the life of clarice or philosophy?

In meeting with a graduating senior this afternoon, I learned that her only exposure to a woman philosopher, in a syllabus for a class, was in my freshman seminar on the masters of suspicion with some readings on Arendt and in a 400-level class now in her senior year. In my seriously progressive department, how the hell did that happem? She is super smart and planning on doing a joint MD-JD program. I asked her if she thought about philosophy and pointed her to look, right behind her, at my philosoHERs poster of women in philosophy, and she noted that she did in fact see a few women of color like herself. But it was still much easier to see herself as a forensic MD-JD getting into the minds of serial killers than to see herself as a philosopher.

the responsibility of being a woman in philosophy

As i’ve posted before, the website inviting people to report what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy is a huge gift.  In many places, apparently, it sucks. I gather especially in those “Leiterrific” departments that see themselves as doing hard core philosophy.   Hmmmm.

I know it can be awful, intimidating, and all that.  But I dare say than anyone complaining on the “what it’s like” blog also needs to be complaining to your university ombudsman and the local police.  If you are too afraid to rock the boat for your own career, then you are, I fear, part of the problem.

[This post has been slightly edited in light of anon grad student’s comment below.]

The Mismeasure of Woman

On today’s New York Times op-ed page, financial editor Joanne Lipman asks how it is that women finally make up half the work force and are the major breadwinner in 40 percent of families and yet are still treated as either witches or bimboes.
Op-Ed Contributor
Published: October 24, 2009
Somewhere along the line, especially in recent years, progress for women has stalled. This isn’t simply a woman’s issue; it affects us all….

Palin Right and Wrong

There’s plenty to complain about Sarah Palin and her views on politics and campaigning.  Yesterday I mentioned her insulting views about community organizing.  The blogger Brendan Skwire relates a couple of terrific and hilarious anecdotes about calling McCain campaign headquarters to inquire about Palin’s views on community organizers such as the founding fathers and contemporary American volunteers.  This criticism is right on.

But another kind of criticism is circulating, and it is totally wrongheaded: that’s the one that says she’s the mother of five, including a child with special needs, so she shouldn’t be running for office.  She should be tending her flock.  Sally Quinn was mouthing that criticism this morning on CNN: since women often end up with more parenting tasks than men, Palin should be ready to do so.  This line of argument is offensive to women, and it is ridden with terrible logic. It may be so that women  find themselves taking on more than their share. But this does not mean that they should continue to do so.  I would have thought that by now no self-respecting political commentator — and especially no woman — would trot out an argument like that.

Let’s stick to the real issues.  There are plenty of them.


According to Paul Begala, the core of the Democratic Party are hardworking white Americans. And according to the Clinton-camp logic, hardworking white American women should line up behind Hillary. It seems to take a Republican, namely Peggy Noonan in today’s Wall Street Journal, to point out the logic of what’s happening to the Democratic Party if people like me—hardworking white American women—don’t speak up.

I am a hardworking American. I am white. I am a woman. And I’d like Hillary Clinton to bow out now.

But maybe Paul Begala would like to say that having an education negates my American credentials. But to that I’d remind Paul that we first met when he was student-body president at the University of Texas at Austin. Yes, even the Clinton folk have their share of degrees.

Dispute Continues over Econ Prof Pay

Today’s Washington Post has an interesting piece on  Columbia University’s economist Graciela Chichilnisky and her ongoing disputes with her university over pay equity. The article raises familiar issues about perceived differences between successful men’s and successful women’s demeanors.

Columbia officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing litigation, said Chichilnisky can be abrasive and has difficulty getting along with colleagues. Her supporters say that even if the description is true, she would hardly be alone in the world of tough-minded academicians. They also add that if she were a man, the traits would not be an issue.

“On the one hand, the Larry Summers of this world question women’s genetical abilities in the sciences, while our powerful institutions use all their money and might to crush women who show what are the true genetical abilities of women in the sciences,” Chichilnisky said.


Taking on the Economics of Gender Inequity

By Valerie Strauss

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 3, 2007; Page B02

In the world of economic theory, Columbia University‘s Graciela Chichilnisky is an A-list star.

Nobel laureates laud her work and call her brilliant; some economists credit her with an important economic theory. She is involved in the economics of fighting global warming internationally, and she was recently elected to the university senate.


Chichilnisky is also embroiled in a bitter 16-year fight, including two lawsuits and a countersuit, against the Ivy League school where she teaches. She says she has been a victim of sex discrimination. Her salary, she alleges, has not kept pace with those of her male counterparts. Research grants have been taken away, and administrators have retaliated because of her complaints, she says. Read more…

Women, Children, and Philosophy

Why are women only 21% of faculty in philosophy compared to 41% in the humanities overall? See links on the SWIP page for thoughts on this question as well as a post on Lemmings. Here’s an additional possibility: Might it be that conventional philosophy in America styles itself more like the sciences than like the humanities? And we know how women fare in the sciences.

And of this 21% why is it when I go to academic conferences so few of the accomplished women scholars there have children? Is it that women in philosophy largely decide not to have children? Or is it the other way around — that having children with the usual division of labor makes it incredibly tough to teach, write, and travel? Is it that the women philosophers who are parents drop out of the profession more or simply can’t get away to go to conferences? There are amazing counterexamples, including two brilliant feminist theorists, one a Foucault scholar and another a Merleau-Ponty scholar each with four or more children! How do they do it? Probably with immense help from their partners, for the profession itself, and its societies, does very little in the way of providing childcare at conferences. How does philosophy compare to other disciplines? What factors make a difference?

The Congo

There is an epidemic of rape occurring in the Congo.

Jan Goodwin documented this three years ago for The Nation:

Last May, 6-year-old Shashir was playing outside her home near Goma, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), when armed militia appeared. The terrified child was carried kicking and screaming into the bush. There, she was pinned down and gang-raped. Sexually savaged and bleeding from multiple wounds, she lay there after the attack, how long no one knows, but she was close to starving when finally found. Her attackers, who’d disappeared back into the bush, wiped out her village as effectively as a biblical plague of locusts.

Is the epidemic of rape that’s devastating women in the Congo politically motivated? From today’s New York Times article, it seems rather to be an effect of the trauma of the genocide in Rwanda. So many men have become severely damaged, and now women are being brutally and savagely damaged in turn:

BUKAVU, Congo — Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, cannot bear to listen to the stories his patients tell him anymore.

Skip to next paragraph


Sexual Violence in Eastern CongoPhotographs

Sexual Violence in Eastern Congo


Times Topics: Congo

The New York Times

Every day, 10 new women and girls who have been raped show up at his hospital. Many have been so sadistically attacked from the inside out, butchered by bayonets and assaulted with chunks of wood, that their reproductive and digestive systems are beyond repair.

“We don’t know why these rapes are happening, but one thing is clear,” said Dr. Mukwege, who works in South Kivu Province, the epicenter of Congo’s rape epidemic. “They are done to destroy women.”

Eastern Congo is going through another one of its convulsions of violence, and this time it seems that women are being systematically attacked on a scale never before seen here. According to the United Nations, 27,000 sexual assaults were reported in 2006 in South Kivu Province alone, and that may be just a fraction of the total number across the country.

“The sexual violence in Congo is the worst in the world,” said John Holmes, the United Nations under secretary general for humanitarian affairs. “The sheer numbers, the wholesale brutality, the culture of impunity — it’s appalling.”

The days of chaos in Congo were supposed to be over. Last year, this country of 66 million people held a historic election that cost $500 million and was intended to end Congo’s various wars and rebellions and its tradition of epically bad government.

Find the NYT article to read more.