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Russell Means in Memoriam: Mitaku Oyasin October 25, 2012

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Culture, Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Philosophy of Gender, Political Philosophy, Teaching.
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Many of my students have heard me talk about Russell Means over the years. A complex man in complicated times, believing he saw a simpler solution to the culture war he believed still existed between the American Indian communities and mainstream America. A man who had his own vision, and sometimes version, of history. Russell Means passed away October 22 from throat cancer, and the spectrum of Americans in the public eye has lost a unique dimension.

So who was Russell Means? An Oglala Sioux Indian, with many different facets to his life. The American Indian activist Means was the chief organizer of the second Wounded Knee uprising in 1973, and was involved in various American Indian movements. His activist accomplishments are outlined here. The politician Russell Means ran as the vice presidential candidate to Larry Flynt’s presidential candidacy in 1983, and ran against Ron Paul as the Libertarian presidential candidate in 1987 (Paul won). The actor Russell Means was a significant Hollywood presence, playing the iconic character Chingachgook in the 1992 movie The Last of the Mohicans—and provided a special ambiance to the 2004 season of the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. His film credits are numerous, as you can see on the Wikipedia site. The businessman Russell Means ran a website where he told his story, and the story of the plight of the American Indian, and sold CDs, art and t-shirts in support of the American Indian cause. And (this is where my connection to him comes in) the lecturer Russell Means would travel around the United States to college campuses, educating new generations of students to what became his own version of American Indian history. He was a speaker at San Diego Mesa College in the 1990s, and that was where I met him. (And I should also mention: the private citizen Russell Means had domestic problems, and was arrested for assault and battery toward his father-in-law back on the Navajo reservation. And he had more severe legal problems earlier on when he was indicted for murder on a reservation, but acquitted.)  And his image is familiar to Andy Warhol fans–Warhol painted Means 18 times.

But back to the lecturer persona. I wish I could tell you exactly when Means visited the Mesa College campus, but I don’t see any references to his visit on the Mesa College website, and all I remember is that it was in the early years when I was first teaching Philosophy of Women; so: the late 1990s. He was scheduled to give a talk in the room behind the cafeteria, and I decided to bring one of my classes to the talk. The room was packed with people, sitting on chairs, standing, sitting on the floor, and Means, 6 ft tall or more, hair in braids, was a very imposing sight, and a gifted speaker. Well, he kept on talking past the class period, and I ran back to the classroom and collected the students waiting for my next class, and brought them down to the cafeteria; Means was still talking. And he kept on talking for a good four hours, about what it is like to be an American Indian, about his battles and his careers, about American Indian traditions, about discrimination and near-genocide, and about the term “Indian” itself. He shocked most of us PC college people by declaring that he didn’t mind being called an Indian, and that the proper term to use was either “American Indian” or the tribal name such as Oglala Sioux Indian, but never Native American. He said it was a term invented by Washington for funding/political purposes (which is why I, to this day—and my students and readers of my books can verify that—always use the term American Indian). And the term Indian itself? Wikipedia (below) got his argument right, but whether it is also historically correct is something I can’t determine (and I have yet to find a historian who agrees with Means): 

Since the late 20th century, there has been a debate in the United States over the appropriate term for the indigenous peoples of North America. Some want to be called Native American; others prefer American Indian. Means said that he preferred “American Indian”, arguing that it derives not from explorers’ confusion of the people with those of India, but from the Italian expression in Dio, meaning “in God”.[17][18] In addition, Means noted that since treaties and other legal documents in relation to the United States government use “Indian”, continuing use of the term could help today’s American Indian people forestall any attempts by others to use legal loopholes in the struggle over land and treaty rights.

In addition he talked about what I referred to above as a culture war between the mainstream Euro-American tradition and the American Indian peoples. He said, the Euro-Americans are a culture of swords and violent domination, while the American Indians are a sharing culture, a culture of partnerships symbolized by a bowl or drinking cup. At that point my ears perked up, because I had just been reading Riane Eisler’s book The Chalice and the Blade, about the ancient gynocentric (female-oriented) partnership cultures of Old Europe symbolized by the chalice, vs the invading patriarchal dominator cultures worshipping the “lethal Blade.” So I asked Means if there was a connection, and he said, “Yes, there is this woman who wrote a book about the same phenomenon in Europe, and it fits the situation in this country between the indigenous peoples and the invaders. ” From from a gender-philosophical standpoint I found it fascinating that he would adopt the Eisler theory as an explanatory model for the American Indian culture (even if Eisler is also considered an activist and in no way a historian).  I tend to be skeptical of such arguments which tend to simplify very complex matters, and fan an ongoing (and possibly outdated) tension and enmity, and I see no reason to find Eisler’s theory more historically accurate because of the fact that Means liked it, but I found the confluence of research, activism and tradition to be intriguing.  If you want to experience him talking about the topic of partnership cultures and gynocentric (matriarchal) cultures, watch this YouTube clip.

Means ended his 4-hour lecture at Mesa by teaching his audience the end of every Oglala and Lakota prayer: two words that embrace all of creation, everywhere and for all time: Mitaku Oyasin: We are all related. And while much of his lecture was, to a scholar such as myself, a creative journey into personal interpretations rather than facts (and sometimes interpretations that were hard to swallow), his passionate sincerity rang true, and has stayed with me as a cherished memory. And his prayer still comes to mind sometimes when I’m looking for connections and common ground rather than analytical differences. So: Thanks for the lessons, Russell, and Mitaku Oyasin…

Cross-posted at Rosenstand’s Alternative Voice blog for Rosenstand’s Mesa students.


Time to Rethink the Concept of Sexual Harassment? November 13, 2011

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Current Events, Ethics, Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Philosophy of Gender.
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I came across an interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times: “In Favor of Dirty Jokes and Risqué Remarks,” by Katie Roiphe. The title alone made me do a double-take, especially since I’ve been having second thoughts about recently deleting a box on sexual harassment from the upcoming 7th edition of The Moral of the Story. The debate just seemed so “Nineties” to me, and here we are in the second decade of a new century; surely we’ve come a longer way than that, Baby? And then the Cain story unfolds, and all of a sudden sexual harassment is in the news again. Apparently I’m not the only one who experienced a temporary time warp: According to Roiphe,

After all these years, we are again debating the definition of unwanted sexual advances and parsing the question of whether a dirty joke in the office is a crime. Conservatives have mocked the seriousness of sexual harassment; liberal and mainstream pundits have largely reverted to the pieties of the early ’90s, with the addition of some bloggy irony about irrelevant old men just not getting it.

The truth is, our Puritan country loves the language of sexual harassment: it lets us be enlightened and sexually conservative, modern and judgmental, sensitive and disapproving, voyeuristic and correct all at the same time.

…The problem is, as it always was, the capaciousness of the concept, the umbrellalike nature of the charge: sexual harassment includes both demanding sex in exchange for a job or a comment about someone’s dress. The words used in workshops — “uncomfortable,” “inappropriate,” “hostile” — are vague, subjective, slippery. Feminists and liberal pundits say, with some indignation, that they are not talking about dirty jokes or misguided compliments when they talk about sexual harassment, but, in fact, they are: sexual harassment, as they’ve defined it, encompasses a wide and colorful spectrum of behaviors.

The creativity and resourcefulness of the definitions, the broadness and rigor of the rules and codes, have always betrayed their more Orwellian purpose: when I was at Princeton in the ’90s, the guidelines distributed to students about sexual harassment stated, “sexual harassment may result from a conscious or unconscious action, and can be subtle or blatant.” It is, of course, notoriously hard to control one’s unconscious, and one can behave quite hideously in one’s dreams, but that did not deter the determined scolds.

If this language was curiously retrograde in the early ’90s, if it harkened back to the protection of delicate feminine sensibilities in an era when that protection was patently absurd, it is even more outdated now when women are yet more powerful and ascendant in the workplace. In her brilliant and enduring critique of the women’s movement in 1972, Joan Didion wrote that certain strains of feminism were based on the idea of women as “creatures too ‘tender’ for the abrasiveness of daily life, too fragile for the streets… too ‘sensitive’ for the difficulties and ambiguities of adult life.”

And, in fact, the majority of women in the workplace are not tender creatures and are largely adept at dealing with all varieties of uncomfortable or hostile situations. Show me a smart, competent young professional woman who is utterly derailed by a verbal unwanted sexual advance or an inappropriate comment about her appearance, and I will show you a rare spotted owl.

Roiphe concludes by suggesting that we get back to living life dangerously with the risk of exposure to bawdy lingo. Regardless of the Herman Cain situation which is anything but clear at the moment, she brings up some interesting points: Perhaps women in the ’80s and ’90s needed protection from the Old Boys’ Network which was still intact and powerful, but can’t a woman simply speak up for herself today if she feels bothered by someone’s attention? We’re not being protected from rudeness in general, or office manipulation, so why this puritan focus on sexual harassment, which has ended up being a matter of perception rather than intention?

I think most of us who feel capable of speaking up for ourselves feel that we could probably handle a return to the days when a compliment on a dress, even if equivocal, wasn’t reason for suspension. But a couple of things should be taken into consideration before we return to the dirty jokes and cute compliments: that, for one  thing, the power structure where sexual harassment—the innuendos and sly glances, and “accidental” unwelcomed touches—was a matter of intimidation is still in effect in many workplaces. And a woman may not feel shy about speaking up to her peers in the workplace,  but it is still another thing entirely to remonstrate with the boss. And then, when you add the fact (also quoted by Roiphe) that,

A study recently released by the American Association of University Women shows that nearly half of students in grades 7 through 12 have experienced sexual harassment. Their definition is “unwelcome sexual behavior that takes place in person or electronically.”

In other words, for young people who have not been through the Nineties with their sensitivity training and so forth, and without any instruction about what is appropriate and what is not, sexual harassment as intimidation runs rampant. So yes, we have come further than the Nineties, those of us who remember, and some of the concerns of the past may seem petty and overbearing now. But that doesn’t mean the discussion was for naught, or that it should be abandoned today. There is a new clueless generation on the way, with social networks, texting, and a plethora of new ways of being nasty to each other, but sex has always been available as a power tool. It should be possible, today,  to distinguish between shy attempts at getting someone’s attention at work or at school, or simply friendly remarks, and manipulation using sexual harassment as a weapon. I think I’ll consider putting the section back into the 7th edition of The Moral of the Story

Genderless, or Clueless? May 24, 2011

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Current Events, Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Philosophy of Gender, Philosophy of Human Nature.
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First of all, Hi everybody—sorry I’ve been so quiet lately. Just finishing the stacks of papers to be graded, and other work to be completed before the summer—it’s been a busy semester. Good classes, good discussions, but very little energy left over for blogging. I have, however, been tweeting! You can find my tweets under “@Socalethicsprof.”

Next, the story: I read it this morning, and it has been poking at me ever since: A family in Toronto has made a decision which seems to me right out of the Seventies (yes, I remember them well): they are raising their third baby without telling anyone his/her gender.

“When the baby comes out, even the people who love you the most and know you so intimately, the first question they ask is, ‘Is it a girl or a boy?’” says Witterick, bouncing Storm, dressed in a red-fleece jumper, on her lap at the kitchen table.

“If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs,” says Stocker.

When Storm was born, the couple sent an email to friends and family: “We’ve decided not to share Storm’s sex for now — a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime (a more progressive place? …).”

It seems to me that the parents are trying to do two different things, and they aren’t necessarily compatible: For one thing, they’re trying to educate the world about its knee-jerk ways of gender assumptions. Well, that’s been attempted since the 1960s, and while it is a noble thought—and I’ve done my share of attempting to Educate the World over the years, giving my cousins’ and friends’ babies stuffed toys and farm animal figures instead of dolls and toy trucks, and choosing green and yellow baby clothes instead of pinks and blues—you’re up against 100,000 years of Homo Sapiens stereotypes. And it is somewhat naive of the parents to think they can put a dent in hardwired human nature. However, things have changed since the mid-20th century, and gender roles have become more flexible, due to new ideals and a willingness to be nonconformist. But the other side to their project seems to me far less noble, and mostly self-serving: They are trying to force Storm into a mold that they consider politically preferable: a world where gender roles are a matter of choice. They’re waiting to see what kind of person s/he will choose to be—but after the sad case of David Reimer in the 1990s and other failed attempts at enforcing the psychosexual neutrality theory, haven’t we all had to realize that a fair amount of sexual identity is hardwired? In other words, Storm will discover who s/he is, not choose it, and no amount of societal pressure from people making assumptions about her/his gender is going to make a bit of difference. I’m afraid the only thing the parents will accomplish is turning their child into a social experiment. In a way all of us, as children, have of course been social experiments, and most of us have turned out fairly well-functioning, but part of being a child is being allowed to feel safe, and to belong. Children are hungry for rules and predictability, and little Storm is being set up so s/he will be the oddball of whatever community s/he will be a part of. Choice is great, but not until one is mature enough to know what one is choosing.

A psychologist, Diane Ehrensaft, author of Gender Born, Gender Made, has some good comments to the story:

Ehrensaft believes there is something innate about gender, and points to the ’70s, when parents experimented by giving dolls to boys and trucks to girls.

“It only worked up to a certain extent. Some girls never played with the trucks, some boys weren’t interested in ballet … It was a humbling experiment for us because we learned we don’t have the control that we thought we did.”

But she worries by not divulging Storm’s sex, the parents are denying the child a way to position himself or herself in a world where you are either male, female or in between. In effect they have created another category: Other than other. And that could marginalize the child.

“I believe that it puts restrictions on this particular baby so that in this culture this baby will be a singular person who is not being given an opportunity to find their true gender self, based on also what’s inside them.”

Ehrensaft gets the “What the heck?!” reaction people may have when they hear about Storm. “I think it probably makes people feel played with to have that information withheld from them.”

As Socrates would say, a well-balanced person is not just someone who understands himself or herself, but who also is a well-adjusted citizen. You can’t become a well-adjusted citizen in a world where other people think you’re trying to fool them…

The Art of Talking and Listening November 22, 2010

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Philosophy of Gender.
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Elizabeth Bernstein from WSJ, as I speculated a few blogposts ago, has apparently still not read Deborah Tannen, but even so, her latest piece , “She Talks a Lot, He Listens a Little” is pretty interesting:  Is it true that women talk more than men? Yes indeed, it is. And do men listen less than women do? Apparently.

…”He doesn’t tell me to get to the point because he knows it would be a big insult,” says Ms. Macaluso, 43, a homemaker. Says her husband: “I made the mistake of telling my wife to speed up—just once. She started over and made me sit through the whole thing again.”

Do women talk more than men? Not always, of course. Some men are big gabbers, just as some women are silent types. And yet, the stereotype that women talk more than men holds pretty true.

There are environmental reasons—many men are raised not to share their feelings. But biology plays a surprisingly strong a part, as well. There is evidence that women’s and men’s brains process language differently, according to Marianne Legato, a cardiologist and founder of the Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at New York’s Columbia University. She says that listening to, understanding and producing speech may be easier for women because they have more nerve cells in the left half of the brain, which is used to process language, a greater degree of connectivity between the two parts of the brain and more of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the part of the brain that controls language.

Although the ability to understand and process language diminishes in both men and women as we age, it does so earlier for men (after age 35) than women (post-menopause). Women also get a boost of oxytocin, the feel-good hormone, when they speak to others, and estrogen enhances its effects. While men get this, too, testosterone blunts its effects. “This makes sense from an evolutionary point of view—men can’t defend their families if they are burdened with high levels of a hormone that compels them to make friends of all they meet,” says Dr. Legato, author of “Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget.” “Thus, men in their prime with high levels of testosterone are the least likely to be interested in social exchanges and bonding to others.”

Bernstein’s piece ends on a sour note: there’s nothing we can do, women will want to yak to the tune of 1000 words per day, and men will want to close their ears after the first 750 words. So, says Bernstein, maybe we have to find partners whose style of yakking/silence will complement our own. But had she read Tannen, she could have gone in another direction. Because it isn’t just that women talk more than men, we also tend to talk about other things, and with other expectations. Women often engage in what Tannen calls “troubles-talk,” where they share their moments of frustration and irritation, but without expecting a solution. Men, on the other hand, find it very hard to listen to such talk without wanting to help, and provide problem-solving. So the phenomenological value of talking for the purpose of sharing an experience is entirely different than the sharing of information for the sake of problem-solving, or the typical trash talk about a common interest, such as sport.  And this is where Tannen’s approach gives us more guidance than merely pointing out the fact that women like to talk, and men don’t: Because Tannen believes that while our linguistic styles are to a great extent gender-hardwired, we can learn to appreciate the style of the Other, understand his or her expectations, and perhaps even adapt to his or her style. Sometimes women want to tell a long story, in great detail, and all they want in response, says Tannen, is “Poor Baby!” Even a man of few words can handle that, and be the perfect listener…

That being said, with Thanksgiving coming up, I hope you’ll all have some good conversations with people you care about. And I hope you’ll find the right moment to talk, and the right moment to listen! Sometimes we forget that listening is an art, too, and as Tannen points out, just because your husband doesn’t look at you while you’re talking and he’s driving (if the traditional style of family driving persists in your family), doesn’t mean he hasn’t heard what you said…

Never Apologize; It’s a Sign of Weakness–? November 1, 2010

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Ethics, Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Philosophy of Gender.
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Recently the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada published two studies on men’s and women’s habits of apologizing, and Elizabeth Bernstein from the Wall Street Journal did a piece about it last week.

According to new research from Canadian psychologists, people apologize about four times a week. But, on average, they offer up these apologies much more often to strangers (22% of the time) than to romantic partners (11%) or family members (7%). The only folks we apologize to more? Friends (46%).

Men and women have different approaches and different expectations when it comes to acts of contrition.

Conventional wisdom says women apologize too much, and men don’t apologize often enough. Women are good at nurturing relationships, the thinking goes, while men are too egotistical to say they’re sorry or have a different take on social graces. Yet there’s no proof that women are better than men at apologizing—they just do it more often, sometimes for inconsequential offenses.

Two small studies at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, published last month by the journal Psychological Science, indicate men are just as willing as women to apologize if they think they’ve done something wrong. Men just have a different idea of what defines “something wrong.”

In the first study, 66 men and women kept daily diaries and recorded each time they committed—or were on the receiving end—of an offense. They also noted whether an apology was issued. The outcome: Women were offended more often, and they offered more apologies for their own behavior. Yet men were just as likely as women to apologize if they believed they’d done something wrong.

In the second study, 120 subjects imagined committing offenses, from being rude to a friend to inconveniencing someone they live with. The men said they would apologize less frequently. The researchers concluded the men had a higher threshold for what they found offensive. “We don’t think that women are too sensitive or that men are insensitive,” says Karina Schumann, one of the study’s authors. “We just know that women are more sensitive.”

And when men actually apologize, do they know why? Apparently not.

“To be honest, men never—well, almost never—have any idea what we are apologizing for,” says Mark Stevens, 63, chief executive of MSCO, a Rye Brook, N.Y., marketing consulting firm.

Mr. Stevens says during his 35-year marriage he has sincerely apologized to his wife, Carol, just five times—but has said he’s sorry an additional 3,500 times. He calls these mea culpas “fraudulent apologies.” They go something like this: “I don’t know why you’re unhappy, but I’m sorry.”

So here we have 186 Canadian men and women who are experiencing some kind of disconnect when it comes to apologies, and several people interviewed by Bernstein (two from NY, one from Florida) seem to agree.  But are we seeing anything other than stereotypes laid out in this piece? I can’t speak for the two Canadian studies—perhaps they have more content. Yes, we all know that men and women have different approaches to apologies, and a strong, silent type such as Jethro Gibbs (NCIS) can quote an even stronger, more silent predecessor (Nathan Brittles, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon) with his classic comment, “Never apologize, it’s a sign of weakness.” But why?  Perhaps Deborah Tannen has written her numerous works in vain. Tannen tells us that it is a matter of different linguistic styles: A man, having grown up playing games with groups of other boys where the main objective is to be top dog, can’t afford to be perceived as being one-down, especially if it is in a business setting. Women, on the other hand, have had a few close girlfriends growing up, and a semblance of equality (if not actual equality) must be present in most of their games. The friendship must be maintained, almost no matter what, and an apology isn’t viewed as “giving in,” but as a way to smooth over the rough spots. (And Tannen is not being judgmental here—she is trying to describe it the way she sees it.)

That being said, there is an additional element that the Canadian studies apparently don’t address at all (or else Bernstein didn’t think to mention it): Tannen emphasizes that expressions of sympathy, extended by women, are often mistaken for apologies by men. If I remember correctly, she analyzes such statements in her book Talking from 9 to 5: If a woman, in the workplace, wants to express her sympathy to a male co-worker, employee, or boss, she might say, “I’m sorry you’ve had such a tough time.” She wants to show her empathy, but he hears it as an apology, and responds, “It’s not your fault.” And she is left confused, because she didn’t think it was her fault, either!

As a woman working in a highly male-dominated field for the past 30+ years  I can absolutely attest to the reality of such exchanges, in a number of languages and on two continents. And if they count as female apologies, although they weren’t intended as such, it’s no wonder that women are perceived as apologizing far more frequently than men…I’m really sorry to see that we seem to have to reinvent the gender analysis wheel every 20 years or so. And that’s not an apology!

Pity Party April 25, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Philosophy of Gender.
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A group of professors have decided the oppression of men has gone on too long and have decided to create a Male Studies program.

“This came out of the contentious business of gender studies,” says Lionel Tiger, professor of anthropology at Rutgers University. “It’s not men’s studies as contrasted with women’s studies. It’s a study of males without all the ideology and self-righteousness of feminists about turning over patriarchy.”

Tiger apparently believes that since women have had access to the pill and legal abortions, civilization is collapsing.

According to Dr. Edward Stephens, Chairman of the Foundation for Male Studies, men suffer from what he  calls “the lace curtain,” which is supposed to be analogous to the glass ceiling.

But since men still make more than women for comparable work and because men disproportionally occupy positions of power in business and politics, it is hard to see how there is a legitimate analogy here. Angry Mouse’s sarcasm is appropriate:

Yes, because our entire educational system has, for too long, ignored the contributions of men to history, art, literature, politics, economics, and science. Isn’t it about time we directed at least a little attention and appreciation to men’s experience throughout history?

Miles Groth, a sponsor of the symposium, wants to  incorporate the valuable lessons of Principles 101: Feminism, Manhood and You into this program. Lessons like this:

Do not tolerate disorderly behavior from women. You will only cause yourself more problems in the long run.


Feminism trains women to feel they unilaterally deserve what men have earned.

And how about this:

Simply put, Manhood is your authority — the proper form necessary to govern the lives of others, especially women.

This doesn’t sound like an attempt to make visible the plight of an oppressed group—it sounds more like a reactionary attempt to hang on to male privilege in the face of women’s success at achieving some measure of equality. As Angry Mouse says:

It’s about throwing a pity party because for the first time in human history, men are having to share the power they have always assumed was their birthright.  

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Glass Ceiling March 31, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Philosophy of Gender, politics.
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A recent study explains why there are vastly fewer women than men in politics—they are less likely to be recruited.

Highly qualified and politically well-connected women from both major political parties are less likely than similarly situated men to be recruited to run for public office by all types of political actors. They are less likely than men to be recruited intensely. And they are less likely than men to be recruited by multiple sources. Although we paint a picture of a political recruitment process that seems to suppress women’s inclusion, we also offer the first evidence of the significant headway women’s organizations are making in their efforts to mitigate the recruitment gap, especially among Democrats. These findings are critically important because women’s recruitment disadvantage depresses their political ambition and ultimately hinders their emergence as candidates.

There is little evidence that women are less able or less likely to win elections. It makes little sense to leave talent on the sidelines.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

A New Face: Officer Kimberly Munley November 6, 2009

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Current Events, Ethics, Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Philosophy of Gender.

 On a regular basis we discuss the concept of heroism—loosely defined as people stepping up to the plate and acting to help others in need, endangering their own lives—in my Intro to Values classes, evaluating the concept in light of Psychological and Ethical Egoism as well as the various forms of Altruism, Utilitarianism, and Deontology.  And it looks as if we have a new name to add to the list of, shall we say, ordinary people who act decisively, and save lives. Whether we want to use the term “hero” of course depends on how we define it, but what an opportunity to discuss the concept, again! As the news is beginning to pour in, this is the story so far, of the police officer who shot the Fort Hood gunman four times yesterday, putting an end to his killing rampage. Yesterday we heard that she had been killed, but today we know that she survived, and will be returning home:

Here, from NewsPostOnline:

Civilian police officer Kimberley Munley was the one to put an end to this horrifying ordeal. Munley was directing traffic until she heard shots being fired. Military spokesmen. Lt. Cone said Munley and her partner responded within three minutes of the gunfire. Munley, who had been trained in active-response tactics, rushed into the building and confronted the shooter as he was turning a corner, Cone said. “It was an amazing and an aggressive performance by this police officer,” Cone said. Munley shot the gunman four times despite being wounded herself.

And from The Guardian:

Munley was only a few feet from army psychiatrist Major Nidal Malik Hasan when she opened fire.

Munley was reported to be in a stable condition at a local hospital.

She was well enough to spend last night phoning fellow officers to find out about casualties in the attack, the New York Daily News reported.

Cone said Munley’s aggressive response training taught her that “if you act aggressively to take out a shooter you will have less fatalities”.

“She walked up and engaged him,” he said. He praised her as “one of our most impressive young police officers”.

Woman hero Fort Hood1 Kimberly Munley: Hero of the Fort Hood Shooting Rampage

Some might say that it is significant, perhaps a sign of a new era, that it was a fast-acting civilian female police officer who saved the lives of military men. But as was pointed out yesterday, those military men under fire did not have access to weapons, being on-base. And Officer Munley will probably say that for her it was simply a matter of doing what she’s been trained to do. The story may change as it unfolds, and more facts may be added. But right now it looks as if a dreadful situation could have turned even more deadly, had it not been for Officer Munley and her partner.  So is Officer Munley a hero? Let’s say we need to understand the situation a little better before we use the H-word. But did she do something heroic? It certainly looks that way.

Gay Marriage November 1, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Philosophy of Gender, politics.
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On Tuesday, Maine voters will decide whether to overturn a law permitting gay marriage.

So now is a good time to link to Martha Nussbaum’s recent article in Dissent Magazine that takes seriously but carefully annihilates conservative arguments against gay marriage. It is the best short article I have read on the subject written by one of the most talented philosophers of our time.

Nussbaum provides an account of the history and structure of the institution of marriage and shows why arguments that claim same-sex marriage will harm the institution are without merit. She concludes that

Nothing short of a primitive idea of stigma and taint can explain the widespread feeling that same-sex marriage defiles or contaminates straight marriage, while the marriages of “immoral” and “sinful” heterosexuals do not do so. […]

Like same-sex marriages, cross-racial unions were opposed with a variety of arguments, both political and theological. In hindsight, however, we can see that disgust was at work. […]

The Supreme Court concluded that such ideas of racial stigma were the only ideas that really supported those laws, whatever else was said: “There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification.”
We should draw the same conclusion about the prohibition of same-sex marriage: irrational ideas of stigma and contamination, the sort of “animus” the Court recognized in Romer v. Evans, is a powerful force in its support.

Let’s hope Maine voters do not give in to bigotry on Tuesday.

So Are Women Really Unhappy? October 13, 2009

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Culture, Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Philosophy of Gender.

I’ve been toying with a response to Dwight’s piece about women and happiness , but it got so long that I decided to make it into a post, mainly consisting of stray thoughts. There’s so much one could say about that  issue—for one thing, that Dwight’s final point is exactly what Mary Wollstonecraft was getting at when she said that, contrary what Rousseau and others of the male persuasion claimed at the time, men are not happier having child-like wives; for both to be professionally fulfilled is a win-win situation. Next, I read the Huffington blog, because what I thought it boiled down to was that Arianna herself might be in a funk, but it turned out to be something else, a plug for a future series of guest blogs by Marcus Buckingham on his media tour! So are women really unhappy, or is Buckingham trying to sell a book claiming that women are unhappy, in an attempt to get unhappy women to buy the book? Oh, I’m so cynical. But I’m generally skeptical of generalizations and blanket statements, especially about people’s amorphous feelings. Are Danes really happy? (That one keeps coming up, and I’m asked at least once a week about the true state of mind of the Danes! Enough, already!) Are women really unhappy? These tabloid-type questions are almost impossible to take seriously unless we do the metaethical groundwork and identify what we mean by happiness, exactly like Dwight suggests. It is in itself fascinating that up until recently philosophers were preoccupied with dread, anguish, Being-Unto-Death, Philosophy of Dying, and other grim but occasionally worthwhile subjects. And now we agonize over getting the right words to pin down the happiness factor. The Mystery of Joy! Which, too, is an occasionally worthwhile subject. And there could well be a connection between the analysis of the happiness of the Danes and the supposed unhappiness of American women: The lower the expectations, the more at ease you might be with less. The higher the expectations, the more frustration you’re likely to feel. That’s a bit simplistic, but it does contain a grain of truth. In addition to that, the “happiness gurus” have, in their enormous disregard for common sense, declared that having children is a sure path to unhappiness. So if women “want it all,” they set themselves (ourselves) up for certain disappointment if they select children as part of the “all.” But what kind of unhappiness is that? The kind where you have to defer gratification and give up on certain self-serving lifestyles, I suspect.

BUT I will concede that there might be a specific reason why some women in the west aren’t satisfied with having all the new possibilities and various forms of freedom. Not because having more freedom makes you more insecure and confused, etc. That’s just condescending. I don’t really believe that the simple life is a happy one, especially if one is aware of other options. And it is certainly true that women tend to judge themselves harshly, but I don’t think that’s anything new. If anything, I actually believe (contrary to Buckingham) that taking on too many obligations is what stresses us out and makes us feel inadequate (if that means we’re unhappy). The instant rewards and easy gratifications are unfortunately part of what many people today count as a happiness factor. But if we remember John Stuart Mill’s suggestion that “It’s better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied,” (and despite his leaning toward cultural elitism he certainly had a point there) then perhaps some “unhappiness” on the way to one’s higher aspirations is not a bad thing. But there’s another side to this: many, many women of Huffington’s generation (and mine, “2nd Wave feminists”) have assumed that men are generally happy because of the options and freedoms they have traditionally enjoyed. And now that we have those freedoms, too, and we’re no spring chickens any longer, what do we discover? That happiness isn’t automatically a byproduct of having freedom and options, but stress is. Not having options, yes, that can make you unhappy, but having options doesn’t automatically translate into happiness. So some women are disappointed, and feel cheated. “I want my gender neutral happiness like they promised me!” But some of us realize that if you want it all, then you also get to feel inadequate from time to time, and that men of the old patriarchy have known this all too well, in the professional field—dropping dead from stress-related heart disease in their 50s and 60s. It is an age-old assumption among the ones who are “down” that the ones who are ”up” live fat and happy lives. Well—some lives are of course less problematic than others’, especially if those others do much of the work for you. But unproblematic? Hardly.  There’s a built-in tragedy lurking in assuming that happiness is what the other guys have…