June 1, 2012

A Lady’s Gallery of Unwritten Posts and Dream Blogs

by Lady Day

Hey, Lady!

Is it June already? It’s been a long time since I posted. Too bad I don’t have a Hey, Lady! implant in my brain that would allow me to blog using the power of thought alone. There is enough else about the world these days that corresponds to the dystopic future envisioned in Soviet sci fi and 1970s Charlton Heston films; you’d think we’d have the blog implants by now too! I guess we’ll have to wait a bit longer for blog implants and flying cars.

Well, if I had a blog implant, we’d have three Hey, Lady! posts a day because that’s the average frequency with which I launch into a long rant about something — either silently to myself or to my ever grateful family, friends and loved ones.

Here are some of the posts I’ve fully conceived which have never made it out my fingers into the keyboard:

  • Why it took so long for them — yeah, them — to invent suitcases with wheels. Hint: rich people used to be the only ones who maintained permanent luggage — as opposed to hastily gathered bindles — and they had servants to carry it for them. Who needs wheels when you have staff?
  • Why the hell aren’t there any vegetarian cooking shows on the Food Network? I don’t have an answer for this one, but I was prepared to complain at some length. I mean, what the fuck?
  • Elizabeth Badwinter versus the La Leche League: What’s a judgmental food-puritan hippy feminist to do? No, seriously. This one’s been eating at me. …No pun intended. When my kid was small, I was all like “Get away from her with that soother! Nipple confusion! Nipple confusion!” And, I have to confess that I’m still pretty suspicious of bottles and formula. On the other hand, it really is true that, in a lot of ways, breast-feeding serves to keep the mothers of young children on pretty short leads. And, someone like me who spends a good chunk of time explaining social construction to 18 year olds can’t help noticing that we approach few other infant health issues as dogmatically as breast-feeding. I guess I just want us all to want to breastfeed, in a totally non-coerced, undeformed desires kinda way, and I want workplaces, schools, etc. to be organized such that we can do so without having to give other important things up. That’s pretty attainable, right?
  • “Gettier special pleading.” This one’s harder to cash out in two sentences. Ok, here goes nothing: In epistemology, a Gettier case is any case where the knower believes something true with good reason, but where, unbeknownst to the knower that good reason isn’t actually the reason the belief is true. Like this. For some reason, boy epistemologists love Gettier cases. They collect them like Lego pieces. (I was recently at a dinner with, among other people, a very senior, famous woman philosopher who complained that when she visited a distinguished smartypants uni, all that the boys there ever wanted to do was talk about Gettier cases. It’s kinda true.) Anyway, I’ve been a more or less prominent local LGBTQ ally for a few years now, but this year my kid came out as queer, and obviously I’m totally cool with it, but weirdly it’s been causing me to worry that everyone will think I’m one of those PFLAG types who become allies because their kid is queer. I mean, that’s fine too. You can’t help but be impressed by Washington Repub Congresswoman Maureen Walsh, whose defense of equal marriage seems to have been motivated by her daughter’s lesbianism, but which defense is a glory to behold. But, the thing is — it was a thing for me before I had any idea it was a thing for my kid. So, it really bugs me that someone might say, “Oh, yeah. It’s because her kid’s gay.”

I also have the most wonderful ideas for blogs other people should create — blogs that I really, really need to follow.

For instance, I know a woman feminist scholar in a same-sex marriage who is right now (well, maybe not this very second) trying to get pregnant using new reproductive technologies. And, it’s been weird for her because every so often when her vaginal fluid, body temperature, etc. tell her she’s most likely to conceive, she has to drop everything and go to a clinic. She says that often having to put her professional life on the back burner in this way constantly forces her to re-examine her sense of self. Don’t you want to read her thoughts and anecdotes every week? Of course you do! So do I! But she’s not blogging about it. …Yet.

Oh, and I’m totally dying for someone to create a photoblog called “Rainbow Hijab” that’s kind of like The Daily Bunny except that instead of astonishingly handsome rabbits, there are daily photos of Muslim women wearing rainbow Pride flags as hijabs. I’m just so sick of the way that some folks keep trying to justify their Islamophobia via their putative queer-positivity. I know queer Muslims and devout Muslims who are about as queer-positive as anyone you’re likely to meet …and of course I know tons of non-Muslims who, frankly, aren’t. Both the rainbow flag and the hijab provoke such strong reactions. Think of how powerful their iconic combination would be! And, yet, weirdly, no one has yet created the Rainbow Hijab blog. Go figure.

Back when I was thinking about blogging about possible blogs, I was also going to say that I have a MTF friend and colleague who is transitioning, and who has tons of thoughtful, trenchant, philosophically rich things to say about the process (and the various obstacles and frustrations she’s encountering), and that I desperately want her to blog too.  Well, I guess this story has a happy ending because last week (Or maybe the week before? Time flies in angry lady land.), she launched her glorious, gorgeous, engaging blog, Metamorpho-Sis. You should check it out. Sometimes our blog dreams really do come true.

Your friend,

Lady Day

April 27, 2012

On little toes and other fairy tales — Stephen Woodworth’s Motion 312

by Lady Day

Hey, Lady!

Gawd, it’s been ages since I wrote. Damn it, why won’t these papers grade themselves, talks give themselves, meetings attend themselves, you know?

So, the Canadian House of Commons spent an hour today debating the legal definition of “human being.” This was occasioned by a private member’s bill (Bill 312) by M.P. Stephen Woodworth, who, for the past four months or so, has been bemoaning the fact that a four hundred year old law means that fetuses — oh, sorry, preborn babies — can be aborted right up until they’re entirely born except for their little toe, which has somehow lodged in the birth canal. Woodworth says that he isn’t necessarily concerned with abortion, per se — that this is a human rights issue for him. If fetuses are human beings, then they have rights and we need to defend them. How will we know whether fetuses are human beings? Well, he says modern science will tell us.

Oh, such an embarrassment of riches here. Where to begin? Where to begin?

Let’s start with the 400 year old law business. Woodworth traces Section 223 of the Criminal Code of Canada (CCC) — the section that defines “human being” — back to origins in the 17th century. According to Woodworth, in 1642, Coke’s Institute of Law recorded that “children before birth were not considered human beings until they were born alive. He [Coke] didn’t know any better.” That law made its way with very few revisions into CCC when the latter was enacted in 1892. Woodworth is likely more or less correct about the origins of CCC 223, but not in his conclusion that CCC 223 is 400 years old. The framers of CCC selected some portions of Coke’s for inclusion in CCC and excluded others. So, even if CCC had never been amended, 223 would be 120 years old, not 370. And, every time CCC is amended, every part of it is enacted again. 223 itself was last amended in 1970. Hell, that makes it younger than me!

Of course, the age of the law doesn’t matter. Much like people, it’s just or unjust regardless of its age. So, why does Woodworth keep spouting this “400 year old law” business? He does so because he is arguing that modern science can tell us when a fetus becomes a human being. They didn’t have modern science in 1642, he says, so how could they have known what science now tells us — that fetuses (oh, there, you see — I did it again — preborn babies) are human? Don’t believe him? Just ask a scientist!

Now, if you ask a scientist, and if she is a responsible scholar, she will tell you that science can tell us a great deal about embryonic and fetal development and about fetal cognitive capacity (She might tell you, for instance, that most scientists agree that fetuses cannot feel any pain before 20 weeks gestation, and that they are not capable of a conscious experience of pain — so-called “true pain” — before 26 weeks, if they are capable of it at all.), but that science cannot actually tell us when a fetus becomes a human being. Why not? Well, because “human being” is a term of art used within law and philosophy to denote a bearer of certain kinds of rights and responsibilities. It is not a species term, like “cat” or “octopus” or “human”. Everyone knows that human fetuses are human. No need to call in the scientists on this one.

Is scientific evidence relevant to whom we count as human beings? Sure. Like I said, “human beings” are so termed because of the rights and responsibilities they bear. To bear such things as rights and responsibilities, one must have certain capacities. Scientific data is a huge help in determining who has those capacities. But, on its own, science can’t adjudicate the question. I suppose that if there were a science of rights and responsibilities, those scientists could help. What would we call such “rights and responsibilities scientists?” Um, maybe lawyers, judges and philosophers? But Woodworth has made pretty clear that these aren’t the experts he wants to consult in this matter.

All of that is mere fun and games though. The real rub is his constant reference to that damned little toe — the toe of that poor 40-gestational-weeks baby who has entirely exited the womb except for the one toe that can’t quite find the way out. Mr. Woodworth, of course, doesn’t mean to suggest that ob/gyns and midwives will try to abort such unfortunate babes rather than helping them with the toe extraction. Even he knows that such a suggestion is preposterous. But he keeps using this example because he wants the public always to think of third trimester abortions when they think of abortions.

Here’s a confession. While I am strongly pro-choice, I actually agree that to abort a perfectly healthy 40 week (or 39 week, or 38 week, or or or…) fetus for no good reason is (usually) wrong. Morally wrong. But, do you know what? THAT NEVER HAPPENS. In Canada, 90% of abortions occur in the first 13 weeks, only .4% occur after 20 weeks, and none occur beyond 24 weeks on an elective basis. Absolutely no one carries a pregnancy this close to term and then aborts a healthy fetus. When late term abortions occur, it is inevitably because (1) the fetus is very ill and will surely die before or immediately following birth, or (2) the abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother. Late term abortions are without exception heart-breaking losses to the women who undergo them because, to a one, these women intended to have the babies.

But, forget about the fact that fetuses don’t feel pain before 20 weeks; forget about the fact that late-term abortions are never, ever elective and are very rare. What about that 90% of abortions that occur in the first 13 weeks? Wouldn’t it be better if these didn’t occur?

Maybe it would. I think there’s ground for sensible disagreement here. But, guess what? If you want to reduce the incidence of abortion, then the last thing you should do is to criminalize it. (An aside: Woodworth says that he’s not trying to criminalize abortion; he just wants to consider whether or not fetuses are human beings. Now, unlike Woodworth, I’m not a lawyer. But since CCC 223 exists for the purpose of determining which kinds of killings count as homicide, I’m pretty sure that amending that section such that fetuses count as human beings would make killing a fetus murder.)

Why shouldn’t you criminalize abortion if you’re trying to reduce its incidence? It seems pretty intuitive that outlawing abortions would mean fewer of them, right? Well, sometimes our intuitions are wrong. In fact, as study after study has shown, the regions of the world with the lowest incidence of abortion are those with the most liberal abortion laws. The lowest incidence of abortion in the world occurs in Western Europe, where 12 out of 1000 women undergo the procedure, and where abortion laws are typically quite liberal. The highest incidences occur in developing regions where abortion is illegal — 32 per 1000 women in Latin America and 29 per 1000 in Africa. Canada’s abortion rate is 14 per 1000 women, right behind Western Europe’s. Whatever our intuitions might tell us, prohibitions on abortion correlate to higher abortion rates.

Something else that studies, unsurprisingly, reveal is that in countries where abortion is against the law, the abortions that are performed are much more likely to be unsafe. That is, not only does criminalizing abortion not reduce its incidence, it increases the loss of life to women. Not all women, of course. If abortion were criminalized in Canada, middle- and upper- income women would simply go to the U.S. to pay for the procedure. It is poor women who would turn in desperation to back alley abortionists and who would end up in emergency rooms as a consequence. Let’s be clear: when abortion is illegal, more women have abortions, and more women die of them. Period. (And, it’s worth noting that when women die, the health and well-being of their already-born children suffers as a consequence. In developing nations, the orphans of women who die because of unsafe abortions are themselves much more likely to die.)

So, anyone who wants to see a higher incidence of abortion and more poor women bleeding in emergency rooms should send Woodworth a thank-you note because he’s on their side. Everyone else should write to their M.P.s and to their local newspapers, should sign petitions and scream their lungs out at rallies. Because this — this is bullshit. Woodworth says he’s concerned with human rights; so he wants to know if fetuses are human beings. Huh. You know who are human beings? Women. Already-born, walking and talking and thinking and loving and laughing and crying women. And they’ve got fucking rights — on that we should all agree.

Your friend,

Lady Day

P.S. Looking for more info on 312, or for a way to vent your righteous rage over it? This fabulous Facebook group is a great place to start!

April 4, 2012

Sometimes Someone Gets It Right

by Lady Day

Hey, Lady!

Something kind of great happened today. This morning, after years of soul-searching and some weeks of consultation with a few colleagues and friends, a member of my department came out as trans. She wrote a note (too personal to share here) to departmental colleagues and sent it to my chair for distribution. My chair attached it to the letter below. I think that it’s a wonderful example of how to handle such matters well. Both colleagues have graciously extended to me their permission to share the covering email here.

I am so proud of both of these colleagues for their courage, dignity, and sensitivity. Sometimes, someone gets it right!

Your friend,

Lady Day

Dear Colleagues,

I attach a letter that XXXX has written to the department faculty, staff and students, and I ask that you read it.

I will not attempt to summarize XXXX’s courageous and lucid explanation of her situation and her plans. Rather, I will take this opportunity to ask for your understanding and cooperation in honouring, as best you may, XXXX’s request for support.

University policy requires “that each member of the University endeavour to contribute to the existence of a just and supportive community based on equality and respect for individual differences.” Yet the immediately relevant consideration here is surely one of departmental community rather than the dictates of policy. I hope we can all put some thought and effort into accommodating XXXX’s preferences regarding, e.g., how she is referred to, and how peers interact with her.

For people wishing more perspective and insight on dealing with transgender persons, I can suggest the following wiki as a useful resource:

http://www.wikihow.com/Respect-a-Transgender-Person

One practical matter to consider, which has almost certainly come up before in XXXX Hall without becoming general knowledge, is that there are no single-user washrooms in the building. Early efforts are under way to establish a university policy on washroom facility use for transgender persons; but until such a policy is in place, the appropriate course (for everyone) is to use the washroom corresponding best to one’s presented gender.

I won’t pretend confidence that I will never slip up or embarrass myself by dealing incompetently with XXXX’s gender transition. But I can say that XXXX has made it easy for us right from the outset, by being open and socially generous about it. Thank you all in advance for making your best effort to repay this openness with support and cooperation.

Sincerely,

April 3, 2012

Breaking the Log Jam

by Lady Day

Hey, Lady!

I can’t believe it’s been nearly a month since I wrote. What can I say? It’s busy work being an angry lady.

Since I last wrote, I organized a silent protest of an honour Our Glorious Institution bestowed on a moustache-twirling villain. (Well, he doesn’t actually have a moustache. Rather, he spends his time publishing screeds against contraception and marriage equality, and in support of calls for Barack Obama to prove that he was born in the U.S., etc., etc. You get the idea.) So, there was that… And, there was a conference, and a whack of meetings, and papers to referee and prizes to adjudicate, and programs to administer and, oh yeah — the teaching, always the teaching… Phew. What a month!

Well, amidst all that angry lady work, there was a party too. …A lovely party with smart people and good conversations, one of which I wanted to mention to you.

I chatted with a senior administrator at a nearby university. We were discussing the demographic differences at our two universities, and the corresponding advantages and challenges. Where Our Glorious Institution has plenty of ethnic diversity (Well, “plenty” puts it a bit strongly. More modestly, a couple of our faculties have lots of faculty and grad students from four or so Asian countries.), it does a terrible job of recruiting and retaining women. My interlocutor’s uni has less ethnic diversity among its students but plenty of women at all seniority levels.

Anyway, she was telling me about a report she had to fill out for a government office or a granting agency — I don’t remember which — about diversity among the university’s employees, and how, quite to her surprise, her uni beat out all the others for most kinds of diversity. This led to the agency to which she was reporting inviting her to lead a workshop on how to promote diversity.

This admin was delighted with the outcome, but confessed to me that she had no idea what to say at such a workshop because, on her account, “We didn’t do anything.”

But, do you know what? I have a sneaking suspicion that the reason they didn’t have to actively do anything was that the uni in question to begin with had such a healthy gender balance at all levels.

Here’s my theory: Men broker power on the golf course, on the hockey rink, in the locker room, and in lots of places besides the workplace. And, as some recent literature has shown, men have long sponsored each other in the workplace too. I suggest that, when women are well-represented at all institutional levels, the power of the golf course or the male-male boardroom sponsor is diminished. Not having (in general) been enculturated into these practices, women administrators don’t reproduce them in their own conduct.  And, that means that members of other groups who have likewise been absent from these traditional sites of white male power, now get a kick at the can.

In a way, when increases in women in the workplace break the white male log jam not just women but members of other marginalized groups can get through.

Your friend,

Lady Day

 

March 6, 2012

On the costs of administration

by Lady Day

Hey, Lady!

Yesterday, Our Glorious Institution hosted a panel discussion in which five senior women university administrators discussed their experiences. The good news is that I came away liking them a lot, and feeling (in many respects) good about having them around. However, I can’t shake my worries about a couple of themes we heard from them over and over.

4:00 a.m.

Several of the women on the panel said that, even as senior administrators, they were able to (more or less) keep up with their research by setting aside time to work at 4:00 a.m.

4:00 a.m.! Let that sink in for a moment.

I like research plenty, but really, there is nothing about my job that I like well enough to — and here’s the thing — routinely do it at 4:00. (And I worked for years as a hotel night auditor! If anyone should be able to work at 4:00 a.m., it’s me.)

Not only do I not want to routinely work at 4:00 a.m., I frankly don’t want to work for anyone who regards this as acceptable or promotes it as a norm.

Nannies

The other thing that I keep fretting about as I recall the discussion was the number of panelists who spoke about having full-time nannies.

Let’s be clear. I don’t have any objection in principle to hiring domestic workers. Among other things, I think that actually paying people to do the work traditionally done for no pay by women helps to nudge economists and others towards the notion that the pro bono domestic work done by women is an economic good that must be factored into the accounts. And, more simply, some people need domestic employment, just as some people need domestic help. So, in principle, no problem.

What got me worrying about it though was that the least senior administrator on the panel spoke about relying on a full-time nanny. She is just an associate chair, and so likely doesn’t get paid astronomically more than I do. I mean, she’s not earning a dean’s or v.p.’s salary. So, I got thinking, “How can she possibly afford to have a full-time employee? That must cost at least $40,000 plus benefits, right? Because, no good feminist would want another woman to work for less than that, right?”

I was a food server with a grad student spouse when I had my kid. Between us, we had lots of flexibility and very little money; so, we only ever needed to hire occasional, part-time childcare providers. But even that was pricey. I’ve never been able to figure out how people can afford daycare, much less a full-time nanny.

Well, I looked it up. According to NannyCanada.ca, full-time nannies in Canada earn between $1000 and $1400 per month. Are you fucking kidding me? $1400 per month?! A person is supposed to live on that and make a life for herself (because it’s usually a “her”, right?)? A person whom you trust enough to raise your kids?

Now, I have no wish to cast aspersions at any of the women on the panel. Perhaps they’re all doing the right thing and paying their nannies actual living wages rather than sub-par subsistence wages.

But, I have the nagging worry that, for women, senior administration requires employing some other woman to hold it all together for a wage that is absolutely unacceptable.

NannyCanada helpfully explains that most nannies come from outside of Canada because the booming Canadian economy makes it difficult to hire Canadian nannies. At $1400 per month? No shit! This raises the further worry that senior women administrators rely not just on underpaid domestic workers but on underpaid domestic workers of colour.

Is it really the case that the only way to get the (mostly white) women into the upper reaches of the ivory tower is through poorly paid brown women? If so, that may be too high a price to pay.

So…

So, does this mean that women shouldn’t seek upper admin positions in universities? Hell, no! But, it is unjust and unsustainable for those promotions to be premised on 4:00 a.m. research sessions and poorly paid brown women.

Cecily Devereux begins the hard task of addressing this dilemma in her “What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting” (Susan Brown, Jeanne Perreault, Jo-Ann Wallace and Heather Zwicker, Eds. Not Drowning But Waving: Women, Feminism and the Liberal Arts. Edmonton: U of Alberta Press, 2011. xxi + 472 pp.). Responding to the argument that it is women’s “biological destiny” (99) to bear children that prevents them from reaching the upper echelons of institutions, Devereux urges that if it is impossible for people raising children to take part in all of the travel and long hours that are required to excel in academe, then universities and scholars must change their expectations.

And, hell, even those — female or not — without children deserve a little shut-eye at 4:00 a.m., right?

Your friend,

Lady Day

March 4, 2012

Eat this!

by Lady Day

Hey, Lady!

I don’t know if you know this about me, but I consider my chief talents to be editing, poaching eggs, driving in traffic circles and making (in no particular order) salads, soups and fruit pies. I’ll perhaps say more about editing and traffic circles another time. And, I’m sure that I’ll have something to say about soups and pies down the road too.

With respect to my other talents, here’s my best advice.

Poached eggs

People always say to put vinegar in the water to poach eggs. That’s ok advice for a beginner, but it’s a scaffold that should be thrown away as soon as possible. Vinegar in the poaching water makes the eggs taste a bit (wait for it –) like vinegar, and makes the whites a bit rubbery. I’m not sure what exactly happens there, but it’s like the albumin gets all “Oh, no you didn’t!” and toughens up.

So, if you don’t use vinegar, how do you keep the eggs from falling apart in the water? Here are my tips:

  • never poach more than two eggs at a time. Any more than that, and you can’t watch them closely enough. Moreover, if the pot is smallish, more than two eggs will cool the water too quickly. (So, what do you do if you need, say, six eggs? Cook ’em two at a time and then transfer them to a bowl of cold water. Once all six are done, you can briefly return the cold ones to the boiling water to warm them up for service.)
  • The foregoing is relevant because it is the heat of the water that firms up the egg whites so that the eggs don’t fall apart. But, be careful, if the water is on a rolling boil, that motion will tear the eggs apart. So, you need to bring the water to a boil, and then turn the heat down a couple of notches before you add your eggs.
  • And then, before adding your eggs, use a spoon to swirl the water in the pot in a circle to make a little whirlpool. This motion of the water keeps the uncooked whites from dissipating just long enough for them to cook a bit (and thereby keeps the eggs from falling apart).
  • Now, and this is super important, add the eggs one at a time. Crack the egg into a ramekin or a small, shallow bowl, bring that bowl close to the surface of the water, and then just tilt it slightly so that the egg kind of rolls into the water (as opposed to being dropped in it).
  • When the eggs are done, remove them one by one with a large slotted spoon. Let them drain in the spoon for a few seconds before tipping them into the waiting dish.

Image

Oh, and, once you have your perfectly poached eggs, you can now put them on top of just about anything savoury. I love poached eggs on a salad or on top of a spicy potato hash or on top of chilli or or or… You cut into the egg and the lovely gooey yolk is a perfect natural sauce that trickles over whatever’s below making it even yummier than it was to begin with. Mmm. I want one right now.

Salads

Well, let me save my generalizations about salads for another post. (But, make no mistake — I’m prepared to make many generalizations about salads.) For now, let me tell you about a super salad that I invented last night and that I plan to make constantly from now on. It takes five minutes and is healthy, delicious and elegant.

Start by making the dressing. Finely mince one shallot. Put it in a lidded jar along with a little bit of dried mustard, red wine vinegar, olive oil, kosher salt and black pepper. (What quantities? Sorry. I’m very good at driving in traffic circles, but I’m not very good at paying attention to what quantities I use when I cook. Let’s just say that everything is “to taste.” That’s cheating, isn’t it?) Ok. Now, put the lid on the jar and shake it until well blended.

Now, compose the salad.

Image

Start with a big pile of baby spinach. Top this with one fresh pear (skin on), cored and sliced. Top that with big lovely ribbons of padano or a similar hard cheese. (And, here’s a tip that everyone should know. The best way to produce these ribbons of cheese? Just use a potato peeler. Works like a charm. So pretty.) Now, take a handful of pecans and toast them very quickly in an ungreased cast iron pan. Just as they begin to smell like toasted nuts, take the pan off the heat and drizzle some maple syrup over the nuts. Toss ’em around until coated and then top the salad with the warm maple-glazed pecans. Now dress it. Now gobble it up. So freaking good, right?

So, that’s what I’ve been eating lately. And, there are a couple of my talents for you.

Once upon a time, we said we’d blog about food; so, I thought I should. Next time, I’ll be back in feminist-activist-scholar form. I have (separate) things to say about breast feeding and special pleading. Take this as a promissory note.

Your friend,

Lady Day.

March 3, 2012

by Lady Day

Here’s a useful and sadly all too apt reminder about the prevalence of rhetorical attacks on women speakers *because they’re women speakers* from the RAIL (Reasoning, Argumentation and Informal Logic) blog.

RAIL

Rush Limbaugh’s recent dismissal of Sandra Fluke as a “slut” and a “prostitute” reminds me of how much more vulnerable women are than men to the abusive ad hominem.  There is a a greater number of abusive words associated with women:  add “whore,” “bitch,” “cunt,” “old maid,” “hag,” “bag,” “jezebel,” “hoochie mama,” etc., as opposed to “prick,” “dick,” and “boy toy.”  Plus the feminine insults tend to be considered so bad that people often won’t actually say them, but only allude to them, for instance in saying “the c-word.”

On top of that, women tend not to be listened to, so the ad hominem may always be more effective against women.  Merely pointing out that a speaker is a woman may act as reason to ignore her. The same would apply to any marginalized people.  One’s very identity can undermine one’s claims and one’s reasons.

Lorraine Code has argued in…

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February 28, 2012

Whine with my wine

by Lady Di

Hey Lady,

Tonight over the dinner table I was commiserating with my husband about time. Specifically, the time stress we experience in our lives. We both have demanding careers and two young children. Combined with running a household and extended family obligations we often feel as though there are not enough hours in the day (especially for working on new, interesting, and engaging blogs!).

Time has become one of our most precious commodities and we are not alone. Time studies reveal that many people would easily give up a day of work and consequently, pay, for an extra day off. There is a major gender difference in how men and women would spend that time, but that’s a difference post, which I have tentatively titled the ‘Stalled Revolution’. In this post, I need to vent about time, or my lack of it.

To go back to the dinner table, I was discussing our blog and how I wish I could create more time to work on it. I know many Canadians would empathize with my situation – Linda Duxbury’s research demonstrates that Canada is becoming a world leader in work intensification. That is, even if people are not working longer hours (but many people are, according to Ipsos-Reid survey data, the average work week in Canada is now almost 48 hours) they are working at a pace they perceive hard to keep up with. Work intensification has major implications for work-life balance and consequently, quality of life.

As a female academic and a mum I struggle to achieve work-life balance on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis.  I clock way more than 48 hours per week. And, I often feel torn (physically and emotionally) between my family obligations and my career aspirations. When I make time to read interesting feminist blogs about life in academe (such as Hook and Eye) I know I am not alone. Indeed, when I chat with others in my position, I realize I am not the only one who starts the day at 6 am (at the gym) and ends it 11pm (at my desk) with a whole lot of action in between. There are many people who juggle two demanding careers, childcare/eldercare, and daily life.

At times like this, I am reminded of Carl Honore’s book In Praise of Slow. I swear sometimes I can actually hear him in my ear challenging me to resist the cult of speed in today’s society and to take pleasure in small moments.  And often I achieve this goal. But, at the end of the day, my life is very, very full. And at times, that zaps my creativity or analytical skills, or intellectual capacity, which bums me out.

I say all this recognizing this blog is no longer the sandbox for us ladies that it started out to be, but I just couldn’t resist a little whine with my wine tonight. Thanks for indulging me.

Your friend,

Lady Di

February 23, 2012

The Truth is Out There

by Lady Day

Hey, Lady!

I made an unhappy discovery about myself last night. It turns out that I have — Pavlovian doggy style — been conditioned to fear The Truth.

I received an email last night from an academic publisher advertizing a new textbook. The subject line of the email read “The Truth is Out There.” As soon as I saw, the subject line, I felt a lump of fear in my throat.

Why? Well, because for four months last year, Our Glorious Institution was terrorized by a misogynist who kept emailing dozens of faculty, staff and students flyers laden with violent imagery and complaining about the evil that is an over-educated woman. One phrase that the sender consistently used in the emails and the flyers was “The Truth” — capitalized just like that.

Of course, women of my generation who were undergrads when Marc Lepine murdered 14 women at Montréal’s École Polytechnique were really frightened that the sender’s hatred of women would escalate into violence. So, for four months, every time I received an email from an unknown (to me) sender with “The Truth” in the subject line, my heart raced with fear.

Since then, the sender was apprehended, tried, and convicted of criminal harassment. I was centrally involved in the case in a bunch of ways that have remained with me. I am, for instance, quite aware that while the author of the emails had no idea who I was at the time he was sending them, he now knows my identity very well.

I’m actually really torn about what to say about all of this. Part of me really wants to write about the experience and what I learned from it. But part of me wants to stay mum because email dude is living in the community on probation and I neither want to cultivate community conditions for him that are less than conducive to rehabilitation nor, quite frankly, do I want to piss him off and remind him of my existence. He’s still scary. And I’m still scared.

And, yeah. That was the lesson last night. I got an email with “The Truth” in the subject line and I felt frightened in exactly the same way that I did this time last year. …Moreso, in fact, because of a bunch of stuff that I don’t at this moment feel safe or comfortable writing about here.

And, do you know what sucks? I’m a professional philosopher. Truth — that’s our thing. For me to feel fear when I see the phrase “The Truth” is kinda like a cobbler who’s afraid of shoes. I don’t know if I’ll ever again be able to see the phrase “The Truth” without being scared. But, for now, I can’t.

Your friend,

Lady Day

February 22, 2012

Logic, huh?

by Lady Day

Hey, Lady!

Have I ever told you about the so-called “Philosophy exception”? That’s the term that’s used for the fact that Philosophy lags super far behind all other disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences when it comes to the recruitment and retention of women. (Well, Theology lags just as far behind — a function of all-male seminaries.) Seriously. Philosophy’s numbers are in the same ballpark as Mathematics’. Last time I checked, women made up something like 22% of faculty in North American Philosophy departments with grad programs.

As with many disciplines that have trouble recruiting and retaining women, Philosophy does an ok job getting women into its freshman courses, does a less good job getting them to major in the discipline as undergrads (and to graduate with that major), and basically does worse and worse at retaining women the higher up the ranks you go. If you made a bar graph with proportion of women on the x-axis, and academic rank on the y-axis (from full professor at the top to freshman undergrad on the bottom), the result would look like this:

From Yoga Paws (http://www.yogapaws.com/)

See her nice wide wheelbase? That’s the proportion of women in freshman Philosophy classes. Well, actually, you’d have to extend the photo several inches to the right and show lots of empty floor beside our yogini to accurately represent the proportion of women. All that empty floor would be the men. Fortunately (at least for the purposes of our representation), there’s plenty of room for the men at the higher levels. See our yogini’s body more closely approximating to origin on the x axis as we move up the ranks? Yup. That’s Philosophy.

In her classic (2007) article, “Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy: Not By Reason (Alone),” Sally Haslanger identifies the following as among the reasons that many women choose to leave Philosophy (or never to come to it to begin with):

    • outright discrimination
    • unconscious bias, schemas
    • climate, social norms

Since Haslanger published this article, there has been a flurry of important research in this area by feminist philosophers like Samantha Brennan and Jennifer Saul. (Brennan does a great job of discussing “micro-inequities,” the constant, tiny inequities with which marginalized groups must contend, and the steady erosion of one’s confidence, energy and success by these micro-inequities. I’ll write to you about that stuff another time.)

Among the challenges to recruiting and retaining women listed by Haslanger, it is perhaps most difficult to get a bead on climate. How exactly does one study something as vague as disciplinary or institutional climate? What makes a climate inhospitable? And how is it possible to adduce evidence that inhospitable climates affect how many women end up in a discipline.

Well, Vincent Hendricks, the editor-in-chief of Synthese, one of Philosophy’s most distinguished journals, has just made that task a little bit easier. Want an example of ways to cultivate a climate that’s inhospitable to women? Just check out Hendricks’s website for his latest logic course. (Update: Don’t bother clicking the link. I’m happy to report that he’s taken the site down. Screenshots linked below if you want to see what was once there.)

Yeah, that’s right. The photos on the webpage for his logic course represent him as a lone smart guy (you can tell by the glasses and vest) surrounded by sexy, pouty women in slutty schoolgirl costumes.

It was worse, actually. Before the utterly wonderful Feminist Philosophers blog broke the story and a shitload of angry people began barraging Hendricks and his colleagues with emails, this is what his course site looked like. (Mystifying, ain’t it, that he’d take some of these photos down, but leave some up? What can he possibly be thinking?)

So, yeah. Climate.

If you were a woman at Hendricks’s university contemplating which courses to take and you looked at this course page, what would you think? Would you think that your professor would regard all students in the class as equally serious? As equally capable of doing logic? As equally deserving of respect? As equally likely to become future peers? And, if you tried to imagine your fellow classmates, what would come to mind? Animal House?

And, don’t get me started on the way that the schoolgirl outfits both infantilize the women wearing them and, since they are schoolgirl outfits, cast those women as students. Sexy female students. If I were an undergraduate woman, I would go nowhere near a course taught by a man who gleefully represents himself as a solitary rational agent surrounded by sexy, childlike female students.

Did I ever tell you that a couple of years ago, I was at a party when a colleague whom I know very slightly from another discipline told me that when he teaches his large classes, he scans the room in such a way that his students will think he’s looking at all of them, but he is actually checking out the breasts of his hot female students? I was so utterly gobsmacked as to be rendered speechless. Don’t worry. Since then, I’ve worked out a script for the next such conversation I have. I used to find myself so surprised by sexism in academe that when some new sexist thing happened, I never knew what to do or say. Now, as I approach early-mid-career, I regret to say that I have a better catalogue of responses available to me. I’ve just had more practice.

The Philosophy blogosphere is beginning to respond to Hendricks’s page. Here are some posts about the whole business that are worth reading:

Your friend,

Lady Day