Sunday, September 30, 2007

More on supporting breastfeeding

More than just about anything else, feminism supports increasing the choices that are available to women (just as other liberatory movements increase freedoms and the availability of choice).

I would not, therefore, advocate exclusive breastfeeding as always the best choice for every mother and infant. But in today's context, breastfeeding is not always available as a choice for mothers, often because they must work and their employers do not provide them with time and private space to express milk.

Mothers are also denied information about the health benefits of breastfeeding and advice on how to succeed in getting started.

A Mothering article cites health benefits
to infants that include lowering the risk of respiratory tract infections by 72% and lowering the risk of ear infections by 50%.
Breastfeeding reduces a mother's risk of ovarian cancer by 21% and breast cancer by 28%.
In spite of this, only 16% of American mothers breastfeed exclusively for 6 months, which is the current pediatric recommendation.

Cesarean sections make breastfeeding harder on mothers, and the rate of C-sections has climbed from 5% in 1970 to about 30% today.

Finally, selling formula is big business, both in the U.S. and abroad. Peggy O'Mara reports that political coercion and false advertising is used to discourage mothers from breastfeeding.

Friday, September 28, 2007

CFP: 2nd Conference Society for Analytical Feminism


Call for Papers
2nd Conference
Society for Analytical Feminism
April 4-6, 2008
University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY
Sponsored by
the University of Kentucky, Office of the Dean, College of Arts and Sciences
and the Vice President for Research

The Society of Analytical Feminism is sponsoring a conference in Lexington, KY, April 4-6, 2008. The Society invites the submission of papers that address feminist issues in any area of philosophy, including philosophy of language, philosophy of science, metaphysics, race theory, normative ethics, metaethics, Kantian ethics, social and political philosophy, philosophy of law, Ancient philosophy, rational choice theory, and epistemology. The general theme of the conference is an examination of the relationship between analytical feminism and these areas of philosophy, including contributions that analytic feminist philosophy has made to these areas and ways in which it may have changed approaches to problems in these areas.

Invited speakers are:

Louise Antony (U. Mass, Amherst)
Ann Cudd (U. Kansas)
Robin Dillon (Lehigh U.)
Julia Driver (Dartmouth College)
Ann Garry (Cal State, L.A.)
Sally Haslanger (MIT)
Miriam Solomon (Temple U.)
Mariam Thalos (U. Utah)
Charlotte Witt (U. New Hampshire)
Alison Wylie (U. Washington)

Papers should be about 20 minutes reading time (about 10-12 pages), prepared for blind review, and submitted by email to the conference organizers Anita Superson ( Sharon Crasnow ( by NOVEMBER 1, 2007. For further information, please contact Anita or Sharon.

PSA CFP and PSA Women's Caucus

The Philosophy of Science Association meets every two years and is next meeting in Pittsburgh, November 6 - 9 2008. The CFP for contributed papers is below, and the deadline is February 1, 2008.

PSA has long been a highly respected philosophical organization. Philosophy of science has a larger number of practitioners than, say, philosophy of art or philosophy of technology. And in some circles it is considered more prestigious (some might say elitist) than research areas such as practical ethics or pragmatism.

Philosophy of science (the subject area) and PSA (the organization) have also, in recent years, been criticized as not being sufficiently progressive, practical, inclusive, or original. Several recent books have contributed to this perception: John McCumber's Time in the Ditch, George Reisch's How the Cold War Transformed Philosophy of Science: To the Icy Slopes of Logic, and Nicholas Maxwell's several books.

PSA meetings remain essential for young philosophers of science, and the programs are stimulating. But the 2006 meeting rejected more submitted papers than it accepted, which created some resentment among members. That conference program featured female-authored papers as a lower percentage of the total than the background rate of women in philosophy (which is about 20%, although women's PSA membership may actually be lower than 20%). Authors of journal articles in Philosophy of Science, too, are less than 20% female.

In response to what has been perceived as a climate for women that is, if not actually chilly, then somewhat cool, a Women's Caucus was formed in 2006. Their goal is to foster mentoring for young women philosophers of science and also to influence the organization to broaden the scope of the discipline to welcome feminist and other new approaches. Check out the extensive website which includes fun pictures and helpful links!

Here's the CFP for PSA 2008:

Call for Papers: Philosophy of Science Association

Twenty-First Biennial Meeting: November 6-9, 2008
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Members of the Philosophy of Science Association (PSA) are invited to submit papers to be presented at the PSA 2008 meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on November 6-9. Contributed papers may be on any topic in the philosophy of science. The PSA 2008 Program Committee will strive for quality, variety, innovation, and diversity on the program. We encourage papers in both traditional and novel areas of philosophy of science.

The deadline for paper submissions is February 1, 2008. Some papers will be accepted for both presentation at the PSA 2008 meeting and publication in a supplementary issue of Philosophy of Science; other papers will be accepted just for presentation. Both types of accepted paper will be electronically published prior to the meeting. In each case, the Program Committee expects to make its decision by May, 2008. Final versions of all papers accepted for publication must be submitted by January 15, 2009.

The maximum manuscript length is 5,000 words, including footnotes and references. If the text includes tables or figures, an appropriate number of words should be subtracted from the limit. Submissions must include a 100-word abstract and a word count. Format and citation style should match those of the journal Philosophy of Science (see for details). Submissions should be prepared for blind review, with no identifying information in the body of the paper or abstract. (See for guidelines about blinding papers.)

Authors of accepted papers are expected to present abbreviated versions of their papers, with a time limit of twenty minutes.

Papers must be electronically submitted at

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Breastfeeding rights update

In an appeal, Sophie Currier has won an accommodation of extra time for expressing breast milk during her Medical Board exam.

The appellate judge wrote that under the previous ruling, she would have to
use her break time to incompletely express breast milk and ignore her bodily functions, or abdicate her decision to express breast milk, resulting in significant pain.

He also wrote that ignoring her status as a lactating mother placed her at a "significant disadvantage in comparison to her peers."

The decision goes beyond the immediate context to publicize the medical and social imperative to support breastfeeding and to support women who choose to both be mothers and work outside the home.

Further thoughts are in this earlier post.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

CFP: "Recoupling Genre and Gender"

A CFP for a special issue of the journal Angelaki is below.

The theme raises questions that include whether and how philosophy (or certain areas or styles in philosophy) are masculine, and if so, whether it is their masculine qualities that contribute to those areas of inquiry being pursued by more males than females.

For example, Jender has noted that software which presumes to guess an author's gender generally pegs analytic philosophy as male, no matter the actual gender of the author. The style expectations in analytic philosophy mimic typical male speech/writing patterns.

This raises some of the same issues as the silly literature on whether boys are naturally good at math, or whether the fact that they receive more instruction and more instructor attention has something to do with it. We analytic philosophers apparently learn which writing style is appropriate. Are women in general taught that a particular writing style is the one with which they are expected to express themselves?

Here's the cfp:

Recoupling Genre and ‘Gender’

Edited by Moira Gatens

Theme Issue for Angelaki: journal of theoretical humanities

Proposed publication date: December 2008

Questions about genre always raise questions of tradition, authority and exclusion. What justifies the judgement that one text is ‘philosophical’, another ‘literary’, and yet another ‘historical’? And
how might these broad ‘genre’ distinctions play out in the realm of gender? Is literary production ‘feminised’ in relation to a ‘masculinised’ philosophy? And what can be said about the gendering of
genres within disciplines?

For example:

· Writing the history of ‘Great Men’ and ‘Great Events’ is the preserve of men whereas social histories, that require an ‘eye for detail’ and the ‘everyday’, are suited to the special talents of women.
· Metaphysics and Epistemology are at the ‘science’ end of philosophy, whereas moral and social philosophy is at the ‘humanities’ end and so more suited to women.
· Epic poetry, high tragedy, and wide-ranging, ‘big picture’, creations are the literary preserve of men; women’s genre is the novel and the short story, both of which suit women’s talents in representing the
everyday and domesticity.

Perhaps these platitudes do little more than rearticulate the claim that Man is able to grasp the 'universal' whereas woman’s preserve is the ‘particular’? Recent scholarship, across the disciplines, has questioned both how these disciplines (history, philosophy, and literature) relate to each other and the way in which ‘gender’ has been coupled with particular genres of writing.

This special issue of Angelaki aims to bring together an interdisciplinary group of scholars in order to reconsider ways in which the genre and gender question has been configured in recent theory. It seeks innovative reformulations of the genre-gender relation that emphasise the ways in which this relation is intimately tied to specific social norms and particular institutions in a variety of cultural, historical and political contexts. To this end, the papers will explore the specificity of the discursive relationship between various ‘coupled’ authors as well as the way in which the reception of their writings may have changed over time. (The ‘coupled’ authors might include: Wollstonecraft and Godwin, George Eliot and G.H. Lewes, Virgina Woolf and Vita Sackville West, Mary Shelley and P.B. Shelley, Heidegger and Arendt, Delueze and Guattari). The overriding aim is to move towards a 'recoupling' of genre and gender that acknowledges the full force of the range of institutions and social and historical conventions at work in genre allocation.

The upper limit for submissions is 10,000 words but shorter pieces are welcome. Please follow MLA style and submit papers electronically (in Word format) to

Deadline for submission: 15 April 2008.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Carnival of Feminists #45

Thanks to Jender and the Feminist Philosophers for sponsoring Carnival of Feminists no. 45!

And also, for posting an update on the breastfeeding rights case.

Sophie Currier has had her day in court, and she lost. Boston Globe article here, and Sophie Currier's "Accomodate Nursing" blog is here.

As Jender notes, the comments on the case all around are mixed and sometimes dismaying, including those at the MomsRising site I've linked to.
What are the issues raised?

1. Ignorance.
How many people know what pumping milk is like except by having pumped? For one thing, there is a lot of variability in how long it takes mothers to set up the pump, relax enough to have the milk flow, pump the milk, restore one's dress and composure, store the milk, and clean the apparatus. Twenty to thirty minutes is not unrealistic. How often also depends on the mother and on the age of the baby, but once every three to four hours is about right.

2. Fairness.
Is it fair that one test-taker should receive more breaks or a longer time to take the test than another? First, I do not see why it is relevant that Dr. Currier has an accomodation for another reason that is unrelated to this reason.
Second, if the test is set up so that a score below a certain level is failing while a higher score passes, then she is competing against the test, not against other test-takers. The question is whether she is competent to practice medicine, not whether she is more or less competent than the person sitting to her right.

3. Privacy
One proposal was that she be allowed to pump but not in private. That is ridiculous. At the same time that breastfeeding privacy was being questioned in this case, there have been several recent cases in which a mother was thrown off of a plane (Delta Airlines) for breastfeeding and a mother was asked to cover up at Appleby's. It now sounds as though Dr. Currier will be offered a private room.

4. Mothers and work
A frequent comment is that mothers should not expect that they can both breastfeed a child and be employed outside the home. To Dr. Currier, the courts have essentially sent this message, saying that she should plan to take the test when she's done breastfeeding. What can I say to this? Where can I even start?
But the reality of course is that some jobs are not easily compatible with breastfeeding or mothering. Dr. Currier says she did try to take this into account. It is the reason she had children while in medical school rather than wait until her residency.
So what this court decision comes down to is that it pressures women with young children to stay home with them.

5. Support breastfeeding
Since foregoing employment is simply not an option for many women, either because they need earnings to support their family or because they are heavily invested in a profession (academia, medicine, law) which prevents women from taking time off, this court decision effectively discourages women from breastfeeding. The current medical recommendation is to nurse babies for a minimum of one year. WHO recommends nursing for two years. The public sphere in the US needs to catch up with these recommendations.

Doubting Research on Genes and Gender

Thanks to Khadimir for asking my thoughts on John Ioannidis' finding that a majority of scientific claims about sex-based genetic differences between men and women are poorly supported. Here's the news report in Science.

The paper, published in JAMA, reviewed published claims about the genetic basis for sex differences in ailments such as hypertension, schizophrenia and heart attacks. Ioannidis found that the claims were, for the most part, overstated or the support for them was undocumented.

The Wall Street Journal quotes Dr. Ioannidis:
"People are messing around with the data to find anything that seems significant, to show they have found something that is new and unusual."

In defense of the peer-reviewed research:
1. Sometimes it does take "messing around with data" to uncover leads for future research.
2. Sometimes the data that would support a claim is not all contained within the published report, but this doesn't mean that the claim is false.
3. The process of peer review and responding to editor's suggestions sometimes stretches claims.
4. That few of the results have been replicated is not surprising. Researchers do not get credit for replicating someone else's findings. The proof comes in using the results as the basis for more research.

What Ioannidis is right to point out:
1. The pressure to publish can lead to stretched claims even when there is no outright fraud, and it can lead to trivial results reported as though they are on a stonger footing than they actually are.
2. In medical research, perhaps replication is more important than in some other areas of science.
3. Philip Kitcher has argued that in areas of science where the results most immediately impact human well-being (such as in medicine), scientists should pay more attention to how "well-ordered" their projects are. Are they pursuing a project only for the sake of getting the next grant? Or does it contribute to what we want and need to know? I take it that part of Ioannidis' concern is that researchers comb their results to find anything that passes the test of statistical significance, regardless of whether or not it tells us something worth knowing. This, then, could explain why so few results are replicated and so few false results are retracted. In this light, what Ioannidis raises is a concern not of truth and falsity but of efficiency.

Finally, I don't think it is particularly suspicious that it is sex-linked claims that were studied--even though sex-linked claims have been the target of feminist critique, e.g. by Anne Fausto-Sterling. The same sort of dynamic is true of other genetic research (and I believe Ioannidis has done similar surveys in epidemiology). However, it is worth thinking about the amount of money that is poured into this sort of research. For some of the diseases studied, such as hypertension, we have quite a lot of understanding about treatment and prevention but still don't treat and prevent for other reasons, such as the shameful lack of access to health insurance in the U.S.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Future of Naturalism conference

No weekend plans? It's not too late to decide to attend the conference on "The Future of Naturalism" at The Center for Inquiry in Amherst, NY tomorrow through Saturday! The conference is co-sponsored with the University at Buffalo's Philosophy Department, and it features an all-star cast of epistemologists and associated philosophers.

Some planned highlights:
Laura Purdy on naturalism, religion, and sexual ethics
Ron Giere on naturalism and secularism
Hilary Kornblith on naturalism and knowledge
Lynn Hankinson Nelson on social epistemology as naturalized epistemology
Akeel Bilgrami on naturalism and philosophy of mind
Charlene Haddock Seigfried on pragmatism and naturalism
and many more...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Were we ever postmodern?

It seems that now whenever I see references to postmodern philosophy they are in the past tense:
"The postmodernist agenda was..."
"An attraction of postmodernist philosophy was that it..."
"There is much worth retaining from postmodernism..."
Postmodernism is alive, well, and current according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (though note that the cited texts were mostly written in the 1980s). But the present tense and the past tense are at battle on the Wikipedia sites for Postmodernism and Postmodern Philosophy. Is postmodernism alive or deceased? The copy on wiki sites is subject to change, but right now the tense confusion has produced this:
"[Davidson] argued that truth was not about getting it right...but was part of a social practice, and language was what served our purposes in a particular time."
(This use of the past tense seems to make it impossible to say anything about truth in general and to talk only about the intent of past truth-claims. But maybe, for a postmodernist, that's the point.)

When I was an undergraduate I identified with postmodernism. It was the movement of the times, so how could I not? I read Feminism/Postmodernism, edited by Linda Nicholson, and was especially motivated by her introductory essay and by Sandra Harding's article on "Feminism, Science, and the Anti-Enlightenment Critiques." I heard the feminist worry that perhaps postmodernism, by dismissing grand narratives, would also be dismissive of feminism. But I thought that sounded like a mere technical problem.

I read Foucault, and I read Nancy Fraser on Foucault. I thought postmodernism was about identifying power, calling it out, and then getting on with the business of using theory to smooth the way for progressive political change. I thought that the critical, disillusioning technique of postmodernism would be a useful one.

What I did not realize was that postmodernism's critique of reason was powerful but blunt. Its success was such that it was not able to carve away at a problem, exposing the power relations, exposing the ideologies, and revealing the questions of justice and knowledge that would yield to moral argument and empirical inquiry. It cuts and cuts and cuts until nothing is left.

The problem is that research into social relations, power dynamics, and ideological influence can never turn up negative results. If the problem with the modernism that postmodernism opposed was that history and intellectual development in the West was a monotonous story of the revealing of Reason through the ages, then the problem with postmodernism was the converse. Postmodernism is also monotone. Ideology and power relations always have an influence.

Philosophy is still working out how to distinguish the influence of reason from the influence of power, or better, how these interact. I think many areas of philosophy are at work on this. Social epistemology, feminist epistemology and philosophy of science, pragmatism, social and political theory, philosophy of technology, applied ethics.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA)

My Congressional Rep., Louise Slaughter, sponsored a House Bill to protect Americans from workplace and insurance discrimination based on their genetic profile. Currently, there is no certain legal protection against such discrimination. One result is that people are discouraged from being genetically tested when knowing test results might help them to better prepare for or treat a genetic disease. In addition, if the hopes of some medical researchers for "personalized medicine" pan out, genetic testing would play an even more important role in preventive treatment. (I'm putting on hold other concerns we may have about personalized medicine.)

GINA is the result of over a decade of work and advocacy. The need for such a bill was raised already in the early 1990s. It passed the House in April with overwhelming support--the vote was 420 to 3.

There is also support for the bill in the Senate and from the President. However, Senator Coburn from Oklahoma has used Senate rules to place a "hold" on the bill, which prevents the Senate from voting on it.

There is more information here and here.
And Representative Slaughter has a petition to sign here.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Breastfeeding-ignore it and it will go away?

The New York Times is reporting on the case of Dr. Sophie Currier, a breastfeeding mother who has gone to court to ask for extra break time during her medical boards to pump milk. Apparently, since breastfeeding is not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is not a valid reason for being given extra break time. The medical boards, by the way, are a 9-hour exam. She has been given the same amount of break time as other test-takers and is allowed to pump breastmilk during that time in a monitored room with glass walls. (For anyone who has not had the experience of pumping milk, it is time-consuming and awkward, and if a breastfeeding mother does not do it, she will be in pain.)

While the board is unwilling to grant Dr. Currier privacy, they claim their privacy policy prevents them from commenting on the case.

The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly supports breastfeeding from a medical standpoint. Apparently, though, the medical profession does not support this recommendation for their own members.

The Times writes that “The case…is a harbinger of what could be a growing problem.”

Why does the Times think this will be a “growing problem”? Because more women are studying medicine! And because these future doctors are following the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation to breastfeed!

Pesky women. Why don’t they realize it’s either motherhood or career but not both? Next thing you know, they’ll be demanding unreasonable things like maternity leave.

More info and an opportunity for action are at MomsRising.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Disturbing Landscapes

Over at Politics, Theory & Photography, Jim Johnson has posted some haunting photos of once-beautiful landscapes. Documenting uses and abuses of land shows sights that are often hidden from roads and other sight lines.

I would not say that industrial use of the land is always bad. There are dolomite mines in a suburb not far from my house that are hidden behind berms. We need roadbeds, no doubt about it, and I am also glad that the mines are hidden from sight. But there are huge differences in degree between a limestone pit and these images.

Photographs like these move us in ways that words alone, I think, cannot. To see clear cuts in person is even more shocking.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Women Philosophers Website

Kate Lindemann has done some impressive work in setting up a website honoring women who have made contributions to philosophy throughout history and around the globe, from ancient times to the present. The Women Philosophers website chronicles the history of women in philosophy. It gives information about their lives and their works. Many excerpts are included, as well as links to websites with additonal or related information. This site is a magnificent resource for researchers, students, teachers, and others who are interested in the important role that women have played in intellectual history.

The research that went into this website is especially appreciated because the list of notable women in history goes beyond the few that are commonly mentioned as figures of the European Renaissance and Enlightenment, such as Christine de Pisan, Princess Christina of Sweden, and Olympe de Gouges. The women that are included expressed their thoughts not only through discursive writing but also through stories, plays, and poems.

The Women Philosophers website also solicits suggestions for other philosophers who may be included on the site and research about them. You can learn about contributing here.

Many thanks to Dr. Lindemann for setting up this resource!

An interview with Kate Lindemann at the Florida Student Philosophy Blog.