Foe of Feminists Revived

Image: Bilz 1894

Last year biological determinism in the study of sex and gender experienced a resurgence, with the professor of Development Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, Simon Baron-Cohen, as its new figurehead.

In the spring months of 2010, the issue of female representation in public and intellectual spheres was passed along from public intellectual to public intellectual in a series of finger-pointing articles featured on the Guardian website.

Critic and novelist Bidisha initiatiated the debate with a scathing attack on the sorry state of the literary festivals and competitions that she had been involved with, complaining that she was ‘tired of being the token woman’. In the process Bidisha implicated Hay’s How The Light Gets In philosophy festival for its disproportionate number of male speakers. She revealed that she was happy to have had to drop out of the event on account of other engagements, highlighting that the only approvable gender balance in the whole festival was unfortunately within the entertainment tents.

Julian Baggini, the increasingly public face of philosophy as well as adviser to the How The Light Gets In festival, responded with an appeal to the practical issues involved in booking female guests, who he maintains are culpable to some extent Continue reading “Foe of Feminists Revived”

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Hypatia Celebrates 25 Years of Publishing Feminist Philosophy

Edited by Alison Wylie (University of Washington), Ann E. Cudd (University of Kansas), and Linda Martin Alcoff (Hunter College); Book Review Editor: Sharyn Clough (Oregon State University)

In honor of Hypatia’s 25th anniversary, we are pleased to offer free access to the following special issues and journal extras.

About Hypatia
Hypatia is a forum for cutting edge work in feminist philosophy. Since its inception in the mid-1980s as an independent journal, Hypatia has been both a catalyst for broadening and refining feminist philosophy, and an invaluable resource for those who teach in this area. Feminist philosophy arises out of diverse traditions and methods within philosophy, and is also richly interdisciplinary in orientation; we are committed to publishing articles that are broadly accessible. Hypatia serves as a resource for the wider women’s studies community, for philosophers generally, and for all those interested in philosophical issues raised by feminism.

Bacha Posh and masculine civil spheres

Last week Jenny Nordberg published a fascinating piece on the Afghan practice of Bacha Posh.  Much of Afghanistan’s civil culture is close to full-blown gender apartheid.  This creates serious trouble for families that have no sons.  Their daughters can’t attend schools, don’t have access to most jobs, can’t leave the house without a male escort, and so are unavoidably unproductive in the family.

To deal with this problem there’s a practice called Bacha Posh, by which families can effectively re-assign the gender of one of their daughters.  They can decide, one day, to start dressing up a daughter as a boy, and then everyone treats her as a boy.  Continue reading “Bacha Posh and masculine civil spheres”

Super Bowl, Baby?

Oh, the Super Bowl! Unique among sporting events in the States, this annual tour de force remains incomparable. Long after the final minutes, the critical question lingers on – Which will be remembered, the game or the commercials?

However, this year, even by Super Bowl standards, the prospects of these ‘epic’ ads are already drawing more than their fair share of publicity. Continue reading “Super Bowl, Baby?”

Feminist philosophy of art: correcting the imbalance

Orlan between her fifth and sixth successful operations, feb. 1991.Germaine Greer has recently commented on what she perceives to be the failure of an exhibition of female artists named elles@centrepompidou to achieve its intention “to restore women to their rightful place in art history.” The show, which is currently on display in the Centre Pompidou, showcases sculpture, photography, video works, architecture and design from 200 female artists (including works by Orlan, pictured left). The collection is the result of five years of deliberately spending 40% of the acquisitions budget of the Musée National d’Art Moderne on artworks by female artists. Greer criticises the show’s limited sampling of works for not doing justice to each the female artists. Not only that, the collection gives the false impression that women are well represented in the art world. Greer also highlights the possibility of the audience perceiving (again falsely) a stagnation in women’s art with body art works on show from multiple generations of female artists.

The philosopher A.W. Eaton describes the feminist philosophy of art as a category in which all participants share the goal of “ending women’s subordination in the arts and discourses about the arts.” Questions investigated by philosophers in this area include: How does sex or gender influence art production and art reception? Should sex or gender influence art production or reception? Do the current theories of art only offer a male perspective on art? And if so, what should be done to correct the imbalance? Clearly given Greer’s comments on the premature celebration of the place of women in art history, which is still very much male dominated, the project of feminist philosophy of art is still an important area of investigation.

Germaine Greer’s comments can be found here.

The elles@centrepompidou exhibition website is here.

Related articles:
Feminist Philosophy of Art
A.W. Eaton , University of Illinois at Chicago
(Vol. 3, July 2008)
Philosophy Compass

Am I Woman? But I Roar!

431px-Symbol_venus In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir offers her own response to the question ‘what is a woman?’ Most generally, the French philosopher suggests that women are neither constituted nor recognized by their own autonomy but, rather, by their ‘relation to-’. De Beauvoir calls attention to the historical subjugation that has resulted from this referential identity, specifically when women have been defined in terms of their ‘relation to-men.’

Gold medalist Caster Semenya, a runner from South Africa, has recently seen the ugliness of this subjugation. Doctors across the globe are trying to determine Semenya’s ‘relation to-women,’ trying to determine if Semenya has enough ‘female characteristics’ to continue competing as a ‘woman athlete.’ Unfortunately, many of her fellow runners have already decided the issue for themselves. Elisa Cusma, for example, an Italian woman (I mean … runner), responded simply: “These kind of people should not run with us” [sic]. Continue reading “Am I Woman? But I Roar!”

Of kidneys and prostitution

Following the arrest of Rabbi Rosenbaum, Brooklyn’s black-market organ broker, there’s been a fresh round of kidney-selling debate on the Internet and in the news.  (Kidneys even made the fake news, in a John Hodgman segment on the Daily Show.  People care about kidneys!)

At bottom, the case for a market in kidneys is simple:  it’s my kidney.  Why shouldn’t I be permitted to sell it?

I’ve been interested to note a common theme among those who worry about kidney markets.  Says Jon Stewart in the Daily Show clip, “doesn’t that just turn poor people into living organ farms for the rich?”  Says publius at Obsidian Wings, “I’m just not sure I want market logic– which is necessarily coercive on some more than others– to intrude into the realm of body parts, or selling children.”  Says Kevin Drum at Mother Jones, “Would this would be a global market?  My discomfort with the idea is doubled or tripled at the idea of luring the poor in Bangladesh or Liberia into donating kidneys.”

The concern with exposing the poor to the depredations of a kidney market interests me in part because it is reminiscent of an argument commonly made by feminists opposed to prostitution:  the labor market for sex work is more coercive to the poor than it is toward the rich, which makes problematic the apparent consent of a prostitute exchanging sex for money.  (Catharine MacKinnon makes a version of this argument in “Prostitution and Civil Rights.”)

I take it that worries about markets in kidneys and sex are instances of a general unwillingness to expose bodily integrity to market forces.  I wonder, though, if it’s so easy to draw a principled distinction between bodily integrity and other kinds of personal integrity.  Is there a good reason to be much more worried about the cost to well-being of losing a kidney than about the cost of years spent in mind-numbingly repetitive assembly-line work?

Related articles:

£1.99 - small Rights Theory
By George Rainbolt, Georgia State University
(February 2006)
Philosophy Compass