder.
Defender: I want some proof that I’m guilty.
Prosecutor: You are patronizing.
Judge: Indeed, he’s patronizing. Guilty. Next case.

Fallacy: Avoiding the burden of proof.


Ordinary discussion and debate isn't a murder trial. You honestly expect Dr. Johnson to meet a standard that's beyond a reasonable doubt? I don't think you actually understand the point you're trying to make. The standard argument against Dr. Johnson would be that she is making an existentially positive claim (roughly, that Dr. H has the property of sexism), and thus, she has the burden of proof to make that claim 'believable' in some sense. Is your standard of believability really 'proof' beyond a reasonable doubt?
Incredible.

mihai martoiu ticu said...

@Caj
I did not say that the proof should be beyond reasonable doubt. I said that I expect some kind of an argument that it makes it likely, probable, plausible that the pictures are sexist. But neither Dr. Johnson, nor Shiloh produced any kind of argument.

Caj said...

@mihai martoiu ticu

I tried to be very careful in my original post to avoid asserting that Dr. Johnson actual argues for the conclusion that Dr. Hendricks is a sexist.

I avoided that assertion because Dr. Johnson does not actually argue that Dr. Hendricks is a sexist.

Consider this scenario, which illustrates what Dr. Johnson was doing:
Lawyer: "If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit. Chewbacca is innocent of murder"
Journalist: "It's worth noting that by extending his fingers laterally, Chewbacca could make it so the glove wouldn't fit on his hand."

The journalist in this scenario isn't making an argument which amounts to the claim that Chewbacca is a murderer, the journalist is saying that there is an alternate explanation of an article of evidence which would be consistent with murder, even if that murder didn't happen.

Tracy said...

Ticu, are you daft? The photo shows a philosophy prophecy surrounded by much younger "hot girls" who are scantily clad, implying that philosophy professors are cool enough to get hot chicks. This presumes: A. an audience that would want to be surrounded by hot, skin-showing chicks (i.e., men); and B. that hot young chicks are prizes to be won through superior intellect. How is it NOT sexist to imply that women are prizes to be won, and that only certain kinds of women (young, hot ones in school girl uniforms that further infantilize them) are worth "winning"?? If you don't see this from looking at the picture for 1.5 seconds, you are either stupid or willfully ignorant. I have no patience for either trait.

Tracy said...

Typo: I meant "philosophy professor."

Shiloh Whitney said...

@Brian Blake (you address your comments to Emma, but it looks like you mean me), many thanks for your thoughtful request for clarification. You quote, and then ask "exactly what argument does this section advance?" That section is not an argument, but an assertion and a challenge to reflect on it. It also makes use of the concept of structural sexism I explained earlier, applying it to aspects of the discussion in the comment thread of Dr. Johnson's earlier post. I inform people that there is a sexist practice like the one I describe, and then I challenge them to take that into consideration in their behavior toward their interlocutors. You ask "to what extent" one "can escape" their behavior coinciding with sexist practices. I think that demanding your interlocutor's humility is always going to be overdetermined with sexism if your interlocutor is a woman. Did you make your hurt pride her problem because you would have done that in any case, or did you do it because you're especially uncomfortable with a woman or a feminist telling you something you don't know? (Generic "you" here, not *you*, Brian.) I'm not asserting either, not even addressing the question--I don't have a way to judge it. I suspect that in many cases there's a real overdetermination about the influencing forces involved (as in, even an omniscient entity would consider it inconclusive). But whatever its immediate context, sexist stereotypes and patterns of behavior being what they are, *demanding a woman's humility is potentially damaging in a way that demanding a man's is not*. That is what matters to me. If you care about sexism, it should matter to you too. So if by "escape" you mean a way to sort out whether your motives were above reproach, a way to definitively establish someone's innocence, to definitively wash your hands of sexism, then I have nothing to offer. If you could figure a way to refrain from participating in sexually differentiated practices, that would be an escape, after a fashion--though I don't see how that's possible. But escaping sexism in that sense is not something I ask of anyone, or of myself. Failing to escape in that sense is not I would criticize in Hendricks' behavior. And lest you think that I am placing a burden on others that I do not shoulder myself, note that I face this problem every day. Any time I decide to put family or domestic concerns ahead of my career, for instance. Or find myself about to interrupt or talk over a woman colleague. It may be a completely legitimate choice in the immediate context of the situation, but it is overdetermined with gender norms, and that fact gives me a reason to hesitate.

There are lots of legitimate reasons to demand a person's humility, to demand that she be nicer, and make others' comfort more of a priority in a given situation. But if the person is a woman, there is more at stake, and you should know that, and weigh that in your decision about how to act.

fred ecenrode said...

Tracy, I wish you hadn't done that -- I mean, make the/an argument. You're right. But I wish you hadn't done that.

Caj, did you really just suggest that Dr. J is attempting to set up Dr. H as a target of potential violence? Really?!?

Caj said...

Fred,
I don't think that Dr. H would be killed, but I don't have a very favorable impression of Denmark as far as race relations are concerned. If Dr. Johnson's blog had a larger readership, I wouldn't be terribly surprised if Dr. H received emails with racial slurs and death threats. 'Southern chivalry'--keeping white women away from black men--is something America exported around the world many decades ago.

Let me ask you this: Why am I subject to your incredulity? Is there something unbelievable about people of color being persecuted in Northern Europe?

Caj said...

Also, "attempting" implies an intention on Dr. J's part to express something. I don't think Dr. J was consciously aware of what she said, it's often difficult to perceive how one's words can reinforce a racist ideology.

fred ecenrode said...

Caj, I'm not incredulous in the least that racist hatred is active in northern Europe. But did you not say "made public SO THEY COULD BE intimidated, beaten, or even killed," and then "I personally doubt that his email would have been posted if he were white"? Does this not imply that Dr. J acted intently for the purpose of provoking the intimidation, beating, or even killing of Dr. Hendricks?

Call me foolish, but I seriously doubt you meant what you suggested in your comment. You may not know Leigh Johnson, but I do, and that kind of implication has to be rebutted unequivocally.

Brian Blake said...

@Shiloh Whitney. Wow, I didn't even notice that mistake until now. I'm not sure how I missed it. My apologies.

Thanks for clarifying. From all you've said, I don't think we have any principled disagreements. How your actions can play into continuing differentiated racial, gender, etc. practices is, of course, way, way too important to ignore. If we differ anywhere it may be our specific assessments. (and even then maybe not.)

mihai martoiu ticu said...

@Caj
Any physical events has an infinite number of alternate explanations. Think for instance how many conspiracy theories there are. Or there is an alternative mathematical model in which the Earth is in the center of the universe and the Sun together with the rest of the planets are moving relatively to the Earth. Thus, to produce an argument for something is not enough to produce a ‘just so’ story. One has to produce a story with a certain degree of probability.

@Tracy
I’m stupid and willfully ignorant. Your prophecy turned out to be true.

@Shiloh
Nobody demanded humility from Dr. Johnson. I have just demanded what I demand from everybody: that they produce arguments for their assertions. I write exactly the same about male professors, when they are stupid or criminal. See for instance:

http://www.mihai.nl/2012/03/14/tai-heng-cheng-gives-machiavellianism-new-meaning/
http://www.mihai.nl/2011/12/04/brainwashed-international-jurists/
http://www.mihai.nl/2011/10/15/professor-julian-ku-jumps-the-shark/

Anonymous said...

In case anyone was still in doubt, I think Ticu has revealed himself...

http://www.gagful.com/uploads/2012_2/1330005308_maximum_trolling.gif

Caj said...

Caj, I'm not incredulous in the least that racist hatred is active in northern Europe. But did you not say "made public SO THEY COULD BE intimidated, beaten, or even killed," and then "I personally doubt that his email would have been posted if he were white"? Does this not imply that Dr. J acted intently for the purpose of provoking the intimidation, beating, or even killing of Dr. Hendricks?

Call me foolish, but I seriously doubt you meant what you suggested in your comment. You may not know Leigh Johnson, but I do, and that kind of implication has to be rebutted unequivocally.



When you asked that first question, you didn't expect me to bite that bullet, did you? lol

-" Does this not imply that Dr. J acted intently for the purpose of provoking the intimidation, beating, or even killing of Dr. Hendricks?"
Nice selective quoting. Let's look at what I said,
In U.S history, the addresses of black men who broke Jim Crow norms were commonly made public so they could be intimidated, beaten, or even killed
Hmm...what's this stuff about history? Could this mean...
-"I seriously doubt you meant what you suggested."
...maybe I didn't originally suggest that? Maybe you just failed to grasp that there is a ballpark similarity, not an exact equivalence?

But thanks for your initial, incredulous response. It woke me up.
By my next post, I came to realize that I had made the mistake of failing to suggest that Dr. Johnson and yourself tacitly and unconsciously contribute to racist norms about people of color.

I don't know what Dr. J is like in particular, but I know what white feminists are like in general. Pretty damned racist.

In fact, here's a good writeup by a blogger I quite like:

http://dearwhitefeminists.wordpress.com/

fred ecenrode said...

Well apparently I was wrong when I suggested elsewhere that you, Caj, did intend to provoke something of a more meaningful discourse...prior to your accusations against Dr. J. Now I see you're just plain trippin'.

Caj said...

fred,

I bothered to offer a detailed analysis, and even some positive claim, about behavioral methods to reduce sexism. I don't know what you discussion of agency is supposed to contribute to any political action on sexism in academia.

What's more, Dr. Johnson is perfectly capable of defending her own reputation. I also suspect that she would offer counterexamples to my arguments rather than asserting (as you do) that I'm "trippin' ". for that matter, I don't think Dr. J is some kind of monster. In fact, she's probably a lot less (unconsciously) racist than most people. But that doesn't mean I'm going to shut up about the unfortunate implicature of her journalistic style.

Caj said...

*a lot less (unconsciously or consciously)

fred ecenrode said...

Caj, if you think that the concept of behavior can be divorced from that of willful agency, then you are obviously not sensitive to the question of moral culpability, which has been covertly announcing itself throughout this dialogue. I can fully appreciate your attempt to introduce a wider dialogue, which is why I thought you were doing something other than rambling on so that your psychic mechanism could come to finally spit out the accusation of guilt. Such an accusation so thoughtlessly disregards the questionableness of agency that all dialogue of behavior (in and of itself) is meaningless. Construct whatever sort of institutional character you want of human behavior, you cannot get anywhere without addressing the malady of psyche. And if it's objectionable to you that I take personally the condemnation of a good friend, well, so be it.

fred ecenrode said...

By the way, you're welcome to the final word. I'm through with this.

DOCTOR J said...

Shiloh, I think is an eminently well-written and well-argued post, the comment thread notwithstanding. To that latter issue, readers, please see here and here.

MSdos5602 said...

Perhaps all of these things are true. However, I feel as though everyone, be they feminists or accused offenders, need to simply relax. I have read multiple articles, containing multiple arguments, and many comments. I see that some consider Dr. Hendricks to have been highly offensive. Others consider him to have been merely lacking in foresight. In all cases, though, the one quality this article begins with but seems to lose is empathy. That one professor in the beginning of the tale did not point a finger, hackles raised, proclaiming ignorance to the heavens. Neither do I believe that we should become so involved emotionally that we cannot step back from this argument and consider the context in which it began.