The Immoral Sciences Club: for women and non-binary people in philosophy

‘[P]ersonal and private things become a prison to the intellect.  The free intellect will see as God might see, without a here and now…, calmly, dispassionately, in the sole and exclusive desire of knowledge – knowledge as impersonal, as purely contemplative, as it is possible for man to attain.  Hence also the free intellect will value more the abstract and universal knowledge into which the accidents of private history do not enter, than the knowledge brought by the sense, and dependent, as such knowledge must be, upon an exclusive and personal point of view’

– Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy, p. 116

 

‘If oppressed groups challenge the alleged neutrality of prevailing assumptions and policies and express their own experience and perspectives, their claims are heard as those of biased, special interests that deviate from the impartial general interest.  Commitment to an ideal of impartiality thus makes it difficult to expose the partiality of the supposedly general standpoint, and to claim a voice for the oppressed.’

– Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference, p. 116

 

‘Our job is not to make young women grateful.  It is to make them ungrateful so they keep going.  Gratitude never radicalized anybody.’

– Susan B. Anthony

I. Introduction

“We wouldn’t be doing our jobs as philosophers or activists if we were not the source of some irritation at the very least.”

I’m an undergraduate philosophy student at the University of Cambridge, and last summer I was involved in the formation of the Immoral Sciences Club (ISC).  The club is primarily a space for support and collaboration amongst women and non-binary people interested in philosophy.  As a discipline, it is notoriously male-dominated, despite the almost equal numbers of men and women on undergraduate courses[1].  We want to take up space, assert our presence and perspective, and help one another find our voices!  What’s more, we want to seek out the voices of other women and non-binary people in the field.  We have been working closely with the Cambridge branch of SWiP[2], but the comparatively small proportion of women who continue studying philosophy at a postgraduate level[3] indicates the need for a bottom-up undergraduate group.  We have produced a guide written by and for women and non-binary philosophy freshers, and have begun filming and publishing interviews with women and non-binary philosophers.  We have organised panel and speaker events, and an upcoming conference on women in the history of philosophy.  We arranged an informal meet-up with graduate students to discuss further study, and a pre-exam “solidari-tea”.  We have submitted a nine-page testimonials document to our faculty’s Gender Group.  Our flourishing closed online community provides a place to share relevant articles, campaigns and events, discuss ideas, ask questions and so on.  Perhaps most importantly, it has allowed us to connect across colleges and year-groups (which divide up an already very small undergraduate cohort).

In setting up a group like this, we have undoubtedly made some people feel uncomfortable.  We have done so utterly unapologetically.  We wouldn’t be doing our jobs as philosophers or activists if we were not the source of some irritation at the very least.  Looking back, my initial choice to take up philosophy was a symbolic act of rebellion against various figures and institutions that saw it as their prerogative to delineate what I was allowed to do, say and think.  I was drawn to the intellectual self-image of the philosopher as someone who fearlessly questions authority and convention, who deconstructs sophistry to expose lazy certainties – and who becomes very unpopular in the process.  On my first day at Cambridge, one of our professors gave us all copies of Bertrand Russell’s Ten Commandments.  If we are to be consistent in taking up Russell’s resolve to ‘have no respect for the authority of others’, students must be prepared to challenge culture and practice within the academy itself.  If we are going to Question Everything (a maxim to which many Cambridge philosophy interviewees reportedly enthusiastically declare their allegiance), a good place to start would be our home turf.  Let’s not rob our sceptical tradition of its political potential.  Although the response to the ISC has been overwhelmingly positive, there’s nothing quite like a steady trickle of male resistance[4] to periodically reinforce one’s sense of purpose.

A Brief Note on the Importance of Anger

“[T]he frequent dismissal of political anger by the powerful on the grounds that it is irrational or (at best) counter-productive stems from a self-protective desire to diminish its disruptive force.”

While the ISC is (we hope) part of a much wider and prolonged effort to find solutions to philosophy’s well-documented woman problem, it has also provided an important vehicle for our collective expression of anger at the status quo.  We have drawn from the wells of rage within us (to use Sally Haslanger’s enduring image[5]), and we reject the all-too-common assumption that such rage is merely the product of misguided hysteria – the kind of behaviour that any philosopher worth his[6] salt would shun!  Good philosophy, we are told, is done ‘calmly, dispassionately’ (see Russell above): how could anger possibly be conducive to the kind of ‘impersonal’, ‘purely contemplative’ (Ibid.) knowledge of which all reasonable, right-minded thinkers are in pursuit?!  To quote one undergraduate, “I am sick of being told that my anger at various injustices is irrational.”  Anger is ‘loaded with information and energy’[7]; by policing tone, we obscure content.  While it can ‘be a source of moral and political knowledge’[8] (“epistemically beneficial”, we philosophers might say), anger is not merely cognitive.  It also has a desire-likeworld-to-mind direction of fit’[9].  It’s not just a passive clocking of injustice in the world; it’s a state that seeks a shift in the reality against which it resists.  Given its potential as a catalyst for change, one would be forgiven for supposing that the frequent dismissal of anger by the powerful on the grounds that it is irrational or (at best) counter-productive stems from a self-protective desire to diminish its disruptive force.  The claim that angry speech (and other modes of protest) isn’t worth listening to – or, in fact, doesn’t even count as “proper” communicative speech at all – performs an ideological function.  It stems from a well-founded fear that political anger might, in fact, be effective.  ‘[I]s it my manner that keeps [them] from hearing,’ asks Lorde, ‘or the threat of a message that [their] life may change?’[10]

II. Consciousness-raising: What is it Like to be a Woman in Philosophy?

“We have to state that which is both obvious and invisible.”

The ISC’s existence is tantamount to our collective recognition that the status quo is by no means natural, immutable, or inevitable: it needs to be challenged.  In November 2015, we held a panel event entitled “What is it Like to be a Woman in Philosophy?”[11], at which I presented a selection of testimonials from women and non-binary philosophy students at Cambridge.  One of the difficulties I had when gathering contributions is that undergraduates I asked would say things like “Well, I can’t really think of anything that noteworthy… I mean, other than, of course, being interrupted by men all the time!” or “being too scared to ever speak in lectures or seminars”, and so on.  Why have such reprehensible parts of our student lives become normalized, expected and accepted?

Even before recognising that there is nothing necessary about the commonplace, we need to articulate the status quo – to call it by name.  We need to speak our experiences out loud to members of ‘dominant groups [who] project their own experience as representative of humanity as such’[12], for whom these norms are anything but obvious.  We must unashamedly imprison (!) the intellects of our fellow philosophers[13] by laying bare our, ahem, “accidents” of, erm, “private”[14] history – incidents that are, in fact, regrettably and systematically rooted in the ‘here and now’ (Russell).  We have to state that which is both obvious and ‘invisible’[15].   

The ISC was initiated by an exchange of stories – a spontaneous exercise in consciousness-raising.  It began when one of my friends shared the following experience.  She told us that she was in logic class (and the only woman present), and overheard some men chatting about their work.  Maybe, they mused, the reason that they found logic so difficult was because of their tendency to overthink things.  Essentially, they were just too intelligent.  But, they sighed, we can’t really test out this hypothesis because we just can’t imagine what it would be like not to be so intelligent.  And then they turned to my friend, and asked,

What’s it like for you?

She also told us about a separate occasion on which she was telling a man in her year that logic was her worst subject.  He replied that logic was his best subject, but that he’d been really unlucky in the exam.  Generally, he had assumed that his high marks were accurate representations of his ability, whereas she had dismissed her firsts as flukes.  Her anecdotes provoked a flood of sympathy and similar experiences.  One student commented:

‘When other women in my year started to talk about their own lack of confidence and I realised these feelings I had were not at all unique I was kind of relieved. It was so nice to find out that other people understood these things I was feeling.  This gave me some confidence. But at the same time it made me angry – something has to change! The Immoral Sciences makes me hopeful for future women in philosophy at Cambridge!’

All the testimonials can be read in full on our website (https://immoralsciences.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/immoral-sciences-club-forum-testimonial-submissions-for-facultys-gender-committee-1.pdf), but for the purposes of this article, I have divided just a selection of the anonymous contributions into four broad themes.

On (not) speaking

“[W]hen I first arrived in Cambridge I felt a sudden lack of confidence in group environments like lectures or even discussion groups. I never felt like my ideas or opinions were worth sharing”

“I feel scared of saying things in lectures… I guess I’m working on the assumption that everyone else has either already thought of what I might want to say and dismissed it, or even if they haven’t thought of it, it wouldn’t be a valuable contribution.”

“I often find myself starting comments or questions in lectures with ‘sorry, I was just wondering…’, or ‘sorry, I don’t really know anything about this, but…’…  I suppose I have this feeling that I’m impeding on others’ time”

The following was written by a female lecturer: “A lot of times when female students say they don’t understand something, and they think that everyone else does, they actually understand it better than their peers. Sometimes the question that they are asking, is a really important question, that others haven’t even thought to ask. And sometimes, what they think is a manifestation of their confusion, is actually a really good objection to an argument…

“…I’ve noticed that in some contexts, people are more likely to respond to a challenge or an objection from me as a sign that I don’t understand, than they would be if the same objection were made by a man. This summer at a conference, for example, I challenged someone about a particular philosophical claim he was making. I wasn’t convinced by his response, and I explained why I thought it didn’t succeed in meeting my challenge. After a while of trying to convince me, and me responding with counterarguments, I get an exasperated: ‘Look, I’m just going to end up repeating myself. I don’t know how else to explain it to you!’

“I suspect that this kind of tendency plays a role in explaining why I, and many other women, have found it hard to venture comments and objections in seminars. There’s a well-founded worry that it will be taken as a manifestation of lack of understanding, rather than a genuine argumentative move.

On being spoken to

“After a lecture I continued the discussion with two guys from my course. Both almost never looked into my eyes although I made many contributions which I now think weren’t too bad… At the time, the guys’ behavior made me feel very insecure… It made me think that they had made far more progress and that I would never be able to participate in a discussion on the same level. Similarly have such thoughts in me been provoked by extremely assertive rhetoric that many guys in our course have. Even when I think ‘oh there’s something wrong with what they’re saying‘, their self-indulgent tone (sorry for this strong formulation, but it’s true) immediately makes me doubt my own doubts again… [O]verall [I] have gotten the impression that the guys in my course just don’t appreciate female contributions to discussions as much as male contributions.”

“Particularly in first year, the boys dominated the discussion significantly. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this was happening when we had not one female lecturer.  I didn’t realise quite how much impact the lack of female lecturers was having on me until second year when I was first lectured by a woman. It was just so cool to see a woman being so awesome at philosophy, I was surprised at how different it felt.”

“I spent my first year with my main philosophy friends a group of guys who consistently made me feel stupid, and frequently engaged in what can only be described as philosophical dick waving, even outside lectures.”

“In two years of lectures and discussion classes I got so used to being interrupted by men that it took me a while to realise how frequently it was happening, so I started trying to keep track. I found that I could not go to a single discussion class without a man interrupting me at least once. I also noticed that my female peers waited for their classmates to finish speaking before making their own contribution… I was spoken to, by both male class-mates and lecturers, in a very patronising way on several occasions.”

“In many ways, I was lucky as a woman in philosophy – my DoS was female, as were the majority of my supervisors. This made a genuine difference to my experience – I could see that there was a place for me in academia. I have a number of female friends who had a male director of studies and didn’t have more than one or two female supervisors in the whole of their first two years at Cambridge.”

On the syllabus

“I’m a second year NatSci taking HPS[16] (and overall, I’m absolutely loving it), but EVERYTHING we are recommended to read is by men. I get that a lot of it was written in a time/context when there was very little work published by women, but it just makes made me feel like it wasn’t my place to come up with new ideas – like I wasn’t good enough”

“I feel let down by a department that I feel holds too circumscribed and limiting a view of what Philosophy is, and what it means to do it… I don’t have anything inherently against their traditions…, but I most certainly do object to their superiority complex and narrow worldview… Anything outside of the ‘West’ is disregarded as ‘lightweight nonsense’… And where are the great female voices that resound, silently, throughout history?  Of course, anything not fitting the bill of white, male, ‘pure reason’, does not deserve a place in such an ‘intellectual paradise’, and must be silenced.”

“I have never got on with set texts papers, I often feel like there is nothing I could possibly add to this discussion of really important men mostly carried out by other important men… This is the opposite of how I feel when studying feminism. Here I feel like my voice matters… But even when studying feminism I sometimes worry that my essays will be taken less seriously. I’m just another young female student who wants to write about feminism – how original! I’m sure that this is in my head but I think it shows just how few spaces in philosophy I feel completely comfortable.”

On “belonging” and the typical philosopher

“Despite being knee-deep in analytic philosophy for 3 years, I’ve only just been able to pull apart the notions of ‘philosopher’ and ‘man’. The severe Imposter Syndrome I felt during first and second year made me joke off the subject I had previously been captured by.”

“The first time I entered the Faculty, I felt I was entering an unwelcoming territory.  A few guys were discussing on the chairs, they stared at me, and went on as if I had never entered… The general feeling I got was already some kind of fighting, and the seminar had not started yet!  I could not explain exactly where the feeling of ‘not belonging’ was coming from, but I know that plenty of other people (and lots of girls or women in particular) have shared that impression… I had to prove that I was worthy of the place to be talked to.”

“Before coming to Cambridge,…I loved philosophy class more than anything… But for a long time I didn’t even seriously consider the idea of doing a degree in philosophy. I was put off by this idea that you needed something ‘special’ to be a philosopher. I was under the impression that to be a philosopher you needed to be a russell or a wittgenstein, that you needed to be a genius and an eccentric, you had to be this argumentative and assertive individual who would stand out from the rest and impose themselves and their views on the world.

“This image was a far cry from how I saw myself… Over time these doubts faded just enough to make me apply to do philosophy at Cambridge…

“But when I arrived here the old doubts came flooding back… comments like “she should be more vocal”, “she should voice her own views” [etc.] were a recurring theme in the feedback that I received during my first terms at Cambridge…

“I can’t help but think that in pushing me towards developing these undeniably useful skills, they were also pushing me to becoming a certain type of a philosopher—the analytic, argumentative, adversarial type. And I am not sure if I want to become one.”

III. Concluding remarks

“There’s a danger of being put on the back foot by demands that we justify our existence… I don’t owe anyone an explanation.”

We often talk of being “charitable” in philosophy.  I am not concerned here with being charitable – in the broader sense of the word, at least.  Why default to supposing there’s a benign explanation for all this?  Why assume innocence until proven guilty[17]?  I simply won’t be dismissed as naively constructing a conspiratorial narrative that serves to distance my peers and I from our own inadequacies.  I refuse to believe that we are merely seeing what we want to see.  I won’t accept implied accusations of exaggeration or hysteria.  It would be premature at best, deceitful at worst, to claim that these are a few unfortunate “accidents of private history” that, whilst deeply regrettable, ought to be treated in isolation[18].  I’m afraid I’ve heard that line before countless times, and I don’t buy it.  I know apologism when I see it.

Too often, the response to feminist critique and activism is not “What can I do?”, but “Explain yourselves!”, or “Prove it!!” (if, that is, it gets listened to in the first place[19]).  There’s a danger of being put on the back foot by demands that we justify our existence[20].  I personally frequently forget that I don’t owe anyone an explanation.  We should be more than comfortable refusing to debate on terms imposed on us by hostile parties.  There is power in refusing to make oneself acceptable and amenable to the entitled – in short, in refusing to “behave”.  These two fingers are my survival: “I EXIST!” they yell, “I am, I am, I am!”  While I am hesitant (albeit tempted) to exalt non-compliance as a virtue simpliciter[21], “compromise” is costly – especially if it is, more often than not, one-sided.  If nothing else, it is exhausting to play by somebody else’s rules, in the hope that if you do everything just right, if you meet all their demands down to the letter, they’ll finally give you the time of day… especially when the match is fixed.  You’re always playing catch-up: you jump through one hoop only to find another has been erected in its place.  Because, at the end of the day, it’s not the disembodied content of the rules that your self-appointed arbitrators are interested in – it’s their role in obstructing your progress[22].  So flout them!  Tear up the rulebook!  Broadly speaking, I have wasted too much time and energy ingratiating myself with those who profess to hold the key to my salvation.  I have heard enough prayers of grateful thanks for the merciful concessions already made, for how far we’ve already come (why operate with a historical rather than normative benchmark for the tolerability of the present?!), for the qualified cooperation of important men: it is our ingratitude that sustains us.

Finally, I want to address the worry that we ought not to think of ourselves as “women and non-binary people in philosophy” at all (because assuming this identity merely perpetuates the problem).  The trouble is, simply asserting or pretending that our gender is not salient will not make this so[23].  We cannot wish away philosophy’s woman problem.  The category or identity, as I employ it, aims at its own annihilation[24].  I want it to become defunct.  But ‘[i]f male power makes the world as it “is”, theorizing this reality requires capturing it in order to subject it to critique, hence to change… To retort to the feminist charge that women “are” not equal, “Oh, you think women aren’t equal to men” is to…legitimize the vision that we already “are” equal.  That this life as we live it now is equality for us… To me, this answer is about denial and is the opposite of change.’[25]  The sooner we accept that we face a shared problem, the sooner we can do something about it.  The worry also points to a broader it’s-not-me-it’s-you tendency to reduce the effects of patriarchy to multiply-instantiated yet localised psychological phenomena, that can be resolved by placing the onus on individual women to shed self-destructive attitudes (“It’s all in your head!”), to lean in, rather than on powerful classes and their institutions to change harmful states of affairs (which will be caused and comprised in part but not entirely by attitudes espoused by both men and women).  “Points to”, but doesn’t entail…?  Sure, but I can read between the lines.  It may shock you to hear that I’m not always concerned with the truth or falsity or logical form of sentences actually uttered; in many cases, implicature, uptake is where the magic happens.  Critique of feminist activism, even if grounded in a basic allegiance to the movement, will often be opportunistically seized upon by patriarchy-apologists eager to lend legitimacy to their own reactionary views.  Our words, too often, are not our own.  We can’t cling onto them once they’ve left our lips.  We can’t trap them in a jar, seal it, and proudly display them, vacuum-packed, on our mantelpiece for the sympathetic perusal of invited guests.  They outrun even our intentions; they explode on impact.  It’s often hard to know what to do about what people do with our words[26], but we should at least be aware that theorising is something we do, that speech (including feminist theorising) acts, and, as such, is part of a tangled web of causal interactions between political agents.  Those who conceive of argument as something that occurs only for argument’s sake, only “in theory” (with little “p”s and “¬p”s floating around above their and their worthy interlocutor’s heads), are, to be frank, usually those with very little else to worry about.

The Immoral Sciences Club is neither aligned with convention, nor proudly outside it, taking up the kind of God’s-eye-view that Russell describes, but rather revels in its explicit violation of it.  Because even today, I think, there is still something transgressive about a thinking woman speaking without hesitation and without apology.  But what is even more dangerous is women raising their voices together, in solidarity, and with a sense of belonging.  We are not outsiders looking in.  We are not impostors or pretenders.  We exist!  We are philosophy.  And the Immoral Sciences Club is here to say that loud and clear.

 – Emily Dyson, The University of Cambridge

 

Please note that the views expressed here are my own, and I am not writing on behalf of anyone else involved in the Immoral Sciences Club.

 

Bibliography

HASLANGER, Sally, ‘Oppression, Racial and Other’. Racism in mind. Ed. Michael P. Levine, Tamas Pataki. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004) pp. 97-123

HASLANGER, Sally, ‘Changing the Ideology and Culture of Philosophy: Not by Reason (Alone)’ (2008). Hypatia 23 (2): pp. 210-223.

LORDE, Audre, ‘The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism’ (1981). Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches by Audre Lorde (Berkeley: Crossing Press, 2007) pp. 124-133.  I have taken my quotations from http://www.blackpast.org/1981-audre-lorde-uses-anger-women-responding-racism, hence the absence of page numbers.

MACKINNON, Catharine, ‘Desire and Power’ (1983). Feminism Unmodified. (Cambridge, Massachussetts, and London, England: Harvard University Press, 1987) pp. 46-62

RUSSELL, Bertrand, The Problems of Philosophy. (London: William and Norgate, 1912).

SRINIVASAN, Amia, ‘The Aptness of Anger’.  Under review, but available at http://users.ox.ac.uk/~corp1468/Research_&_Writing_files/Aptness%20of%20Anger_current.pdf.  See here http://sms.csx.cam.ac.uk/media/1919544 for her talk of the same name, given at Cambridge’s Moral Sciences Club on 3rd March 2015.

YOUNG, Iris Marion, Justice and the Politics of Difference. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990)

HANISCH, Carol, ‘The Personal is Political’ (1969). Notes from the Second Year: Women’s Liberation (New York Radical Women: 1970) pp. 76-78.

DOTSON, Kristie, ‘Tracking Epistemic Violence, Tracking Practices of Silencing’ (2011). Hypatia 26 (2): pp. 236-257

 

Notes

[1] ‘[R]oughly 46% of single and joint Honours undergraduates are women’ (see http://www.bpa.ac.uk/uploads/2011/02/BPA_Report_Women_In_Philosophy.pdf); specifically, the Cambridge philosophy intake in 2013 was 47.2% female and 52.8% male (see http://www.undergraduate.study.cam.ac.uk/files/publications/undergrad_admissions_statistics_2013_cycle.pdf).

[2] http://www.phil.cam.ac.uk/seminars-phil/women-in-phil; http://www.swipuk.org

[3] Only 35%, according to HESA data (see again http://www.bpa.ac.uk/uploads/2011/02/BPA_Report_Women_In_Philosophy.pdf).  The figures are even worse at the professional level: ‘[o]f all the humanities departments in British universities, only philosophy departments have a mere 25% women members.’ (see Guardian comment piece from July 2015 http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/25/philosphy-women-warnock-baggini-debate).

[4] For example, a while back I was asked by one of the student philosophy societies to give a talk on feminist scholarship, with a view to discussing it in “an explicitly philosophical context, where making a point does not itself constitute a morally condemnable act”.  It recently became evident that I was invited with a view to creating a strategic opportunity to attack ‘the feminists’ and show why everything we do is unfounded.  I declined.

[5] Haslanger’s 2008 piece begins, ‘There is a deep well of rage inside of me.’ (p. 210)

[6] I use this pronoun advisedly.

[7] Lorde

[8] Srinivasan, p. 18

[9] Srinivasan, p. 11; although note that she points out that, unlike desire, ‘anger…does not usually name the conditions of its own satisfaction’ (pp. 13-14).

[10] gender-neutral pronouns mine

[11] (a nod to Professor Jennifer Saul’s blog of the same name: https://beingawomaninphilosophy.wordpress.com/)

[12] Young, p. 59

[13] Of course, I write in jest, but it seems that some Cambridge students do indeed feel intellectually imprisoned by our “agenda”: a certain Michael Westmuckett-Martin wrote the following comment under a post on our public Facebook page that detailed the percentage of items on each first-year philosophy reading list written by women (https://www.facebook.com/immoralsciences/….): “What an absurd agenda you are pushing with these figures.  The readings are selected based on their significance and relevance to the courses, not based on the gender of their authors.  Do you actually want us to ignore or otherwise push aside important readings simply because they weren’t written by women?… I hoped students here would have the intellectual integrity not to fall for this rubbish.”  Unfortunately for Michael Westmuckett-Martin, I am very good at dealing with hecklers.

[14] It’s worth highlighting here the feminist significance of Russell’s invocation of the public/private distinction; see Hanisch for an early confrontation of the distinction (as employed in critiques of feminist consciousness-raising by activists on the radical left).

[15] Young, p. 59

[16] (History and Philosophy of Science)

[17] And, furthermore, why suppose that we are in the business of determining guilt in the first place?  We weaken our position if we obsess over questions of blame (something apportioned to individual moral agents), when ‘most of the practices and institutions’ we are interested in ‘are not designed and controlled by anyone individually’ (Haslanger 2004, p. 104).

[18] And heaven forbid we adapt ourselves to a vocal minority!

[19] “Speak my language or I won’t listen!” is usually implicit in such exchanges; our words are held hostage to the uptake of the hearer.  ‘[T]he success of a speaker’s attempt to communicate ultimately depends upon audiences’ (Dotson, p. 238) – an observation fundamental to contemporary feminist philosophy of language.

[20] For example, many who attended our forum expressed their frustration that the proceedings were effectively derailed by a man persistently questioning the, for them, uncontroversial premise of our organisation – namely, that philosophy has a woman problem – in such a way as to inhibit discussion of positive action. It turns out that it’s hard to justify the existence of a feminist activist group to someone who hasn’t yet come to terms with the existence of an external world.  Perhaps he would do well to read MacKinnon: ‘Women know the world is out there because it hits us in the face.  Literally… It exists independent of our will… Cartesian doubt…comes from the luxury of a position of power that entails the possibility of making the world as one thinks or wants it to be.’ (pp. 57-58)

[21] There is, of course, a personal cost to rebellion as well, felt most keenly by the least privileged participants of any given liberation movement (hence the need for individual rebellion to be located within a movement – for mass disobedience).  Self-preservation sometimes requires swimming with the tide, however reluctantly.  Thanks to Clelia Furlan, a good feminist friend of mine, for raising this.

[22] See, for example, my earlier comments on anger and breaking the rules of reasoned Public Debate.

[23] Although perhaps it’s a lot easier to pretend if you’ve already “made it” (“My gender didn’t stop me, why should it stop you?  Stop whinging and get on with it.  I’m not a victim; I’m a winner!”)

[24] There is nothing incoherent about this; if we are in the business of describing the social world for the sake of subjecting it to political critique and change, what holds true at time t1 may not hold true at time t2.  I owe this thought to Haslanger’s work on the category of “woman”.

[25] MacKinnon, p. 59

[26] One response that my previous paragraph might suggest is “Screw them!  Nothing we say will be good enough.  We’ve lost before we begin, so we might as well lose the way we want.  We’re just fine talking to each other, thanks.”, but this, I’ve indicated, isn’t without its problems.

 

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