The Sex of the Text

I am honored.  I am mystified.  And I am amused.  I have just discovered that this blog has been listed by ZenCollegeLife as the fifth best philosophy blog out there.  Surely that’s overblown, especially given my sporadic posting.  But the best part is the description:

5.       Gone Public – Noelle McAfee is an associate professor of philosophy at Emory University and the associate editor of the Kettering Review.  His blog on philosophy, politics and public life is both insightful and touching, and rarely will you come across a public blog on these subjects with such inner sensitivity.

Given that the author of this listing has clearly never met me in person, I won’t be offended to have been mistaken for a man.  At least I am being mistaken for a sensitive man.  But I wonder what I should make of this mistake, which, having come across it, I investigated and found recurring elsewhere in the blogosphere.  Is it that the feminine name “Noelle” recedes behind the language of the blog, or is it the very fact of a blog that makes it seem written by a man?  Especially since often I can go on the offensive and tackle and take down bad statistics and logic and nonsense?   Or do we just presume that philosophy bloggers are men?  Or what?  What?

Style.  Okay, it’s a matter of style.  In reading a magazine or a news story I often, half-way through, think to myself that I can sense whether it is written by a man or a woman, so I flip back to the front to read the byline to confirm my sense, and I’m usually right.  So do I write like a man?  What would that mean?  Especially in philosophy?

I’m reminded of graduate school where one semester on Tuesdays the  analytic tradition seminar met, run by Ed Allaire, and on Wednesdays the continental tradition seminar met, run by Kelly Oliver. Now, I am not going to say that these two traditions are gendered; no, not at all. But the professors and their own training certainly were.  Allaire would often seize on a point and stand up and thrust his finger across the table and right into the face of  anyone who uttered something he deemed too stupid for words.  On the next day, Oliver would grant good points and make gentle suggestions.  Was this the same room?  The same chairs?  They seemed utterly different.

Years later I gave a talk at Ohio State in a cultural studies seminar.  At the end of my talk, I waited for the attack to begin, the philosophical method of looking for any weakness and tearing down the speaker.  But none was forthcoming.  They just don’t do that.

So I’m not sure what this all adds up to — and what it means for my writing to be mistaken for manly, even sensitively manly.  I’ll take it as remarkable enough to remark upon and leave it at that.

By Noelle McAfee

I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.


  1. Noelle, I would wonder too. Most of all, so glad your writing is hitting an audience.

    As I consider the reader’s assumption, immediately I get stuck on, well Noelle is the female spelling….But for me the point is that perhaps in our society, pithy thinking is still assumed to be masculine thinking? Sometimes now, though I begin to see a role reversal, at least among helping professionals. In meetings where we’re all discussing, or trying to reach a goal, I notice some of the men, stay process oriented and gentle in their comments, where some of the women are the ones sticking with a particular point.

    It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with gender, writing and communication.

  2. Looking at the linked site, I suspect you’ve discovered one of the many pseudo-spam sites out there. The business model is rooted in raising their Google Page Rank and selling advertisements, but ultimately they offer no independently-created content. I suggest you remove your link to them.

    Someone with no knowledge of the field or the blogs involved put together a list of philosophy blogs (doubtless culled from other philosophy blogs) and wrote some very quick copy to give the whole thing an imprimatur of authenticity (note that the text you link is from your own “About” page, changing “my” and “I” to “he”) and they did this so quickly (since they are paid very poorly) that they didn’t even catch your gender..

    This is not to say you aren’t worthy of the honor, which you certainly are!

  3. It seems written in a careless hurry. From an amateur perspective, your writing is always near perfect and genderless.

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