Gender Fundamentalism and Hate – part II

with 4 comments

UPDATE. George has also commented Iddo Landau’s talk and the reaction of gender fundamentalists here.

The first example of political correctness and gender stupidity (this is taken from a serious philosophical text):

“One way to flesh this idea out is to pretend that there is a superbeing, GOD, who can comprehend very complex patterns. SHE alone grasps in full the pattern in the way that moral matters connect with descriptive ones” (Frank Jackson, Philip Pettit, and Michael Smith, “Ethical Particularism and Patterns”, in B. Hooker and M. Little, Moral Particularism, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 90; capital letters are mine)

Two days ago I had another two examples of gender fundamentalism and gender hate. I attended two conferences at Central European University: the first was offered by the Gender Department, the second by the Department of Philosophy.

weiss.jpg Gail Weiss

The first talk was given by Gail Weiss (George Washington University) and its title was “Intertwined Identities: Challenges to Bodily Autonomy”. She discussed the problem of surgical separation of conjoint twins. She is against this separation, because she thinks it is based on: (a) “the dominant logic of identity” – that is, “one identity – one body”; (b) the idea that “conjoint life is not a worthy life”. As an argument in her favor, she says that in the majority of cases, adult conjoined twins refuse to undergo such an operation. The conclusion is that all these can show us an alternative theory of identity, which goes beyond the “dominant” one – that is, “one identity – one body”.

Now this idea strikes me as simply false. I propose the following counterfactual situation. Suppose that a physician tells the twins: “Look, because of the very advanced technology, we assure you 100 % that the operation is totally harmless to both of you; moreover, after the operation, you will live happily until the age of 99”. Now, my question is: what would the twins say? I am sure that they would like to undergo the operation. This shows that they refuse to be operated not because they have some strange philosophical notion of identity, something like “one identity – many bodies”, but because they fear that they would not survive the operation. In what concerns the fact that the separated life is worthier than the conjoint one, I really do not think that this is necessary or logically related to the social and cultural norms of our societies, as Gail Weiss sustains. If we set aside some perverse ideas, what is so worthy in being obliged to “shut down” yourself when your conjoined twin makes love with his wife??? I think the whole talk was a good example of empty words. I mean, if you want to present me just a nice story with metaphors, then it could be interesting. But if you present me this story with propositions like “Colourless green ideas sleep furiously” (Noam Chomski) as being a scientific truth, then you have to do much more than using metaphors. That is, metaphors like this: “intercorporeality as a basic condition of human existence that doesn’t undermine identity but makes it possible in the first place”. Some of us are not that stupid, Mrs. Gail Weiss!

landau.jpg Iddo Landau

The second talk was given by Iddo Landau (University of Haifa) and its title was „Should Marital Relations be Non-Hierarchical? Issues in Distributive Justice and Love”. Some of the members of the Gender Department came too. Basically, Iddo Landau wants to argue against the idea of the Marital Non-Hierarchy Standard (MNHS). He says that in every human associative venture there are hierarchical relations (“in almost all associations, including many financial, professional, educational and recreational ones, in almost all spheres of life”). Because of this, it is odd to claim that one such human association – that is, marriage – should be exempted from the rule. His idea is this: if I am married and I stay with my wife in her parents’ house, it is normal for her parents to have the last word in what concern, for example, their house. Here is a hierarchy in the family, based on the fact that we stay in your parents’ house. This does not run against justice and does not diminish family love. Again, if we are married and we have a child, and if you read a lot on child rearing it is absolutely normal for you to give me directions in what concerns this domain, and it is absolutely normal for me to listen to you. This is yet another type of family hierarchy, which is based on knowledge. But this does not run against being justice and does not diminish our love towards one another. In consequence, it is absolutely normal for hierarchies to exist in a family. So MNHS, which has a strong egalitarian claim, is false.

Unfortunately, after the talk, four representatives of the Gender Department (three “female” students, one “female” professor) demonstrated that they understood nothing from this talk. Very hysterical and very aggressive, they monopolized the discussion for more than one hour, attacking Iddo Landau. The only thing they understood from this conference was that the poor guy wanted to legitimate the hierarchical status of man over woman in a marriage, and that he does not recognize the importance of the academic literature written by “female” authors. The poor man really tried to explain what he was talking about – with the only result of a considerable increase in hostility and agressivity. That was very telling, in fact. Gender hate and fundamentalism is jointly nurtured by violence and stupidity. It is sad, because this is very detrimental to the receptivity of serious academic writers in gender studies as Martha Nussbaum, Susan Moller Okin, Uma Narayan, and many others.

Written by Andrei Stavilă

februarie 21, 2008 la 6:49 pm

4 răspunsuri

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  1. Andrei, what I thought Iddo Landau did, was to make the point that our best theories of marital love and distributive justice fail to justify the egalitarian MNH standard. This is a philosophical point, and this is what most of the commentators missed. The issue cannot be dodged if you „historicize” MNHS, i.e. if you point out the historical context in which it emerged or socio-cultural data relevant to the extent to which it is spread. These are very important, and Landau granted that several times; what he was after was a philosophical explanation of why it should be so. The issue is a (philosophically) legitimate one, whether or not you agree with his conclusion. Say there is sufficient socio-historical data to show a correlation between taking MNHS on board and an increase of happiness, well-being etc.; this is the kind of confirmation that for some purposes (e.g., policy making, legislating) is taken as sufficient justification to accept MNHS. But a philosopher usually asks, Is this sufficient justification, period? Is it even necessary at all? Can we find independent reasons to support the standard? Does this reason fit well with reasons to accept other standards (e.g., distributive justice)? You know as well as anyone that philosophers do ask this kind of questions, even if they end up answering „no” to all of them, shred the draft essay to pieces, and happily embrace the available justification; he11, it’s part of the job description to worry about what others wouldn’t.

    Sadly, some people failed to appreciate the kind of questions and answers Iddo Landau was considering. That’s what he meant when he replied – twice – that he is being misunderstood. I thought he managed very well to keep his cool; the more aggressive questions didn’t put him into a defensive at all. So, may I object to your calling him „poor guy”?


    februarie 22, 2008 at 2:49 pm

  2. Stefan, I think you misunderstood me. And you misunderstood (though not in the most important aspects) Iddo Landau. As far as I understood, he didn’t said that „our best theories of marital love and distributive justice fail to justify the egalitarian MNH standard”. The idea seemed to me to be that these theories do not imply MNHS, as some authors thought. And the fact that they do not imply it cannot be an argument against them: they don’t even need to imply such a thing. And I tend to agree with Landau, if this is his claim.
    When I called him „poor guy”, that was meant to show my simpathy to him – not my sorrowness. I said „poor guy”, because, instead of having a philosophically-interested audience, he had to confont a histerical, aggressive, non-philosphically-interested one. This was my meaning of the „poor guy”. So, at the end of the day, it seems that, if you properly understand me 🙂 we agree on all fronts 🙂


    februarie 22, 2008 at 3:03 pm

  3. Hello, Andrei.

    Clearly, I did not attend this conference, so I can only make comments based on what you tell us about it. In fact, I think I would mostly want to ask for a few clarifications.

    You say, and I quote: „if I am married and I stay with my wife in her parents’ house, it is normal for her parents to have the last word in what concern, for example, their house. Here is a hierarchy in the family, based on the fact that we stay in your parents’ house. This does not run against justice and does not diminish family love.”

    Now, this example strikes me as vague (and please note that I am not at all referring to the talk you went to, I am only basing my assertions on your rendition of the „troubled gender story”:)). So here I go. What does the parents’ „having the last word in what concerns their house” mean? How far can they go in asserting their will over and against the „non-owners” of the household? Are we to understand that potential decisions to sell the house can only belong to the parents? We can probably agree on that, although, of course, care needs to be exercised here, as well. Let us assume that the young couple cannot afford to live anywhere else for the moment, but the parents decide to sell anyway, because they want to purchase a smaller apartment that will necessitate less housework. We may want to question the morality of this decision. However, unless there is an overriding consideration, the right to sell the house belongs to its owners, i.e., the parents. But again, how far can they go in asserting their will, based on the fact that they own the house? Remember the much too familiar, and oh, so tiresome, parental imperative: „As long as you live under MY roof, you will do as I say!” So what I am saying is that we need to carefully delimit the boundaries within which the apartment dwellers (owners or non-owners) can move without invading the „space” to which each grown-up, autonomous person is entitled.

    Now on to a second observation. It seems to me that one of the arguments (Stefan’s? Landau’s?) was that we should not „historicize” the notions we are working with, philosophically. This, to me, is problematic. The theoretical constructs we work with come to us loaded with connotations constituted within particular historical, political, socioeconomic, and cultural contexts (by „connotation,” I do not mean the logical notion of „intension;” rather, I mean those attributes that are not inherent in, but come to be associated with, particular notions). What is more, these connotations might have been constituted within abusive symbolic and material practices (e.g., the discursive and economic or political exclusion of women from certain spheres of human activity). Consequently, even though the notions we employ to make philosophical arguments may not have exclusionary dictionary definitions, they might (and THIS is what we need to pay attention to) entail particular problematic connotations heaped upon them over time. If we choose to neglect this whole horizon of connotations, we will perpetuate them and work toward sustaining the discursive and material practices to which they are intimately tied.

    Alina Vamanu

    martie 7, 2008 at 2:41 am

  4. Hi, Alina, and thank you for your comment! I really enjoy debating philosophically interesting problems with you and Iulian!
    In what regards your first observation:
    1) I fully agree with you about the dramatic situation you put forth. Before taking any decision, parents should take into consideration all the relevant elements, including their children’s situation. Otherwise, the decision could be morally wrong. But it seems to me that there are two problems here. The first problem is the existence of a hierarchy in the family (this particular hierarchy is based on the fact that the two young persons live in their parents’ house). The second problem is the morality of a decision taken from a hierarchical position. I don’t think the two problems are normatively connected – in the sense that, whatever the answer to the latter issue, it can say anything about the former. Differently put it, the fact that some particular decision taken from a hierarchical position is morally wrong says nothing about the morality of hierarchy as such.
    2) The above point can be illustrated with the following example. Suppose that the parents have a very close and old-aged friend, who lost her house in a fire. Now, suppose the parents propose their friend to live with them and their children for, say, one year (in the only room which is free). And suppose that the children are against such a proposal. Now my contention is that, EVERYTHING BEING EQUAL, the parents have the last word, because it is their house.
    In what concerns the second observation: you say that it is highly problematic to claim that we should not “historicize” the notions we are working with, philosophically. Accidentally, I am familiar with this argument – but I strongly disagree with it. Let me explain myself:
    1) I do not deny that some concepts have connotations, as you define this latter word (i.e., “those attributes that are not inherent in, but come to be associated with, particular notions”).
    2) Your definition seems to me absolutely correct. But, exactly because such “connotations” are not inherent in a particular concept, they can (and sometimes, should) be untied.
    3) This is not to say that such connotations should not be taken into account. Rather, my point is that (according to our academic ends) we can study a concept (its internal structure) without taking (some, or all of) its historical connotations into account. Conversely, we can study the historical connotations of a particular concept without studying its internal / logical structure
    4) Application: Iddo Landau said that he wanted to show that you cannot have non-hierarchical relations in a family. Moreover, to have hierarchical relations in a family is not something immoral. He explicitly set aside “historical connotations” as, for example, the “general hierarchical superiority of men over women”. He explicitly said that the concept of hierarchy he is talking about has nothing to do with the “gender problem”.
    6) Example of a hierarchy based on knowledge, which has nothing to do with “the gender problem” (the example is mine). Suppose that I and my wife own a car. Now, suppose that the car needs to be repaired. Incidentally, my wife knows a lot of things about cars (maybe her father is the best mechanic in the whole East Europe, and she has learned a lot from him). Suppose further that I know nothing about cars (except how to drive them). Now, in this situation, if we decide that the car should be repaired by one of us (because we don’t have enough money to pay another person to do it), I think it is absolutely normal for my wife to give me indications about what to do when I am helping her to repair the car – and it is absolutely normal for me to listen to her indications.
    5) So the situation is this. The guy offered a definition of hierarchy, he circumscribed the concept (together with the “connotations” he sanctioned), and he said that he didn’t care about other possible definitions or connotations – because these were irrelevant to his paper. What is wrong with this claim?
    6) The problem is that some gender fundamentalists considered that he cannot do this: that he cannot talk about hierarchies (according to his definition and his explicitly underlined caveats) in family without also talking into account the fact that in the human history women were considered as being generally hierarchically subordinate to men.
    7) The situation is exactly like this. Suppose I am the cook and I want to make a vegetable soup. But here is Alina, who says to me that I cannot make a vegetable soup unless I also add meat in it. Her reason is that her mother always made soup with meat. Philosophically, we say that if Alina claims this, then she does not understand the concept of a “vegetable soup”; moreover, we say that it is irrelevant to my making the soup the way her mother made the soup. I think this is what happened with those gender fundamentalists: they didn’t understand anything. But, unlike Alina, they were (and still are) too crazily obsessed with their favorite believes and their narrow-minded ideas, in order to chill out and listen to the speaker.


    martie 7, 2008 at 11:35 am

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