Wednesday, June 22, 2011

This Is What I'm Talking About

I received an email last night from the author of an article in a forthcoming issue of the APA's newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy, about the changes to the comment policy. She writes:

In light of Mr. Zero's change to the comment policy, I thought I'd point out that an article I have written for the APA's Feminism and Philosophy newsletter references some comments that were posted to an old entry in The Philosophy Smoker. I tell the story about my first year on the job market: I turned to your blog for advice about interview attire, and was shaken by some extremely sexist comments posted on your blog -- I lost all my confidence and saw the profession in an extremely different light, due to those comments. In the article, I focus on how the anonymity of the internet relates to our identities as professional philosophers. I thought my experience with anonymous commenters on your blog was a valuable story to tell.

I was planning on alerting you guys to the article once it was published, but I bring it up now to highlight how valuable this recent comment policy change may be. (I also hope you're not upset to see your blog publicized as hosting some really sexist comments. Sorry about that. If it's any consolation, I also point out some really sexist comments on Leiter's blog, too.) Thank you for taking seriously the effect comments on your blog can have. I really enjoy reading (and occasionally commenting in) The Philosophy Smoker, and I think you generally do a really good job dealing with sexism and related issues.


This is exactly what I want to avoid. The thought that someone would come to this blog for help and be hurt by what she found here makes me sick. I believed then and I believe now that there was, at that time, a legitimate reason to permit those comments to be published, in spite of the obvious and serious drawbacks. But things are different now, and there is no longer any legitimate reason to do this. This blog is part of the solution, not part of the problem. This has always been our goal, and the recent change to the comment policy is designed to better accomplish this.

--Mr. Zero

43 comments:

gwern said...

*Was* she hurt?

> I lost all my confidence and saw the profession in an extremely different light, due to those comments

If that's a truer view, then your comment policy did her a favor.

(If not quite as great a favor as some truer views; "I don't suppose that any evil for a man is as great as false belief about the things we're discussing right now.")

Mr. Zero said...

*Was* she hurt?

In the long term? I don't know. Nevertheless.

Mr. Zero said...

And as I have pointed out repeatedly, I recognize that there are advantages to this kind of education--of ready availability of information concerning the level of sexism in this profession. But, as I have pointed out repeatedly, there are now various other blogs that do this work. And that do it better. And so we're not going to host certain comments anymore.

Philosophical boyfriend said...

My girlfriend is now entering a PhD program at a top school. And due to recent posts and comments she's seen on philosophy blogs, she's worried about her prospects for the first time.

What posts, you might wonder? Are they from sexist (or allegedly sexist) men? No. They're comments and posts by feminist philosophers on feminist philosophy blogs, and increasingly on this one.

So if the justification for not entertaining supposed 'asshole' comments is the harm it does to the confidence of women philosophers, then many other comments and topics should be cut as well. Seriously.

Mr. Zero said...

if the justification for not entertaining supposed 'asshole' comments is the harm it does to the confidence of women philosophers

That's a big part of it, obviously, but it's also about what it does to The Smoker. I don't want The Smoker to be the place where the assholes come to talk shit.

They're comments and posts by feminist philosophers on feminist philosophy blogs, and increasingly on this one.

It would be helpful if you could be more specific. Which posts on this blog have caused her to worry, and what does she find worrisome?

Thanks.

Philosophical boyfriend said...

Thanks for your response & your interest, Mr. Zero.

As I understand it, my girlfriend's worries began when she read the post and thread of comments in connection with the woman who was asking for reasons to stay in philosophy. After reading them, she followed the link to the blog from which that discussion arose (What It's Like To Be A Woman..., as I recall). Reading the posts there made her feel worse. She came away from the experiences feeling crestfallen and depressed, and filled with doubts about her own direction. The effect was quite crippling, though she's feeling a little better about it now. More on that in a moment.

What was it that made her feel that way? Well, she mentioned a number of things. For one thing, there was nothing there but a seemingly endless source of negativity and hopelessness. Nobody was really trying to solve the problems, she said: the aim simply seemed to be to wallow in misery and present as many negative stories as possible. For another, she felt that the way the issue was dealt with was sure to be ineffective. It relied on an 'us vs. them' mentality: there are feminists and sexists, with no middle ground, and no ability or interest in effecting actual change in attitudes (at least, not in a way that seemed practical). Rather than discussing the matters critically and constructively with people whose attitudes and actions were problematic, the emphasis was on pointing fingers at them and calling them sexist. The upshot, my girlfriend worries, is that the people branded as sexist will be most likely to respond by reinforcing the status quo: their views will not improve, but just be hidden in polite company. Finally, she noted that many feminists who are also philosophers have come to conflate being a feminist and a philosopher with 'doing feminist philosophy'. Sally Haslanger is a good example of someone who makes that error. My girlfriend, who considers 'feminist philosophy' to be pseudophilosophy, resents the fact that others might come to view her as a 'feminist philosopher' just because she is a woman in philosophy.

Anyway, she came to feel better about it once she realized that what she really wanted were constructive ways of dealing with the problems that women seem to face. She mentioned some to me, so I'll pass them along in hopes that they might be considered... in the next post..

Philosophical boyfriend said...

(Continued)

First, she felt that any discussion of sexist incidents in philosophy should focus on _solutions_, not simply on endless, depressing reports of problems. For instance, there was the story of the woman who, after presenting a paper, had a male audience member apologize to her for asking such difficult questions and then _kiss her ear_(!!). If that sort of thing is going on, then (my girlfriend said) what is most important is for people to sort out good methods for _dealing with_ that sort of thing. What should one do if that happens? What sorts of ways of acting and presenting would make it least likely for that to happen? How should other people present react? Discussions of these things would be extremely useful; but she finds them almost nowhere. And that, she said, seems really defeatist: it's as though people are saying 'hey, this crap happens, so I guess it's better to leave the profession', which of course plays into the hands of the truly sexist.

Second, she really wanted to see more dialogue between those who believe that there are problems facing women and those who don't. Part of the reason was that she wanted to know whether all the negativity she was feeling was really justified; but much of her motivation was so that strategies could be developed for dealing with doubters if there are good grounds for despair in the present climate. She felt that a closer engagement with these doubters would have the dual function of helping to persuade them of the extent of the problem and of removing their ability to feel their views are being censored or attacked merely in the name of political correctness.

And third, as I mentioned before, she thought a positive way to move forward would be to break the association in people's minds between philosophers who are feminists, women philosophers, and people doing so-called 'feminist philosophy'.

Thanks again for listening.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi anon 9:23/10:09/10:10,

Thanks for those comments.

she felt that any discussion of sexist incidents in philosophy should focus on _solutions_, not simply on endless, depressing reports of problems.

I agree. It's worth noting that the what it's like blog has a sister blog about what we're doing about it, which has been far less successful. They've had a much harder time getting people post constructive strategies for dealing with the kind of shit on display in the what it's like blog.

I suspect that is is, at least in part, because of the fact that the kinds of sexism that seem to be most commonly experienced nowadays is subtle rather than overt, and this makes it especially difficult to combat. People don't come right out and say, "you're a woman so you don't belong here," they do a bunch of little things that serve to belittle and exclude, where the individual impact of each thing is potentially minuscule, but where the overall impact of them, taken as a whole, can be very significant.

And I don't really know what to do about it. I don't have what I would regard as a concrete helpful suggestion.

she really wanted to see more dialogue between those who believe that there are problems facing women and those who don't.

I agree, and that sort of thing is not covered by the new policy. I welcome this sort of discussion.

removing their ability to feel their views are being censored or attacked merely in the name of political correctness.

I bristle at mentions of political correctness. This policy change isn't about political correctness; it isn't about silencing people I don't like or viewpoints I disagree with or who disagree with me. It's about creating an atmosphere in which this reasoned debate can occur without being disrupted by trolls and jerks. I realize that I helped to create this misimpression in the original post about the policy change and in my response to comments below it, but I hope I've put these worries to rest.

Anonymous said...

It seems a lot like Philosopher Boyfriend's Girlfriend's issues are pretty significant and worthwhile. However, the main point to them that I see is this: we should be working on solving the problem, rather than just complaining about the problem.

As I see it, though, when a privately-owned blog like this can't even say "Look, sexism and racism are disgusting and inappropriate, we're not putting up with it anymore" without inspiring comments like you see in the last thread, I have no idea what a useful or helpful dialogue on the subject can be. I've never seen a discussion about sexism in the profession that doesn't deal with a ton of "But this ISN'T a problem!" tangents and road blocks. The doom and gloom you see on feminist blogs isn't without cause. It's annoying as all hell to try to discuss these issues, given how there seems to be a steady supply of people who refuse to believe there even is a problem.

And the idea that all women philosophers are feminist philosophers? I'm a woman philosopher; I'm not a feminist philosopher. However, I have not been able to navigate my (very young, very unimpressive) career without becoming extremely aware and concerned with feminist issues within the profession. It isn't feminists forcing this upon me, but general features of the profession at large.

Yes, we need dialogue. We need solutions. I would love to see some solutions. But I've had enough "No, actually, it is pretty inappropriate to say that women just happen to be worse at logic, and maybe you should pay attention to how you gain such views, given that you teach logic" or "Yes, I am a woman, but maybe I actually deserve to have my job and didn't get it just thanks to my vagina" conversations to have grown weary. I'm tired of it. I'm only 27, I'm not a feminist philosopher, but already I'm weary of trying to maintain and forward the idea of equal opportunity and respect in the profession.

It's hard to stay focused and energized when you deal with this. I thought about giving examples, but, shit: just go read through the comments on the policy change post. I can't even read that thread without wanting to just curl up, quit the profession, and more idealistic folk like Philosophy Boyfriend's Girlfriend handle it all.

Philosophical boyfriend said...

Thanks, Mr. Zero and Anon. 12:13.

Mr. Zero, when I mentioned what my girlfriend said about people feeling their views were being stifled by 'political correctness', I was merely reporting her thoughts about what such people will say to themselves under those circumstances. I wasn't making a claim about your policy. And my girlfriend made that comment to me before you had even adopted your new policy. So just to clarify, the two things are not causally connected.

I hadn't realized that there was a sister blog called 'What We're Doing About It'. That sounds like the sort of thing my girlfriend is looking for: thanks for mentioning it. As a further suggestion on that point: perhaps, since you seem keen to discuss these sorts of issues here, you might add a few posts for discussion on those topics? I realize that you said you don't have concrete suggestions. But perhaps some of your readers can come up with some.

And yes, I am aware of the fact that many of the unfair things women face are very subtle. It's for that reason precisely that subtle methods seem to be necessary for dealing with them, and these can be challenging to devise. But, isn't it worth it to try?

Philosophical boyfriend said...

Anon 12:13, you responded to me by suggesting that there's no room to brainstorm creatively and work through these problems rationally, since (you claim) you've _never_ seen a discussion about sexism in academic life that doesn't deal with "a ton of 'But this ISN'T a problem!'" In support of your claim, you direct me twice to look at what you take to be a particularly egregious example of this: the comment thread about Mr. Zero's new policy.

One would expect, from your comment, to find that thread absolutely inundated with comments to the effect that sexism isn't a problem, or that particular sexist behaviours in academic life are not a problem. However, there is not even _one_ post in that entire thread that states or implies that!

Instead, the thread is pretty well a stand-off between two camps: one side that claims that, in the interests of curbing sexism and sexist attitudes, certain comments should be censored, and the other claiming that this would not be an effective way of bringing about that end. Nobody in that entire thread said -- not even once -- that there is no sexism. Nobody claimed that sexism is not a problem. If you think I've overlooked a comment, then please tell me which one.

If this is the best example you can come up with in support of your contention that there's no point discussing how to deal with sexism, then I'm afraid that all you've shown is that you're reading very uncharitably.

You also read my own comments very uncharitably. I told you that my girlfriend doesn't like the confusion people have in mind between philosophers who are feminists and 'feminist philosophers'. You respond by saying that "it isn't feminists who are forcing this [an awareness of sexist attitudes, etc.] on me, but general features of the profession at large." But I never said or implied, and I don't believe, that you would never have become frustrated with sexist issues were it not for feminists 'forcing it' on you. Saddling me with claims I'm not making and views I don't hold is not helpful.

Perhaps, as you say, you're so "weary" and "tired of it" that you can't rally enough interest to participate in constructive debate any longer (or even read posts carefully enough to see whether the writers share your concern before you make the judgment that the writer is in fact sexist and that you should just "curl up" and "quite the profession"). I don't know you, and it might be that you really have gone through some genuinely horrific things that have rendered you incapable of engaging constructively with these important issues. If that's the case, then you sincerely do have my sympathies; but I think in that case that you are right in your final suggestion that you should pass the torch on in the meantime to women and men who have the patience to listen, problem-solve, and bring about change.

CrabbyAbby said...

Philosophical boyfriend (and affiliated philosopher) -- I think there has been some really fantastic things spring out of the discussions of the sexism that is rampant in our discipline. A few things off the top of my head include:

(a) the proposal that philosophers known to be sexist be shunned from participating in conferences. (An Inside Higher Ed article here: http://www.insidehighered.com/layout/set/popup/news/2011/03/30/philosophers_consider_what_to_do_about_sexual_harassment )

(b) an on-going campaign on the Feminist Philosophers blog to call out conferences and anthologies that under-represent women in the discipline. This is, I take it, meant not only to show how women are under-represented but is also meant to be an act of social shaming for those organizing those conferences and anthologies. (Here's one such blog entry: http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2011/06/06/10-keynotes-no-women/ )

(c) A discussion, again on Feminist Philosophers, about how to make conferences parent-friendly. (Here's one such blog entry about it: http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/childcare-at-conferences-how-to-do-it/ )

(d) A new mentoring program in place for untenured women in philosophy.

And I think there is also a renewed awareness that we need to come up with other solutions to the sexism. While I'm a young philosopher, it seems like the discipline is, more than ever, recognizing that there is a problem and thinking, collectively, about how to respond. Which is itself an important development. (Actually, I worry that I'm being overly optimistic about this.)

But all of this needs to happen alongside the accounts that we see on 'What it's Like' and other such blogs. We can't stop telling our stories of sexism and being open to hearing the stories of others. Why? Well, (1) because there are still people who doubt that the discipline is sexist at all; (2) because those sorts of stories offer a level of solidarity and support to other women (and men) in the discipline; (3) because they can be cathartic for those who submit stories, as an important way to work through traumatic events is discussing it with others; (4) because the accounts also help us think about new ways to combat the sexism in our discipline. Indeed, it is also useful so that those who think about going into philosophy have a clear idea of the state of the discipline.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi Philosophical Boyfriend,

'political correctness'

Understood.

That sounds like the sort of thing my girlfriend is looking for: thanks for mentioning it.

No problem; glad to help.

As a further suggestion on that point: perhaps, since you seem keen to discuss these sorts of issues here, you might add a few posts for discussion on those topics?

In the works. I'm a little busy this afternoon--or, I'm supposed to be--but I sort of thought maybe I would just run your comment @10:10 as a main post tonight or tomorrow morning. I think it covers some pretty important areas.

It's for that reason precisely that subtle methods seem to be necessary for dealing with them, and these can be challenging to devise. But, isn't it worth it to try?

Totally.

Philosophical boyfriend said...

Thanks, CrabbyAbby. Those are helpful first suggestions. Also, I'm going to tell my girlfriend about this discussion thread, so I don't have to be an intermediary! I'm sure she'll have things to say that I can't think of.

Just to clarify, though: I'm not saying, and my girlfriend wasn't saying, that there should be _no_ reports of the bad things that are going on. I agree with you that, straightforwardly, one can't solve a problem effectively unless one can know its extent and characteristics. The idea was to recount stories that illustrate the extent of the problems _and_ find ways to solve them, not to replace the former with the latter.

Philosophical boyfriend said...

Awesome! Thanks, Mr. Zero. I'm looking forward to the post.

Thanks for keeping the blog consistently great!

Horace said...

Consider the following claims:

A: "Women, as a group, aren't at an overall disadvantage on the job market"

B: "Sexism isn't a problem on the job market".

(A) is not unreasonable to hold, as the proportion of TT jobs recently filled by women is about the same as the proportion of PhDs recently granted to women.(http://www.apaonline.org/governance/committees/women/0708EmploymentStudy.aspx).

However, this same data tells against (B). As there are various affirmative action programs and diversity initiatives in play (as many anti-feminists are quick to point out), it must be the case that there is something counterbalancing these programs in favor of men. Sexism (in all its forms) is the most obvious candidate for that "something".

Philosophical Boyfriend's Girlfriend said...

Barring a gigantic coincidence, I’m pretty sure I’m Philosophical Boyfriend’s Girlfriend. My views have been represented fairly accurately, though I’ll correct one thing and add some others.

I have heard about and read the “What We’re Doing About What It’s Like” blog.

I discovered it after reading the “What It’s Like…” blog a couple months ago. I’d been told about it by one of the female grad students I’d met during campus visits. My reaction upon reading this blog for the first time was mixed. My immediate reaction was rather strange: I was relieved, somehow, that things weren’t a lot worse. It’s not like I’d thought there isn’t any sexism in the world, and I wasn’t too surprised that explicit sexism was pretty bad in the past. (Not that it isn’t now, but many posts on the blog describe incidents that happened many years ago.)

I wasn’t at all deterred by reading the blog, because I thought ‘Hey, so there are some asshole philosophers who treat women pretty badly, but there’s no reason to believe any other field would be different,’ and, most of all: ‘Screw them – I’ll just work harder and become an even better philosopher.’ I also thought it might be fun to try to have a reasoned debate with these people, if I ever encountered any, challenging them to defend their behavior rationally.

Anyway, some of the posts left me with a ton of questions. Sometimes I wanted to ask: ‘Are you sure that the person was really being sexist? It’s easy to interpret many things as sexist when you’re thinking about sexism all the time.’ Other times I wanted to know how the person reacted before and after being treated inappropriately, and if there were better ways to act and react. A good example of this is the story my boyfriend’s already mentioned about the woman presenter being kissed on the ear after her talk, presumably in front of a lot of other people, though this is a more recent post. If something like that happened to me, I thought, I’d be caught completely off guard and might even react in way that would invite more of this kind of thing. For example, I’d obviously not want to burst into tears or just let the incident go without saying something immediately. That would give a very bad message – that women are weak and fully accepting of their supposedly inferior position. Instead, I thought, the best thing to do in these situations might be to do exactly what a man would do. What would he do? Probably back away immediately and say, probably loudly, something like ‘Whoah! What the hell do you think you’re doing?’ Is this the right kind of response? I have no idea, but it’s certainly better than saying nothing. Maybe some kind humor is a good response in certain situations. I’d like to hear from women and men what kind of stuff has shown that if you mess with a women, she’s not going to take it like a victim. This is the kind of discussion I was looking for.

And this is why, when I could only follow the link to the “What we’re doing about…” blog, I was disappointed. It’s not that the blog isn’t doing a great job trying to grapple with the big problem of sexism as a whole. The proposals and mentoring programs CrabbyAbby mentions are really great, too. But these large-scale movements towards a solution are no replacement for discussion about the best way for women to deal with the problems they are still likely to face.

Continuing in the next post...

Philosophical Boyfriend's Girlfriend said...

...I can imagine that many women, after having been put in a bunch of extremely uncomfortable situations as a result of their sex, good looks, pregnancy, or whatever become demoralized pretty quickly because they don’t feel they can do anything about it, or that the things that are being done about it are going to take too long to have an effect on their daily lives. (I also suspect that a woman who is severely conscious that she is female at all times, and ties her identity to being a _woman_ philosopher – rather than just a philosopher, or an epistemologist, or an ontologist who’s awesome at karate, or whatever – may have a more difficult time. I’m not saying that women shouldn’t get to proud that they are women, but it may be easier for these women to slide into the expected stereotype of women.) What I’m suggesting are tools one can learn to deal as effectively as one can with any crappy sexist or racist stuff that might be said or done.

Obviously there should be a blog that allows people to anonymously post their stories. But without constructive comments, it is depressing. It can’t avoid giving the impression that, if I encounter sexism, the best I can do is take comfort (?!) in the knowledge that I’m not alone, and that I have a right to be shocked and horrified. Without presenting the even the _possibility_ of learning how to avoid/deal with this stuff, women probably feel even more vulnerable and are more likely to leave, because they see that as the only means of improvement.

I’m sure some will think I’m na├»ve and overly optimistic. This is probably warranted, given that I’m only just about to begin grad school and I haven’t (knowingly) been subject to any sexism yet. However, while I think there is room to learn to deal with obvious and explicitly sexist behavior better, I am more worried about disadvantages for women that are harder for women themselves to do anything about. For example, even a male professor who thinks of women and men as intellectual equals might be more inclined to discuss philosophy with a grad student over coffee or at his house if the student is male, as doing this with a female student might look to the student and others as if he’s sexually or romantically interested in her.

But trying to tie all this back to this thread, one thing that I love to see on your blog are the reasoned responses and refutations to comments like ‘I would have a TT job by now if only I had a vagina’. I’ve been told before that I’ll have it easier because I’m female, and this is a common view, however much evidence is against it. As to the way this comment is phrased, I don’t really care. Though I disagree, I’m not offended. I would, however, resent it if women were regarded as so weak that they need to be protected from viewing these kind of comments.

Look, I know that isn’t the motivation behind your proposed policy, Mr. Zero. And there are some considerations in favor of censoring these remarks. The comments can be annoying and might distract from good discussions. Some women may be more likely to read your blog if they know they won’t have to read anything crude and sexist. And I know you don’t like your blog to be associated with sexist assholes.

But...in the next post...

Philosophical Boyfriend's Girlfriend said...

...But posting all comments and giving reasoned responses to the most crude and unfounded makes your blog the place where unreasonable assholes get to say their piece, and _are immediately served a crushing refutation_. I’ll admit that it always gives me a little thrill every time a sexist comment is shut down, even if the response is always the same. I also think some people, and even I, might start half believing that women have it easier on the job market if we don’t periodically hear refutations to this view. Repetition is a good teaching method, and while it may be dull work having to give the same response, it reminds everyone else, again, just how stupid the view is.

I think the sorts of things that make sense to be censored are repeated unfounded sexist comments by a commenter who clearly has no intention of engaging in a reasoned debate. Maybe you could even ban such people, as you would someone who decides to post 10 comments one after another that read “Science has proved that God exists”, completely ignoring all responses.

Anonymous said...

Horace,

I'll assume for the moment that, as you say, the proportion of TT jobs recently filled by women is roughly the same as the proportion of women earning PhDs in the field, and further, that there are affirmative action policies in place.

It doesn't follow from this that there is sexism on the job market. I'm not saying there isn't sexism, or is not likely to be sexism. I'm just saying that it doesn't follow from those data.

The logic of your argument is roughly akin to that in this argument: "Our store advertised our canned pears but not our canned peaches. 25% of our stock in canned fruit is canned pears, the rest peaches. And 25% of our purchases were canned pears, which is what we would expect without advertising based on past trends. Hence, since we do have advertising for canned pears, there must be a countervailing pressure against buying pears to keep the rate at 25%."

Would you accept this abductive argument? You shouldn't. Plausible alternatives exist. For instance, customers might be ignoring the advertising; those who are receptive to the advertising might already be inclinned to buy the pears; some people might hate being advertised to; etc.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi anon 4:34,

Your "criticism" of Horace's argument is perfectly general. It does not rely on any specific feature of Horace's actual argument, and amounts to the claim that inferences to the best explanation are not deductively valid. In order to show that there was something wrong with Horace's argument in particular, you would need to show that there are plausible alternative explanations to the phenomenon he was talking about, not just show that it is possible in the abstract for such explanations to exist.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi Philosophical Boyfriend's Girlfriend,

posting all comments and giving reasoned responses to the most crude and unfounded makes your blog the place where unreasonable assholes get to say their piece, and _are immediately served a crushing refutation_. I’ll admit that it always gives me a little thrill every time a sexist comment is shut down, even if the response is always the same.

I think this will continue to happen. Not all people who are skeptical of the workings of sexism or whatever are trollish assholes about it, and their comments will continue to appear. And be served with a crushing refutation.

Anonymous said...

ah, Mr. Zero, if I could, I'd give you a tenured job. I'd love to have you as my colleague.

Philosophical Boyfriend's Girlfriend said...

Hi Mr. Zero,

Cool. So long as you continue to post extremely sexist comments that are written nicely, if that's possible, then I don't think this is a huge issue. I'd still like to see all the comments, but I don't think it will make that much of a difference overall.

You did say, though, that "The thought that someone would come to this blog for help and be hurt by what she found here makes me sick", and that this is what you want to avoid with your comment policy.

Fair enough, but note that the author of the original post was shaken by "some extremely sexist comments posted on your blog". It's entirely possible that they were extremely sexist without being written by, as you put it, "trollish assholes". So your policy won't prevent women from getting hurt when they read your blog.

I'd just wanted to let people know that not all women are going to be hurt by coming to your blog and reading really sexist comments, provided they are shut down.

Any woman who encounters extremely sexist things for the first time - whether on your blog or in the stories on "What it's like..." - is likely to be shocked and maybe hurt. But this can't be avoided, and it may be better not to avoid it. If women learn about what some men actually think about them early on, and learn to deal with it, I think they may end up being more successful.

As regards to your policy, however, I'm just giving some considerations against it. Like I said, there are pros as well as cons, and it's great that you care enough about this issue to try to do something about it.

Anonymous said...

5:40, funny, I was just thinking that about Philosophical Boyfriend's Girlfriend. Maybe not quite ready for a job yet, but in a few years...

Anonymous said...

Th big problem with this new policy is that Zero uses it as a shield to stop posts from appearing that are critical of him and his judgment as the blog moderator. Many in the blog audience would like him to step down from his position, but he has only allowed one such post through his "net of niceness." I'm starting to think that any post that is critical of Zero is, in Zero's judgment, unworthy of appearing in this forum. I don't think Zero is trying to do anyone a favor with this new policy, except perhaps himself.

Mr. Zero said...

Th big problem with this new policy is that Zero uses it as a shield to stop posts from appearing that are critical of him and his judgment as the blog moderator.

This is demonstrably false. This discussion has been riddled with comments that are critical of the new policy and of me personally.

Many in the blog audience would like him to step down from his position, but he has only allowed one such post through his "net of niceness."

One person, you, has posted repeated demands that I retire or whatever. I have declined to publish almost all of them because of how patently stupid this demand is. "I am going to keep the assholes on a tighter leash." "STEP DOWN!!!!1!!" If you think I would take this seriously, there is something wrong with you.

zombie said...

"Many in the blog audience would like him to step down from his position..."

Not bloody likely. Mr. Zero has never, to my knowledge, used his position as moderator to "shield himself" from criticism, or from douchebags. He takes more than his share of abuse. Indeed, as the moderator, he reads all the comments. How could he shield himself from them?

What's wrong with civil discourse? This ain't Jersey Shore. You don't score points for being an asshole.

Anonymous said...

Uh... as the 'Anonymous' who wrote most of the hifalutin' critiques of Mr. Zero's policy and ethos on the thread that discussed it, let me say that I frequently worried that my critical posts would not be posted. But I have to hand it to Zero: he posted them all. So I think the fear is unwarranted.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:34 here, Zero.

OK, here goes: for the two facts that
a) the proportion of new female hires to TT positions is roughly equal to the proportion of new female PhDs, and
b) there are affirmative action policies in place that are intended to promote the placement of female candidates,
there are several plausible explanations. Horace mentions one:

1) The affirmative action policies help to increase the hiring of women, but are being offset elsewhere by sexist tendencies that work against the interests of female candidates.

But, there are many others. For instance:

2) The affirmative action policies are toothless and ineffective; or

3) The affirmative action policies work, but are almost always found in departments that are disinclined to be sexist in the first place, so that they make no difference; or

4) The affirmative action policies work to a small degree, but not to a significant enough degree to show up over the other 'noise'; or

5) The affirmative action policies work and substantially increase the number of female placements, but are offset by a disinclination on the part of many women to accept many of the positions they are offered;

etc.

Just to be clear: I'm not at all sure whether affirmative action does or doesn't work, or any of that. All I'm saying is that, whether Horace's conclusion is true or false, the reasoning he used to get there is fallacious.

Anonymous said...

K, my grad school buddies and I have been betting on whether Zero will post submissions or not. So far, we have found that some are very safe wagers. But on the margins there's no rhyme or reason why some get posted and other's don't. At first we took Zero at his word and expected that he would only block posts that were overtly racist or sexist. But now we observe this other category of submissions that warrant being blocked: those that personally insult Zero or question his authority. Still, just a few of these he does post, as if he's somewhat aware of the injustice of blocking them. Still, we sense that Zero is going the way of Leiter: Megalomaniac blog moderator. There's no consistency. And the focus of each thread ends up being the propriety of the moderator's judgment, not the initial topic of the thread.

Mr. Zero said...

K, my grad school buddies and I have been betting on whether Zero will post submissions or not.

I find it extremely hard to believe that this is how you and your buddies spend your time. That, or profoundly sad.

At first we took Zero at his word and expected that he would only block posts that were overtly racist or sexist. But now we observe this other category of submissions that warrant being blocked: those that personally insult Zero or question his authority.

It's a policy against asshole comments. Did you not realize that insulting me is a way of being an asshole? Do you need me to spell that out for you?

Still, we sense that Zero is going the way of Leiter: Megalomaniac blog moderator.

What a fucking ridiculous claim. I am a megalomaniac because I decline to post comments whose purpose is to insult me. Are you listening to yourself?

Philosophical boyfriend said...

By the way, I'm really looking forward to discussing the suggestions forwarded by CrabbyAbby (and some of my own). But I'm holding off until the new thread is up.

Anonymous said...

"What a fucking ridiculous claim. I am a megalomaniac because I decline to post comments whose purpose is to insult me. Are you listening to yourself?"

Evidence of megalomaniac tendencies. Blindness to being drunk on one's own power. Belief that one is immune to criticism. Proof that it is time for Zero to take a vacation.

Mr. Zero said...

Evidence of megalomaniac tendencies. Blindness to being drunk on one's own power.

"I'm going to keep the assholes on a shorter leash" "You are drunk on your own power!!!!1!!"

You are amazingly childish and stupid. Unless you have something new and interesting to say, this discussion has run its course and will not continue.

Justin Kalef said...

I've got to say, Anon 9:42: if you're annoyed at the fact that these threads sometimes get derailed, it's pretty obvious that you've only got yourself to blame here.

Anonymous said...

The problem here is that Zero's own standards of an inappropriate comment do not apply to his own comments. Insulting someone's intelligence because they chose a slightly inappropriate word (as I recall it was 'arbitrary). Dismissing someone's point with "it is a fucking ridiculous claim." This is the kind of dickish adversarial behavior that sends women running away from grad school in philosophy. I do not know whether we should be dismayed or congratulatory in response to Zero's amazing ability to model that obnoxious behavior so typical among philosophers. What I do know is that he doesn't apply the same standards to his own posts as he does to others. Since Zero's posts are the most obnoxious, these threads become all about responding to Zero, not to other readers who post. Someone who wants all the power and attention is the definition of megalomaniac.

Tod said...

Mr. Zero, in his last couple of posts said, in response to some non-great comments,

"I find it extremely hard to believe that this is how you and your buddies spend your time. That, or profoundly sad."

and

"You are amazingly childish and stupid. Unless you have something new and interesting to say, this discussion has run its course and will not continue."

Mr. Zero also explained the new comments policy this way:

"It's a policy against asshole comments. Did you not realize that insulting me is a way of being an asshole? Do you need me to spell that out for you?"

Moderating comments has its merits, Mr. Zero, but if the policy is meant to preclude asshole comments, be careful with your own.

Mr. Zero said...

Insulting someone's intelligence because they chose a slightly inappropriate word (as I recall it was 'arbitrary).

I didn't insult the person's intelligence. I suggested that because the person used it to describe a situation in which he believed there to be a clear criterion, he didn't know what the word meant. In any case, I regret being sucked in to that discussion, and my hostility during it, which is why I deleted the entire exchange.

Dismissing someone's point with "it is a fucking ridiculous claim." This is the kind of dickish adversarial behavior that sends women running away from grad school in philosophy.

It is not dickish behavior to say of a fucking ridiculous claim that it is fucking ridiculous. The suggestion that women cannot stand being in the presence of this sort of thing and will run away from philosophy because of it is also fucking ridiculous.

Since Zero's posts are the most obnoxious, these threads become all about responding to Zero, not to other readers who post.

This is also demonstrably false. There are lots of responses on this thread to CrabbyAbby, Philosophical Boyfriend, Horace, etc. Last night at about 7:00, the thread got derailed. This is because I (foolishly?) posted one of your comments and engaged you.

The reason the other thread is mostly responses to my comments is that it contains a bunch of criticisms of the policy, my responses to those criticisms, my critics's replies to my responses, and so on. Which is why your claim that I have used the new comment policy as a way to shield myself from criticism is so fucking ridiculous.

I realize that I have insulted you by calling you childish and stupid. I realize that this was mean. But allow me to point out that the policy explicitly allows for people to be mean in a way that advances the discussion, and that when I was mean to you I was directly responding to the text of your comments.

And I think it's crystal clear that these claims of childishness and stupidity are completely warranted. In the past several days, you have attempted to post a long series of absurdly dumb comments calling for me to resign my post, accusing me of abusing my power as blog moderator, and comparing me to Rep. Anthony Weiner.

This last point is worth exploring in some detail. Rep. Weiner was an outspoken, highly public member of congress who, in spite of the fact that he is married with a baby on the way, sent a bunch of lewd photos of himself to a large number of women not his wife. He also engaged in sexual facebook chats and sent sexual text messages to various women not his wife. He was then called upon to resign, and initially refused.

In contrast, I revised the comment policy of the blog I moderate so as to make the blog more pleasant, less hostile, and more helpful.

If I'm honest, I will tell you that I can't think of a nicer way to describe this comparison than "childish and stupid." The fact that you've made it so persistently makes me think that you've thought about it a lot and you're pretty committed to the idea that this absurdly dumb comparison is accurate.

Maybe Tod is right, and maybe it was a mistake to have been so frank in my assessment of these comments and of the person who made them. But I don't think so. I think my mistake was engaging this troll in the first place. I think my initial strategy of refusing to publish his comments at all was the right one.

Mr. Zero said...

Hi Anon 4:34,

Is there any independent evidence that affirmative action policies are ineffective; or that they are effective only in departments that are already disinclined towards sexism; or that they work but not well enough to be noticed; or that women decline job offers at a higher rate than men? Because I thought that one of the virtues of Horace's proposed explanation is that it is plausible as an explanation, and it is independently plausible that it occurs.

And I guess I'd like to stress again that although abductive arguments, like inductive ones, are not deductively valid, it is nevertheless not a fallacy to make use of abductive reasoning.

I guess you might just mean that the claim that p, if true, would explain something is not a proof that p is true. But I think it's clear from the text that Horace wasn't doing that. I think it's clear that Horace was merely arguing that the evidence at hand lends plausibility to the claim that sexism is a problem in hiring.

Anonymous said...

First, though I'm sure the point has been made, it's Zero's piece of e-real estate. He can manage it how he pleases. We don't necessarily have a right to express whatever opinions we like on the Smoker because such a right is up to Zero.

Second, I support the policy that censors on the basis of a comment's tone. I suspect I also support a censoring certain types of content, so long as inoffensive opinions that dissent with (some) feminist concerns are given space. And no, an opinion that disagrees with feminist concerns is not necessarily offensive -- it's offensive to suggest otherwise. There must at least be room for debate.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:34 here.

Just to be clear: I wasn't making the fallacy of treating an abductive argument like a deductive argument. I was saying it failed as an abductive argument, since there are several alternative, plausible explanations.

You say there is independent evidence supporting Horace's conjecture that -- in light of the fact that the hiring patterns for female philosophers are just as one would expect in a NON-sexist system, save for the effects of affirmative action -- there must be sexism working against women in the job market. And that evidence, I take it, is the strong anecdotal evidence from many women that they have experienced sexism in one form or another, on some occasions as witnessed by others.

OK, so here's some evidence for the other options:

a) even many feminists have argued frequently that affirmative action policies are not effective in getting more women hired, because there are loopholes or a lack of enforcement (thus making plausible the explanation that affirmative action is not having effects, and also making plausible the explanation that it is having an effect but that the effect is too slight to show up on this rough statistical analysis);

b) Since there are, in many cases, few extra-departmental pressures for adopting a strong affirmative action policy, the departments that adopt and stick to them will naturally tend to be the ones that value them. That is common sense. And it is also just common sense that people who adopt and value such policies would be non-sexist in the first place, and that that would have been reflected in the hiring choices even without the policy. This makes very plausible that alternative explanation.

c) Many women claim, and many feminist researchers report, that women often experience far more pressure than men to limit their career choices to those that conform to the pressures of child-raising, the need to avoid financial risk (if they are single), the need to stay geographically close to their husbands (if they are married), etc. If that is true, and it seems to be, then it would naturally follow that such women would likely apply to considerably fewer positions than men and, if they are offered those positions, would be considerably more likely to decline those offers after taking stock of the situation.

So yes, all the other possibilities I mentioned have independent support. Hence, Horace's argument fails as a piece of abductive reasoning.

Anonymous said...

I must have become really stupid because I can't understand this: If one is seriously unhappy with the moderator's new policy, why not "vote with your mouse", so to speak, and simply stop visiting the damn blog?
Continuing to visit the blog you no longer like (and/or respect) to whine about its policies and to "demand" that Zero "steps down" is like whining about the editorial policies of the NY Times and demanding that Sulzberger Jr steps down...while dutifully sending in your subscription payments.