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Feminism, Traditionalism, Professionalism

In this enjoyable short essay, philosopher Susan Haack discusses the feminism of Dorothy Sayers with special reference to Sayers' novel Gaudy Night.

My own feelings about Gaudy Night are ambivalent. On the one hand, Sayers seems more ideological and, as a result, less good a mystery writer in this novel than in most of her others. Her feminism gets the better of her when it comes to her characterization of the would-be murderer and to her approval of Lord Peter's rather nauseatingly submissive behavior toward Harriet Vane. On the other hand, a fan of Sayers or of mysteries will enjoy the novel for its craftsmanship, its excellent and well-textured writing, and its interesting characters and plot. This is borne out by the fact that, despite my annoyance at some features, I have read it so many times as nearly to have it memorized.

But Gaudy Night is by the way. Haack's main point is to praise Sayers' brand of old-fashioned feminism and to contrast it with contemporary, "women's studies" feminism, of which Haack, quite rightly, disapproves.

Haack is an individualist and, in the old-fashioned sense, a humanist. She wants to study and to emphasize, on the one hand, what is common to mankind and, on the other hand, what is specific to a given individual (in terms of abilities and interests), not what is characteristic of groups and especially not of "interest groups." She is a self-designated feminist of Sayers' sort and an opponent (I have reason to believe) of affirmative action and of other aspects of the contemporary spoils system of group politics.

I, on the other hand, am a gender-role traditionalist. I believe that male-female differences make a much bigger difference to workforce activities than feminists of any stripe believe. I can well imagine many situations in which discriminating against a female (or, sometimes, for a female) would make perfect sense. These include the obvious ones--the military, on-the-beat police work (as we discussed here), and (for discrimination in favor of women) work with young children. I also would think it quite understandable if an employer, having found that every one of his carefully trained, white-collar, female assistants had a baby and left him to look for and train another assistant (after taking advantage of the federal law forcing him to hold the job open during three months' maternity leave), preferred in the future to hire a male. I think it unfortunate that an employer is not permitted under current law to make obvious, rational use of such inductive information. I think that most women will be happiest if they can make being a wife and mother a full-time vocation. It seems to me that it has caused a great deal of harm both to individuals and to society for all girls to be raised to intend a career. I think men should be expected to take on the responsibility of bringing home the bacon.

So it might seem that I would have little use for Haack's resolute individualism. As it happens, though, I heartily cheer her condemnation of what she delightfully calls the "pink-collar ghetto" of feminist philosophy and all its ilk. But I would give a slightly different reason from the one she emphasizes for rejecting it.

Haack criticizes the contemporary feminist approach to academic issues on the basis of the (correct) claim that such an approach is patronizing towards women. She also claims that such an approach "risks playing into the hands of the oppressors." About this statement I have more doubts, though a great deal depends on who the oppressors are supposed to be and what it means to play into their hands. If what Haack means is that for feminists to say that logic is masculinist gives an excuse to misogynistic curmudgeons to say that women are illogical, she is right. I'm not at all sure, however, that there are enough misogynistic curmudgeons out there being allowed to "oppress" women on the basis of their alleged illogic for this effect even to be worth mentioning.

If we say that encouraging, say, young women philosophers to go into "feminist philosophy" is bad for the young women, we need to be clear about what we mean by "bad for." I myself would certainly agree with the statement if it is taken in a philosophical sense (about which more in a moment). Taken at a practical level, the statement unfortunately is not true. Departments are usually only too happy to hire someone to teach feminist philosophy, are only too pathetically eager to hire a female, and are not infrequently encouraged by administration and by department evaluators deliberately to advertise in feminist philosophy because it will help them to "get a woman in the department." So from a careerist point of view, it emphatically is not bad for a young woman to enter the pink-collar ghetto. She will probably do only too well there, materially speaking, and have a much smoother and more secure career than her male colleagues who do such boring old stuff as logic, epistemology, and metaphysics. What said male colleagues think about her work in the privacy of their own minds may be another matter.

Which brings us to the real sense in which it is bad for women to enter the pink-collar ghetto: It is bad for them because they are going to be encouraged to do less rigorous work than they should be doing in philosophy. It will be bad for their professionalism. Group politics will become the very stuff of their "work" and "research," which is not good for the integrity of the work.

Which, in turn, brings us to the most important reason for disapproving of group politics as an academic discipline or sub-discipline: It's bad for the profession. When (as I am anecdotally told has happened) "math education" becomes a major sub-field in mathematics so that the female professors can get their quota of publications without having to publish in, say, statistics, this is not good for mathematics. And so forth. The women themselves may do very well, and may not really care if the old-fashioned think that their work is tiddly-winks compared to the real work of the profession. Don't waste too much worry on the feminists. It's the quality of the academy that has really suffered by the endless injection of feminist this, women's that, and the female perspective on the other thing. Of course, this is by now an old complaint; we have long since moved on to "queer studies" and everything else under the sun. So I suppose I'm about twenty years behind the times in writing this post, though Haack's essay was interesting enough to prompt it.

There is one other point: If we really believe in what we are doing in some profession, and especially in an academic area (about which I know the most), this may restrain our traditionalism as well. Were I on a hiring committee and, in some imaginary world, freed of all constraints from non-discrimination law, I would still have serious qualms about hiring a less qualified male philosopher with a family over a brilliant single female, an excellent teacher, etc. No doubt, traditionalist advocates of "affirmative action for family men" will say that they are more interested in "all else being equal" situations, but I'm here to say that, having watched many a hiring scenario over many years from the sidelines, such situations don't really arise. They are a fiction invented by affirmative action advocates, whether the more common sort on the left or the nearly non-existent sort on the right. So to this extent Haack's individualism and my emphasis on professionalism come together: When you are hiring in a field important in itself, getting the work done well must be a high priority and must take a great deal of weight. Am I saying that no other considerations could ever be relevant? No, that would be much too rigid. Moral considerations can be quite legitimate. And Christian institutions will rightly have special job criteria on top of ordinary professional qualifications. Each case must be considered on its specific merits. But I have a great deal of respect for the statement, however much it may need to be qualified, that one should hire the individual who is the best candidate. One owes a very high degree of professionalism to the students and to the parents who are paying tuition.

I think that at some level Haack's call for a focus on humanism shows a realization that, if specifically "female" perspectives are added to the academic professions, it can only be to the detriment of the professions. Why this should be is a matter for sociological speculation. It might indeed turn out to be the case that women, by and large and with individual exceptions, are less logical than men and are inclined to pull down the professions they join in order to make themselves feel less underqualified. Harsh on modern ears as that conjecture is, it is by no means beyond the realm of possibility. Whether or not there is as a matter of fact a typical "woman's way of thinking" should make no difference to, e.g., philosophy, because if there is, we are doubtless much better off without it, as attacks on "masculinist" logic and "linear thinking" make only too painfully clear. The feminists who want (as I once heard a female politician say) to "nurture the economy" would do much better to stay at home, nurture a few babies, and leave the economy strictly alone. (Gives a whole new resonance to the phrase "Nanny State," doesn't it?)

Practically speaking, it does not matter why women have flocked to the pseudo-disciplines. If the old-fashioned feminists like Haack agree with the old-fashioned traditionalists like me that such pseudo-disciplines are dreadful, we have a joint plan of action: Get rid of the pseudo-disciplines, and let the demographic chips fall where they may. If we lose women in the profession, then we should say with St. John, "They went out from among us because they were not of us."

Comments (28)


Great post!

In the Haack review, she makes a comment about some likely seeing Sayer's approach as a holdover from the Dark Ages before Second-Wave Feminism. And they'd be right about that. Sayers' opinion (if I am not mistaken) was that feminism had largely run its course and would prove harmful if the feminists insisted on barging forward with their agenda.

Regarding the pink collar ghetto and feminist dismisal of logic as androcentric -- it's funny that I should run across that today. I've been doing some reading in preparation for a post on my own blog. And darned if the religious feminists haven't discovered logic! In the past they had largely ignored it or, on occasion, you would see one or another of them denouncing logic as a "male thing". But now they've discovered logic and the law of contradiction. In doing so, they are now gathering around a new battle cry - that one cannot be equal and subordinate at the same time (there are, of course, a few minor qualifiers). In espousing their own peculiar brand of either/or, they are explicitly denying the possibility of both/and. In the grand tradition of Arianism and other heresies, they have elevated one side of the equation while denying the other.

Their new tactic brings their rebellion out in bold relief, I think I must agree with a friend on that. They will eventually be forced to deny the paradoxes at the heart of orthodox Christian belief.


I wouldn't see Dorothy L Sayers as being a particularly representative '-ist' of any kind - she was an unique type and combination.

However, her personal 'love' life was both sordid and tragic, as well as unsatisfying; and in this respect her type of 'feminism' might well have been a factor - by delaying her decision to seek a husband while working on career and until it was too late; including by allowing her to waste precious early adult years on dead-end affairs with 'unsuitable' men.

Up to her early twenties, DLS was quite pretty, certainly pretty enough; but from then she fairly rapidly deteriorated in looks. Also, she was throughout her life excessively attracted by superficially 'charming' men; but (in my opinion) rather indulged this weakness rather than trying to correct it.

Overall DLS gives the impression of a tremendous talent, who also did considerable good by her writing; but with a sad and unattractive personal life.

Not a role model.

I have no particular reason to think that Dorothy Sayers' problems in personal life were a result of her particular brand of very old-fashioned feminism. Even intelligent women can be stupid, fall for the wrong sort of man, and get themselves in trouble, as I'm sure Dr. Laura would be the first to tell you. And it is an unfortunate truth that highly intelligent women sometimes find it hard to find a husband. Overall, and until her marriage, Sayers seems definitely to have been what we might call a "bad picker," but that may be unrelated to "delaying seeking a husband" or anything of the sort. I think we should be careful not to try to fit everything into a Procrustean bed.

Kamilla, you're right that Sayers was uncomfortable with where feminism was going even in her own lifetime, which is why she didn't like adopting the label for herself. She seems to have been the sort of person who actually _believed_ that feminism was simply there to make a space in the public realm for those exceptional women who belonged there. What she didn't realize is that once one decides that gender scarcely matters at all to the most important things in life, that idea has consequences and is likely to prove a much more radical societal solvent than she could have dreamed.


That's a completely unfair assessment of DLS's life. I'd take her as a role model over just about any of the Evangelical "heroes" offered to us today who try to portray the Christian life as all sweetness and light -- and do so without hesitation. She was a flawed woman who knew herself to be flawed and deeply repented - something very few of us understand today.


and deeply repented

That's key. I think it's very important that Christians and conservatives not fall into the "lumping" tendency of our liberal, promiscuity-excusing liberal opponents. Tell a liberal that some admired public figure was wildly promiscuous and unrepentant up to the day of his death, and what does the liberal (even a Christian liberal) say? "Oh, we're all sinners. And Ronald Reagan was divorced." Things like that. Blatant moral equivalence-mongering. Wild, unrepented, excused promiscuity is put on a par with, for example, someone's having had an affair _in the past_ and apparently having decisively turned from his past life. And so forth. Conservatives should be better than that at making distinctions.

That being said, I'm not sure I'd exactly call Sayers a role model in general. Certainly I didn't say so anywhere in the post. She had a lot of admirable qualities and wrote plenty of things worth reading, but I'm pretty choosy about treating someone as a role model. I suppose the best place to consider her to be a type of role model would be in her academic professionalism and her love of reason and clarity, including her love of clarity in theological matters.

As far as I can tell, the situation of women in philosophy is similar to the situation of Christians in philosophy in at least these ways:

1. both have their own journals;
2. both want to write about Christianity/feminism because they believe it is right;
3. both are thought by non-feminist/non-Christian philosophers to be less rigorous.
4. both are ghettoized.

That said, there are these differences:

5. Christianity has a millennia-long tradition and correspondingly great thinkers while feminism goes, at its mots generous, back to the 17th century (Lockean liberalism could be argued, I suppose to entail feminism); to be more conservative, it's a 20th century phenomenon.
6. Philosophers want to publicly praise feminism while privately condemning it (at least some of them are like this; I shouldn't be shocked if a lot of philosophers respected feminist philosophy); philosophers want to publicly condemn Christianity while privately condemning it.
7. There are Christian colleges galore that will advertise specifically for Christian scholars while there are no feminist universities that will advertise just for feminist scholars (aren't all secular universities feminist, though? Yes, I would grant that; but they don't hire exclusively feminist philosophers).

Anyway, my main question is: has the ghettoization of Christian philosophers hurt them in the same way ghettoization has hurt women philosophers?

I could list a lot more differences, Bobcat, starting with the fact that analytic philosophy of religion is a rigorous, challenging field with interesting ideas and conclusions, but feminism as a branch of philosophy is not. Yeah, I know. What a controversial thing to say. But honestly. I just see no comparison.

Let's remember: There are hard-headed and hard-working non-Christians who do philosophy of religion, but when was the last time you heard of an anti-feminist doing feminist philosophy?! In other words, the sub-discipline in which a Christian philosopher might be expected to specialize if his Christianity influenced him in his choice of field is a respectable sub-discipline that includes the challenge of positions diametrically opposed to his own Christianity. Therefore, it's not a Christian ghetto at all.

There is no widespread, accepted sub-discipline in philosophy called "Christian philosophy" whose goal is to emphasize the "Christian point of view." Some people may go at their philosophy that way, but I don't think they should, and the profession doesn't encourage and accept their doing so as it does with "feminist philosophy."

I could go on: Regular metaphysics and epistemology are free-standing disciplines that are incorporated rather than simply challenged by the work that Christians do in philosophy. This is true even of versions of epistemology with which I am unsympathetic: Consider the way in which Plantinga's externalism relates to externalism in epistemology generally. Relatedly, the positions Christians might be thought to be more likely to take in various sub-disciplines--for example, dualism--have traditions of their own that are not uniquely "Christian."

I really don't see any parallel here at all.

I would add, though, that I think a young Christian philosopher should be encouraged _not_ simply to work in philosophy of religion. That could be one of his specialties if he really has a talent and a passion for it, but he should have at least one other specialty as well, and preferably more. This is a good idea both for his rounding-out, breadth, and professionalism as a scholar and also strategically for his marketability, etc.

"starting with the fact that analytic philosophy of religion is a rigorous, challenging field with interesting ideas and conclusions, but feminism as a branch of philosophy is not. Yeah, I know. What a controversial thing to say. But honestly. I just see no comparison."

I haven't read much--really, I think I've read only one essay--in what could be characterized as feminist philosophy. That said, there are some really good scholars who do it: Rae Langton, Sally Haslanger, and Elizabeth Adams. Is their work in feminist philosophy not rigorous or interesting? That would surprise me.

"Let's remember: There are hard-headed and hard-working non-Christians who do philosophy of religion, but when was the last time you heard of an anti-feminist doing feminist philosophy?! In other words, the sub-discipline in which a Christian philosopher might be expected to specialize if his Christianity influenced him in his choice of field is a respectable sub-discipline that includes the challenge of positions diametrically opposed to his own Christianity. Therefore, it's not a Christian ghetto at all."

I should note that by "ghetto" I didn't mean anything disparaging about either Christianity or feminism. By "ghetto" I mean a roped off area that has little influence on mainstream philosophy. It's certainly true that Plantinga, Alston, and van Inwagen, among other Christian philosophers (e.g., Robert Adams, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Dean Zimmerman, and on and on), have a lot of influence on the field, but I'm not sure that any of them, save Plantinga perhaps, have much influence on the field qua Christian philosopher. It is, after all, depressingly common to run into very sharp atheist philosophers who still think there hasn't been any good response given to Mackie, or, if they know of Plantinga's free will defense, think at least that there hasn't been any good response given to the evidential argument from evil. I can name you many such philosophers. So, by "Christian ghetto" I mean only that philosophy at large has to an unfortunately large degree been insulated from the findings of Christian philosophers.

Nevertheless, I think your point about how anti-feminists don't work in feminist philosophy is a good one. I have no idea whether anti-feminists work in feminist philosophy (perhaps Christina Hoff Sommers counts? I mean, she regards herself as a feminist, but I think many feminist philosophers would count her as an anti-feminist); but if I just followed my hunches, I should think that anti-feminists would never get published in feminist journals or invited to feminist conferences. If that's right, then that's quite different from Christian philosophers, who enjoy having people challenge their views. So, I still don't think Christian philosophy isn't in a ghetto; it's just that Christians are trying to get out, and have made a nice home for themselves which they want to welcome people into, even if those people track mud all over the carpets and raid the refrigerator, whereas feminist philosophy, if my guess is right, doesn't let you wear shoes in their house and won't even offer you a drink unless you start paying the rent.

"There is no widespread, accepted sub-discipline in philosophy called 'Christian philosophy' whose goal is to emphasize the 'Christian point of view.' Some people may go at their philosophy that way, but I don't think they should, and the profession doesn't encourage and accept their doing so as it does with 'feminist philosophy.'"

I agree that there's no such discipline, but what do you make of Plantinga's "Advice to Christian Philosophers"?:

...the Christian philosophical community has its own agenda; it need not and should not automatically take its projects from the list of those currently in favor at the leading contemporary centers of philosophy. Furthermore, Christian philosophers must be wary about assimilating or accepting presently popular philosophical ideas and procedures; for many of these have roots that are deeply anti-Christian. And finally the Christian philosophical community has a right to its perspectives; it is under no obligation first to show that this perspective is plausible with respect to what is taken for granted by all philosophers, or most philosophers, or the leading philosophers of our day. In sum, we who are Christians and propose to be philosophers must not rest content with being philosophers who happen, incidentally, to be Christians; we must strive to be Christian philosophers.

Going on, you write, "I could go on: Regular metaphysics and epistemology are free-standing disciplines that are incorporated rather than simply challenged by the work that Christians do in philosophy." Are you implying that feminist philosophers don't incorporate metaphysics and epistemology but simply challenge it? Assuming I understand your point correctly, then I would dissent from that. As I've said, I haven't read much feminist philosophy, but I know that some feminists--Annette Baier, for example--think that they stand in the tradition of Hume, and incorporate his insights for their project; similarly, some feminists rely on Kantian ethics (Marcia Baron); some rely on Aristotle (Nancy Sherman); and I have to imagine that some rely on Mill. That is, I don't think feminists are all Carol Gilligan types who oppose an ethic of care to masculinist ethics. But I imagine you weren't implying that. So I'm guessing I probably missed your point?

"I would add, though, that I think a young Christian philosopher should be encouraged _not_ simply to work in philosophy of religion. That could be one of his specialties if he really has a talent and a passion for it, but he should have at least one other specialty as well, and preferably more."

I agree with this advice, but surely many feminist philosophers don't do just feminism, right? Don't they do "feminism and X", where X could stand for history of philosophy, ethics, philosophy of science, and epistemology?

Don't they do "feminism and X", where X could stand for history of philosophy, ethics, philosophy of science, and epistemology?

No time for more right now, but that would definitely _not_ be the kind of thing I'm talking about in my advice to Christian philosophers. I'm talking about doing _something else_. Look, I don't believe in "Christian philosophy." I think it's a _good_ thing that there is no discipline called "Christian philosophy" and that (unlike feminist philosophy) you won't see a job advertisement, "AOS--Christian philosophy." That's how it is, and that's how it should be.

So what's the nearest equivalent? I mean, how can you even bring this parallel up and make it sound remotely plausible? Why isn't, "Come on, there is no such thing as Christian philosophy" not just the end of the conversation?

I guess, because there's such a thing as Philosophy of Religion. But as I've already pointed out, Philosophy of Religion isn't anything like "Christian philosophy," because it's a subdiscipline constituted in no small measure by influential criticisms of Christianity and even advocacy of atheism! (This would be tantamount to a field of "gender philosophy" partly constituted by highly influential and widely respected advocacy of "women should be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.")

So when I say that Christians should do something other than philosophy of religion, I'm _not only_ advising that they do something other than working in a sub-discipline which isn't anything like "feminist philosophy" (because it isn't "Christian philosophy") but also that they get away from the religion issue _altogether_, that they just do straight-up work in epistemology, probability theory, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, history of philosophy, or what-have-you, work that doesn't even _get into_ philosophy of religion. I advise this for many reasons, but one reason is that there's plenty of interesting stuff in philosophy that has nothing to do with religion, and a well-educated philosopher should know it. Another reason is to avoid both the actuality and the appearance of not following the argument wherever it leads, of having an axe to grind, and of narrowness. Obviously this is _not even remotely like_ doing "Feminism and X." The parallel would be a philosopher who only did "Christianity and X" stuff and then tried to claim that he works in areas other than "Christian studies"! Which would get him well-deserved scorn.

My claim about feminists wasn't that they did "feminism and epistemology, i.e., feminist epistemology"; it was that they did "feminism and epistemology, i.e., feminism, epistemology, and feminist epistemology." Certainly every Christian philosopher I know who does more than philosophy of religion does something like "philosophy of religion, epistemology, and the relationship between epistemology and philosophy of religion". Now, philosophy of religion could be stuff like "does God exist? Yes he does--here's why!" That wouldn't have parallels to feminist philosophy anymore, I shouldn't think (does any feminist argue against essentialism anymore? Does any feminist argue against traditional sex roles anymore? I'm guessing that, to the extent they do so, they do so only to show that the consequences of rejecting essentialism and traditional sex roles are greater than we think--e.g., I've been told before that gay men are sexist because they aren't attracted to women, and I've been told that I'm sexist because I'm not attracted to me; that's, of course, a completely lunatic view, but it at least has originality, I suppose). But philosophy of religion could also cover stuff like "here's the Christian account of our noetic faculties". If so, then the philosopher of religion of my example might be doing stuff like "the Christian account of noetic faculties; noetic faculties in general; and the relationship between the Christian account of noetic faculties and mainstream accounts of noetic faculties in general". And that, to me, doesn't seem much different "here's my take on coherentism; here's my take on feminism; here's how feminism and coherentism relate".

As for "there's no such thing as Christian philosophy", I don't yet see why I should agree with that. It seems to me that Thomas Flint arguably does Christian philosophy, in that what he does is explore the divine attributes, theories of providence, and the implications of his Molinist account of providence on issues like papal infallibility and the efficacy of petitionary prayer.

I'm guessing I still don't understand the difference between doing Christian philosophy and doing what someone like Flint does.

What I mean by "there is no such thing as Christian philosophy" is chiefly that there is no _whole sub-discipline_ that is called "Christian philosophy." There might be individual philosophers who do work sufficiently narrowly defined within the broader rubric of philosophy of religion that that work by those philosophers would be "Christian" in some sense. But I think it would be a very, very bad idea for there to be an entire sub-discipline that was known as "Christian philosophy" and in which departments advertised. That would just be too narrow.

But as I say, despite my stout avowal that Philosophy of Religion is a much broader, more interesting, and more legitimate field than "feminist philosophy," I would advise any young philosopher who happens to be a Christian to be sure to write and publish material that is not in philosophy of religion _at all_. He will, of course, want to integrate his ideas, so doubtless he will think about the relationship between what he writes in other sub-disciplines and his interests (if he has them) in philosophy of religion, his Christian beliefs, etc. It wouldn't be a bad thing, though, for there to be Christians who are philosophers who don't write on philosophy of religion at all. In fact, it wouldn't be a bad thing for a philosopher to start out that way and only do work in philosophy of religion later in his career so as to develop a broad base of more general philosophical work, knowledge, and credentials.

I think it's important to bear in mind here, too, something that I once heard Robert Audi say. He said, "I think everyone should be interested in the idea of God, because the idea of God is so challenging." It's my own opinion, with which you are free to disagree, but I hope you don't, that the concept of God is more philosophically interesting than _anything_ to do with gender, including my _own_ ideas about gender. As of now, you couldn't pay me to write something ostensibly philosophically professional (as opposed to a blog post) on any gender issue at all, including a defense of gender essentialism or whatever--in other words, including a defense of ideas I think are _true_. The nearest I have ever gotten to it was an article in Public Affairs Quarterly critiquing gender-neutral language. I'm not sorry I did it; don't get me wrong. But I consider it to be a decidedly light piece compared with the meaty stuff that I think ought to constitute the majority of any philosopher's publication record and research.

The writing I have done more recently that one might consider distinctively "Christian" in some sense (e.g., the Blackwell anthology article and the debate with Plantinga in Phil. Christi, both relating to the issue of evidence for the resurrection) have their claim to be professional philosophy because they do such tough and interesting stuff in probability theory and epistemology generally, stuff that has implications all over the place. The disagreement with Plantinga was one thing that eventually fed into the Erkenntnis article on mutual support--an article that is pure epistemology. The probability theory in the resurrection paper--especially the original use of Bayes factors, which was Tim's idea--has helped me in thinking about the problem of the external world and questions of ad hocness. It's very important probability theory for its own sake.

I think that all philosophers need to watch for stagnation, preaching to the choir, and narrowness, and this includes Christians like everyone else. Specializing in a sub-discipline that is all about gender is not a good way, in my opinion, to avoid such problems.


If you will check Priscilla Papers vol 16, no.4 (It's the journal published by Christians for Biblical Equality) you will find that a (religious) feminist philosopher (of sorts) has published a minor paper on John Stuat Mill's "Subjection of Women".

Modesty, embarrassment and repentance prevent me from mentioning her name.


I think I see what you mean now, Lydia: you don't think there should be something like "Christian philosophy" that appears on anyone's AOC or AOS in the same way that "feminism" does. Now, I gather that you don't think it would necessarily be bad to specialize in something like "sexual ethics"; the problem with "feminism", though, in addition to its putative lack of rigor, is that to do it you have to share certain quite substantive normative presuppositions (instead of normative propositions such as "we ought to try to believe what is true" which, while a normative proposition, is so basic that no almost field at all could be done without it), which ends up making specializing in "feminism" something like specializing in "philosophy that polemically advances certain left-wing political ends". I agree that such a field should not exist, just like I think that majors the whole point of which is to create left-wing political radicals should also not exist. However, I have no problem with something like sexual ethics which seems to me to be as meaty, in its own way, as metaphysics, etc.

Yes, and I think that a designation of "Christian philosophy" would have a similar implication--the implication that such a sub-discipline would exist to advance Christianity and would be entirely filled by self-identified Christians trying, in a sense, to _use_ philosophy for some sort of programmatic Christian ends. As though you'd start out by saying, "I'm a Christian, and I'm going to do such-and-such from a _Christian perspective_." I worry that anything that walks, sounds, or talks so much like propaganda rather than philosophy is going to be bad for the profession and for everyone involved therein. As long as it's kept in a wider field or wider sub-field such as philosophy of religion, the norm of following the evidence and searching for truth stay primary, even when we're arguing about Molinism, for example--inter-relating ideas, finding out what's consistent with what, etc.

And has anybody read Sayers translation of Dante's Divine Comedy? In rhyme, beautifully done and a pox on Milton's "vulgar rhyme", who didn't have a chance to read Sayers and change his mind.

I've read pretty good swathes of it. I much prefer Ciardi's if you want a poetic translation, but most of all, I prefer a prose translation. I usually use Sinclair's.

If Lydia will forgive the plug, I recommend Tony Esolen's translation. Both sets of introductions, tony and DLS, are worth reading -- very much worth reading.


Just had Tony here, talking about Dante in the Renaissance Lit class. His translation is brilliant (I haven't read Ciardi's) and to hear him read both the Italian and the English as he talked about it was simply remarkable. If you haven't read it, do try it out -- it reads smoothly and easily, very naturally.

Sorry, back to the Sayers discussion . . . haven't gotten over Tony's visit yet . . . :)

This is a good post, I hope to engage it better tomorrow.

Forgive me if I begin a tangent, but this passage may be important:

Departments are usually only too happy to hire someone to teach feminist philosophy, are only too pathetically eager to hire a female, and are not infrequently encouraged by administration and by department evaluators deliberately to advertise in feminist philosophy because it will help them to "get a woman in the department."

Covert signalling to get applicants of a desired sex, race, religion, etc. is often forbidden by anti-discrimination law. I know signalling is barred in U.S. housing law -- you can't put "Methodist Church around the corner" in a housing ad.

If that restriction applies to university employment, wouldn't it be a grand endeavor to harass an industry operating outside the law?

I'd sure laugh about a successful lawsuit barring feminist specialty ads from the APA materials, considering what it has tried to do to schools with conservative morals.

Then I'd worry whether the suit strengthened the power of a dysfunctional system.

Kevin, good question. Here's my perception of the current state of the law in most states: What it comes to is that you can basically _come right out and say_ that you are especially seeking women and/or minority applicants. Apparently such statements have become so overt in present philosophy ads that it's humorous. You know, something like, "Equal opportunity employer. We are especially seeking applications from female and minority candidates." This is, of course, because of the precedent law at the federal level regarding affirmative action, to the effect that discrimination in favor of selected groups (women and minorities) _is_ permitted, contrary to the actual _text_ of the civil rights law, to correct imbalances caused by "past discrimination" and even--as of the U of Michigan law school case--to encourage "diversity" as a legitimate state goal.

So covert signaling is actually pretty subtle compared to what they are already legally allowed to do. The advertising in feminist philosophy is usually done not as a subtle signal but just to get _more_ female applicants or to get (they hope) _exclusively_ female applicants. In philosophy, there isn't all _that_ big of a pool of applicants finishing PhD programs, so the competition is fierce among affirmative action-minded schools. The ads in feminist philosophy are meant to garner a bigger chance that the department will actually get to hire a woman rather than being turned down by a female applicant and "having" to hire a male or shut down the search.

It's that bad.

Now, there _might_ be a place for a legal case concerning covert signaling here in Michigan, because a few years ago MI passed the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which explicitly bans affirmative action programs that discriminate on the basis of race, gender, etc. There's a whole funny dynamic there: I was skeptical as to whether it would really make a difference, because after all, the original civil rights acts haven't stopped even blatant anti-male discrimination. I was _wrong_ about that and am glad to record the fact. But the reason I was wrong was (I believe) because the ballot language specifically mentioned affirmative action. That puts a strong legislative history case in place that even affirmative action is not to be an excuse for reverse discrimination.

However, since "feminist philosophy" really has been recognized (unfortunately) as a branch of philosophy, I think it would be hard to make the legal case fly even here in Michigan. The department could always argue--whether honestly or not--that the faculty really do see a "need" for someone to teach that specialty, that it's a recognized specialty, that they think their students need to be exposed to it, blah, blah, and how are they to get someone in that specialty without advertising? I don't see that the state would be able to get around that argument. If that's really (said to be) the department's academic judgment, the state can't second-guess it.

Just today I browsed a "Diversity in Higher Ed" publication at the university library. More than half of the issue was filled by faculty position ads with language you described.

Your analysis and legal defense of current practice is reasonable, but our law system is not. So my crazy scheme just might work... if I were a Harvard law professor with grad student acolytes and fawning media contacts.

The tensions between non-discrimination law and affirmative action are messy and surely fodder for more legal action.

The tightness in the job market could create a pool of men eager to join a lawsuit, though given their education this isn't a great hope.

Would FIRE be an appropriate group to lead such a hypothetical charge?


If you're interested, you may want to look up "woman-owned business" set asides for government contracts if you're unfamiliar with the topic.

If people wanted to look for places to sue, I think they'd do better to find some male who was turned down for a job in some other sub-field and who had reason to believe it was gender-based. There are scores of such cases, of course. It's an interesting question whether any departments in Michigan put out that "especially seeking female applicants" language in their ads. Probably not, but I'm sure that affirmative action does still go on in Michigan. I've not heard of a single case being brought under the new law. The chief value it has from my perspective is in strengthening faculty and administration who don't want to discriminate against males. They can say to yet higher admin, "That's illegal" and have a leg to stand on.


The pink-collar ghetto exists in Evangelicaldom as well. Carolyn Custis James is one of the mavens of the "Women do theology" movement - the quote from her book at the top of her blog reads, "The moment the word 'why' crosses your lips, you are doing theology."


James, who has been known to trumpet her lifestyle as not being that of "a kitchen wife", describes her appearance at a women's Bible Study in Texas this way:

"This wasn't your typical "women's" gathering. There were no doilies in sight. And the handshakes, I have to say, were noticeably firmer than I usually encounter in women's groups across the country. The sprawling church facility was also appropriately Texas-sized. My Texan friend, Judy Douglass, would have felt right at home.

What is more, there was no side-stepping hard questions or refusing to come clean with the kinds of real issues that touch down in everyone's lives. These Texas women were dead serious and fearless when it came to asking honest, probing questions about God, Jesus, truth, faith and doubt, and why bad things happen in this world and in their private lives."

Could she possibly be more insulting? I'm not sure what it is about these religious feminists that fuels their need to belittle "kitchen wives" as doily-tossing silly women with limp handshakes in order to pretend they are doing something new for women called, "theology!". They apparently need to empty themselves of everything that is good and right and lovely about their womanliness in order to pretend they are doing the same thing as the big boys.

I think she ought to come to my bible study where one woman struggles with how to approach prayer for her daughter's health issues (a serious heart defect which will likely require surgery to replace a valve before she is 2 years old). And where another mom struggles with a son whose father chose drugs over his family and whose daughter is autistic. Do you think these women don't ask honest and probing questions?

As someone said elsewhere today, the more we pump women up with false self esteem, the less real self esteem they have. It actually reminds me an awful lot of that scene from "Gaudy Night" where they are talking about how marvelous all the men have been about letting the women have their little toys - only this time the women have fallen for it and think the toys are the real thing.

If Mrs. James wants to really do theology instead of playing about with words (you should see what she does with 'ezer'!), she could do worse than ponder the words of Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, which I use in my email sig:

"When the time has come, nothing which is man-made will subsist. One day, all human accomplishments will be reduced to a pile of ashes. But every single child to whom a woman has given birth will live forever, for he has been given an immortal soul made to God's image and likeness."


(rant off)

If anyone thinks I am being too hard on Mrs. James, pay attention to how the page loads for her Synergy conferences:



Kamilla, here's a question you will know the answer to, but I don't, because I'd never heard of Mrs. James before: If she came to your Bible study, do you think she would merely look down on the women (maybe because they talk about cooking before the Bible study starts), or do you think she would patronize them in a subtler way by trying to elevate their sincere but layman's-level discussion to "great theology" in order to press her "women do theology" theme?

I've seen both--the academic woman's sneer for the ordinary woman (in fact, there's really too much of that in Gaudy Night itself, I'm afraid) and the ridiculous hyping of anything women do or say into something Deep.


I think it would likely be subtle patronization. Mrs. James is too smart to openly antagonize the women she is face-to-face with. (BTW, her husband, Frank James, is the Provost of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary).

In my experience, the sneerers are much more open when they can do it from the semi-anonymity of the internet - there are entire websites dedicated to sneering at and smearing those who hold to the historic, orthodox teaching of the Church on these matters. These women (and the vast majority are women) should count their blessings that the godly men they regularly libel don't sue them more often. I know of a woman who runs one of these websites who has been served a "cease and desist" order for her numerous libels. They also think "patriarchy" is a derogatory term.



If my future sons (God willing) had to marry a feminist, I think I would rather they married a secular one than one who earnestly considered herself a believer. In either case, my son would be treated like trash, but the sex would likely be far better and more regular with a secular feminist as a consolation.

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