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Feminism : From premises to prescriptions
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arvindiyer Offline
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Post: #1
Feminism : From premises to prescriptions

http://www.ted.com/talks/alice_dreger_is...stiny.html

Watching this talk was an education in its own right as it addresses the issue of 'anatomical determinism' which is in a way related to free-will debates, explains how social equality is facilitated by a naturalistic worldview, lays out terms of reference for new civil rights issues posed by scientific advances and revisits the conception of feminism.
(This post was last modified: 28-06-2011 11:13 AM by Lije.)
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Post: #2
RE: Alice Dreger: Is anatomy destiny?

Great talk. If you follow feminist blogs and activism these days, you'll see the prefixes cis and trans quite often. From a great 101 I bookmarked, titled Not Your Mom's Trans 101:

“Cisgender” is the term for people who have no issue with the gender that they were assigned at birth. For whatever reason, they are able to live somewhat comfortably within the gender in which they have been cast. No one really knows why so many people are capable of fitting into such arbitrary categories.

Transgender people cannot accept our assigned genders. We know ourselves to be something different than what we were told to be. We do not see the random gender scripts we were given by society as relevant to us. We know that there is a different way, a way of autonomy, self-creation, and self-definition, and that this is the way we must follow, because we can never be happy with the parameters that have been mandated for our behavior and our bodies.

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arvindiyer Offline
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Post: #3
RE: Alice Dreger: Is anatomy destiny?

In the concluding portion of the talk, an excerpt of which I transcribe below, the speaker addresses what she calls is a 'strange question' about feminism...

Quote:Well, just to close, I want to suggest to you that I've been talking a lot about the fathers. And I want to think about the possibilities of what democracy might look like, or might have looked like, if we had more involved the mothers. And I want to say something a little bit radical for a feminist. And that is that I think that there maybe different kinds of insights that can come from different kinds of anatomies, particularly when we have people thinking in groups.

Now for years since I've been interested in intersex I have also been interested in sex difference research. And one of the things I have been interested in is looking at the differences between males and females in terms of the way they think and operate in the world. And what we know from cross-cultural studies, is that females, on average -not everyone, but on average- are more inclined to be very attentive to complex social relations and to taking care of people who are basically vulnerable within the group. And if we think about that, we have an interesting situation in our hands.

Years ago, when I was in graduate school, one of my graduate advisors who knew I was interested in feminism and considered myself a feminist, as I still do, asked a really strange question. He said, "Tell me what is feminine about feminism." And then I thought, "Well that's the dumbest question I have ever heard. Feminism is all about undoing stereotypes about gender, so there's nothing feminine about feminism." But the more I thought about his question, the more I thought there might be something feminine about feminism. That is to say, there might be something, on average, different about female brains than male brains that makes us more attentive to deeply complex social relationships and more attentive to taking care of the vulnerable.So whereas the fathers were extremely attentive to figuring out how to protect individuals from the state, it's possible that if we injected more mothers into this concept, what we would have, is more of a concept of, not just how to protect, but how to care for each other.
(Emphases mine)

I am willing (and will be glad!) to be corrected on this, but this leaves me with an unsolved is-ought problem, which I have also raised before at greater length in this earlier thread. . That "A woman on average is more attentive to complex social relationships and sensitive to the needs of the vulnerable." is a fact proposition, while the value proposition that seems to be concluded on this basis is that "The State ought to have a concept not just of protecting the individual but of caring for each other." I am not for a moment conveying any opposition to this conclusion, but only saying that it must be justified on grounds besides fact claims about feminine behavioral predispositions, without committing a naturalistic fallacy, and clearly stating all the other premises that are necessary for this conclusion.

In short, can we identify and summarize the premises of feminism as compactly and cogently as Peter Singer summarizes the premises of his case for philanthropy?
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Nirmukt Centurion
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Post: #4
RE: Alice Dreger: Is anatomy destiny?

Good question, I'll give it some thought. I don't think it can be done as compactly, for the reason that feminism is really broad - there are many goals (which would be the value propositions you're talking about, correct?). For e.g.:

- not being discriminated against in the workplace
- having safe and easy access to birth control and abortion
- equal education
- equal pay
- better childcare support for parents
- not being marginalised in the media (e.g. Bechdel Test)
- dismantling patriarchy
- ending rape and promoting enthusiastic and effective consent
- ending street harassment
- ending victim-blaming
- and so on

We could build a case for each of these goals. There will be some overlap I'm sure, but I think breaking the question down like this would help.

Signing off for the night...
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Post: #5
RE: Alice Dreger: Is anatomy destiny?

Just read this this morning, made me want to scream: Indore doctors turn scores of baby girls into boys. It's the same "binary gender fallacy" that Alice Dreger spoke about:

About seven paediatric surgeons from Indore - who are associated with top private and government hospitals - perform these surgeries.

They say these operations are done on children whose internal organs do not match their external genitalia - most commonly, girls born with some internal male organs.

They claim a strict procedure is followed to determine the sex of the newborn, after which the external appearance of the child is changed to match the sex.
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arvindiyer Offline
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Post: #6
RE: Alice Dreger: Is anatomy destiny?

(27-06-2011 12:01 AM)unsorted Wrote:  ...there are many goals (which would be the value propositions you're talking about, correct?).

That's true, though only in a manner of speaking. What we value is what we will aim for, and in this sense a value declaration is like a goal declaration.

The following egregiously anti-feminist example will serve to illustrate the need to clearly identify 'value propositions' in such debates. Here is the case made by Islamic apologists for polygamy, by the late Ahmed Deedat here and by the ersatz Deedat of the day, Zakir Naik here rehashing the argument even more crudely.

By their sleight of tongue, this is how they would like the audience to view their argument:
(Sex ratios in nature are skewed towards females and that leaves 'surplus women' in a society.) ---> (Polygamy is the solution to ensure that everyone is legitimately partnered.)

These evangelists want to present the argument this way, stating a fact proposition in the beginning to create the appearance that their stance is wholly factually grounded.

Actually there is an implicit, unstated 'value proposition' (an 'ought' claim, italicized below) in their arguments which they pretend isn't there. Their argument really is:

(Sex ratios in nature are skewed towards females and that leaves 'surplus women' in a society.) + (Women are best off when united in wedlock with a man.) --->(Polygamy is the solution to ensure that everyone is legitimately partnered.)

While disagreeing with these arguments, what we must really call them out on is their value proposition and disagree with that by presenting our own value proposition "Women are best off when free to adopt a relationship status of their choosing." The fact proposition which the apologist insist their conclusion is based, is a fact proposition that is probably true and one that we agree with. The real trouble is with their value propositions. And that is one of the real problems with Sam Harris' seeming suggestion that all moral debates can reduced to fact propositions alone.

(27-06-2011 12:01 AM)unsorted Wrote:  1. not being discriminated against in the workplace
2. having safe and easy access to birth control and abortion
3. equal education
4. equal pay
5. better childcare support for parents
6. not being marginalised in the media (e.g. Bechdel Test)
7. dismantling patriarchy
8. ending rape and promoting enthusiastic and effective consent
9. ending street harassment
10. ending victim-blaming

I have numbered your list above for convenience. The list of goals, it seems, can broadly be classified into categories which may demand very different kinds of arguments:

Demands for equal opportunity: The items in the above list clearly and obviously belonging to this category are (1),(3),(4) and (6). Equal opportunity also includes equal access to redressal and thus item (10) also belongs here.
To make case for equal opportunity demands, we can draw on studies that point to no significant differences in the abilities of men and women in a given task (These would be fact propositions). Or we can go one further to suggest (in say, arguments for more women in the military) that despite seeming problems of 'fit', better representation of women will have a payoff in terms of other things we value, besides performance alone (These would be value propositions).

Demands for legitimate exceptions: The items in the above list that fit this category are (2), (5), (7) and (8). Fact propositions supporting such arguments are obvious facts from the biology of our species, like, say, maternity being more demanding and strenuous than paternity. Value propositions for such arguments are a society's conception of what a woman must be (eg. a 'commodity' in some tribalistic setups, a 'companion' in a perpetual support roles in liberal orthodox setup, an 'autonomous being' who need not be 'man-like' to be independent.)

(27-06-2011 12:01 AM)unsorted Wrote:  Just read this this morning, made me want to scream: Indore doctors turn scores of baby girls into boys. It's the same "binary gender fallacy" that Alice Dreger spoke about

Exercises at conceptual clarity like the one we have just begun seem are long overdue but seem pedantic in the face of outrages of the sort you report here.
(This post was last modified: 27-06-2011 10:51 PM by arvindiyer.)
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Post: #7
RE: Alice Dreger: Is anatomy destiny?

Just wondering - does this thread need to be renamed and/or moved?
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arvindiyer Offline
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Post: #8
RE: Alice Dreger: Is anatomy destiny?

(28-06-2011 12:25 AM)unsorted Wrote:  Just wondering - does this thread need to be renamed and/or moved?

I guess we can leave it to the admins' discretion. However a name like "Feminism : From premises to prescriptions" seems more descriptive and appropriate.

(28-06-2011 12:25 AM)unsorted Wrote:  1. not being discriminated against in the workplace
2. having safe and easy access to birth control and abortion
3. equal education
4. equal pay
5. better childcare support for parents
6. not being marginalised in the media (e.g. Bechdel Test)
7. dismantling patriarchy
8. ending rape and promoting enthusiastic and effective consent
9. ending street harassment
10. ending victim-blaming

The taxonomy suggested in post #6 for the above list at the very least serves the purpose of addressing typical questions like "How can you talk about special treatment when feminism was all about leveling the playing field?" However besides that theoretical framing, here is a listing of questions related to each item above which can be explored by recommending readings here. Or perhaps a series of articles can be spun off of this.

1. Do the bulk of the major employers in urban India, especially in the IT and BPO sector, have an 'office of diversity' which can exact compliance from all associates on requirements like 'harassment prevention training'?

2. Is it a feasible idea to have vending machines for contraceptives (which even globally are more readily accessible by men than women) in the Indian countryside and if not, what other culturally tailored access methods can we suggest?

3. While the mainstream media doesn't fail to run very predictable news headlines about how girls outnumber boys in the merit list of almost every conceivable exam, doesn't coverage of sex ratios in premier campuses and different academic disciplines and public awareness about the benefits of diversity leave a lot to be desired?

4. Do we have a summary of Indian labour laws vis-a-vis fairness in wages for women workers in different sectors and data on compliance of the same, as well as comparison with international standards?

5. How can we enhance and expand coverage of childcare support in both the private sector (which needs to go beyond cosmetic and ritualistic stunts like a 'Bring-your-kid-to-work' day at the office) and the public sector (in addition to traditional schemes like school-meal programmes which count as a sort of child care ) ?

6. How best can we raise consciousness about the Bechdel Test so that it is viewed as more generally applicable than just to movies, and arises unbidden in the minds of committee recruiters, magazine editors and event organizers of panel discussions and award functions ?

7. (a) Is there a consensus among feminists on issues like 33% reservation for women in the Indian Parliament and what is the whole menu of options open to consideration for bringing more women into traditionally patriarchal positions of influence?
(b) When patriarchy seems to enjoy constitutional sanction due to recognition of many 'personal laws', should the push for a Uniform Civil Code be one of the action items of Indian feminists?

8. How can we contribute to the recently initiated debate on the deterrent effectiveness of non-traditional punishments for rapists involving therapeutic interventions?

9. How do we enhance and expand coverage of security measures for women both outdoors and indoor in both the private sector (mandatory escorts etc.) and public sector (better policing with more woman staffers, more stringent legislation against domestic violence etc.)?

10. How do we bring clarity in the public imagination about 'suggested' versus 'enforceable' dress-codes and harness public outrage against moral vigilantism in these matters?

Well, putting the questions out there is the easy part. Possible uses of the above is as a questionnaire for expert guest contributors or as a list of article requests from contributors here!
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Post: #9
RE: Feminism : From premises to prescriptions

It's going to be a few days before I can get back to this thread... my head is spinning. smile

Btw I'm planning to do some of that "remedial reading" I've always wanted to do on philosophy. It seems that the field of ethics (and more specifically, normative ethics?) is relevant to this discussion. Is this a good place to start??
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arvindiyer Offline
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Post: #10
RE: Feminism : From premises to prescriptions

(28-06-2011 10:19 PM)unsorted Wrote:  It's going to be a few days before I can get back to this thread... my head is spinning. smile

Mine is too! Simply because I am unable to stop thinking about this for now and I might as well jot requests down before I forget them.

Speaking of articles, it will greatly help the likes of me to read an article entitled something like "Why I am a feminist" along the likes of the many "Why I am a ______" and "Why I am not a _____" articles common in our circles. In particular it would be nice if this article addresses and pre-empts questions like "Why feminism? Isn't humanism enough?" and how the feminism we support is a 'secular feminism' like 'secular humanism' unlike some forms of 'religious feminism' which are inordinately obsessed with the right of women to choose medieval outfits to the exclusion of some many other obviously more important rights.

(28-06-2011 10:19 PM)unsorted Wrote:  Btw I'm planning to do some of that "remedial reading" I've always wanted to do on philosophy. It seems that the field of ethics (and more specifically, normative ethics?) is relevant to this discussion. Is this a good place to start??

Good luck on your sabbatical! You seem to have found an excellent resource which can serve as remedial reading (or 'refresher reading') for the rest of us as well!
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Post: #11
RE: Feminism : From premises to prescriptions

Regarding the article suggestion "Why am I a Feminist" - one could even subvert it, and educate by answering a different question: When will you Stop being a Feminist?. It'll stick in people's minds more. And we could use sarcasm to hammer the point home - e.g.

- If it turns out that women actually love being street-harassed - they've been lying all along, ha ha!
- When women reveal that self-determination is overrated, and they'd like less please, not more.
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Post: #12
RE: Alice Dreger: Is anatomy destiny?

(27-06-2011 08:16 AM)unsorted Wrote:  Just read this this morning, made me want to scream: Indore doctors turn scores of baby girls into boys. It's the same "binary gender fallacy" that Alice Dreger spoke about:

I saw this in The Hindu a couple of days ago. I'd like to stress that the fact doesn't in any way affect the focus of this thread and any conclusions made in that regard.

"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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