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.

The Hillary Lesson

In today’s New York Times, Peggy Orenstein writes an important piece about what “The Hillary Lesson” is for our daughters:

One recent morning, as my 4-year-old daughter and I strolled to our favorite diner, she pointed to a bumper sticker plastered on a mailbox. A yellow, viraginous caricature of Hillary Clinton leered out from a black background. Big block letters proclaimed, “The wicked witch of the East is alive and living in New York.”
“Look, Mama,” she said. “That’s Hillary. What does it say?”
Let me state right off that I don’t consider Senator Clinton a victim. Her arm is so limber from the mud she has lobbed during her political career that, now that the whole president thing is doubtful, she may have a future as the first woman to pitch for the Yankees. So it is not the attacks themselves that give me pause, but the form they consistently have taken, the default position of incessant, even gleeful (and, I admit it, sometimes clever) misogyny. Staring down the sightline of my daughter’s index finger, I wondered what to tell her — not only at this moment, but in years to come — about Hillary and about herself… (continue)

I’m with Orenstein on not revering Clinton, but I am also with her on worrying about how the vitriol against Hillary has often been totally sexist and extremely offensive. One offensive jab that came through my own liberal neighborhood’s email list compared HRC to a certain Kentucky Fried Chicken assemblage. To my neighborhood’s credit, after this post many other people responded expressing how offended they were by his “joke.” To this he replied:

Doesn’t anyone have a sense of humor or believe in FREE speech…I see that anyone’s future comments can be silenced depending upon one person’s point of view… is this America ???? Or do we have to conform to editors….what does that remind you of….I have not liked comments made by certain people but I have NOT complained or tried to silence them…..Happy New Year and get a life !!

Free speech, speech free to attack women? Is that America? Not my America.

The best thing about this campaign, to my mind, is that it has allowed all of us to support people for their positions regardless of their skin color or gender. This isn’t really possible when it’s a campaign between a bunch of white guys and one white woman, or a bunch of white guys and one black man. But in a race between a black guy and a white gal, both of whom are progressive people with good values, then the scene changes considerably. I can lean to Barack more and Hillary less, but not because of some deep sexist stuff but because it’s finally possible to glean, however hazily, a post-sexist and post-racist future. But clearly there are still plenty of people caught up in old mind games over sex and race that still make this campaign a truly fraught one. And it’s only going to come to the fore more once the general campaign begins.

Symposium on “Two Feminisms”

An article of mine that I wrote a few years ago, “Two Feminisms,” found a new life as the subject of the fall symposium of the online journal, Symposia on Gender, Race, and Philosophy. Every season the editors pick an article for a symposium and also four scholars to critique it. Then the author has an opportunity to reply; the reply along with the critiques are posted; and the symposium is open for public commentary. My four interlocutors—Amy Allen, Nancy Bauer, Scott Pratt, and Linda Zerilli—had quite varied responses to the paper, all of which prompted me to put the piece in a broader frame. “Having read my interlocutors, it now occurs to me that …’Two Feminisms’ isn’t about two distinct groups of feminist scholars; it’s about two different conceptions of power and politics.” In the original article and the response, I argue for a model of politics and change that is deliberative in the Deweyan (not Habermasian) sense, a model where change need not come from battling the other but from working on changing the ways in which the larger sociosymbolic system situates us. The deep problem that accompanies injustice is the ways “the system,” and not just segments of society, puts us in “our place.” By moving the focus from primarily particular bad actors to the larger sociosymbolic sphere, I’ve touched some nerves. But this is a discussion worth having.