On The Corner: Intersectionality and Existence of Privilege

Siggy, over at A Trivial Knot, has a new post up with some interesting things to say about Privilege Theory and its successes and limitations as a lens through which to examine certain social dynamics.

One line in particular resonated with me, not for how I view Privilege Theory, but for how I view Intersectionality. It starts when Siggy asks how to evaluate a theoretical framework like privilege or intersectionality:

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Not For Your Enjoyment: I perform a PZ Myers imitation

No, you will not see my pseudonymous face or hear my pseudonymous voice on Pervert Justice today. However, my knowledge of biology, greatly enhanced by reading PZ Myers and articles linked by PZ Myers over the last 8ish years, led me to geek-rage on a paragraph in a story that would not have caused any negative reaction in the Crip Dyke of 10 years ago.

The paragraph in question comes from an article on the pop-sci site New Atlas which describes recent evolutionary changes in insular populations of geckos:

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Moral Flexibility: Why Ethicists Are Wrong About Why Things Are Wrong

It is hard to say that I work as a professional ethicist as their are few jobs that are framed in just this way. To the extent “professional ethicist” jobs are known as such, they are largely professorial positions. I’ve never held such a position, even when I was teaching in a university. However, many jobs include making ethical recommendations as an important part of the total role. Though some lobbyists would not want their jobs to be connected with ethics in any way (typically for fear of scrutiny), those who craft public policy proposals are actually in the business of morality and ethics. Implementations of a proposal might depend on a host of practical questions, but the motivation for a public policy proposal is very often moral or ethical in nature. Also moral or ethical in nature are many of the arguments for a legislator to vote on a proposal, or submit a bill, or act to move a bill forward procedurally. The same is no less true when lobbying an administrative official for regulatory or enforcement action (or inaction). Understood in this way, it’s quite clear that I (and many, many others) have experience working as a professional ethicist. The full number of people working professionally on questions of ethics dwarf the subset whose job titles explicitly include ethics. It is this larger set of ethicists to which I indisputably belong that imposes a moral responsibility upon me to question and critique ethics as a profession and ethicists as a group.

But even this larger group does not sum up all people who think seriously about ethical questions. In our non-professional lives, too, we must frequently engage quite explicitly with questions of ethics. Anyone with a child in the “Why?” phase of conversational development certainly spends more than 40 hours a week on ethical questions.*1 Anyone who takes the responsibility of voting seriously must also engage in questions of ethics. It is precisely the ubiquity of ethical reasoning in human life that inspires me to write today about an important shortcoming in the field of ethics.

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Safety vs Comfort: A conflation that furthers oppression

Shiv has a new post up that should be read by anyone unfamiliar with the dynamics of nominally-feminist trans dismissal. I’m happy to let the points that Shiv makes stand on their own: they are well made and well supported.

However, there are a couple of points not made that I think are timely, and though they further support Shiv’s thesis they do not suffer from being made separately.

In this post, I’ll take on a tendency on the part of all of us to confuse safety and comfort, and to confuse feelings of safety with actual safety. Although this comes up repeatedly in trans inclusion “debates” the error is not limited to anti-trans theocrats or trans-exclusive feminists or even the combination of the two.*1 In Shiv’s post “Who needs enemies…” we encounter the writing of a feminist who seems on the edge of making this error overtly more than once.

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A Timely Rebuttal to St. Anselm

We are, of course, all familiar with the ontological arguments of St. Anselm, in which he uses the existence of something greater than whatever you’re currently thinking about to prove that there must be a single greatest thing, because no one thing is ever greatest because there’s always something greater. Or something. I’m told it logics quite a bit, actually.

As one result of an unfortunate encounter for Anselm, over at Chainsawsuit by Kris Straub I found Anselm’s argument unfortunately demolished by a dick:  [Read more…]

Newsweek Shocked – Shocked! To Find Racism Happening In Dress Codes

I nearly laughed myself silly over this recent piece at Newsweek.com:

Two black female students attending a charter school in Massachusetts were recently kicked off their sports teams and prohibited from attending a prom because they wore their hair in braids. The Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden, about 9 miles from Boston, enforces a strict dress code preventing students from wearing their hair in any unnatural way, which includes braids.

Twin students Maya and Deanna Cook, African-American sophomores, told local news outlets they were first told to take their braids out two weeks ago by school officials. The girls’ adoptive mother, Colleen Cook, told Boston’s 25 News that she received a call from the school informing her that students weren’t allowed to wear “anything artificial or unnatural in their hair.”

“We told them there’s nothing wrong with their hair the way it is. Their hair is beautiful, there’s no correcting that needs to be done,” Colleen Cook said, adding that the hair policy seems to target only students of color, who wear their hair in braids or extensions reflecting their African-American culture.

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On the Corner: Postscript to a Beginning

Taking nothing away from the importance of the post on the birth of intersectionality, it was both a bit long, and it was focussed more on what Kimberlé Crenshaw thought than my thinking about her thoughts. There are some nuggets that I think are important, things that we will need to remember as we continue to explore Intersectionality. But I think they are best placed in this separate PostScript:

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On the Corner: The Birth of Intersectionality

Intersectionality as we know it today was given life by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor and social theorist. In the talk that brought the metaphor of the intersection into public discussion, she first noted:*1

in race discrimination cases, discrimination tends to be viewed in terms of sex- or class-privileged Blacks; in sex discrimination cases, the focus is on race- and class-privileged women.

She then explained some of the consequences of this:

This focus on the most privileged group members marginalizes those who are multiply-burdened and obscures claims that cannot be understood as resulting from discrete sources of discrimination. I suggest further that this focus on otherwise-privileged group members creates a distorted analysis of racism and sexism because the operative conceptions of race and sex become grounded in experiences that actually represent only a subset of a much more complex phenomenon

But why not simply include Black voices in feminism and women’s voices in anti-racism and call it good? For Crenshaw, it was because the effects of multiple oppressions are not merely linear increases, not merely additive.

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Modeling Gender & Sex Without a False Middle

There have been many attempts to create a model that simplifies gender, sex, and sexuality enough to easily communicate important concepts without either simplifying it so much that the concepts are lost altogether. Now that we know something about social models, let’s look at a model I shared some time back on Pharyngula’s (now obsolete) Thunderdome.

The model came up in response to the suggestion of the Genderbread Person as a teaching model. As I noted then in other words, the metaphor is not the concept, so all models will fail to communicate some aspects important to a concept. The question is whether there is a better metaphor available. As a teacher or someone attempting to articulate a concept, the responsibility is still on you to know the limits of the metaphor and be able to address questions, ambiguities, and extensions. If you aren’t aware of a metaphor’s limits and able to address them longhand, using any model is risky. If you are, any model is adequate, but the models that minimize those longhand conversations are better than ones that only somewhat reduce them.

It’s with this in mind that (many years ago) I abandoned the Genderbread Person and adopted a different model, one that permits a shorthand visual model to combat multiple myths at the same time.

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