Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Meaning and Epistemology: Responding to a Response

(Taking a cue from Colin’s post about Manali’s post, a comment has developed into a post.)

I think the difficulties presented in Colin’s post are indicative of inherent objections to Kant's conception of the ideal knower. While modern empiricism and Kant's transcendental idealism fundamentally conflict on metaphysical and epistemological issues, contemporary epistemologists, according to Harding and Code, hope to isolate the necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge in the verification of sensory observation. Kant sought to elucidate the "necessary conditions of the possibility of experience," those a priori concepts in the mind which facilitate understanding, outside of social or empirical reality. This view of "pure understanding" as "a unity self-subsistent, self-sufficient, and not to be increased by any additions from without" seeks to divorce social reality and epistemology, to ignore their dialectical relationship, (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, p. 102). Many epistemologists of disparate backgrounds actually dilute the objectivity of their accounts of knowledge production through an obsession with what Harding calls "weak objectivity." These approaches to epistemology bear a stifling effect upon socially denigrated voices, an instance of epistemology influencing social reality and social reality generating epistemologies. Epistemologists then serve the function of and are influenced by Heidegger's "They," facilitating a leveling down of social and individual possibilities.

Men are believed to know "what's best for women" through a certain social reality which both delegitimizes a female’s perspective and is legitimized by specific epistemologies; privileged white males promulgate theories of legitimate knowers, as fully rational and sufficiently able to achieve the favored version of objectivity, which in turn influence social reality. The concern is that by privileging one single mode of knowing, the essentialist, “universal” form, epistemologists are lending toward the oppression of the thereby marginalized groups, showing them to lack "real knowledge." Positivist epistemologists, according to Code, claim that value judgments are unverifiable and thus meaningless, while scientists endorsing "weak objectivity" claim to seek the eradication of social values from their work, (Code, 720). Both of these stances intertwine in many cases to suggest complacency in moral concerns within one's social reality.

One could offer another interpretation of the proposed "chicken-and-egg" problem between social reality and epistemology through the phenomenological lens of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Whereas scientism would have us believe that all meaning can be derived from scientific investigation, through objectively empirical research, Merleau-Ponty directs his description of social reality with a study of personal meaning-making. Deemphasizing the importance of meaning in relation to scientific fact, the positivist epistemologist ignores an equally significant facet of knowing. Merleau-Ponty defines meaning-making as both centripetal and centrifugal, as both directed toward the subject through a social situatedness and outward from the subject onto her social reality. The perceived importance of social reality is defined by the bombardment of received meanings upon the “subject,” while the subject creates her own meaning in turn, influencing her environment. This account allows more fully for the political influence upon epistemologies as well as the selection and interpretation of scientific projects.

At first, in answering Colin’s question, I thought, “As long as social relations have existed, epistemology has existed. Once humans could articulate their thoughts coherently, surely someone was around to ask, ‘How do you know that? Are you sure?’” Ultimately, however, a viable answer to the “chicken-and-egg” issue would probably focus on an evolutionarily prior social reality, as exhibited in our nearest relatives, the great apes who presumably do not ask themselves epistemological questions.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Epistemology: Individual vs. Group Association

Alcoff begins her essay by defining epistemology as, “that branch of philosophy which seeks to have knowledge about knowledge itself.” In other words, how do we know what we know? Specifically, in this class we are asking the question as women, how does our knowledge of knowledge differ from others. When, I first consider the question, I thought it was a very good way of identifying a different type of knowledge. Through women’s voices on learning how they obtain knowledge, we gain a better understand of knowledge as a whole. People, as groups, experience things differently. For example, in my psychology of gender class, we learned how men and women perceive things differently due to biology and more importantly due to socialization. This could go along with race differences. By learning about different races and ethnicities, we are able to gain more knowledge about knowledge itself. We are able to know how we know certain things that may not have been available to us through our own experience. When first considered, I found this idea to be very beneficial to society. Through attaining more knowledge about others, one can gains a better appreciation for knowledge as a whole.

The way society treats certain groups of people varies from men, to women, to homosexuals, and the list continues. The idea of identifying different types of epistemology seems to broaden our perspective as a whole, but it made me question whether group experiences could identify how I know something completely. Take our class for example. I am sure that the way I know what I know varies immensely from the other women in the class. To define epistemology through the lense of the feminist or to have a certain race’s epistemology seems to stereotype that group and characterize it by simplifying how that group obtains knowledge. It does not take a single perspective into account, but rather it takes a wide range into consideration and tries to make it more understandable as a whole. In our section on women and race, we said at some point you have to discriminate, but I feel that each individual knows things so differently than the next it would be hard to characterize knowledge as a whole. This question of whether a specific group’s epistemology can represent the whole parallels the ampersand problem in that if you don’t discriminate into groups, you eventually get down to single individuals experience of knowledge.

To more clearly state what I have been considering, is if feminist epistemology or a certain specific epistemology can truly represent how they know what they know? Is there an oversimplification to understanding how we know as individuals?

Epistemology and Health Care

In an op-ed column for The New York Times a few days ago, Frank Rich criticizes the violent response to the newly passed health care bill as being over dramatized for the size of its importance. Hardly is the bill as revolutionary, Rich points out, as the New Deal or Civil Rights Act, but recent days have seen protesting (from public displays to rash actions by elected officials) on harsh moral grounds rather than political or economical ones. In fact, as Rich says: “as no less a conservative authority than The Wall Street Journal editorial page observed last week, the bill’s prototype is the health care legislation Mitt Romney signed into law in Massachusetts. It contains what used to be considered Republican ideas.” The interesting part of Rich’s article is not about republican or democrat ideals, but about demographic ones. Rich suggests that perhaps the seemingly uncalled for fighting between the parties is about color, not creed. The response would have been the same, Rich says, regardless of whatever first major act Obama took in office, because the response is to the changing hands of power rather than any true objection to governance.

I read this article with our discussion of the impact of politics on epistemology in mind. In class, we talked about how our understanding of epistemology is contingent upon our setting in society and all the things that make up our politics. The idea that we construct our own knowledge, one that is situated at all levels, has a bearing on politics as well. We reify the placement of power in the hands of a thoroughly white male few, and in so doing convey epistemologies of white supremacy into the fabric of politics and American identity. Using that reasoning, it doesn’t seem like a stretch that Rich suggests we are experiencing a national panic at the incorporation of women, minorities, and gays into our political system. True, the health care bill is a controversial topic in our media, but the precipitating nature of malice between elected officials and members of opposing platforms seems too much reaction from a more or less apathetic nation to be brought on only by health care reform. A changing identity would pose both a more sizable and subtle disease to diagnose, and at the root of the conflict is the problematic political nature of epistemology.


Expanding the epistemological discourse

Humans are born into a web of space and time, and are socialized within an epistemological framework. We come to “make sense” of our social and physical environments through the epistemological dominant discourse that gets reified through discursive politics in any given society. Because our collective epistemologies determine the scope of our human understanding; if a society is predominantly narrow in its epistemology it can be oppressive toward particular groups among their own population as well as those outside of it. In her article, “How is Epistemology Political?,” Linda Martin Alcoff demonstrates the relationship between epistemologies and politics; as well, how narrow-mindedness is a grave hindrance to embodying a greater human understanding.

Alcoff defines politics as, “anything having to do with relationships of power and privilege between persons, and the way in which these relationships are maintained and reproduced or contested and transformed…;” and because “discourse is produced and circulated through all social practices, all discourse has political involvements” (2008:710). We often ignore the fact that epistemologies are generated by groups of privileged individuals who are interested in preserving the system of scientific, political, economic, and social institutions that benefit themselves regardless of whether it is at the expense of other groups. Therefore, the conditions in which epistemologies are produced and reproduced are political in that these conditions denote a hierarchical system of social power and privilege; which therein, determines whose values, arguments, discourses, interests, and voices are legitimate and whose are not.

The discursive political ploy to advance one dominant discourse and silence all others has socialized people to internalize ignorance, and thus, generate multitudes of subordinating stereotypes. Ignorance often breeds a reductive mentality. Yet, there is an important distinction to make between harmless discrimination between light-skinned individuals and dark-skinned individuals, tall persons and short persons, elders and babies, females and males, etc., and harmful discrimination that occurs when simple (harmless) discrimination breeds hostility, and prejudice behavior becomes normalized.

Alcoff also makes this distinction when she references Michel Foucault and admits that, “the existence of hierarchical relations between discourses is inevitable—an absolute proliferation of discourses without distinction is neither possible nor desirable” (2008:715). Nonetheless, she proceeds to remind her audience Foucault’s theory on power and knowledge, and his claim that “discourses are created through the structured relations among meaning, power/knowledge, and desire, and power should be generally understood not as a system for constraint and oppression but simply as a field of structured possibilities” (2008:715).

Therefore, “it is not the influence of politics per se we need to eliminate from epistemology;” but rather, “the influence of oppressive politics”; and additionally, “it is not epistemology itself but particular epistemological theories that have oppressive political effects…” (Alcoff, 2008:714). That said, if we agree that it is the nature of the hierarchical structures of power and extent of hegemonic control that are the aspects worth criticizing of epistemologies, then one begs the question as to how a minority group, up against a domineering dominant discourse, might go about dismantling the normalized dominant epistemological structures? Can it be argued that we are seeing this type of epistemological rupturing taking place in the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning community in local Memphis as well as across the nation?

Epistemology and Social Reality: A Response to Manali's Post

In her post, “Social Reality in TIME and Vogue,” Manali poses a very interesting question. It was so thought-provoking, in fact, that I could not limit my response to a short comment. The question is one worthy of a volume of books, but I'll give you my basic intuition.

It seems that in contemporary society social reality and epistemology feed off of and add to each other. One does not take from the other without providing an influence of its own. For instance, the belief that gender is biological and hence natural has effectively sanctioned the oppression of women. On the other hand, this oppression, by virtue of its being ingrained in the basic fabric of society, suggests that gender must be natural. This leads to the argument that women must be protected because they are weak (i.e. a case of epistemology influencing social reality), while the resulting apparent weakness of women leads to the mindset that women naturally need to be protected (i.e. a case of social reality influencing epistemology).

However, I think what Manali is most interested in here is what we might conceive of logically of the instant human society first manifested itself. What I believe Manali is asking is which of the two, epistemology or social reality, first influenced the other. To put it in Aristotelian terms she’s looking for a first unmoved mover of sorts. Or more simply, she’s asking the question of the chicken or the egg. I am influenced in my answer by Kant, who argues in the Critique of Pure Reason that we should conceive of the natural world as necessarily adhering itself to the structure imposed on it by our minds. Granted, Kant is dealing with metaphysics, not epistemology per se, but he is revealing the relation between the two to be quite close.

Nevertheless, if we look at Manali’s question as Kant might by analogy, it seems that epistemology is to the structure of or minds as social reality is to the natural world.

Following this analogy suggests that epistemology is that unmoved mover, at least logically if not temporally. In other words, epistemology, as the structure of our knowledge, defines how we can even conceive of society, not to mention view society as conforming to certain social realities. Please let me know if that doesn’t make sense; I’m struggling to describe the situation exactly as I conceive of it.

However, this description of the logical beginnings of the relationship between epistemology and social reality poses an upsetting question. It seems to suggest that our minds are structured in a way that has led to some terrible social realities, such as sexism, racism, and heteronormativity. In a word, it seems to make many systems of oppression “natural.” I’m not sure what to do with this, because I believe that my description of the situation is logically true, but I also do not believe that systems of oppression are natural. If anyone has a way to get me out of this paradox, or perhaps has a better way of describing the relationship between epistemology and social reality please post it.

Finally, thank you, Manali, for such a thought provoking post!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Too Contextual?

While I consider this objection as philosophical, nothing indicates that the problem of contextualization is strictly limited to philosophy. To clarify, why does philosophy lay any claims to this feminist re-imagining of epistemology? It seems that other disciplines, like psychology, have addressed these claims already, which would suggest that feminist theory and any contributions did not come from the “ivory tower” of philosopher. This would substantiate general claims that philosophy may have more use in the analysis of other criticisms, as the feminist influence is not specific to philosophy, but applying a critical attitude, one can comprehend the importance of the contribution as they relate to political influences and discursive power. Another question raised against Alcoff might read “how does this not lead to relativism?” While the charge is brought, Alcoff seeks to contextualize, not offer a form of relativism where truths are merely able to be substituted for one another without consequence. If relativism isn’t the goal, it does raises yet another question: what is the overall end to this suggestion? I believe that Alcoff would purport that the adding of descriptive genealogies of old philosophers and affirmative action style submissions to the overall discourse would work to disarm the privileges that certain discourse have due to an unreflective analysis of such discourses. Her solution mirrors Foucault’s solution to power relocation in a sense that by presenting alternate views, the power that an unjust discourse has will be weakened in the face of disputing claims. Her Foucault-ian solution also substantiates her inclusion of Dewey in the article, who would also call for more data and perspectives to be allowed into the “arena” (as he favors democratic intentions). Alcoff would acknowledge the privilege that epistemology seems to yield among other disciplines, at the expense that understanding why it has privilege and how analyzing it and previous engagers in its practice would broad the horizon of criticism, which, if contextual, would lead to a higher form of self-criticism of the philosophical discipline.

The Social Reality in TIME and Vogue

We simply, defined epistemology as “how we know what we know”. Alcoff claims that epistemology is human and dependent on social reality and asks the reader to examine whether such female epistemology is political. However, I want to take a few steps back in order to question whether or not epistemologies are derived from a source or if they are the actual source. As we have been studying feminist epistemology in class, I wondered whether feminist epistemologies are formed because of social reality or if social reality is formed through epistemologies.

When I heard the words, “social reality”, magazines such as Vogue and TIME came to mind. As a woman, I find the content in Vogue magazine to be very inspiring. Vogue addresses aspects of fashion and living in everyday society. It is able to capture the social reality of the world today without only focusing on fashion. Vogue was first published in 1892 and grew to having subscriptions on an international level. Each country’s Vogue Magazine incorporates aspects of that country’s culture. It expresses the particular culture of each country and the country’s own epistemology. Also, Vogue represents feminist epistemologies from each separate country as it is a magazine geared more towards addressing women’s ideologies.

TIME is a different sort of ground breaking magazine that tends to capture important thoughts in the social world. Also on an international level, TIME Magazine, sometime known as the International Magazine of Events, captures the essence of the social reality and epistemologies of all sexes because unlike Vogue, TIME is not a magazine aiming at any specific audience. TIME was first published in 1923 to capture the reality of the world’s social events. Similar to Vogue’s style of publications, TIME has publishing headquarters in different countries around the world that publishes material relevant to the ideologies that pertain to that certain country’s epistemology.

In a way, the epistemology of the social scene of each country is seen through the publications of Vogue and TIME Magazine. After presenting the examples of TIME’s and Vogue Magazine’s portrayal of international epistemologies, I wonder about the same question that I asked in the beginning of this blog as to whether epistemologies are dependent on social reality or vice versa remains unclear to me.

Therefore I want to ask, does the epistemology presented in the publications of Vogue and TIME Magazine rely on social reality or is social reality derivative of the epistemologies found in these two publications?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Politics of God the Father

Linda Alcoff raises interesting questions for me with her philosophy of politics, power, and truth. First, she offers a definition of politics that is particularly empowering: “anything having to do with relationships of power and privilege between persons, and the way in which these relationships are maintained and reproduced or contested and transformed” (710). Christianity is one of the ways in which relationships in which men dominate women are maintained in many Christian families. That is to say that many Christian traditions teach a subversive role of woman that encourages her to raise children and control the household. Mary Daly, a favorite scholar of mine, resists this power struggle by completely removing herself from a religious epistemology ruled by men and questions the ways in which humans think about God.

Mary Daly notes that the “new wave of feminism desperately needs to be not only many-faceted but cosmic and ultimately religious in its vision. This means reaching outward and inward toward the God beyond and beneath the gods who have stolen our identity” (Beyond God the Father). The very notion of God shapes human action and interaction on many levels and is thus a powerful influence. An understanding of the relationship humans share with God through a feminist, philosophical approach reveals the traditional, patriarchal, androcentric notions of God and questions the cultural biases they create. It is useless working within the confines of normative Christianity, however, as Daly recognizes, because the Christian God, as a symbol, is useless because it is the epitome of maleness.

Mary Daly criticizes the concept of God by noting that “If God is male, then the male is God” (19). God is generally characterized by being strong, wise, immutable, dependable, and righteous, values also commonly attributed to men in society. In contrast, humanity is considered ignorant, sinful, and weak, characteristics generally given to women. The God imagined as a male facilitates the defining of men and the roles men are expected to participate in in society while simultaneously reinforcing the negative definition of what it means to be women, to essentially be inferior to normative man, and the roles women are expected to perform. Responses to this system are to to reject the transcendence of God and favor a totally immanent God, to replaced God with Goddess, to reconsider the linguistic structure by which we name a reality beyond ourselves as God, and reconceptulaizing the presupposition concerning the nature of reality in whole, whether as God or the world. Daly illustrates each of these four as she reflects on her own journey in dwelling with God but striving against sexism within Christianity.

Daly exposed the negative, patriarchal bias against women in the Christian church, which she asserts is against Christian doctrine and gospel in her first work, The Church and the Second Sex. Daly believes that there is an incredible inequality in the church, especially considering the concept of grace. She believes that the current model of God’s grace serves only men, so she offered suggestions for a radical change in the way individuals conceptualize God that supports equal opportunity among men and women of the church. It is within the “vague identifications of God with the male sex” that dominates Christian theology, despite the fact that God is sexless and above sexed categories. Daly asks, “What can ‘masculine’ mean if predicated of a Being in which there is no sex?” She suggests reconsidering notions of God, to begin with. We ought to question the status quo of what God is or is not. In The Church and the Second Sex she begins to reconsider God’s masculinity, immutability, providence, and omnipotence that are further developed in her later book, Beyond God the Father. While The Church and the Second Sex began to question the normative imagining of God, Daly did not yet understand the depth to which patriarchy had dictated the shape of the consciousness of the church and the powerful threat she posed to male privilege and power within the male-dominated business of God.

In Beyond God the Father, Daly fully attacks normative Christianity by reinterpreting Christian themes from a feminist lens and asking questions of “for whom” and “from whose perspective” that challenge the status quo and arouse feminine consciousness. In this work, Daly stands at a position on the edge of patriarchal Christianity so that she can work outside of the masculine system to problematize and deconstruct the way in which men have dictated the nature of the fall, sin, and redemption to meet their needs and bind women to supportive, subservient roles. Who wrote the texts that dictate that nature of these things? Daly highlights that fact that the canon was composed exclusively by men with an agenda who wielded universal pronouncements like weapons and supported their claims with Christian designed by them. Interestingly, Daly remains within the tradition, questioning the male dominated system in Christianity, and chooses to address the Christian categories already in place and redress them in feminist garb. Each of her interpretations of Christian categories resist current patriarchal categories, though for the purposes of this paper, I will look at her development of God as Verb1 in her work Beyond God the Father and later her shift out of Christianity in her work Gyn/Ecology.

By working with the framework of normative Christianity, Mary Daly succeeds in powerfully demanding a new concept of God that requires us to reconfigure thought patterns and society itself. Daly answers the patriarchal masculinization of God with de-reification, making God dynamic energy, ever unfolding, always drawing creation toward itself. God the verb is a transcendent God, no longer represented as being a governor over creation, but rather a movement before creation that transcends history by evoking new feminist history. In this sense, God the Verb encourages women to empower themselves in joining a call to Sisterhood in new communities. Daly worked with many ideologies of the contemporaries of her time such as Wolfhart Pannenberg’s notion of “God as the Power of the Future,” John Cob, Jr.’s notion of God as a dynamic becoming, and Paul Tillich's “on the boundary” all that dealt with a God who was the Group of Being and source of the “courage to be” in the face of existential anxiety. Daly weaves all of these to become more than the sum of the parts by integrating them into a framework that intones a shouted “No!” against sexism and oppression. Thus, there is a need for definite reconstruction of current thought patterns about God and a reconfiguration of society itself through redefinition its rhetorical grounding.

Daly completely detaches herself from Christianity in Gyn/Ecology, refusing to continue to dismantle the “Master’s House with the Master’s Tools.” The Christian God as trinity, for Daly, is described analogously through image of the atomic bomb. The Christian God is irredeemable because it is so innately male and, for a feminist, the epitome of evil. Thus, for Daly, her previous model of God as Verb becomes obsolete as she realizes the need for an Intransitive Verb that is no longer the God obove or the Unfolding Verb that draws individuals into the future. It is an Intertransitive Verb, rather, that is the Female Self. In place of Logos, or the Word become flesh, Daly shapes a God as Verb that is verbalized in radical metaphors in feminist writing, the source of which is the female Self of that psychic space outside of patriarchy called “the Background.” Daly has shifted from an ever-unfolding herald avant creation to an image of female Self, who is divine. The Verb is now wholly immanent, incarnate in women’s Background Selves and in the language that arises in this space. Thus, within Christian theology the transcendent God becomes present within history through incarnation, creating a human/divine personhood. For Daly, the Verb becomes the female Self, and the Self is both divine and human. She even counters the use of God with Goddess in order to emphasize the Goddess within women, naming woman’s experience in her own activity as be-ing, know-ing, unfold-ing, in discovery of herSelf.

I am quite satisfied with Daly's radical removal from Christianity and have to wonder if this is what it takes to truly challenge current models of truth and power. Constantly I try to be a good feminist and challenge the views of others, but often, no one wants to hear and certainly few want to relinquish power. Is this what it takes? If Daly left Christianity, how do I leave society?

Interesting Newsweek Article

"My Name Is Jesse
But I am not a boy. Inside my parents' failed experiment with gender neutrality."


Monday, March 22, 2010

The Purging of Philosophy

When I signed up for this class I was concerned that feminist philosophy could only pertain to me tangentially. I thought that as a man I would not be inspired and motivated to the same degree that most women would be by the subject. On the contrary, however, I have been captivated by the way in which much feminist philosophy challenges the most basic assumptions of mainstream philosophy itself.

Philosophy is a discipline which prides itself on thinking critically about society and the human experience in a way that no other does. Often have philosophers looked down upon the masses (and women) as ignorant of the supposed faulty and irrational basis of their simple lives. Feminist thinkers turn this arrogance on its head, pointing out as Oyewumi does that Western thought is based on “bio-logic,” or revealing as Alcoff does that Western epistemology is controlled by privileged white males. These bold thinkers have challenged philosophy to become self-conscious, to understand how it has served to perpetuate the widespread irrationality that it so tirelessly bemoans. I use the term “self-conscious” because these feminist scholars are calling philosophy to engage in a process that is painful and embarrassing, but all the more significant because of it.

Of course, there is the legitimate concern that a reevaluation of philosophy’s basic tenets threatens to disintegrate into mere relativism. Alcoff, however, deals with this concern when she writes: “We do not need to uphold the relativist notion that everyone’s view has an equal claim to truth in order to hold that truth is more likely to be obtained through a process that includes the articulation and examination of all possible views.” Indeed, the defect with mainstream philosophy as feminists view it is not that philosophy has an overly conservative definition of truth which it needs to expand, but that it must increase its acceptance of different avenues to the truth. Therefore, to address feminist critique, philosophers need not accept a hopeless relativism; they need only cease excluding arguments from consideration based on sexism and racism.

By challenging philosophy to undergo a purging of its prejudices, feminist philosophers have shown feminism to be of direct benefit to al sexes, races, and classes. For how can the consideration of all well supported arguments ultimately come to anything but the benefit of all? In fact, the changes that feminist thinkers are calling for would prove to be some of the most revolutionary in the history of Western philosophy.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Blame the Mother

It is one of the most central themes in our class, indeed in the paradigm of feminism, that women suffer oppression under men, the authors and beneficiaries of patriarchy. Men, however, are not alone in their responsibility for the perpetuation of the binary sex/gender system and stereotypes concerning the links between sex, gender, and sexuality. Women—some, not all—are often equally complicit in reinforcing and maintaining the bars of Marilyn Frye’s figurative birdcage. This is largely due to, for one reason or another, the world in which we are raised. Children from households with breadwinner mothers and stay-at-home fathers are raised to think about the world differently than children from, for example, households in which religion dictates a gender hierarchy. Because we tend to reproduce culture and to embody and live out the values of our society/environment, ideas of appropriate gender roles tend to be handed down through generations like great-grandmother’s wedding ring. Evolving cultural ideologies can only do so much to alter our perceptions, and only to the extent that we allow new ideas to permeate our consciousness.

When a mother is equally supportive of reinforcing traditional gender roles as a father, are they not both to blame? What do we make of the mothers who put their toddlers in beauty pageants, or pierce their babies’ ears, or forbid their daughters to have certain toys or play certain games because they are not feminine? Are these women not doing a disservice to their daughters, by shaping them into the very models of femininity the patriarchy has created? What about the more extreme examples, mothers who discourage their daughters from going to college, or tell them they belong in the home to serve their husbands? It is the rare little girl who is lucky enough to have an enlightened or at least open-minded mother who does not raise her to conform to the societal standards expected of her biological sex. Graham in But I’m a Cheerleader experienced both ends of the spectrum with her pants-wearing mother and homophobic stepmother.

But can we really blame the mothers? It is not enough to say that they are simply the products of a patriarchy, that they are only fulfilling the roles women have had for centuries and teaching their daughters to do the same. If traditional sex/gender roles are to change at all, it cannot be only among liberal or progressive-minded people; it must permeate into every sector of our culture in order to take root and bring about a large-scale shift in ideology. Women who have these roles ingrained in them and are determined to pass them on to their children should not be pardoned; they should be educated. The problem is that some people attach deep significance and (often Biblical) truth to the performance of gender roles, and such close-minded people are resistant to change.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Why is this Technically Philosophy?

In our class, we are often presented with gross injustices to women, and we find ways to prescribe what we “ought” to do from what actually “is” the status quo. I support any type of progress made, but often times, the realizations that we come to seem intuitive or outlandish to claim otherwise (like in the case of Spelman or McIntosh). Why prompts me to ask: why do these topics need to be classified as philosophical questions? Do these dilemmas not seem more in place with a social science, like psychology or sociology, and by labeling it philosophy, are we detracting from potential engagers in the subject matter? To the first question, nothing strictly philosophical strikes me in most of our readings, but that is not to say the importance is downgraded. It just seems that the feminist movement did not arrive out of the ivory tower of philosophy, so why must it be confined there in the present? The movement was more physically involved than a disembodied discourse floating through textbooks and journals, so it just strikes me as odd that these topics need to be strictly called “philosophical.” Also, by labeling these questions one thing, it seems to reinforce a sort of border-war that exists between academics: insane mutterings that includes things like philosophy and biology should not mix; chemistry and accounting are two different worlds, etc. While the subject matter differs, each subject doesn’t occur in a vacuum, so analysis from another point of view would lend criticism to another field. It would maintain order, yet at the same time allow for the inter-mingling of subjects. These topics we have been grappling with seem more sociological or psychological, but by lending a philosophical analysis, we are able to add meaning to subject that wouldn’t be there otherwise. The criticism that philosophy is able to contribute is valuable for its additive capabilities, and therefore we are apply to apply it to more socially relevant topics, like feminist philosophy (and philosophy of race, social justice, etc.). So while these may not be the traditional targets of philosophical inquiry like the nature of life or theories of knowledge and knowledge acquisition, the feminist focus seems to highlight an edifying effect that philosophy can have, and at the very least should connect to ethical considerations, like what should be considered rights of a person or what is a person, in general.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fowl Sex


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Feminism and feminity in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Ok, this is a very large theme I cannot develop in just one post. I plan to write my thesis on this theme next year. As many of you know, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is considered by some to be rather silly, because it's focusing on a short blonde girl who slays vampires and other creatures of darkness because it is her destiny. However, as I came to notice over the last years, many professors and fans around the world have written articles on the Internet, or philosophy books about this show (check out: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy, by James B. South, or the website "all things philosophical on BTVS").

Many of these scholars insist on the message of strong feminity vehiculed by the series. It reverses all clichés established by horror movies: the creator's idea was to go against the scene where the blonde girl screams for ten minutes before being murdered by the killer. Here the blonde girl cracks a joke and kicks the vampire's butt! Buffy's physical strength is merely a metaphor for the potential that all girls carry within themselves. On the other hand, vampires symbolize (among other things) destructive masculinity: they have fangs (phallic symbols!) that penetrate the body of the unwilling victim (rape, anyone?).

Just a remark: the show certainly doesn't hate men. On the contrary, they are a huge asset to female empowerment. It is through a benevolent paternal figure embodied by Giles that Buffy can actualize her potential, and thanks to the men she loves, she gets stronger, because they accept her power. I won't insist on that since it was the subject of my last post.

Anyway, Buffy and her friends, among them a lot of strong females as Willow, a powerful witch who saves the world, carry a message of strength and solidarity. Their group is constituted by "thick" members as we saw in one article: every member of the group is an "outcast" from normal society (which turns out to not actually exist in their world). But in the end, they're the one saving the world when everyone else thought they were crazy.

I think everyone in our class should acknowledge the positive message the series sends to its audience: every one of us have power, the question is to use it wisely. I believe being in Dr J's class is an excellent start.

Yesterday was Women's day. We should make every single day of the year count.

Someone made a very funny video on Youtube criticizing Twilight for its sexist views and praising Buffy's feminist message: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZwM3GvaTRM&feature=related You should watch that!

Have a great Spring Break !

Monday, March 8, 2010

Why not Solidarity?

In discussing racism and sexism, we came to the realization that to be black is to be male and to be female is to be white. In this framework, the black female is left out. We see evidence of other groups being left out as well when we study other structures of oppression. Often within oppressed groups, hierarchies and power dynamics are created such that those in power in a sense define the entire group.

For instance, consider homophobia as a structure of oppression. When I think of homophobia, I often think of the victim as a white male. This is probably partially because often the images that I encounter of victims who are speaking out against the system are white males. For a variety of reasons, these individuals have the power to define the group’s identity and the group’s goals. In recent years, a major platform for this group has been marriage rights. However, this is not recognized by every person within the homosexual community as the most important or pressing matter for the group. For the young Asian gay male who is not considering marriage, but instead wants the ability to hold hands with his significant other, protection is a much more important matter. Yet, his concerns may be swallowed up by the group. Furthermore, those with power and the capital have the ability to define the most important matter. Many people recognize that these hierarchies within oppressed groups create an unfair and unjust system. How then do we work to ensure that every person feels that his or her needs are met in the group? To get to each individuals unique experience, further divisions are necessary, but where do the divisions stop?

In my naivety, I would like to believe that an oppressed group would be where one could find the most solidarity and concern for each individual’s well-being. However, I now realize that the structure of oppression creates competition amongst the oppressed. The oppressed person must compete to have his or her concerns heard and desires met by the oppressor. In this regard, each oppressed person might naturally feel that his or her demands are more important than the next person’s. However, my hope in the future is that oppressed people do not feel pressure to rank their experiences being oppressed. Instead, the oppressor will recognize and feel shame that he or she is oppressing and cease oppressing. Until then, I hope that a culture of solidarity, instead of competition can be created. Such that oppressed people are able to go to other oppressed people and find strength that they are not alone.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sexism, Common Sense, and Capitalism

I was talking with someone the other day about why females are less likely to be hired than males, and why are they usually paid less. We actually came to many conclusions that might justify not hiring a woman, because of a matter of sheer economics.

For example in France and many other European countries, companies are required to give women maternity leave if they get pregnant. The companies are forced to leave the positions open, and the companies have to continue to pay them what they would make while they are on leave. In California, their positions are to be held during that period of time, and they still have to be given the same benefits they had while they are working. Since so many women have children in this country, doesn’t it seem like common sense to hire a man for a vital position? You don’t have to worry about losing your employee, and you don’t have to pay so many benefits. Granted not all women have children, however when try to make money isn’t it better to generalize to simplify things.

Is the motivation for not hiring the woman sexist or common sense or both? While it’s true that a company might intentionally choose not to hire a woman, its for the sake of making more money most of the time. The woman is not being not hired just because she has different sexual organs; she is not being hired because it might not create the greatest profit yield. It’s true a woman could choose not to have a kid, and she could choose to not raise it herself; however a good portion of the time, a company is going to get burned. You might argue that making these stereotypes that a woman needs maternity leave, etc. etc. is sexist, but it is profitable. I realize women in general get paid less, however keep in mind that many women also quit their jobs after having a child. With all this in mind it seems like hiring a woman for extremely important roles does not sound like the best possible investment. In a capitalist society all businesses attempt to gain the greatest long term wealth possible. If a company is in the business of making money, is it possible to have a capitalist society where women are treated equally? To me it seems like it is not possible.

Earlier in the year we mentioned how capitalism allows for women to be oppressed. The system treats women as unpaid labor in the home, and that the epitome of capitalist exploitation. However the book did not mention this little aspect of capitalism. Instead of fighting for feminism by changing our mindset about how we perceive our bodies and mindsets we have, maybe we need to change the way we perceive business and capitalism, like Rubin suggested.

I realize I may have offended just about all of you so feel free to post. No I am not an actual advocate of socialism. I just wonder if feminism and capitalism can work side by side.

Title IX

Manali’s post on diversity in the college admission process represents one of many controversial issues educational systems face with race and gender. In high school I was involved in several sports both in school and outside. At this time I watched my sister go through the college application process with intentions of running division one track. As a white female with adequate grades she was recruited to run at Columbia University. A few years later I was recruited by her coach to run as well as play soccer at Columbia. Student athletes often receive criticism for being favored in application processes as well as differential treatment throughout their college experiences. There is no question neither my sister nor I would have been granted admission to Columbia had it not been for athletics.

I apologize for the personal story but I promise that I am getting to a point. My interest in sports in high school led me to write one of my final research papers on Title IX. Originally Title IX was an equal opportunity in education act. The law states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…”

The law applies to schools or institutions that receive federal funds. Universities are required to provide equal opportunities based on sex for athletic programs. While there are other facets under the act, athletics have received the most controversy and attention. Several factors are considered when determining if equal treatment exists within athletic programs. Is there an equal selection of sports and competition levels to accommodate both sexes? Is there equal access to equipment? These are just a few examples of factors considered.

The controversy surrounding the act claims that males suffer under Title IX. While the act strives for gender equality, some complain that male athletes are negatively affected. Since Title IX’s enactment there has been substantial growth in the number of females who participate in sports and receive sports scholarships. These advances lead to more opportunities for females to compete at elite levels like the Olympics.

Studies have proven these benefits for female athletes. Studies have also shown the lack of enforcement surrounding the act. The Office for Civil Rights rarely follows through on investigations of schools failing to meet Title IX regulations. I think it would be an interesting discussion for our class to investigate the Rhodes athletic department. Does Rhodes provide equal opportunity for female athletes?

If interested in more information this is a helpful website.


Diversity in the College Admission Process?

After class on Tuesday when we discussed Spelman’s article on the Ampersand Problem, I recalled my own experience looking for the “right” college and my acceptance into Rhodes. When I started my college search, there was always a specific fraction of how many percentages there are of certain races or males to females. Every college had this sort of demographic breakdown. Through my college selection process, people would say that I would get into any college I wanted regardless of my accomplishments and only on the basis that I am an Indian female because that will increase any college’s diversity. I was told the same thing when I got into Rhodes, that I got accepted because I was an Indian female and Rhodes is known to be a predominantly white school hence more ethnicities would diversify Rhodes College. I had never thought of my admission into Rhodes as a contributor to an institution’s fight against underlying discrimination or that my acceptance could have caused an equally qualified male not to be admitted. As we discussed in class, if you help one type of oppressed group you will unconsciously be enforcing another one. For example, I was admitted into Rhodes therefore, Rhodes had to overcome racism by giving me admission into the college; however, I might have been given admission while rejecting an equally qualified male. Therefore, even though the admissions department accepted a more racially diverse candidate, they did reject the male candidate, so sexism is advanced.

I wonder if we can apply this concept of trying to combat oppression to the concept of transparency and thickness, as seen in Lugones’s article, in regards to the college admission process. The aim for accepting ethnicities is to make campuses culturally more accepting. If admission into a college is based minutely on a person's nationality or race, then we are starting the process of college on the grounds of groups. There are certain people that will be represented as thick or transparent if we accept people on the basis of oppression groups; thus does the college admission process cause thick and transparent members in the group to form?

To clarify, I am not trying to say that Rhodes only accepts students on the basis of race or ethnicity but I am simply using Rhodes as an example. I might be completely off the mark but I am not sure how we can overcome issues such as sexism if we have this sort of a problem when dealing with the admission of oppressed or minority groups on a college level.

By putting an emphasis on diversity we are in fact enforcing groups within the student body by laying out such demographics before and during the admission process. Would it help to actually appreciate diversity on college campuses by not publicizing the demographics of a college?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Institutional Discrimination

The Tennessee Senate and House of Representatives are currently considering a bill that calls for the ineligibility for cohabitants to adopt a child.  Senate Bill 0078 and House Bill 0605 prohibits the adoption of a minor by either same-sex or opposite-sex individuals cohabiting outside of a marriage that is valid under the constitution and laws of the state.  The Senate has referred it to the Senate Judiciary, while the House has referred it to the House Family Justice Subcommittee.  I find it grotesquely ironic that, the future of this bill will be determined by two political committees that both claim to uphold and legislate ‘just’ laws, when it is blatantly obvious that this bill is strictly hetero-normative. 

            If passed, this bill will prevent foster children from being adopted into financially stable, safe, and loving homes.  Consequently, foster homes across the nation will continue to weigh the burden of an unjust system of adoption in America.  Overpopulated and under-funded, foster organizations face numerous obstacles in achieving their ultimate goal of housing homeless children.  The adoption process is already extremely rigorous, wearisome and time-consuming for straight and eligible couples.  So to pass a bill that prevents equally eligible and loving couples from adopting an orphan is simply illogical and discriminatory towards same-sex couples who, mind you, also do not have the right to legally marry. 

            By institutionalizing the terms of marriage and adoption requirements, the government is essentializing a political system that is presumed to promote the best-interest of the majority of American citizens, when in reality it is only reifying a system that benefits the privileged Americans.  According to this bill, if you are capable of marrying then you are potentially capable of raising adopted children.  This assumption is predicated on the belief that all married couples are inherently more qualified to raise children than are same-sex or non-married opposite-sex couples.  If you do not see something fundamentally wrong with this assumption, alone, then I suppose the argument stops here, but if we take moment to consider what our state politicians aren’t, then perhaps we can see past the superficial implications of this bill. 

            I do not disagree with those who argue that having same-sex parents is a potential risk for being ridiculed in school, but let’s be honest, who doesn’t?  Every child is picked on; every child goes through a traumatizing experience at some point in his/her life.  It’s only a matter of time and setting.  Kids may be ruthless, but they are not a legitimate reason to deem same-sex couples inept at raising children.  In fact, the slightest consideration that same-sex couples are some how incompetent parents perpetuates the tendencies to justify such a discriminatory discourse. 

            Perhaps if we shifted our focus from the potential risks of raising a child in a same-sex household to the potential risks of raising a child in a household with a married opposite-sex couple we can being to illuminate the nuances of what is implied by this bill.  For example, what if the child up for adoption is gay, and is placed in an extremely conservative homophobic family?  What if the child’s previous parents were gay, and he or she feels more comfortable being raised by a similar couple?  What if the child is guaranteed to get a better education if adopted by a same-sex couple?  I guess what I am trying to highlight with these questions is my doubt that politicians and citizens who support this bill are really advocating for the best interests of children in state custody.  It seems more reasonable to recognize that they are driven by their self-interests to get re-elected and preserve the sacredness of marriage, all at the expense of hundreds of children without a home and even more unmarried individuals who are willing, able and eager to provide one.  Yet, we’re supposed to believe in something called justice? 

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Value of "Thickness"

I have to admit that I found Lugones’ writing style to be mildly infuriating. At first it seemed to be filled with ambiguous references to eggs, mayonnaise, curdling, and not much else. During our recent class discussion about her article, however, I realized that Lugones’ ambiguity is the most effective way to discuss the topic of mestizaje, or mixed identity. Once our discussion had unlocked the meaning behind Lugones’ terminology I became quite interested in her classifications of “thick” and “transparent” group membership.

We all strive to belong to groups in which we can be transparent members because such groups are comfortable and rejuvenating in their familiarity. On the other hand, thickness can be unsettling and even painful. Hence, I brought up the point that the ideal society would be one in which all groups had completely transparent memberships, not in such a way that individuals only belonged to those groups which represented them perfectly, but in the sense that all groups would be representative of all people. The only possible way to arrange group membership thusly would be to make it so that mestizaje was a primary identifier of all groups. In other words, every group would have to make mixed identity its defining characteristics.

Although this may seem ideal, I have since realized that it is actually highly undesirable. For to arrange groups so that they are primarily concerned with representing mixed perspectives and backgrounds is to make political action impossible. How, for example, could a liberal political organization still function as such while giving equal representation to the opposing conservative viewpoint? The term liberal would no longer apply to this organization, but neither would conservative. It would simply be a group of people with no discernable interest and no ability for action. One may object that even political groups should strive to achieve some balance in their perspectives, and I would agree, but there is a difference between such open-mindedness and the inability to formulate an opinion that would result from complete mestizaje.

It is clear then that thickness, to a degree, is necessary for healthy political action. Not only does its tolerance enable groups to act on deeply held and controversial principles, but it also allows us to appreciate other points of view. People will always have unique perspectives that lead to conflict and thickness. However, if every person can learn to value their experiences of thickness in groups as opportunities to understand how others feel in similar situations, this will hopefully lead to more constructive and less violent disagreements between opposing perspectives. It is absurd to think that human beings can ever live in a world without differences of opinion, but it is a real possibility that we can become more rather than less united through the appreciation of these disagreements.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Miscarriage Made Illegal in Utah

The Utah House and Senate recently passed a bill that makes it a crime for a woman to have a miscarriage. Though the bill isn’t as evil as I just made it out to be, I used language that blunt because that is the message Utah is effectively sending its female population. The bill is meant to hold pregnant women responsible for induced miscarriages or illegally obtained abortions. In addition to induced miscarriage, however, the bill states that a woman who engages in “reckless behavior” resulting in a miscarriage can be criminally responsible for the death of her child. “Using the legal standard of "reckless behavior" all a district attorney needs to show is that a woman behaved in a manner that is thought to cause miscarriage, even if she didn't intend to lose the pregnancy. Drink too much alcohol and have a miscarriage? Under the new law such actions could be cause for prosecution” (Larisa).

I could go on for hours describing my opinion about this bill, but out of respect for differing belief systems, I’m going to focus on a more relevant, and more dangerous aspect of this legislation. It’s sexist. The entire bill stands upon the notion that women are, first and foremost, bodies that can create life. When we write legislation that separates men from women on the basis of reproductive possibility, the discrimination necessary to make that differentiation is -at its base- sexist. This bill primes the law to be untrusting of women to love their own children, making it clear to me that men (who run the government) need to maintain some amount of control over unborn fetuses (the only realm belonging completely to women). The bill even makes women responsible (and criminally liable) for accidents. The whole bill reminds me of our discussion of the Last Stand commercial response and whether men could be switched with women. Because we couldn’t make the switch, we concluded that the initial commercial was sexist. Because the law can’t be attributed to men, making them responsible for accidental miscarriages they may cause inadvertently, the law is sexist.

How we live in a nation that is still passing laws regulating women’s bodies is beyond me, but I can fully understand how Firestone and other feminist scholars describe “liberation in terms that suggest the identification of woman with her body has been the source of our oppression, and hence that the source of our liberation lies in sundering that connection” (272). Agreeing with this bill on the basis that induced miscarriage is murder is at some level understandable to me, but making that stipulation is not worth furthering the cage we’ve built for women in America. This bill was made to seem innocuous (after all, no one likes baby killers), but its real substance is in the fact that it perpetuates control of women’s bodies at the government level, all the while acting under the guise of “saving lives”.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Acceptance at Rhodes

When we watched it in class, it was my second time to see "But I'm a Cheerleader". The first time I watched the movie I was in middle school. A friend and I had gone to the video store to rent some sleepover movies and "But I'm a Cheerleader" looked like a typical teen-age movie on par with other films that would feature a cheerleader. Little did we know that is was about going to straight camp and featured some up close and personal girl on girl love scenes. Admittedly my friend and I were uncomfortable watching some of the really “gay” things going on in the film; it is a bit above thirteen year old heads. I am pretty sure we turned it off about mid-way through the love scene between Megan and Graham. However, I was thinking about this initial viewing experience when we were discussing what we liked and disliked about the film in class. I feel that despite not getting a lot of the suggestions the film was trying to make, as a thirteen year old I still took away that the concept of straight camp was absolutely ridiculous. Even as a younger person, the intensely strict gender roles the campers are trying to be reassigned to are apparent. I feel that watching this film, even at such a young age, reinforced my upbringing and the openness that my parents instilled in me that it is ok for people to be gay. I have openly gay family members, when to a middle school and high school where being gay was not going to get you beat up, and figured out that my favorite thing to do on a Friday night in Oklahoma City was go to the drag show with my best friend and her gay god father. All of this brings me to the point we were getting at in class, which is why does Rhodes not have a visible gay population?

I came from a magnet high school for arts and academics, so it is not a surprise that a person felt comfortable being openly gay if that was who they were. However, when I got to Rhodes I realized that there really weren’t very many openly gay people. I had one good friend my freshman year who was gay and he transferred in part because he felt he lacked a gay community at Rhodes. So my one friend who is gay leaves because he doesn’t feel that Rhodes is a gay friendly college campus. Why doesn’t our school have a “gay community”? In class we discussed thing like geographical region, the Greek system, and other possible reasons why gayness isn’t really allowed at Rhodes. One of the things that I was thinking about I didn’t want to say in class because it could be taken as pretty controversial, but I wanted to put it out there and see if anyone else feels the same way, or disagrees whole heartedly. Having been at Rhodes for four years, I have decided that there is a status associated with being a Rhodes student. There seems to be this mold that we need to fit into and being a homosexual is not a part of it. Because I am not Greek, I do not know how much the Greek system contributes to this, but I feel as if there is a somewhat restricted definition of what Rhodes students should be like. Rather than an explicit thing we can point to, what I am talking about is more of a collective, unspoken sentiment that pervades the student body. There is this status to be obtained, and that status is not conducive to an active gay population. Please comment if you think I am full of it or totally wrong.