Farewell, Feminist Philosophers

The Feminist Philosophers blog has shut down.

The blog began 12 years ago. Founded by Jenny Saul (currently Sheffield, soon to be Waterloo), it was a group blog featuring the writing of a growing roster of philosophers, many of whom posted under pseudonyms.

In her April 23rd post announcing the closure, Professor Saul referred to both positive and negative reasons for it. Here’s the positive:

the landscape for feminist and anti-oppression philosophers has dramatically changed during the years we’ve been blogging. There’s just so much more going on, online and off, that this blog is not nearly so needed—there are lots of places to go to find out about this stuff and engage with like-minded folks.

Professor Saul did not pause in that post to note that this change in the landscape is owed to, among other things, the Feminist Philosophers blog.

For many years one of the few highly visible and well-trafficked philosophy blogs, Feminist Philosophers served as a gathering place for feminist philosophers to discuss philosophical matters and issues in the profession, and it served as an example for others who have since created their own online spaces.

Here’s the negative reason Professor Saul offers:

Many of us, myself included, have become increasingly pessimistic about the potential for internet-based discussions of difficult issues to help us make philosophical and real-world progress.

I think this pessimism may be partly generated by a failure to appreciate one of Feminist Philosophers’ most significant achievements, in my view: its contribution to the normalization of feminist philosophy and a feminist perspective on professional matters in philosophy in the eyes of those who are not experts in feminism, including crucially, those who are its critics.

Anni Albers, untitled

Internet-based discussions of difficult issues are… difficult. Writing for an audience that ranges widely in background knowledge and opinions is challenging. Even well-meaning critics can derail conversations or accidentally provoke blow-ups or inadvertently contribute to a hostile environment. When you attract more and more critics it can be overwhelming and appear as if no progress is possible. But the attraction of more and more critics, and even trolls, can itself be a sign of progress: it means more people are paying attention to what you’re saying, more people are taking you seriously enough to criticize, and more people are finding you prominent enough or threatening enough to troll.

That’s not to say it isn’t hard. When you run a website, problem comments (not just ones that are trollish, but ones that are needlessly provocative or stingy with charity, ones that are on the borderline between acceptable and unacceptable aggressiveness, ones that are innocently but egregiously too mistaken to even try to respond to, etc.) commandeer your attention. They may not be the majority of comments you get, but they stand out against the background of ordinary comments and they can be so discouraging that they make the whole process of writing something just to subject yourself to them over and over again completely exhausting. (If only people were as forthcoming with praise and encouragement as they were with complaints! How different the internet would be.)

In her farewell post, Professor Saul notes disagreement among the bloggers at FP over how to manage comments there. I find it to be one of the more vexing aspects of running Daily Nous, and I don’t have the additional challenge of negotiating the competing opinions of co-bloggers into a practical compromise. So I am not at all criticizing Professor Saul and the other bloggers at FP for saying “enough.”

I do think, though, that we should be less pessimistic—perhaps even optimistic—about “about the potential for internet-based discussions of difficult issues to help us make philosophical and real-world progress.” Such progress is hard to see, especially for us, now. The internet and communications technology has made us, as a culture, so impatient, that keeping an eye out for social changes can feel like watching waves erode a rock.

But there have been changes. Consider, for example, the blog’s Gendered Conference Campaign (GCC), which pointed out all-male conferences, workshops, panels, and the like (which Professor Saul, in a post on May 6th called one FP’s greatest successes). The bloggers at FP consistently avoided the blame game, saying “We make no claims whatsoever about the causes of such conferences: our focus is on their existence and effects”. Nonetheless, there were those who thought conference organizers should be “gender blind”, or who thought the campaign assumed conference organizers were being thoughtless or had bad intentions, and this feature of the blog used to routinely tick these people off. Perhaps it still bothers some. But it is undeniable that the norms of conference organizing have changed over the decade or so the GCC has been going, so as to become more inclusive of women and more conscious of the impression given by all-male events. (It likely had a role to play in spurring the creation of UpDirectory, which can help in attempts to include a demographically diverse set of philosophers at events.)

And as I mentioned above, FP changed the profession’s sense of the normal. I’m not the only one to see such changes. In a recent post, FP blogger Philodaria notes that the writers for the site “successfully shifted the status quo of the entire discipline.” In another, Stacey Goguen says, “Many critiques of the profession that would have been laughed at (that I remember being laughed at about) are now taken up seriously in many places.”

On a more personal note, I recall a philosopher friend telling me, in 2014 (the year Daily Nous began), “You are not a feminist!” She later repeated the line, but in all-caps. Not long after that, another friend of mine bought me a book, The Guys Guide to Feminism. She thought I could benefit from what is basically a “feminism for dummies” book. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot on this subject from friends and others, including the bloggers at Feminist Philosophers, both through the site but also in personal correspondence with some of them. I’ve benefited from their advice and criticism (here’s an early example), and also from just having to think, “what will the people at Feminist Philosophers think about this?” I didn’t always agree with the posts published there and decisions they made about the site, but I was glad they were around, and I am sad to see them go. With luck, the gap FP’s closure leaves will help encourage the creation of a few new feminist philosophy blogs.

After Professor Saul announced that FP would be shutting down, a number of the bloggers there posted final notes, many of them pointing to other positive contributions the site made. I’ve included excerpts from them below.

For now, let me just say thanks to Professor Saul and the other bloggers at Feminist Philosophers for all of their hard work over the years and for their positive contributions to the philosophy profession.

Excerpts from the goodbye posts of contributors to the Feminist Philosophers blog:

For many women philosophers who felt isolated not only in the discipline but in their home departments, Feminist Philosophers was a crucial lifeline. It helped us to feel part of a scholarly community, but it also helped to change the community in big and small ways… The blog shared advice, data, and analysis, called out male-only conferences, and fostered much-needed conversations about such topics as implicit bias, stereotype threat, micro-inequities, and sexism in academe… The blog also celebrated the work of feminist philosophers, and supported feminist philosophers when they were down… As well, many readers wrote to the blog for various kinds of confidential advice and support during tough times — support that  they very often received behind the scenes thanks to the wisdom, discretion,  and generosity of some of FP’s senior bloggers. – Lady Day, “Here at Feminist Philosophers…

I have been extremely grateful for feminist philosophy, feminist philosophers, and Feminist Philosophers for helping me develop as a professional philosopher. Though I have not been at all prolific here, the connection to the larger community of feminist scholarship has helped me feel as though there is a place in philosophy for someone like me. Though I still love logic and the philosophy of mathematics, it was never a field that felt like home. Being part of this blogging community helped me to think through what a field that felt like home might be. – Audrey, “Doing Public Philosophy

I learned in short order that contributors to the blog were spending enormous amounts of time and emotional labor on nights, on weekends, between classes, before dawn. They were writing each other massive amounts of emails to each other about posts, about comments, about what future topics to discuss, about their responsibilities. Jennifer Saul read everything, replied to all. I engaged gradually, not publishing very regularly until a couple of years in. I entered those vast and earnest oceans of conversation.
Effort didn’t always translate into success. But the correspondence of the women and men who blogged here was an honor to witness. They demonstrated courage when I was hesitant to be so public. They demonstrated receptivity to each other’s points of view when I was still sorting out what I thought. And they kept working, raising to awareness topics that might otherwise be overlooked.
– Kate Norlock, “We Report With Sadness, We Are Sad To Report

The internet is exhausting. Academia is exhausting. Politics are exhausting. It’s a bit of a miracle—and a testament to the dedication my co-bloggers—that Feminist Philosophers had such a long run, given its subject matter and role in the discipline. It is hard to have productive conversations on the internet about anything, let alone contentious matters of deep social import. And trying to effect change in academia about things as simple as copier use, or keeping a departmental fridge clean, can leave one feeling like Sisyphus—so, when I think about how my predecessors here at Feminist Philosophers successfully shifted the status quo of the entire discipline, I am nothing less than awed with their accomplishments. – Philodaria, “Imagine Sisyphus Happy

It was through Feminist Philosophers that I found a sense of community in the informal aspect of academic philosophy. There were many times when we disagreed — sometimes publicly on the comments page, but also on long email threads. I will miss those threads, time-consuming as they were, because of the respect we showed each other, even in times of deep contention. They were also another (inadvertent) accessible feature of doing philosophy that hadn’t been available to me — I learned much from reading and participating in them… I learned philosophical jargon and ‘insider catchphrases’ by reading the comments, I learned about other feminist philosophers, including about other disabled feminist philosophers of color (our numbers are small, but we exist!) by reading the comments, and I learned that the written word modality of social media was a way for philosophers who were deaf or hard of hearing or had other communication disabilities could participate in conversations that prior to this were difficult to access. – Teresa Blankmeyer Burke, “Accessing Feminist Philosophers

Working on Feminist Philosophers has given me many opportunities to learn a lot. Sometimes I’ve become much more aware of areas in which I knew little. Disability studies has been one such… Another thing I’ve come to think as we’ve discussed things is that appeals to intentions or lack thereof very often can’t adequately excuse ignorance. In a real sense, intentions may not matter… Through the blog I’ve really had a chance to think a lot about the role of institutions in what can make academic life difficult for women. – Anne J. Jacobson, “Thank you all, bloggers and commentators.”

I started blogging here in the summer of 2012, four years into my Ph.D. program. When I began that program in the fall of 2008, I didn’t know much of anything about feminist philosophy, and I didn’t care to know anything about it. I thought gender was a shallow and inconsequential human category, so there was surely nothing interesting for philosophers to say about it… By the time this blog invited me to join, I had had some major shifts in my epistemic and ethical worldviews, and had switched from specializing in philosophy of physics to philosophy of psychology, with plans to write a dissertation on gender & race stereotypes and self-identity. I had discovered, in large part through blogs and connecting with philosophers over social media, that there was, in fact, a lot of interesting things for philosophers to say about gender… Another half a decade later, I view social & feminist epistemology as my intellectual home base. One of my current interests is how phenomena like epistemic injustice and active ignorance may be playing out inside the philosophy profession, especially in terms of boundary policing and teaching practices. While there is so much work left to do, it is also striking to me what has changed since 2008. Many critiques of the profession that would have been laughed at (that I remember being laughed at about) are now taken up seriously in many places. – Stacey Goguen, “Critical Self-Reflection and Opening Up Philosophy

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