Philosopher’s Article On Transracialism Sparks Controversy (Updated with response from author)
An article in the current issue of the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia has created such a controversy over the past several days that the members of its board of associate editors have now issued an apology for publishing it.
The article is “In Defense of Transracialism” by Rebecca Tuvel, an assistant professor of philosophy at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. In the paper, Professor Tuvel takes up the question of whether the considerations that support accepting transgender individuals’ decisions to change sexes, which she endorses, provide support for accepting transracial individuals’ decisions to change races. She defends an affirmative answer to that question.
The result has been an eruption of complaints from a number of philosophers and other academics, expressed mainly on Facebook and Twitter. [See the update below for a response from Prof. Tuvel.] Among the complaints is the charge that the paper is anti-transgender.
That charge may come as a surprise to some readers, as it comes through quite clearly in her paper that Professor Tuvel supports accepting transgender individuals’ decisions to change sexes. For example, she writes:
Trans individuals’ claims to self-identify as members of another sex did not always receive societal uptake, and unfortunately many still struggle to receive it today…
Thankfully, there is growing recognition that justice for trans individuals means respecting their self-identification by granting them membership in their felt sex category of belonging…
It would be decidedly unjust for the acceptance of trans individuals to turn on such knowledge [of the biological versus social basis of sex-gender identity]…
Nonetheless, in one popular public Facebook post, Nora Berenstain, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Tennessee, says the essay contains “discursive transmisogynistic violence.” She elaborates:
Tuvel enacts violence and perpetuates harm in numerous ways throughout her essay. She deadnames a trans woman. She uses the term “transgenderism.” She talks about “biological sex” and uses phrases like “male genitalia.” She focuses enormously on surgery, which promotes the objectification of trans bodies. She refers to “a male-to- female (mtf) trans individual who could return to male privilege,” promoting the harmful transmisogynistic ideology that trans women have (at some point had) male privilege. In her discussion of “transracialism,” Tuvel doesn’t cite a single woman of color philosopher, nor does she substantively engage with any work by Black women, nor does she cite or engage with the work of any Black trans women who have written on this topic.
An open letter to Hypatia complaining about the article is now being circulated and currently has over 130 signatures [update: the letter has apparently been taken down; a screenshot of it is available here]. It states that the article “falls short of scholarly standards” and requests the article be retracted. Among the reasons cited are the following:
1. It uses vocabulary and frameworks not recognized, accepted, or adopted by the conventions of the relevant subfields; for example, the author uses the language of “transgenderism” and engages in deadnaming a trans woman;
2. It mischaracterizes various theories and practices relating to religious identity and conversion; for example, the author gives an off-hand example about conversion to Judaism;
3. It misrepresents leading accounts of belonging to a racial group; for example, the author incorrectly cites Charles Mills as a defender of voluntary racial identification;
4. It fails to seek out and sufficiently engage with scholarly work by those who are most vulnerable to the intersection of racial and gender oppressions (women of color) in its discussion of “transracialism”. We endorse Hypatia’s stated commitment to “actively reflect and engage the diversity within feminism, the diverse experiences and situations of women, and the diverse forms that gender takes around the globe,” and we find that this submission was published without being held to that commitment.
Having read the article, I was surprised to see this particular letter get the support it has, although perhaps not all of the signatories agree to all of the points. Point 2 is a stretch. Here’s what Tuvel says about Judaism:
Generally, we treat people wrongly when we block them from assuming the personal identity they wish to assume. For instance, if someone identifies so strongly with the Jewish community that she wishes to become a Jew, it is wrong to block her from taking conversion classes to do so. This example reveals there are at least two components to a successful identity transformation: (1) how a person self-identifies, and (2) whether a given society is willing to recognize an individual’s felt sense of identity by granting her membership in the desired group. For instance, if the rabbi thinks you are not seriously committed to Judaism, she can block you from attempted conversion. Still, the possibility of rejection reveals that, barring strong overriding considerations, transition to a different identity category is often accepted in our society.
It is not clear how this is a mischaracterization. Nor is it “offhand” in any objectionable way.
Point 3 is just plain false. Here is what Tuvel says about Mills:
Charles Mills identifies at least five categories generally relevant to the determination of racial membership, including “self-awareness of ancestry, public awareness of ancestry, culture, experience, and self-identification” (Mills 1998, 50). If ancestry is a less emphasized feature in some places (for example, in Brazil), then Dolezal’s exposure to black culture, experience living as someone read as black, and her self-identification could be sufficient to deem she is black in those places. And because there is no fact of the matter about her “actual” race from a genetic standpoint, these features of Dolezal’s experience would be decisive for determining her race in that particular context. The crucial point here is that no “truth” about Dolezal’s “real” race would be violated.
Point 4 has come up in a number of discussions about the article. However, to my knowledge, no one has pointed to a particular piece of scholarship by a woman philosopher of color that is relevant to the specific question Tuvel takes up in her essay. (Readers, examples would be much appreciated.)
That leaves Point 1. I am not an expert in the relevant subfields, so I am not in much of a position to comment as to whether their conventions have been adhered to by Tuvel. Such conventions clearly embed some expert knowledge and communicative efficiency, yet there is a question here about the extent to which a failure to adhere to such conventions counts as an objection.
The open letter continues:
It is difficult to imagine that this article could have been endorsed by referees working in critical race theory and trans theory, which are the two areas of specialization that should have been most relevant to the review process. A message has been sent, to authors and readers alike, that white cis scholars may engage in speculative discussion of these themes without broad and sustained engagement with those theorists whose lives are most directly affected by transphobia and racism.
I contacted Hypatia to ask whether the paper had undergone their standard reviewing procedure, and the editors there stated that it had. The paper made it through double-anonymous review with at least two referees.
Between the complaints on social media and the open letter, sufficient pressure has been put on Hypatia that members of its board of associate editors have already issued an apology for publishing Tuvel’s essay in which they state that “Clearly, the article should not have been published.” The speed with which this has all happened is extraordinary.
The apology is in the form of a public Facebook post from Cressida Heyes, Canada Research Chair in Philosophy of Gender and Sexuality at the University of Alberta. She notes that the associate editors “don’t make editorial decisions but we do advise the editors on policy.”
We, the members of Hypatia’s Board of Associate Editors, extend our profound apology to our friends and colleagues in feminist philosophy, especially transfeminists, queer feminists, and feminists of color, for the harms that the publication of the article on transracialism has caused. The sources of those harms are multiple, and include: descriptions of trans lives that perpetuate harmful assumptions and (not coincidentally) ignore important scholarship by trans philosophers; the practice of deadnaming, in which a trans person’s name is accompanied by a reference to the name they were assigned at birth; the use of methodologies which take up important social and political phenomena in dehistoricized and decontextualized ways, thus neglecting to address and take seriously the ways in which those phenomena marginalize and commit acts of violence upon actual persons; and an insufficient engagement with the field of critical race theory. Perhaps most fundamentally, to compare ethically the lived experience of trans people (from a distinctly external perspective) primarily to a single example of a white person claiming to have adopted a black identity creates an equivalency that fails to recognize the history of racial appropriation, while also associating trans people with racial appropriation. We recognize and mourn that these harms will disproportionately fall upon those members of our community who continue to experience marginalization and discrimination due to racism and cisnormativity.
It is our position that the harms that have ensued from the publication of this article could and should have been prevented by a more effective review process. We are deeply troubled by this and are taking this opportunity to seriously reconsider our review policies and practices. While nothing can change the fact that the article was published, we are dedicated to doing what we can to make things right. Clearly, the article should not have been published, and we believe that the fault for this lies in the review process. In addition to the harms listed above imposed upon trans people and people of color, publishing the article risked exposing its author to heated critique that was both predictable and justifiable. A better review process would have both anticipated the criticisms that quickly followed the publication, and required that revisions be made to improve the argument in light of those criticisms.
The full statement is available here. You can click on the screenshots below to be taken to the publisher’s page for Tuvel’s article.
UPDATE (5/1/2017): The author of the article in question, Rebecca Tuvel, has issued the following statement:
I wrote this piece from a place of support for those with non-normative identities, and frustration about the ways individuals who inhabit them are so often excoriated, body-shamed, and silenced. When the case of Rachel Dolezal surfaced, I perceived a transphobic logic that lay at the heart of the constant attacks against her. My article is an effort to extend our thinking alongside transgender theories to other non-normative possibilities.
The vehement criticism has already raised a number of concerns. I regret the deadnaming of Caitlyn Jenner in the article, which means that I referred to her birth name instead of her chosen name. Even though she does this herself in her book, I understand that it is not for outsiders to do and that such a practice can perpetuate harm against transgender individuals, and I apologize. The deadnaming will be removed from the article. I also understand that some people are offended by my use of the term transgenderism. My motivation for using it came from a blogpost by Julia Serano, as I find her defense of the term persuasive. A valid reproach is that my article discusses the lives of vulnerable people without sufficiently citing their own first-person experiences and views.
But so much wrath on electronic media has been expressed in the form of ad hominem attacks. I have received hate mail. I have been denounced a horrible person by people who have never met me. I have been warned that this is a project I should not have started and can only have questionable motivations for writing. Many people are now strongly urging me and the journal to retract the article and issue an apology. They have cautioned me that not doing so would be devastating for me personally, professionally, and morally. From the few who have expressed their support, much has been said to me about bullying culture, call-out culture, virtue-signaling, a mob mentality, and academic freedom.
So little of what has been said, however, is based upon people actually reading what I wrote. There are theoretical and philosophical questions that I raise that merit our reflection. Not doing so can only reinforce gender and racial essentialism. I deeply worry about the claim that the project itself is harmful to trans people and people of color. These are, of course, wide and varied groups, some of whom experience offense and harm at the idea of transracialism, and others who do not. People of color and trans individuals are not of one mind about this topic, of course, and online publications attest to this. For instance, Kai M. Green has defended the importance of grappling with the question of transracialism. Adolph Reed Jr., Camille Gear Rich, Melissa Harris Perry, Allyson Hobbs, Angela Jones, Ann Morton, BP Morton, among others, have also expressed more sympathetic positions on the topic. The philosophical stakes of this discussion merit our consideration.
Calls for intellectual engagement are also being shut down because they “dignify” the article. If this is considered beyond the pale as a response to a controversial piece of writing, then critical thought is in danger. I have never been under the illusion that this article is immune from critique. But the last place one expects to find such calls for censorship rather than discussion is amongst philosophers.
UPDATE (5/2/17, ongoing): Commentary elsewhere. [Note this list has been expanded and is now here.]
- “The reason that two anonymous blind reviewers recommended publication of Tuvel’s paper is because it is a tightly written, well argued philosophical defense of a novel thesis that merits serious philosophical consideration.” — Mylan Engel (Northern Illinois) in a public Facebook post.
- “It looks to me like defamation per se.” — Brian Leiter (Chicago) at Leiter Reports.
- “A tentative response to some elements in her piece from the perspective of a fellow-traveler in Millian philosophy.” — Eric Schliesser (Amsterdam) at Digressions & Impressions.
- “The Associate Editors’ Board, in condemning publication (and themselves) ahead of any formal retraction investigation, seem to be on procedurally thin ice” — David Wallace (Univ. Southern California) in the comments below. Also in the comments, from Udo Schuklenk (Queen’s University): “among the signatories of the letter demanding a retraction were a number of current and former journal editors who should have known better than demanding a retraction in the absence of providing an actual justification for that demand, a justification that meets the standards of international ethical guidelines that are binding on the journal.”
- “It is time for those of us who are tenured to stop allowing a very junior and vulnerable feminist scholar to be subjected to this treatment without any public support from the feminist community.” — Chloe Taylor (Alberta) in the comments, below.
- “Stop symbolically conscripting Rebecca Tuvel into the role of personifying all of these systemic issues that attach to the profession at large.” — Prof Manners at Feminist Philosophers.
- “I am bothered by the self-righteousness of philosophers and others who speak from positions of relative privilege—white and/or cis and/or masculine and/or tenured—acting as if they’re so woke that they would never make the kinds of mistakes they’ve charged to Tuvel.” — Jason Wyckoff at his blog.
- “Although there have been many contributions on both sides of the discussion that have made it clear that Prof. Tuvel is not to blame, individually, for the crisis, some have unfairly targeted her and do not look to the bigger picture. Let us now focus on why this spark led to the fire, rather than the spark.” — Sally Haslanger (MIT) here.
- In “The School of Athens,” Raphael “disguised Hypatia in the likeness of the Pope’s favorite nephew, hoping in this way to gain approval of the painting. By altering her to resemble the nephew’s juvenile features, he rendered her in a way that she could pass as male, but this also required replacing her darker features with pale ones. We need to understand more of our own history in order to make a different and better future.” — Linda Alcoff (Hunter/CUNY) in a public Facebook post.
- “I’ve heard a version of this criticism made many times by philosophers with activist commitments: we shouldn’t argue for such and so, even if it’s true, because of the possible political consequences of arguing for such and so. I’ve always found these kinds of worries to be exaggerated…” — Holly Lawford Smith (Melbourne) at Crooked Timber.
- “If those of us on the left are unable to make distinctions between legitimate intellectual disagreements and damaging lies, we will be hoist with our own petard.” — Suzanna Danuta Walters (Northeastern) in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- Some academics “supported Tuvel in private while actually attacking her in public… [while others] were pressuring, even threatening, Tuvel that she wouldn’t get tenure and her career would be ruined if she didn’t retract her article.” — Kelly Oliver (Vanderbilt) in The Philosophical Salon at the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Also of interest: “An Inclusive Bibliography on Race, Gender, and Related Topics” — a Google Doc.
“That leaves Point 1. I am not an expert in the relevant subfields, so I am not in much of a position to comment as to whether their conventions have been adhered to by Tuvel. Such conventions clearly embed some expert knowledge and communicative efficiency, yet there is a question here about the extent to which a failure to adhere to such conventions counts as an objection.”
This seems to be the crux of the issue. If you extend the “I am not an expert in the relevant subfields” beyond just addressing point 1 to addressing the controversy more broadly, one wonders why this post takes so much time presuming to be in a position to adjudicate the claims made.
To be clear, I’m not an expert in the relevant subfields either, which is why I defer to the condemnation has been nearly universal among experts in the relevant subfields.Report
Hi Ammon. Are you saying that if I am not an expert on X, I’m not in a position to comment on any aspects of a controversy about publishing an article on X? That seems too stringent.
I’ve offered here an account of what has transpired, I’ve provided some account of the reasons people are objecting to the paper, and I’ve offered my opinion on some of those reasons. If you think my opinion is in error, show me where it’s in error. I understand the impulse to tell someone to shut up because they’re not an expert but at some point that is just a cheat.Report
I’m not asking you to shut up, but it does seem to me that as someone who hosts a large blog in the profession, it would have behooved you to be more sensitive to representing the controversy as it stands rather than inserting such a strong editorial voice. Certainly, as philosophers we should be aware of how the initial framing of an issue is often prejudicial. The way you’ve chosen to frame it opens it up to the sort of response one gets from Eric below, who shows his own colors with terms like “social identity crusaders.”
So I’m not asking you to be silent, but I am asking you to be more thoughtful and a better listener.Report
I agree with Ammon. It is an incredibly sensitive issue that deserves to be treated as such in a professional blog.
This blog post does not read charitably and as a minority of sorts in philosophy, I fear possible negative repercussions if I say more after reading some of the comments below.Report
Possible negative repercussions like a mob calling you “violent” and censoring your scholarly output?Report
Again, it’s really too bad that this post decided to frame the issue in a way that gives folks like Oliver Traldi license to accuse other people of “nonsense, metaphysically” while representing themselves as enemies of censorship, without seeming to have engaged any of the issues at stake.. Since when has it been censorship when a majority of the Journal’s own editorial board note that an article should never have been published? But, then when the motives are imputed by saying things like “Between the complaints on social media and the open letter, sufficient pressure has been put on Hypatia that members of its board of associate editors have already issued an apology for publishing Tuvel’s essay” the problem has already been framed as an issue of censorship, so it’s unsurprising.Report
I don’t need any “license” to call things how I see them. I’m happy to see DN taking a stand for free speech rather than its standard “devil’s advocacy, but maybe free speech sucks!” And I’ve read plenty about the metaphysics of social kinds, thank you very much. Or is it a sign of erudition to find bad arguments convincing?Report
Ok time to take a breather Oliver.Report
Hi Ammon. You say this:
“Since when has it been censorship when a majority of the Journal’s own editorial board note that an article should never have been published?”
This seems to me to get things causally backwards. They made these acknowledgments only after vicious pushback, and almost certainly because of it. It is doubtful they’d have made similar remarks if it weren’t for the degree of hostility in those critiques. So since when has it been censorship to pressure someone into “agreeing” that they were in the wrong? Since forever.Report
The statement signed by the majority of members of Hypatia’s editorial board reads: “Clearly, the article should not have been published, and we believe that the fault for this lies in the review process.” To view this as an issue of censorship is to refuse to take this statement at its word. We as philosophers should be more aware of framing effects.
I applaud Hypatia’s Board for being willing to address acknowledged failures in their own editorial process.Report
There is plenty of reason to worry that such a response is a post hoc concession to vociferous critics that does not reflect the attitude the editorial board would have had in the absence of pushback. As such, I see it as compromised and the reaction of critics as a form of soft censorship.Report
Right, but you can only make that case if you assume that the assertion doesn’t have merits on its own grounds. So you rather paternalistically substitute your own judgement of what the import of their statement is without paying attention to what is actually at issue and without addressing the merits of the statement. Which is precisely the problem with the original post, and with the entire “censorship” red herring that this thread has gone down.Report
Note the remarks below by Wallace: certain serious breaches ought to be met to warrant justifiable retraction (perhaps you disagree with those conditions; I do not). I do not think this article likely to meet those conditions. The apology and any ostensible retraction are not only unjustified, but are themselves a far greater outrage than the contents of the article.
So you say this is a red herring. What do you mean? The way I see it, this is ideological policing of journal contents by organized public outrage. If there are serious scholarly problems with the article, they do not appear in the letter, and the concerns they do raise do not strike me as justifications for retraction.Report
Also, it is not clear to me that “the condemnation has been nearly universal among experts in the relevant subfields.” That what we’ve been hearing mostly is condemnation is not sufficient to draw that conclusion.Report
Recently heard from an anthropologist friend, who has read the article, that they are so disappointed at this article’s publication that they and other peers in their discipline consider this whole debacle a “referendum on philosophy”. They think philosophy is already so narrow and insular, that our internally not understanding why people are upset at its publication is just making things look worse.
I think perhaps we can’t forget that this article is not just a philosophy paper, it really is in a cross-disciplinary field, in a journal which other disciplines read. The consensus spoken of about the quality of scholarship and the failure to engage with scholarship in those other fields does in fact extend beyond philosophy.
((Let me just add, I wish it were not necessary, that in NO WAY is this intended to be further condemnation of the author of the article, who has been sorely mistreated by our community; the reviewers should have known better. It is just that a lot of the puzzlement from philosophy circles right now seems to be about why anyone thinks it’s bad scholarship in the first place –– I am not sure that’s quite so hard to find out if one talks to other humanists and social scientists who have read it)).Report
Well, philosophy has standards of objectivity, openness, peer review, and argumentation that are famously not shared by many of the ‘soft’ versions of the social sciences or by many of the humanities disciplines. This is the saving grace for philosophy that, if noted well, could spare us from severe budget cuts when some of the less rigorous disciplines may not fare so well.Report
What did the anthropologist think were the article’s main flaws?
Did they include the things mentioned by the petition to have it retracted?Report
As an anthropologist, I’m also curious about this. I mean, the article couldn’t be published *as anthropology* since it doesn’t use any sort of ethnographic research. And, the related aspect of the criticism (that she didn’t reference POC/trans scholars) seems a valid concern in terms of its publication in Hypatia which, as someone above mentioned, tends towards a more interdisciplinary crowd. But the failure to meet interdisciplinary (or other-disciplinary) norms of publication hardly makes it a “referendum on philosophy”…. just, wat?Report
Not only is point 1 the “crux” of the issue, I mean, it’s really almost all the issue from what I have seen and read. Probably 95-99% of the criticism I’ve seen in online sources has been about the deadnaming and the use of outmoded/inappropriate terminology (“transgenderism”). And these things appear directly in the abstract, so you don’t even need to read the paper itself to find these issues. The other issues appear to come up from time to time, but someone who has addressed points 2-4 clearly hasn’t really addressed much of the criticism of the paper.Report
If those are the principle complaints, the author could have simply been asked to change the article on those points, without altering any of the argument. It’s somewhat unorthodox to do so after the article has been published, but it certainly could be done. (Not to mention that in one case the author has a reasonable defence anyway; namely that she read a famous trans activists arguing that a particular term was fine, and was persuaded by this. This strongly suggests to me that there is no consensus against using the term, but maybe Serrano is a massive outlier.)Report
In the end, my guess is that this (dropping the deadnaming and changing the terminology without altering the argument) is probably what will happen. Whether or not that’s the appropriate response is something I’m leaving to others to write about. But, specifically regarding Serano, yes, she’s probably best considered an outlier these days among theorists. But there are certain generational issues that come up here (very few, if any, theorists under the age of 40 use “transgenderism”, and the primary usage of the term appears to be the negative usage among TERFs that Serano identifies in the post Tuvel links above).Report
TERF is a slur, not an accepted term of art. What the hell Hypatia, so feminists should get busy no-platforming themselves? Cripes and crikey. I’ve been driven to agree with Brian Leiter about something!Report
Tuvel’s statement includes an apology for “deadnaming” Jenner and she will edit the article to get rid of this.
As for “transgenderism”, she cites a scholar’s defense of the term.Report
Wouldn’t it have been better for someone to write a reply arguing that the paper is mistaken?Report
Not in today’s world. Instead you want to create the online equivalent of a riot and demand apologies. This is the result of identity politics superseding open inquiry. I am embarrassed for the philosophical profession that someone would claim that referring to biological sex is a form of ‘violence.’ This trivializes real violence and is a shameful exploitation of concept creep to silence viewpoints the critic disagrees with.Report
That’s right, in the modern Internet a person can start a post by calling an open letter “the online equivalent of a riot” and finish it by complaining about other people’s easy use of violence metaphors.Report
Lance Bush’s post made analogies. The open letter decried Tuvel’s paper as an instance of actual violence. Not comparable enough to warrant accusations of hypocrisy.Report
The whole point of emphasizing “online equivalent” was to make it clear that this was a virtual and not a literal riot while simultaneously drawing attention to the characteristics it does share with a real riot. I am willing to bet if someone paid you to accurately describe what characteristics I think are shared and which ones are not shared, you’d do a pretty good job, so I have serious doubts you or anyone else could interpret me as engaging in the same rhetorical moves.
Likewise for claims like “witch hunt.” These are analogies; the people who we are criticizing make use of the language of violence in a way that deliberately equivocates or even explicitly suggests that certain expressions are a literal form of violence.Report
Thank you for a detailed and nuanced post, Justin. With respect for Ammon Allred, I do not think point 1 is the crux of the issue. I think the crux of the issue is that the author expressed views that are considered verboten by identity politics crusaders, which sparked the usual outburst of social-media-based rage. The outrage this article occasioned was not caused by mundane issues with the terminology employed by the article. It was occasioned by the fact that someone publicly endorsed views that the crusaders don’t agree with. Anyone who does that must be denounced and silenced.Report
Eric, you write, “I think the crux of the issue is that the author expressed views that are considered verboten by identity politics crusaders, which sparked the usual outburst of social-media-based rage.” I’m not convinced of this at all. Those objecting to the article have reasons and concerns and it is disrespectful and careless to just dismiss it as an “identity politics crusade” — it is no better than saying we need to leave debate to the experts.Report
With genuine respect, given that according to the open letter the article causes harm, it’s “continued availability causes further harm, ” and that as a result those signing the open letter have “concerns reach beyond mere scholarly disagreement” , and given that we are discussing an article that whatever its scholarly merits, is hardly inflammatory rhetoric but a scholarly technical article published in Hypatia, how is this not a case of calls for censorship from scholars with a political and/or philosophical agenda?Report
On point 3- Mills argues that race is objective meaning we cannot as individuals simply ‘choose’ racial identity because of the 5 features named above. It is also socially constructed (and not metaphysically reducible to ‘real’ essences) because it is phenotypical and not genotypical. Yet for Mills, it exists independently of our preferences and choices. It is maintained in objective ways through ancestry and a history of racial oppression and systemic racism. “Passing as white” to gain access to social opportunity was a pragmatic choice for some Black Americans – not an instance of transracialism for Mills. But “passing” as Black when one was born white, and identifying with a history of racial oppression and insubordination, without that ancestry, history, and only a ‘dip’ into culture, is neither pragmatic nor metaphysically objective. It is also morally offensive given the history of racially oppression and white supremacy. The refusal to consider that the U.S. is not a place where ancestry is “downplayed” for Black Americans (the ‘one drop rule’) seems like willful ignorance. Also here is a start at some of those relevant readings:
Alcoff, Visible Identities
Anzaldúa, Borderlands: La Frontera
Anzaldúa and Moraga, This Bridge Called My Back
Chela Sandoval, Methodology of the Oppressed
Collins, Black Feminist Thought
hooks, Ain’t I a Woman?
Lorde, Sister Outsider
Narayan, Dislocating CulturesReport
Thank you for this helpful comment, Maureen.Report
Maureen, here’s a question. Where is the idea coming from that Tuvel denies that “we cannot as individuals simply ‘choose’ racial identity”? She mentions Mills’ five categories, and then says that in certain circumstances only three might be relevant: exposure to black culture, experience living as someone read as black, and self-identification as black. But it is not as if these three make the matter one of choosing one’s racial identity. And in fact Tuvel says “Although race change is theoretically possible, whether it is practically possible will depend on a society’s willingness to adjust its rules for racial categorization to better accommodate individual self-identification.” This implies that choice is not sufficient.Report
It comes from Tuvel saying “Dolezeal may or may not be transracial” and that she is keeping open the possibility for the sake of argument when it is clearly the case that the only criteria Dolezeal has met is her own choice to so identify. The entire problematics of the case in terms of absence of ancestry AND societal unwillingness is side-stepped for ‘theoretical purposes.’ Yet real peoples’ lives are being considered ‘theoretically’ without the embedded context of scholarship by Black queer and trans women who have managed to work through every obstacle to tell the truth in ways ‘acceptable’ to academic PhD programs and journals only to be ignored (and disrespected) when a young white scholar wants to muse ‘theoretically.’Report
Isn’t it a problem – and sorta Tuvel’s point – that parallel arguments could be leveled against the idea of being transgender?
You write, “it is clearly the case that the only criteria Dolezeal has met is her own choice to so identify. The entire problematics of the case in terms of absence of ancestry AND societal unwillingness is side-stepped.”
Don’t TERFS argue that “it is clearly the case that the only criteria [transgender individuals have] met is [their] own choice to so identify. The entire problematics of the case in terms of absence of [biological markers of sex] AND societal unwillingness is side-stepped.”Report
This is worth a read if you’re interested: http://www.thestranger.com/features/2017/04/19/25082450/the-heart-of-whiteness-ijeoma-oluo-interviews-rachel-dolezal-the-white-woman-who-identifies-as-blackReport
This will make it very clear: https://twitter.com/ztsamudzi/status/858033675673489409Report
That critique is helpful, but did you notice the author’s contemptous exchange (https://twitter.com/kopshtik/status/859137079489421312) with this other guy, who screencaps a private email RT sent to him and writes: “Here’s what she sent me. Grovelling in private, defensive as all fuck in public where someone she wants a job from might see”
Setting aside the frankly gross sexist imagery of a woman groveling to a man in private to protect her image in public, I really don’t see how this sort of public shaming is proportionate or appropriate; I think it’s that sort of response that lots of people are worried about.Report
Wouldn’t the same concept apply to men identifying as women?, There is clearly a historic trend of mistreatment and abuse of woman by men. Wouldn’t be morally offensive to identify with a history of gender oppression and insubordination without having the right genetic background?
This is a serious question, I am not trying to disprove your argument, Thanks.Report
I take it this is one of the issues that the article wants readers to consider, that it’s hard to spell out consistently how Dolezal has done something wrong by virtue of her change in identification in a way that doesn’t imply trans-women have done something wrong by virtue of their change in identification. Clearly there’s something approaching a consensus for a lot of people that Dolezal *has* done something wrong, and (rightly) a consensus (that the article defends) that trans-women haven’t. It seems like asking why these are the case and how they co-exist is an offensive question.Report
The answer is always: “Race and gender are different.”
What the differences are (Haslanger certainly treats them very similarly, and indeed intentionally analogously), and exactly how those differences are relevant, tends to be left as an exercise for the reader, because (see above) there’s a very voluminous literature on this that is, apparently, nobody’s particular responsibility to summarize or “educate” us about.Report
Two differences I’ve seen cited:
1) Black people have been more oppressed in American history than women, and this explains why it would be wrong to try and switch from black-white, or at least it’s wrong to think this is much like the case where someone who was gendered as male wants to know be treated as female.
This is obviously not a very convincing argument for thinking that you can consistently hold that there’s *nothing* morally troublesome about the gender case, since the basic premise that claiming to be a member of an oppressed group having been treated as being a member of the dominant group is morally dubious is being accepted, but it’s being claimed that the degree of wrong is (much) greater in the racial case. I suppose someone might be able to make out a case for transracialism being all things considered wrong, and being transgender being ok on the grounds that although we have the same basic type of reason to be dubious of both, the reason is much stronger in the racial case, and can therefore outweigh the other reasons we might have for permitting switching. But my guess is most trans activists would be super uncomfortable conceding to the proponents of old-style feminist anti-trans arguments that they had even a prima facie case, as anyone making this argument in the racial case basically has to. (To be fair, the person who made this argument to me was just a friend who is LGBT yes (L), but not particularly an expert in this area, so it may well be that none of the academic critics of Tuvel’s argument have anything like this in mind.)
2) In the gender case, people gendered as belonging to the oppressed group can move in the other direction. This is not plausibly so in the racial case, and so allowing transracialism creates an unfair assymetry against people who are already unfairly disadvantaged by racism, in way that allowing people to be transgendered doesn’t create an unfair asymmetry against women.
Suppose this is true, as it very well might be, because even very light skinned people with some known African ancestry are commonly classed as ‘black’ in America. It looks like at least a relevant consideration. But obviously more work would have to be done to show that it’s enough to tip the scales, if one thinks that not letting people switch harms them, which presumably any advocate of trans rights in the gender case is going to have to think at least about some hypothetical trans racial people who are relevantly psychologically like transgendered people (not necessarily about Dolezal).
Furthermore, accepting this argument means accepting that it would be impermissible to be a trans woman, if it was for some reason impossible for anyone gendered as male to go in the opposite direction. Once again I doubt many trans activists, or others supportive of trans rights are going to be terribly comfortable with this.Report
Saying “black people are more oppressed than women” is ignorant of the reality of women’s oppression in the present and historical context, and it is ignorant of the concept of intersectionality and the work that has been done by black women to highlight the absurdity of the idea that one oppression is ‘worse’ than another. See: Women, Race and Class by Angela Davis. It is also ahistorical given the fact that women’s oppression chronologically precedes the existence of capitalism and white supremacy. By the end of this day, four women will be murdered by a husband or boyfriend in the United States alone. Racial oppression is not ‘worse’ than women’s oppression.
However, I love that you made this argument, as this is exactly what radical feminists have been saying since the 1970s. Women’s oppression is taken less seriously than racial oppression and class oppression because of this persistent, male supremacist myth that women’s oppression is not that big of a deal, or not as real as other kinds of oppression. It may be harder to see, but that is because violence against women happens in the so-called private sphere – women get killed at home.
I agree with you though, that this sexist perspective is the reason why people do not see the harm in insisting that any man who identifies as a woman must be taken seriously while insisting that any white person who identifies as black must be summarily dismissed. They think racial oppression is real and they think sex-based oppression is not.Report
To be clear, I do not endorse the view that black people are more oppressed than women, I was merely recounting an argument against trans racialism that had been made to me.Report
Thanks for clarifying.Report
“Yet for Mills, it exists independently of our preferences and choices. It is maintained in objective ways through ancestry and a history of racial oppression and systemic racism.”
Isn’t gender objective in a parallel way—isn’t it maintained in objective ways through sex characteristics and and a history of gender oppression and systemic racism?
Ancestry is obviously different than sex characteristics, but it’s not more objective. There’s some vagueness with both, but also clear cases that act as the basis of the constructs.
The US isn’t a place where sex characteristics are downplayed either—if it was, trans people wouldn’t experience the pain and discrimination that they do.Report
Maureen, thank you for engaging seriously with the arguments at hand. I think you’re right that, for those who wish to draw a hard line between trans (in the sense of gender transition) and “transracialism”, some great weight must be placed on black ancestry. But–as someone who is immersed in race theory and not inclined to be charitable toward claims of transracialism–I just don’t think it’s that obvious. Race in the US is a conceptual mess stitched together out a pastiche of local social and economic practices, a series of ad hoc justifications for white supremacy, and a diverse set of counterreactions to those justifications. I make my seminar students try to define it on the first day of class, and after a few hours of frustration and a few dozen attempts that end up being absurd or exclusionary, they are finally ready to accept that they are embarking on the study of something that it is impossible to succinctly and comprehensively define.
In short, some communities and individuals emphasize ancestry; some don’t; in virtually every case, ancestry is something that interacts with other things, including appearance and culture. And even if we are to accept that race is largely a function of ancestry, that raises an equally vexing set of questions: 1)What kind of ancestry? The one drop rule is only one of the contenders. 2) What’s so special about ancestry? Since you seem to be talking about biological ancestry (in other words, a white person raised by black folks is still white), it seems like the answer must be biological, likely genetic–but race is not genetic. And arguments that affirm race as genetic are often used for anti-black purposes (ex. Charles Murray), which leads some activists and theorists to consider de-essentializing race an important priority. 3) Whatever race means in our current society, why not change it? In fact, given that the concept of race is from its origin white supremacist, it seems that the concept *must* be either transformed or abolished.
I’m not trying to analogize your arguments with Murray’s. It’s a defensible position and I think one can give quite good answers to some of these questions. I just want to emphasize that the position you’ve presented is not an obvious consensus in race theory, not remotely simple or “metaphysically objective”, and not unambiguously favorable to anti-racist goals.Report
“to my knowledge, no one has pointed to a particular piece of scholarship by a woman philosopher of color”
What role is “philosopher” playing, here? Wouldn’t scholarly work that bears on the subject, which is written by women of color, be work that ought to be consulted before publishing on a topic?Report
Thanks for this post, Justin.
Hypatia is not VOX News or MSNBC! Hypatia is an academic journal that I respect(ed!) so much, and this is so disappointing. I’m so extremely worried for feminist philosophy if our flagship academic journal is going to respond so erratically and thoughtlessly to facebook/twitter outrage. If anything is an example of terrible and careless philosophical writing, these facebook statuses are. So devastating!!Report
Here is what I’m not getting. In a scientific publication, why is it considered bad scholarship to use terms like ‘male genitalia’ and ‘biological sex’? In an article on sex-change, why would it be bad to focus on surgery, which is the method to achieve the sex-change (which, btw, is supposed to be a change from one biological sex to another)?Report
I hope that senior members of our profession come to Prof. Tuvel’s defense. It is to our disgrace that we have tolerated behavior like this from the fringe, feminist left for so long–the bullying, the intellectual emptiness, the self-indulgence. Surely, if we know anything about rational inquiry, we know that it is wrong to assess work on the basis of facts about the author’s race or gender.
Whatever our reasons for toleration have been, they are no longer viable. Our universities and our profession are under attack by those who claim that we simply produce left-wing cant. This open letter and the statement of Hypatia’s Associate Editors only bolsters their case. Important public policies, like the fight against climate change, are being ignored because we have as a culture lost respect for objective truth and rigorous inquiry. And we have a new–and in my view dangerous–President, elected in large part because hard-working, honest people were tired of being berated by the privileged, the whiny, and the non-contributing.
Most of us have known for a long time that this emperor has no clothes. Even if we haven’t always aired the view, we’ve known it. It’s time for us, as a profession, to do something about it.Report
I would be interested in participating in a letter of defense.Report
So would I. And I hope that Dr. Tuvel takes Brian Leiter’s advice and sues these people for defamation. They are not only destroying the morale of those who work in our discipline, they are making a laughing stock out of philosophy to those outside the discipline.Report
The article is technically well-crafted, but its grounding in the scholarly areas that it addresses is either superficial (in the case of critical race theory) or absent (in the case of trans* philosophy). The manuscript should have been sent to peer reviewers with expertise in these areas, as is customary, one assumes, for all professional philosophy papers. The editors’ statement suggests that this general scholarly norm was not followed in this instance.Report
Yes, sending an article to practitioners of essentially political disciplines is a good way to ensure that it comes out essentially politically correct.Report
In your view, “politically correct” appears to function as semantically equivalent to “positions and arguments that I haven’t closely attended to but am politically antagonistic toward.”Report
1. It “appears” that way to you.
2. *critical theory nonsense*
3. It actually is that way.
This is actually a deductive argument.Report
A B C
T T F
No, it is not.Report
Hi there, I’m an actual trans person, and also an academic. (I’m writing anonymously for the reason that my colleagues don’t know I’m trans.) I’m glad that cisgender people are becoming more sensitive to the existence of trans persons and trying to be careful in how to think about gender. However, I imagine not all trans people, or trans academics, agree with the exaggerated response to this article. At least this one does not. In my mind, it’s “enacting violence” when trans women are killed. It’s “enacting violence” when gay and bi men are rounded up in Chechnya. This article has said somethings which maybe are wrong, but it isn’t violent in any straightforward sense of the term. And even if, somehow, the language in the article contributes to general attitudes which are responsible in part for violent actions, we can distinguish between those violent actions and the arguments for them. I think that’s a kinda important distinction, actually.
Other points: I admit that I don’t understand this new fad of using the term “deadname” (its new and wasn’t used until maybe the last few years as far as I can tell). That just sounds kinda dramatic to me–it’s a name that I changed which I didn’t like. Other people do that. But that aside, some trans people are fine using their legal birth name in some contexts. Caitlyn Jenner, who frequently tweets photos of herself pre-transition, seems to be one of them. Why is it a problem to use her former name when mentioning her in the article? (If she were private, that would be another story).
Likewise, the language trans people use to describe themselves is quite varied (spend some time on Tumblr or Reddit). Maybe “transgenderism” isn’t standard in some contexts, and it is typically associated with anti-trans activists, but I’ve heard (I think cis) people complain about language that I know actual trans people use, which I find really weird. Further, whether trans women have had male privilege is also a controversial point–it’s not an established doctrine that everyone has to agree with. (If x privilege is at least in part a matter of one’s being perceived as x, then why not allow that trans women may have had privilege due to being perceived as male, even while they simultaneously had other forms of oppression?).
Look, this paper may be terrible. Maybe it shouldn’t have been published and it’s a failure of the review process. But it’s not itself violent, unless we’re going to stretch language hyperbolically. And these well-meaning people writing on Facebook and elsewhere don’t speak for all transgender persons, whether or not they are trans people or not. Let me also just note that what seems to be implicit here is requiring someone to have identity X in order to write about issues concerning X has some negative consequences both in categories of race and gender, and elsewhere–do we want potential authors to disclose if they are cisgender or transgender before publishing a piece? Should we determine just how much of racial category X allows someone to write on philosophy of race? What if they are frequently read as white? Are they excluded for having white privilege? Or can they only speak to that particular experience?
I am not sure that I’ll have the energy to engage with replies to this comment, but I’ve been watching this discussion, getting more and more frustrated, and unable to comment on it. So, now you have one trans person’s view on this. I hope that folks engaging in this discussion will at least consider some of these points.Report
I think two senses of ‘deadnaming’ need to be distinguished. Obviously it’s grossly offensive to use a name that someone has repudiated to refer to them, just as it’s offensive to use a pronoun that they reject. But in a phrase of the form “X (formerly known as Y)”, Y isn’t being used: it’s being mentioned (even though by convention we leave out the quotation marks).
Of course this can still be harmful, if the person in question is keeping the name a secret — then writing “X (formerly known as Y)” can be an invasion of privacy. But in this case Caitlyn Jenner’s former name is about as far from a secret as imaginable.
I think one can strongly oppose deadnaming—in the strict sense—without adopting the policy that it’s wrong to mention a relevant fact that’s been in the public sphere for forty years and is known by literally tens of millions of people.
(Incidentally, I’m not saying that it was relevant in Tuvel’s case; maybe it wasn’t, and she can still be criticized on that score; but there are certainly some cases where it’s relevant. Eventually, a serious scholarly biography will be written about Jenner, given her importance both to sport and to trans visibility: surely the author of *that* shouldn’t pretend to be unaware of her previous name.)Report
JF, I’m not quite sure you’ve elaborated upon all of the possibilities here. What you’re calling “strict deadnaming”, namely the use of a name that someone has explicitly repudiated and asked you not to use, is obviously a bad thing to do. A person who engages in strict deadnaming is just an asshole. We can’t really have an interesting discussion on that.
But I’m not sure you’ve described the Caitlyn Jenner case as accurately. When people condemn the deadnaming of Jenner, what I take them to be condemning is what you might call “generic deadnaming”, or namely the use of a former name as the *default* way of doing things in the absence of explicit instruction either for or against using the person’s name. What folks are saying, as I hear it, is that unless you have been explicitly given permission to use someone’s former name, you shouldn’t do it. And presumably the charge is that this is what Tuvel did in the abstract and article of this paper.Report
I’m a bit unclear — are you using ‘use’ to encompass only what philosophers call use, or in a broader sense encompassing both use and mention?
I certainly agree that unless you have been explicitly given permission to *use* someone’s former name, you shouldn’t do it. But in “X (formerly called Y) did Z” Y is only being mentioned, not used.
When a former name is mentioned rather than used, the person involved isn’t being referred to or addressed by it. Instead, a historical fact is being communicated: that X was once known by a name that is not now their ordinary name.
Does X have a right to request that an author not communicate that information? I think that depends on two things: (1) Does divulging the information have a bona fide scholarly purpose? and (2) Is it information which X wishes to keep private and, but for the author’s actions, could reasonably hope to keep private?
My view is that only if the answer to (1) is yes and the answer to (2) is no should the name be mentioned.Report
Ah, got it. In this case, I’d want to pass to someone who works more extensively on issues involving trans* people and language. My sense is that a person is going to say that the use/mention distinction isn’t relevant here, because mentions are equally harmful to uses. And that mentions should be avoided whenever uses should be avoided. But I’m not totally confident in that.Report
I also found the “deadnaming” criticism to be ambiguous, and liable to mislead people into thinking that the author is being unduly hostile to Jenner. No doubt it’s clearly hostile to intentionally refer to someone by their former name in this context, but the author does not do this – making reference to the publicly available fact of someone’s previous identity is clearly different. It seems to be that the second kind of ‘deadnaming’ is similar to mentioning that someone is transgender. In the context of the paper’s abstract, where the author is mentioning Jenner solely as an example of a transgender person, this does not appear to be a hostile act.Report
I think JF has raised some very helpful points here. There are certainly cases (perhaps the majority of them) where we would identify how “deadnaming” does harm to the person named, but it is equally clear that there are some contexts and cases in which 1) use of a trans person’s former name is unavoidable and 2) might be done without obvious objection.
While few trans people are likely to achieve the level of public recognition and familiarity as Caitlyn Jenner, CJ’s case raises at least one reason to object to what we might call the strong position against “deadnaming” (i.e. opposition not only to use but also to mention of a trans person’s previous name or identity). To be fully committed to the strong position against “deadnaming” would seem to require that I say something like the following (let’s call it A): “In 1976 Caitlyn Jenner won the Olympic decathlon.” But this commits me to stating a counterfactual as though it were a fact and risks, for example, the possibility of misleading the person with whom I am speaking. Of course, it is possible for me to avoid this by saying “In 1976 the person now known as Caitlyn Jenner won the Olympic decathlon” (A1), but questions remain about 1) whether in doing so I have truly avoided causing harm (since I have perhaps drawn undue attention to CJ’s status as a trans person) and 2) whether I am morally obligated to say A1 rather than A.
I take JF’s larger point to be that we have responsibilities both to trans people in the present and to the world of social facts (including historical facts) that all of us inhabit. Given the capacity for some of those historical facts to cause harm to trans people in the present, we ought to exercise care in using or mentioning them, but this should not lead to making all use/mention of them verboten.Report
Hi Eric –
On your rejection of the “strong position against deadnaming”, would you say the following is a false or misleading statement?
“Muhammad Ali was born in 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky.”
Seems that this is perfectly intelligible and even true, even though no one with that name was born in that year in that city. To qualify it with Ali’s given name may be pedantic or worse, esp. after Ali’s 1967 beatdown of Ernie Terrell, i.e., the infamous “What’s My Name” fight.
What’s in a name? For some people, everything. We therefore should err on the side of whatever folks like to be called.
Some exceptions that immediately come to mind are: (1) if you’re trying to disparage the person, e.g., Drumpf; and (2) truly unavoidable use/mention cases, e.g., “Ali’s birth name was Cassius Clay” (and even then, why is that necessary to say?). But neither exception seems to apply here…
Hi Patrick –
Thanks for your good questions. I will answer the Ali question by way of Caitlyn Jenner. I confess that I can more readily imagine myself saying “Caitlyn Jenner was born in Mt. Kisco, New York on October 28, 1949” than I can “Caitlyn Jenner won the Olympic decathlon in Montreal in 1976.” That seems a bit strange to me and yet it is true. So the question is why is that the case when I have no hesitation in referring to the winner of all of Ali’s fights (even those won before his change of name) as Muhammad Ali?
I am not sure I have a great answer for this, but here is my thinking. Imagine we are looking back at old footage of Ali’s 1960 Olympic bout and Jenner’s 1976 Olympic decathlon. In each case I refer to the two figures by their present day identities, saying, for example, “Check out the speed of Muhammad Ali’s jab here” or “Wait until you see Caitlyn Jenner’s discus throw.” My suspicion is that there would be some non-negligible number of viewers who would experience some momentary cognitive dissonance over the second but likely no one who would experience it over the first. I suspect that this is because in the second case the person must make some slight mental adjustment to accommodate the discrepancy between the name Caitlyn Jenner and the present day associations of that name with a female and the male figure appearing on the screen.
If, on the other hand, I were to have said “Check out the speed of Cassius Clay’s jab here” and “Wait until you see Bruce Jenner’s discus throw,” I suspect the response would be quite different and that the first would occasion, at least in some viewers, a cognitive dissonance that the second would not. Someone might object to the second by claiming that it engages in “deadnaming” but this is a moral objection rather than evidence, strictly speaking, of a perceptual response to the conjunction of a name and an image.
I agree with you that we should refer to people by the names they have chosen and should use the pronouns they prefer. I would never dream of referring to Caitlyn Jenner, if I ever met her, by her previous name. But that isn’t the issue in Tuvel’s article (she is not addressing Jenner, merely noting the historical fact that prior to Caitlyn Jenner there was a person (the same person) who was known to the world as Bruce Jenner. This was enough for some respondents to accuse Tuvel of “deadnaming.” My position is that there are some occasions when reference to a trans person’s earlier name and identity are or ought to be permissible. I can think of at least two examples when that might be the case.
First, if I am citing work by a trans scholar with an extensive publication record pre- and post-transition. While in the body of the paper I would of course refer to this scholar and his or her work by his or her post-transition name, in my bibliography I would not, I think, be guilty of “deadnaming” if I recorded the (different) names that authored these works. Here, I think, my scholarly obligation to make it possible for future scholars to track down the books and articles produced by this scholar outweighs a demand not to make reference to that person’s earlier name and identity.
Second, the state might occasionally have a legitimate need to publicly associate a pre-transition and post-transition identity. For example, here in Massachusetts there is a database that enables one to check on whether a lien exists against a person or a company. It seems reasonable to me that in the case of a trans person (let’s call him Walter Smith) who, prior to transition (as Wendy Smith), had a lien that querying the database for liens against Walter Smith would bring up results for Wendy Smith.
I hope that helps clarify my position at the moment. It is certainly open to change.Report
Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Eric.
It may be that we’re agreeing more than I thought. The two examples you gave seem like exceptional cases, where it’s arguably legitimate to use previous names (e.g., maiden/married names), not the general rule.
And your observation that “there would be some non-negligible number of viewers who would experience some momentary cognitive dissonance” seems spot-on. But I wonder if this is their hangup, not a serious one we have to indulge. After all, there’s no “objective” way to conjugate a name and an image, right? It’s all a matter of convention, and philosophy is in the business of challenging social conventions.
One more worry I have is with the idea of “historical facts” as some kind of justification for stating those facts. Again, there may be legitimate exceptions; e.g., if you’re writing a biography about Muhammad Ali, you’d be remiss if you didn’t mention his conversion in name and faith to Islam. But “historical facts” seems too broad a category that would allow for all sorts of privacy and other violations; most known facts are historical, e.g., bank password, online browsing habits, medical conditions.
I think I get the general point of appealing to a claim as a “historical fact”, but I think the justification needs to be clarified and is related to necessity (as you and others seem to suggest). But as with just-war theory — when is war a “last resort”? what is the “military necessity” of a particular attack? — there can be fierce disagreement over what is necessary. Drawing and defending this line is important, since claims of necessity can justify virtually anything.Report
I think you are absolutely right (and I should have made this clear in my earlier reply since I hold it to be true as well) that a thing’s historical facticity does not, in itself, immunize its use from critique nor per se license its use/mention. Historical facts can be used for very invidious purposes and there might well be circumstances in which the same sentence (“Bruce Jenner won the Olympic decathlon in 1976”) is being used in one case innocently and, one hopes, harmlessly and in another where in an effort to do some form of harm.
It is quite tricky, I will admit. Anyway, thanks for your thoughtful replies, challenges, and questions and for bearing with my long responses.Report
Thank you very much for this comment.Report
Thanks for this post. I completely agree with your assessment. The outrage is not justified, and it is terrible for academic scholarship that the journal apologize for the publication. People write things you disagree with. Write better things that show why they are wrong.Report
Life in some corners of academia has become increasingly indistinguishable from The Onion. As Thomas Mulligan says above, we should make sure this doesn’t become true of philosophy, which may already be the case in some areas. You know the situation is really bad when the fact that a paper doesn’t cite any philosopher of color (what a ridiculous expression) is regarded as a valid criticism of the paper in question…Report
Yes especially when it is about race issues. How absurd!
Graduate school in philosophy provided countless cases that would be indistinguishable from Onion pieces. I regularly brought stories home to my working class family who howled in laughter at how cliche and effete graduate school seemed to be. Like the kid next to me who was humiliated and throughly rebuked when he answered famous analytic Professor X who asked the class “What is the most important question in philosophy” and the kid said “Whether God exists.” Or when the effort of our graduate student council to create a workshop on homelessness was met by the faculty with derision and groans of “We’re not a social work program.” Just on and on. The elitism and arrogance was so perfectly cliche and Onion worthy.Report
Totally agree on both counts! It is absurd in those and other ways.Report
I honestly fail to understand the relevance of the anecdotes you mention in your comment.Report
Haha!! That is classic Onion. Good one.Report
Thanks Maureen for your humanity.Report
Philippe, I have no idea what colour most of the academic authors I read are….unless they have names like Jaegwon Kim in which case I make assumptions.
Maybe there will be a time when we can search academic databases by author’s gender, skin tone, cultural identity, and childhood SES.Report
Looks like you (and Philippe) are missing the point here. Well, Phillippe is trolling, but you seem to be engaging in earnest, so:
Your difficulty in identifying the race/ethnicity/gender of the author may hold true of many areas of scholarship, but given how one’s experiences of being black, [email protected], and/or LGBTQ, affect one’s engagement with critical race theory, [email protected] studies, and/or gender studies, it is not that uncommon for such authors to identify themselves in their works. In other words, inasmuch as one’s lived experiences inform one’s scholarship (and inasmuch as their methodology refers to such experience), their race/ethnicity/gender is often made clear to readers.Report
Yes, I fully respect that! It is a legitimate form of entitlement and qualification to speak. However, it does not follow that identity or lack of lived experience disentitles or disqualifies a person to speak. It simply means they bring a different perspective.
The validity of a perspective in scholarly debate is open to question, not disqualification based on identity, lived experience, or claim to authority (especially when that authority is “lived experience”).Report
A lack of identity or lived experience doesn’t disqualify a person to speak. But philosophizing about people’s identities and experiences without actually engaging with any of their own perspectives on those things is surely ignoring a pretty central piece of the data.
And when you’re neglecting an oppressed group’s understandings of themselves, that’s not just an academic failing.
To me, this seems like the most objectionable thing about the paper. I don’t take engagement with cis women’s experiences to be considered essential to supporting the authenticity of tras* identities in trans* theory, but that seems objectionable as well.Report
Fair enough. I would simply suggest that such objections be raised in such a manner that appears ready to engage in debate rather than shut it downReport
That’s well said, WP.
And Jake, I agree with you fully on this point (as evidenced, I hope, by the fact that I’ve tried to engage in such debate here).Report
It might be a valid criticism to say, “In this article on race, you cite no philosophers who have written on race.” It might even be fine to say “You cite no persons of color who have done philosophical work on race.” But, the emptiness of the criticism of Tuvel for not citing a philosopher who is a person of color is pretty apparent. Should she have cited an article by a person of color that was not about race? Would that pass muster?
Mostly, in this mess, I am sorry to see many people I admire piling on a junior faculty member. I thought one of the lessons of philosophical feminism was that we should stop eating our own.Report
“Perhaps most fundamentally, to compare ethically the lived experience of trans people (from a distinctly external perspective) primarily to a single example of a white person claiming to have adopted a black identity creates an equivalency that fails to recognize the history of racial appropriation, while also associating trans people with racial appropriation.”
This misleading statement from the Hypatia apology goes to the heart of the “controversy.”
What is “most fundamentally” compared in the Tuvel article is not the ethics of “lived experienced” but the conceptual possibility of race or gender transformation. The Dolezal scenario, as the abstract makes clear, is treated as a hypothetical example for “illustrative purposes.” Anyway, it could be that the ethics and conceptual dynamics of white-to-black (or male-to-female) and black-to-white (or female-to-male) transformation are not equivalent. The article does not create the equivalencies the apology describes.
But contemplating comparisons and complexities of social identity transformation, which the Tuvel article invites us to do (despite weaknesses and infelicities), is what the objectors want to preempt. The reason seems obvious enough: they worry that the race case functions, in effect, as a reductio of the gender case. The challenge, of course, is that the cases don’t seem all that structurally different — red herrings aside.
Tuvel went through the thankless philosophical and professional trouble to develop a fairly sophisticated argument. Maybe we should be more open to the possibility of transracial identity.Report
Die Gedanken sind Frei
I have absolutely no expertise or knowledge of this field but the philosophical community has to find a better way of dealing with disagreement. This is just unacceptable. One also wished that the editorial board of Hypatia would have had the courage to shield a junior member of the profession from the harm that is being done to her at the moment due to their decision to publish a scholarly article after a standard review process, regardless of whether one ultimately agrees with it. That is part of your job too!!!
It is time to remind ourselves of the old and valuable insight: The Gedanken sind frei
Here in the rendering of Pete Seeger: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbwQXVcbkU0
And here in the words of Hofmann von Fallersleben: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Die_Gedanken_sind_freiReport
Thanks for this. I agree that the abuse to which this junior philosopher is being subjected is horrid.Report
Point 1 identifies this controversy as being a clash between the norms of philosophy and those of critical theory. The editors of Hypatia may be forced to decide which discipline their journal belongs to.Report
Critical theory simply is philosophy and social theory conducted with each other in mind.
Logic journals would be weird if they said that they were somehow only engaged in logic but not in philosophy.Report
“Critical theory simply is philosophy and social theory conducted with each other in mind.”
False. There are counter-examples in both directions:
-Traditional normative ethics is philosophy conducted with other people in mind, but is not critical theory.
-Navel-gazing auto-ethnographies are critical theory.
This claim does not seem to be made with a mind to literal truth, but, rather, in order to imply the moral superiority and greater humanity of critical theorists. I ask you to consider who, between the philosophers and the critical theorists, has demonstrated the most humanity throughout this sordid affair.Report
There is nothing new or revolutionary or progressive about a mob mentality, and mob justice. They’re as old as our species itself. Such a mentality is one of the many reasons why we have principles of tolerance, of due process, of freedom of expression, and academic freedom, in modern liberal democracies. There will always be mobs that try to undermine these principles. As a profession, we need to stand up for them. For those that disagree with the article, there is a simple solution: publish a rebuttal.Report
The outrage is silly (possibly: deplorable), the charge of violence is laughable, and “actual trans person”‘s comment above is worth the read.Report
I can see why the associated editors wish that this paper hadn’t been published. But it’s unreasonable to say–as they do–that it shouldn’t have been published, given that it passed peer review, and given that no fraud or plagiarism have subsequently emerged. This is a procedural point. It requires no judgment about the article, which I have not read.
I often read and cite Hypathia, and hope it will continue to be an academic journal rather than turn into a propaganda organ.Report
After reading the Hypatia article, I think most of its issues can be chalked up to mediocre argumentation and scholarship. Tuvel basically waves away any empirically or conceptually relevant differences between gender and race in order to make her case that standard arguments re: transgender identity extend comfortably to racial identity. That, coupled with some unfortunate terminological choices, renders it worthy of, minimally, further peer review and a call-out, though I think some of the claims being forwarded by those doing said calling out are overblown (especially re: violence–at best I think it’s an accidental erasure of trans and POC voices, which, while fitting into the logic of violent systems of oppression, is not itself violence without being backed up by some explicit or implied threat of physical or institutional force, imo.) It’s pretty clear that her motives are innocent, so those shouldn’t be questioned, but I want to stress that philosophy–and academia more generally–is not (and ought not be) some zone of neutral critique. In a time where controls on women and gender-nonconforming bodies are growing increasingly stringent under Republican leadership and white nationalism is newly ascendant, we must be exceedingly careful about how our speech fits into the larger dialectics at play, especially concerning political footballs such as Dolezal/transracialism. Tuvel’s intentions are benign and her arguments are in good faith, but this kind of stuff is fodder for agents of intolerance to posit reductios of trans-identity and it helps grant a patina of academic respectability to their bigotry. This isn’t to say that Tuvel’s paper supports any such bigotry–she explicitly rejects that kind of tripe in the article–just that articles like this serve a rhetorically useful purpose for reactionaries looking to adopt its arguments in bad faith and that is something that should give us pause when evaluating the quality of said paper and how we should approach critiquing it. Its ability to be misinterpreted in such a way suggests that the arguments are probably not entirely innocent of (morally) objectionable premises. In that regard, hedging towards too much critique and censure in order to build awareness/discourage objectionable speech seems reasonable to me, given the gravity of our current political situation. Mileage may vary, obviously, but I think the censure is doing its job, considering we have an article and comment thread in the Daily Nous attempting to ascertain just what responsibilities philosophers have when addressing politically charged issues such as these which likely wouldn’t have existed without the aforementioned controversy.
I think the lesson, put roughly, is: When forwarding what will undoubtedly be a controversial position in a politically relevant sub-field of academia, one should have some *really* good arguments at the ready. This paper didn’t really have those and so its other issues (e.g. terminological ones) are rendered even more glaring.
P.S. I find it funny that the people who are complaining about the supposed politicization of philosophy by SJWs in this thread are totally unaware that their comments are virtually indistinguishable from such apolitical bastions of free speech as 4Chan, R/the_donald, and The Red Pill. Not a good like, guys.Report
Why would you presume that we are not aware of similarities between our remarks and those places? I cannot speak for others, but I am aware of it. I support free speech and so do a lot of people on the right. Since when did guilt by association become a legitimate philosophical move?
It would be question-begging to assume that everything the people in those places say must be awful merely because of whatever else they say. On the contrary, perhaps it is more a mark of shame against social justice activists (and you, if you agree with them about censorship) that even Trump supporters and the dregs of the internet are on the right side of this when you are not.Report
To be blunt, my aside was mainly meant as a bit of rhetorical snobbery, not so much an argument.
To put it diplomatically, I think the fact that those campaigning hardest for “free speech” are those most interested in uttering hate speech should inspire some bit of epistemic caution in those aligning themselves with them. We’re probably coming from different initial premises and intuitions however. The comment was mainly for fun and ribbing–this is the internet after all.Report
When you make invidious comparisons between the people on the other end of a dispute and groups of ethically questionable people, you invite the audience to disvalue their remarks. Stating that we are “aligning” ourselves with these people is ambiguous. Merely happening to agree with people you do not know or associate with about one thing does not mean that you agree with them about anything else nor that you are actively collaborating with them, yet the ambiguity may insinuate such associations.Report
Ridiculous again. Have Noam Chomsky and Glenn Greenwald been trying to pave the way for hate speech this whole time? Damn! They had me fooled!
It’s just irresponsible drivel to associate those who fiercely champion free speech, as I do and lots of other people do who are *actually* concerned about reducing oppression and increasing human dignity (as opposed to those always looking for opportunities to make a big show of such concern, no matter how counterproductive), with those wishing to promote hate speech. With all due respect and diplomacy, smearing defenders of free speech–one of if not the single most important freedoms we have when it comes to resisting oppression–in this way is pathetic.Report
Jake Spinella — You associate advocacy for free speech primarily with internet troll-havens, and excuse your own self-avowed “snobbery” (really, it’s worse than that) by saying “this is the internet after all”. May I suggest, as a fellow S*pi*ll*, that you take some sort of a break from the internet?Report
Right. Like if I decided to write a theoretical piece on whether late term abortion was murder in the same way that smothering an infant to death was murder and used a public case where a woman who had a late term abortion said “It was murder.” But then I clarified that I was only using her case to ‘raise the question’ and that she may or may not have committed murder. Then I went on to speculate (using language like “baby” for ‘fetus’ and “mother” for ‘pregnant woman’) without including any data from women who had late term abortions or any of the philosophical and feminist arguments about abortion. Yeah…it seems pretty clear that such a paper could easily be used to give a “patina of academic respectability” to those who want to strip women of reproductive rights. Again, speculative philosophy about real peoples lives, people who daily face injustice and harm, without grounding that work in the scholarship of those who struggled so hard to get to tell their stories and provide analysis, is an act of social privilege and willful ignorance. The methodology of feminist and anti racist work should be different from sitting by the fireside “…setting aside all my worries and arranging for myself a clear stretch of free time. I am here quite alone, and at last I will devote myself, sincerely and without holding back, to demolishing my opinions.” This work needs to be done within community and it requires that people with historical social privilege listen more and speculate less.Report
I’m deeply sympathetic to the idea that poorly thought out writing about oppression or even politically contentious issues can be turned into fodder for furthering said oppression.
But this seems to obscure the fact that unlike the popular press, academics have always seen themselves as maintaining a space for even the most ludicrous seeming ideas to be brought forward, just in case a revolution in thought is eventually called for. In the case of the paper about late-term abortion and the infanticide, I suggest that this would only seem like an unequivocally bad idea to us (even though we know nothing else about this hypothetical paper) if we think with complete certainty that there’s no intellectually plausible position apart from being pro-choice, and therefore anything that might threaten this politically is unequivocally bad.
Similarly, in the case of transgender people, there might be politically bad ramifications if the transracial analogy is pushed (I think this is unlikely considering few people read academic journals to begin with). But IF the original paper is convincing, then transracial people might be real and be suffering deep injustice too, perhaps even more since there doesn’t seem to be support from any sub-group in society. I’m not sure if this is a plausible thesis, in fact it might be quite unconvincing to most people. But what makes academic spaces distinct from others is that the door is never closed to even this view, no matter the consequences if it manages to get past the referees. And if it is really a bad paper, then respond with a paper that shows how, in fact, the original paper shouldn’t have been able to pass a laugh test. Instead, resorting to prohibition (pre or post publication) seems like it will only erode what makes academic spaces distinct and valuable.Report
“But this seems to obscure the fact that unlike the popular press, academics have always seen themselves as maintaining a space for even the most ludicrous seeming ideas to be brought forward, just in case a revolution in thought is eventually called for.”
Yes, that is a norm in some parts of the academic world. The suggestion, obviously, is that it is a bad one in cases where real harm is the predictable result of bantering about “the most ludicrous seeming ideas” in a cavalier manner. Let’s grant that the bare possibility of a revolution in thought is some sort of good. Surely you are not claiming that it is a decisive one. Unless you take account of the direct harms that Maureen is pointing out, you just don’t have a response here.
“In the case of the paper about late-term abortion and the infanticide, I suggest that this would only seem like an unequivocally bad idea to us (even though we know nothing else about this hypothetical paper) if we think with complete certainty that there’s no intellectually plausible position apart from being pro-choice, and therefore anything that might threaten this politically is unequivocally bad.”
Sorry but this “complete certainty” standard is of a piece with the philosophical dogma being criticized. It will seem like a bad idea if we have good grounds for thinking that there is no other plausible position and that harm will come from this work.Report
Thank you for saying this so clearly and humanely.Report
How, in practice, does “we have good grounds for thinking that there is no other plausible position” differ from “we think with complete certainty that there’s no intellectually plausible position apart from …”? It sounds every bit as smug, arrogant, and intolerant.Report
“Let’s grant that the bare possibility of a revolution in thought is some sort of good. Surely you are not claiming that it is a decisive one. Unless you take account of the direct harms that Maureen is pointing out, you just don’t have a response here.”
Certainly, I don’t think that maintaining a space for all sorts of views is necessarily a decisive reason. If it can actually be shown that there is harm of some sort with regard to a certain issue in some particular context, we might think that the benefits of not publishing outweighs the benefits of publishing.
But what harms have actually been pointed out in this case? Has there been even a modestly plausible causal chain put forward of how this paper would harm transgender people? Even if Maureen is right that it is a blatant “act of social privilege and willful ignorance”, is this supposed to be actual harm as opposed to (an accusation of) shoddy scholarship? Even if words can be violent in principle, this seems like an instance where describing it as “harm” seems unconvincing.Report
“Like if I decided to write a theoretical piece on whether late term abortion was murder in the same way that smothering an infant to death was murder….without including any data from women who had late term abortions or any of the philosophical and feminist arguments about abortion.” And yet there are papers that do this, without I think doing violence to women or being morally objectionable. The one that comes to mind is Marquis’s “Why Abortion is Immoral”. Marquis does put forward a theoretical argument that suggests that late-term abortion (really, most cases of abortion) are morally equivalent to infanticide (and to all other acts of murder). He doesn’t address (what he calls) hard cases like rape; his article is very general, and doesn’t get into feminist arguments about abortion. And yet I think it’s a perfectly respectable and philosophically interesting take on abortion, whether you agree with it or not. Nor does it seem right to say that journals shouldn’t publish papers like those of Marquis, or that they shouldn’t write them, because they can be exploited by anti-abortion crusaders.Report
Marquis’ paper is from 1989. There is a reason you had to go that far back to find an example. It is also, as you say, not a feminist analysis. My point was that you don’t find such defenses in feminist journals (and in most recent philosophy journals) because it is both hard to make a defensible case based on the excruciating reality of (rare) late term abortions and because it gives an ‘academic patina’ to an anti-feminist agenda.Report
Of course the deafening silence of pre-natal voices in that literature isn’t a problem…Report
There is this from a few years ago:
Also, whether such articles are regularly published or not, it is standard practice to teach Tooley on abortion and infanticide along with Marquis in our medical ethics courses.Report
I’m not seeing the relevance of the year of publication, though. The question here is whether the fact that Marquis didn’t talk about the feminist arguments re: abortion (of which there were many at the time too) makes his arguments bad ones.Report
Do you realize someone actually wrote the infanticide=murder article four years ago, while making the case for infanticide? http://jme.bmj.com/content/39/5/261Report
I didn’t. Thanks for the link.Report
With all due respect, this is absurdity masquerading as concern for the oppressed.
“Its ability to be misinterpreted in such a way suggests that the arguments are probably not entirely innocent of (morally) objectionable premises.”
Does this need comment? This is ridiculous on its face, especially in the context of a scholarly article written for philosophers.
“…their comments are virtually indistinguishable from such apolitical bastions of free speech as 4Chan, R/the_donald, and The Red Pill.”
Once again, utterly ridiculous. There are few more important lessons in life than learning to see things as relational that are superficially not so. So when one writes that something is indistinguishable, it is very important to see that as “indistinguishable to me”. That is, *you* cannot distinguish them. When we see learn to see properties as relational in this way, it encourages us to look at both sides of the relation. So where the original phrasing suggests that we attend to the indistinguishability of comments on here defending academic freedom and right wing blather, keeping in mind the relational nature of indistinguishability suggests we look at the other side of the relation: the perceiver. So what appears as a criticism of those defending academic freedom on this blog is, I think, better viewed as an autobiographical confession. I don’t think I’m bragging when I say they are very easily distinguishable to me, as I expect they are to anyone who is really trying to distinguish them.Report
“I want to stress that philosophy–and academia more generally–is not (and ought not be) some zone of neutral critique. In a time where controls on women and gender-nonconforming bodies are growing increasingly stringent under Republican leadership and white nationalism is newly ascendant, we must be exceedingly careful about how our speech fits into the larger dialectics at play, especially concerning political footballs such as Dolezal/transracialism. Tuvel’s intentions are benign and her arguments are in good faith, but this kind of stuff is fodder for agents of intolerance to posit reductios of trans-identity and it helps grant a patina of academic respectability to their bigotry.”
But if what you’re worried about are the possible non-rational influences the article might have on politics and discourse, then is it really obvious that excoriating Tuvel, whom you agree is probably writing in good faith, is at all wise?
I mean, suppose there were no explosive response. Perhaps she and Hypatia were asked to change the objectionable terms and some civil response were made in a future issue. You say the arguments are plainly bad, so such a response could presumably be decisive (which isn’t to say it will convince all philosophers or Tuvel, of course). Maybe someone outside of the philosophy world would notice the article, but it wouldn’t be linked to suppression of free speech.
But given the response that it has gotten, the article is going to be widely noticed outside of academia. People who are inclined to think that transgender and transracial self-identification are on a par are hardly going to be persuaded otherwise by the frankly emotional reaction to Tuvel’s article. It is very easy to come across a lot of excoriating commentary on this article without finding a). an attempt at recapitulating what Tuvel’s argument is and b). an attempt at saying what is wrong with that argument.
In other words, someone who thinks the case for distinguishing transgenderism and transracialism is flimsy is hardly given reason for thinking otherwise.Report
1. i think we should be careful about comparing this case with how other philosophical enquiries are treated. Where the basic questions involve the recognition of one’s personhood, the core of identity, and whether and on what grounds we should accept someone’s claims about their own identity, there aren’t a lot of philosophical analogues for that. These questions are not only universal and abstract questions, they are also particular and they are deeply personal. So, this isn’t like solving the Gettier problem, or understanding qualia, or whatever else people have in mind when they recommend that we handle this matter the way that philosophy regularly handles disagreements. The conclusions people philosophically draw to here can have real effects on the life chances of real individuals.
2. And speaking of how philosophy regularly handles disagreements. This discourse is, of course, not the first foray by philosophers into questions of race and gender and the essential identities of women, gender non-conforming people, and people of color. There has been a longstanding (let’s say a couple of millennia or so) of a wholly dehumanizing philosophical practice that has explored the basic nature of these identities. These were practices that produced philosophical works that remain central to the canon today.
3. And how was disagreement settled in the philosophical practice that produced these works? Quite simply by silencing the relevant voices of disagreement and dissent. So, we should be careful about putting philosophical discourse too high on a pedestal when it comes to handling disagreement in this matter. We should instead recognize that the vocal pushback we see here, the gate-keeping, and the demand for a sensitive, careful, informed, and inclusive treatment of these questions, is a necessary course-correction from the rough-shod and dehumanizing philosophical practices of the past (and of the present, for some practitioners).
4. Calling those who forcefully make the demand for a sensitive, informed, and careful treatment of a sensitive and complex subject “pathetic”, “irresponsible,” “oppressive,” “authoritarian,” “social justice activists,” who espouse “absurdity masquerading as concern for the oppressed,” is a pretty disturbing display of hostility. It seems to reflect, to me anyway, the desire of some for a return to the old ways; to a time of silencing those certain other voices so the “real philosophers” can get back to the business of real philosophy. This desire may be masquerading as a defense of free speech doctrine, and color and gender blindness, and academic freedom—but the effect is the same.Report
The person being defended from attack here is not a (dead or living) white male authority figure, taking some bigoted traditionalist line, but a junior women and feminist who supports trans rights.
Do you really want the way she has been treated to be the norm for how the community of politically radical scholars interested in race and gender treats *it’s own members*? Will that lead to better or worse standards of discourse within that community which, presumably, you care about?
Also, virtually everything discussed in an ethics class is relevant to things that are important to various individuals.Report
It would have been better for the author and journal if the peer-review process on this article had not been such a failure. Anyone reading the piece (as I did, and I am simply a well-educated layperson) would consider its premise, its argument, its cherrypicking of sources, and its lack of rigorous engagement with previous scholarly work (especially in queer and race theory) to be mediocre at best, no matter what its topic. In a journal of Hypatia’s status, such slipshod scholarship should never have been published. That the article addressed a highly controversial topic by persisting in its (at best!) tin-eared approach — one that had already been strongly criticized when it was presented as a paper at the APA — should have been even more reason for extra care and extra rigor to have been taken in the review process. I applaud the editors for wanting to revisit that process and improve upon it and so frankly do not understand the criticism (here and elsewhere) of the editors for taking that stance.
I am in any case delighted to see that the article is being subjected to the kind of post-publication peer review it might have received earlier behind the cover of a double-blind process and do hope that Prof. Tuvel takes such criticisms to heart, especially should she ever wish to publish on this topic again. Maybe she could begin by seriously engaging in discussions with her fiercest critics and by learning from them? That would be a start.Report
“one that had already been strongly criticized when it was presented as a paper at the APA”
From what I can tell, this paper was presented as an accepted symposium at the Eastern APA in 2017 (i.e. a few months ago): https://apaonline.site-ym.com/?page=2017E_Accepted. This means that Rebecca Tuvel submitted a paper that was subject to peer-review by those organizing the Eastern APA, and was judged to be among the best papers submitted. Only a small number of papers (17?) receive this honor. They are awarded two hours of meeting time and two commentators. So whatever we want to say about Hypatia and its editorial process here may well apply also to the Eastern APA. Also noteworthy is that the paper was likely already in press at the time of this symposium, so adjusting it on the basis of any criticism received there would have been impossible.Report
Hypatia isn’t the APA..Report
Principle 1 strikes me as extremely problematic, and it’s hard for me to believe it is what the authors intended:
1. It uses vocabulary and frameworks not recognized, accepted, or adopted by the conventions of the relevant subfields; for example, the author uses the language of “transgenderism” and engages in deadnaming a trans woman;
First, let’s separate the examples from the principle. The outrage directed against these examples does not seem to me to depend on the principle. The problem is that the author uses terminology and ways of talking that harm trans people. But that is not equivalent to saying that the author “uses vocabulary and frameworks not recognized, accepted, or adopted by the conventions of the relevant subfields.” That principle is far too mild to capture the level of outrage generated by the the examples.
Second, though, the principle itself is a horrible principle if taken generally, rather than in application to this specific case (and if it is not meant to be taken generally, then why give a principle at all rather than simply pointing out that the author uses harmful tropes and terminology? Is it meant as a rhetorical flourish?). In general, the principle claims that when writing about a topic, one must (to do good scholarship) use the vocabulary and frameworks recognized by the conventions of the relevant subfields. Taken generally, this principle would prevent revolutionary work altogether, and it would mean that those who come first to a topic will have an even greater control over setting the terms of the debate than they already do. That strikes me as antithetical to philosophy and pernicious in general. Feminists, in particular, might have reason to ask how much good and influential feminist work has made a difference precisely because it refused to conform to accepted conventions. All philosophers: how often have you had a paper rejected because you were making a *novel* point, which the referees perceived as being too far outside the mainstream to take seriously?
I’m not claiming that the outrage, especially over the examples, is misplaced. I’m saying that this particular principle strikes me as a bad one, and one I would hope anyone working in a marginalized philosophical field would wish to burn.Report
Oh for heaven’s sake. the principle is not that one cannot introduce new vocabulary, but that there is some intellectual work required in doing so. You need to explain why your technical vocabulary is preferable especially if there is an extensive literature arguing the contrary. To blithely ignore that is intellectually irresponsible and would get a paper rejected without any political associations.Report
Mark: that’s fine. Then the principle should say that. In its present form, that is not what those words say to a competent and charitable English speaker.
But below, you actually say this: “Blithely ignoring the literature and the standards that have grown up in it around terminology is incompetent, regardless of political effect.” I think that’s closer to what the principle actually says, and it is problematic as a general rule. One way of putting this: uniformity of vocabulary and framework within a field is usually a sign that a field is too exclusive or too tightly knit. (To be clear: I am not making this claim about any of the fields in question.) And again, the point of the examples (on my charitable and obviously fallible interpretation) is that the paper says things that are harmful. The two examples given do not strike me as examples of failure to “explain why your technical vocabulary is preferable” (nor is it clear that one should always be expected to do that: should anyone contributing to a field be expected to have mastered all or much of the existing body of work in that field? I don’t think so. But if it fails to make a good case as a result of that failure, then it is up to referees to reject it.)Report
That my later comment starts with ‘blithely ignoring’ makes it quite the same as my comment here. It seems to me that my reading is what any moderately charitable reading of the letter would suggest. Philosophical hyper-literalization is not standard English.Report
Ancestry as culture is absolutely not de-emphasized in Brazil. Brazil is a country where African, European and Asian ethnicities are widely represented and individuals are greatly aware of their ancestry and proud to represent them. So much so that Brazil ranks high in the number of dual citizenship requests for Italy, Germany, and Japan, where a lot of immigrants came in the late XIX and throughout XX century. This person is profoundly ignorant of Brazilian history and society.
What is in fact de-emphasized in Brazil ,historically, is ancestry as race, due to what’s perceived as a high racial mixing during the colonial and imperial period. In an anedotic example: I am Brazilian, ash-blonde, white and blue eyed with documented black slave ancestors who mixed with Portuguese plantation owners. Brazilians might feel they have to choose a race when forced to do so but the fact is there’s relatively little awareness of ancestry as race.
Using Brazil’s example to back up her claim is ridiculous, offensive and dishonest. The reason why Rachel Dolezal’s attempt to self-identify as black is even discussed is because, in the US, ancestry as race and ancestry as cultural heritage is wrongfully considered one and the same. Whereas in Brazil Dolezal would be welcomed warmly to take part in most, if not all, african-brazilian cultural settings, she would not be identified as black and that wouldn’t matter at all. However, in the US, her attempt had a clear intention to mislead, since it sought to equate her looks and appearence with her personal beliefs and cultural identity.Report
So, you’re saying you 100% agree with the author? Because she didn’t say anything about ancestry as culture – you’re the only one who brought that up. She brought up ancestry as race, which you seem to be agreeing with. “Charles Mills identifies at least five categories generally relevant to the determination of racial membership…” “If ancestry is a less emphasized feature in some places….” I’d go so far as to say that you’re attack on a strawman is ridiculous, offensive and dishonest.Report
The notion that using the term ‘transgenderism’ enacts violence is so manifestly absurd, that as someone who has been exasperated for a couple of decades about people undermining the causes that I (and they say they) care about, that I would like to make a comparison.
If I had wanted to harm the U.S. back in the wake of 9/11, I would have done almost exactly what Bush et al did, especially invading Iraq. If I wanted to harm it now, I would have tried to get Trump elected. Yet both campaigned, as Republicans tend to campaign, with a heavy emphasis on pro-U.S. rhetoric and demonizing adversaries.
If I wanted to harm transgender people, I would try to train people like Nora and her supporters to act they way they are on facebook. In both cases, and in so many contexts (including religion), the people who make the most conspicuous noise about patriotism, or religion, or the oppressed, are often those that are best working to undermine the very things they say they care about. And in all cases, one of the most common ways to signal group loyalty (and even leadership) is to express a view that is so obviously ludicrous that only a true believer could possibly believe it. Then all the those who want or need to look like committed village worthies sign onto the absurdity, while thoughtful and informed people who actually care about their country, or religion, or the oppressed, have to try to prevent or undo the damage that the worthies cause through their counterproductive signaling. And then of course there are those who are openly happy at the damage.
The fact that a bunch of people ‘like’ a facebook post doesn’t mean you’re doing anything for the cause. And ‘liking’ such things doesn’t help anything either. If you say things that are manifestly absurd and counterproductive (like downplaying real violence by assimilating everything to it), or you ‘like’ things that are manifestly absurd, especially on a public feed, and especially if you make a habit of it, then reasonable people will conclude, as some have done in this thread, and many have done elsewhere, that whenever you are upset about anything, it’s likely to be absurd virtue-signaling. They might be wrong to do that, but you are wrong to give them good cause to do it. Reasonable and thoughtful people who might have otherwise listened to you, or even been your allies, will not be able to stomach associating themselves with such nonsense. You elevate your status within your narrow group at the expense of the long-term good of the people (or, in the case of showy counterproductive “patriots”, the nation) you claim (and I believe, in most cases, sincerely) to care so much about.
I’m in emphatic agreement with the actual trans person in this thread. I also find it weird that using ‘transgenderism’ is such an offense (nevermind the notion that it is violence), given that some transgender people use it (and the whole idea that you protect transgender people by aggressively language-policing is its own species of nonsense). I also don’t approve of the focus on a person’s race or gender when offering critiques of their scholarly work. In fact, it’s pretty clearly contrary to oppressed groups’ interests to promote or accept such a standard. I also find it clearly wrong to assimilate whatever mistakes might have been made in this article to violence against trans people. It’s not just absurd, but pretty obviously contrary to the project of having actual violence against them taken seriously.
Many who consider themselves protectors of the oppressed are alarmed and shocked by recent political developments. But there is always this idea, whether coming from the left or the right, that the other side is developing its pathologies in a vacuum. Whereas in reality, they are developing them partly in response to those of their perceived adversaries. Often, they are mimicking them in important ways, or at least very much seem to be. But this mimesis cannot be seen for what it is by those engaged most enthusiastically in the dance. Each group seems to strengthen itself partly by unwittingly strengthening the competing coalition. The pathologies of the competing group are rallying points for communal outrage, while the lack of perception of one’s own group’s pathologies is a criterion for group membership. In each group the same way, until those at the farthest ends of the spectrum, who see themselves as most opposed to one another, and are least likely to see themselves when they look at the other, are in fact mirror images.
It was in part the culture of manufactured, exaggerated outrage (often serving as a thinly veiled way to get a righteously flavored taste of that sweet, sweet oppression) that brought to power a group of people who are in general unconcerned about trans and related issues. Or if they are concerned, it’s in the wrong direction. The idea that the Hypatia article could be willfully misinterpreted by anti-trans people has been suggested as a valid critique of the article. I have I think a more important and valid concern. And that is that both pro-trans and anti-trans people could *correctly* interpret this nonsense on facebook and elsewhere for what it is, and that to the extent that these people are taken to represent trans people and their allies in general, this is far, far, far more likely to cause them harm in the short, medium, and long run than this article in Hypatia, which is explicitly and repeatedly in favor of trans peoples’ rights and dignity, whatever its other strengths or weaknesses.
I really need to be doing other things, so I apologize if I don’t reply to comments. But I will look at them, and if I think I’ve made a mistake, I’ll own up to it. But I’m way past tired of feeling like I can’t speak my mind on these things, which is undoubtedly coming through in my tone. It might be worth thinking about how people who aren’t as committed to civil rights and human dignity, and who aren’t as steeped in liberal academia, feel about it. For better or worse, how they feel about it will have an effect on people’s lives.Report
Some general points:
first, the vitriol and absurdity of the folks denouncing the apology here is more than a tad ironic.
Second, on your points Justin: 1 is simply true and a real academic failure. Blithely ignoring the literature and the standards that have grown up in it around terminology is incompetent, regardless of political effect.
2 is also correct I think, though perhaps needs some elaboration. The article completely conflates “identification with the Jewish community” with “conversion to the Jewish religion.” Really really wanting the former is not grounds for the latter, and accomplishing the latter does not secure the former. I think that makes the use of the example fairly characterized as “off-hand”
3. has been demonstrated by Maureen and others.
4. has been answered, also by Maureen. now many have pounded the metaphorical table here and claimed that this is a terrible standard. I think they are wrong. I think that there is lots of reason to privilege certain voices in these debates – epistemic reasons. I’m working on a paper arguing this in detail, and I think a very helpful contribution to this whole discussion would be an articulation of a clear statement of the methodology that is implicit in many of these criticisms. (I’m not the one to write that, for obvious reasons.) So I can understand philosophers unfamiliar with the relevant literature not understanding this point. But the absolute confidence that their methodological inclinations are the right and true and only is not justified by any remotely reasonable epistemic standard.
Let me emphasize that I don’t say this out of hostility to your OP. I’m glad you raised your four objections, though as I said I think all have been refuted. And I do think that some of the vitriol and rhetoric has been out of hand here. (No more than calling facebook criticism “a mob” or “censorship” but nonetheless out of hand.) I think a long sober careful look at practices of editorial review is called for here. I say nothing whatsoever about the author – who I know not at all – but I do think this was a bad paper, both by standard norms of philosophy and deeply compounded by it’s practical effects within a political context of oppression and widespread violence. (I use the word ‘violence’ more narrowly than some in this discussion and would not call the paper itself ‘violent’. But the context of racist and trans-phobic violence is very much relevant to the evaluation of the acceptability of this article.)Report
Thanks for your comment, Mark.
I’m going to continue to abstain on assessing the extent to which the failure noted in 1 is problematic in this case, though I don’t know if Tuvel was “blithely ignoring,” as you say, or engaged in an attempt at thoughtful revision (as her reply here suggests).
But I will say that I am not particularly convinced on the other three points.
Regarding 2, the context is just to show that we often accept “transition to a different identity category” in our society. The example seems to work fine in that context. Perhaps you would have been alright with it had the wording been tightened up a little?
Regarding 3, Maureen has not shown that Tuvel misrepresented Mills at all. She merely showed that after considering Mills’ criteria, Tuvel then puts aside the matter of criteria to pursue the central question of her paper.
Regarding 4, while I appreciate that Maureen has provided us with examples, as I am not familiar with most of them I cannot assess the extent to which they speak to the specific question Tuvel takes up, or which points they make that render Tuvel’s arguments problematic. This is in part on me, owing to my ignorance. I would be more on board, I think, if we were presented with, “Tuvel gives argument X, but so-and-so says Y, which is clearly relevant to the soundness of X, and Tuvel ignores Y.” I understand that that’s burdensome, but given the seriousness of the complaints against Tuvel’s article, I’m not sure it’s too burdensome.
Overall, I’d say that even if one still ultimately agreed with points 1 through 4, there’s the question of whether the fact that they seem debatable among philosophers (not just me, but several better-informed people working in feminist philosophy and philosophy of race) should give Tuvel’s critics pause as to the remedies they are seeking.Report
Justin: My claim of “blithely ignoring” is based on reading the article. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I saw nothing even purporting to be an argument for the revision of the technical terminology, nor even purporting to grapple with the literature arguing for it.
On 2, I don’t see how any tightening or other improvements would make a discussion of conditions for formal admission to a religion count as relevant to obtaining an identity category.
3. I guess we just disagree here. I thought it was explained clearly why the use of Mills was wrong.
4. Come on. Your not knowing the relevant literature is not a criticism of people saying that the article doesn’t site it.
I absolutely agree that there is room for reasonable disagreement regarding some of the specific remedies. Should the paper be withdrawn? I’m not sure myself on this. Should the board undertake a serious review of their editorial and refereeing procedures, yes, I think that is clear.Report
“Come on. Your not knowing the relevant literature is not a criticism of people saying that the article doesn’t site it.”
The problem for me is that everyone that has written about this, or that I have asked about this, directs me to a cluster of sources, without being able to pull out and articulate the argument in them that Tuvel has neglected to engage with. So Maureen has not answered the question – she has just given a list of sources that discuss the question. Even that doesn’t establish what the right answer is, of course. Just because Charles Mills or anyone else has said something, it does not mean that it’s true or the best position to have.
Consider what Maureen in a conversation above: in response to Justin’s comment about what Tuvel considers sufficient for a change in racial identity, Maureen says that Tuvel side-steps the question of social unwillingness to recognize such changes. In response, Benji asks whether the same considerations might not be raised about transgender people, were there a societal unwillingness to recognize such changes. And in response to that, Maureen doesn’t explain why the two are different: she just links to an article describing an interview with Dolezal. Most people here would already have read that article – I have, and even after reading it, I remain unclear why the two cases are different.
And yet I’ve seen, in the last few days, this strategy used again and again: we’re directed to sources instead of having questions answered. The implicit attitude here seems to be that it’s so obvious that the two cases are different that the onus is on the person asking to dig through a pile of books and articles to find the answer, because it is simply to exasperating to have to explain it. This is not helpful, nor is it true that the answer is obvious: matters of identity are tricky and nuanced.Report
Let me try to make this clearer. Caitlin Jenner is a problematic representative for trans issues for reasons that have to do with wealth privilege and celebrity and a detachment from the theoretical work that many trans theorists have provided. Rachel Dolezeal is more than a problematic case of anything resembling Black identity because of the very things you read in that linked article. Most specifically, she dictates the terms of what it means to be Black without any awareness that her “transition” does not go both ways. Why can’t Black people “transition?” Oh right, the whole systemic racism, one drop rule, bigotry and history of policing white boundaries and privilege. To then compare a problematic case with a totally horrible case as a kind of thought experiment, and not engage any Black feminists and trans theorists, puts the non-trans white author’s perspective on the whole thing at the center. Race is inherited in ways that gender is not. Both are policed and there are connections between race and gender oppression but they are not analogous. A cursory reading of the literature makes this clear. That is why it is so outrageous to people who know this work and why it feels like such a slap in the face that it was in a journal of feminist philosophy.Report
So submit a response already. It sounds like these editors will gladly accept any article that is a negative response to hers, so this looks like a good publication opportunity for you.
There are lots of bad arguments given in other areas of philosophy, but you don’t see letters of apology sent out for them. (I’d name some, but I don’t want to be mean.) In my view, everyone needs to take a few deep breaths. (Also see the “actual trans person” comment above, for some insight here.)Report
But Tuvel makes it clear, right off the bat, that her article is not intended to come to conclusion about Dolezal’s case. It just sparked this line of inquiry. Even if transracialism of the sort Tuvel endorses is possible, she leaves it open that Dolezal could be a bad example of it.
The other point that you raise is that a change of racial identity like this can only go one way – while many white people can pass as black (given that even very light-skinned people are seen as black), black skinned people cannot transition to being white. This is a difference from the case of gender. But Tuvel does discuss this point, as Tomas above points out.
So now the issue seems to be not that Tuvel didn’t discuss the obvious arguments, but that you don’t like her conclusions about them: she didn’t come to the right conclusions. And that seems to me to be a far more objectionable reason to say that this article shouldn’t have been published.
“A cursory reading of the literature makes that clear”. This is the problem: some people are finding Tuvel’s conclusions so obviously wrong that they don’t think that a non-ignorant person could come to these conclusions. But given that this is a complex topic, that’s doubtful.Report
“The problem for me is that everyone that has written about this, or that I have asked about this, directs me to a cluster of sources, without being able to pull out and articulate the argument in them that Tuvel has neglected to engage with.”
Translation: Please summarize a huge and varied philosophical literature for me because I can’t be bothered to do the work to master it but I’m not willing to accept the word of someone who has.Report
If someone has mastered said literature, then they can surely articulate an argument that is widespread enough within said literature that any expert should be presumed familiar with it prior to discussion.
I have read the paper and the comments section here (at least, as of when I started writing this post). I have not noted any such articulated arguments that seem conspicuously absent in the paper, i.e., blithely ignored by it. A few examples of articulated arguments follow, most presented in Maureen’s posts.
(1) The argument that race is objective. (Tuvel addresses this; see in particular section starting “The second objection holds that Dolezal cannot identify as black because of the way society currently understands racial membership.”)
(2) The argument that passing as black is morally offensive due to a history of oppression. (Tuvel: “The third objection holds that it is insulting or otherwise harmful to the black community for a white person to identify as black.”).
(3) The argument that it is different because blacks “cannot,” (or more accurately, have a more difficult time) adopting a white racial identity than vice versa. (Tuvel: “Next, let’s consider the idea that white-black transitions are easier than black-white, and therefore an exercise of white-born privilege.”)
Maureen (for one) has certainly demonstrated the ability to articulate arguments presented in the literature. What I have not seen from her in this comment section, however, or from anyone else posting thus far, are the elusive arguments that are purportedly “blithely ignored” by the Tuvel paper as a form of negligent scholarship by her and Hypatia’s editors.Report
“Please summarize a huge and varied philosophical literature for me because I can’t be bothered to do the work to master it but I’m not willing to accept the word of someone who has.”
Well, no. I didn’t ask for a summary of all the literature, nor is anyone else. We’re asking for a short explanation of the arguments that Tuvel’s article is said to miss, and which should not have been overlooked. So far, all the leads point to arguments that she does in fact address (as Tomas says). Critics of Tuvel are saying “she misses arguments X, Y, and Z”, and in response to those who ask what those arguments are, they just don’t say.
And yes, philosophers *should* be able to concisely explain arguments and counterarguments to those who are non-experts. Unfortunately I cannot become an expert on the debate in each area of philosophy. It is routine, and a large part of the training to become a philosopher, to learn how to concise explain debates and positions.
And importantly, my lack of expertise doesn’t mean that I have to simply defer to the experts about what is a bad argument: until I hear something convincing, I should be agnostic, and in order to hear something convincing, I need to be given reasons. Particularly because on every important debate, scholars working in the field disagree. To whose views ought one be deferring, anyways?Report
To be honest, I’ve never had someone tell me there’s someone I should be engaging with without explaining what the direct relevance is.
Maybe the answer here is that she’s failed to engage with things that would cut off the whole line of inquiry, but it would be helpful if that was explained.Report
I’m going to take a crack at understanding why no one seems to be able to point to a specific page range in a text or a specific argument.
(1) A philosophical investigation into a question of this sort (I’ll leave open precisely what sort) must be conducted via the methods of standpoint epistemology.
Comment: This is certainly an arguable claim, and there are certainly legitimate worries about scholarly communities enforcing methodological uniformity. But standpoint epistemology is a “big tent”, and I think the claim is more likely than not correct, and that it would make sense to have this methodological standard on a topic like this in Hypatia.
(2) In order to use these methods, one must, as a necessary prerequisite, immerse oneself, through broad and deep reading, in (a) ethnographies and (b) auto-ethnographies of (members of) socially/culturally/politically/economically marginalized groups, and in (c) the philosophical or otherwise theoretic studies of the sources, processes, and effects of marginalization, especially (d) those written by members of marginalized groups, who can theorize with first-person access to the experience of marginalization, and contribute to developing a conceptually rich interpretation of that experience.
Comment: So far, so good.
(3) To someone who has done this, it is sufficiently clear that Tuvel has not, or at least that she does not exhibit this work in this article.
Comment: Here’s where we run into trouble. This can’t be a matter of specific arguments, locateable in specific texts, which Tuvel hasn’t engaged, or works not cited. If that was it, we’d have the very specific examples being requested, which we don’t. (Sidenote: these requests, in this context, are not a refusal to “do the hard work”, and, in this context, that is a lazy refrain. Prof. Tuvel’s professional competence has been impugned publicly. When one does that, the evidence must be available upon request. It’s not a request for free intellectual labor; it’s a request to have a promissory note redeemed, one which has been publicly and voluntarily issued.) Tuvel doesn’t misunderstand Charles Mills – she knows Mills’ criteria of racial inclusion exclude changing races. She also recognizes that there is enough of an analogy between the different components of race, on such an understanding, with sex/gender, such that the criteria, mutatis mutandis, could be plausibly applied to sex/gender inclusion, and would then imply that one cannot change one’s sex/gender. And this, she argues against on both counts. I cannot for the life of me understand why so many are having so much trouble with this.
So the closest I’ve seen to what’s actually being requested is a discussion of the complex arguments and positions in some other work that Tuvel does cite, and which she oversimplifies in her text. But so what? We all do this of necessity, and there’s been no discussion of how these oversimplifications negatively effect the argument she is actually constructing.
Therefore, there must be something more difficult to pin down, something about her way of writing or her way of arguing which reveals this defect. It’s certainly not the “deadnaming” – Jenner, in her own memoire, refers to herself as “Bruce” when describing the first 65 years of her life – to object to how Tuvel handles this is completely divorced from the reasons which make deadnaming in general offensive.
So it must be something much less tangible. That’s fine – there’s nothing problematic about the claim that there are intangibles which scholars of sufficient expertise can spot, and the rest of us can’t. But it must be possible for those scholars to give other experts in the same discipline a sense, a gist, a general idea, of what’s wrong. What’s really, really bad is that the only indication of what this is – at least in all the comments that I’ve seen here, on the other blogs, and on social media – is that if Tuvel had done this work, the work required to use the methods of standpoint epistemology on this topic – she wouldn’t have come to the conclusion she came to, wouldn’t have even tried to argue for it, wouldn’t even have considered writing about it at all, because it is so obvious what one should think about it. And thus, there is no reason to engage with what she actually wrote at all.
One thing we should all know is that as soon as a scholarly community decides to make that move, it ceases to be a scholarly community. I hope everyone comes back to their senses soon.
P.S. I really recommend everyone read the piece by Kai M. Green which Prof. Tuvel linked to above. It is much, much better than most of the contributions being made here and elsewhere.Report
AnotherOpenMind writes, “Comment: So far, so good.
(3) To someone who has done this, it is sufficiently clear that Tuvel has not, or at least that she does not exhibit this work in this article.
Comment: Here’s where we run into trouble. This can’t be a matter of specific arguments, locateable in specific texts, which Tuvel hasn’t engaged, or works not cited.
If that was it, we’d have the very specific examples being requested, which we don’t.”
So let me take a shot:
Tuvel’s analysis assumes that being trans*, and the frequently difficult decision to not hide that one is trans*, from oneself and from others, is akin to choosing to convert to Judaism or to identify as another race. This assumption of “choice” is commonly made by outsiders, but rarely by persons who are familiar with trans* experiences and/or trans* philosophy / theory. To provide just one example from the scholarly literature, Butler’s early concept of performativity (e.g., in Gender Trouble) was criticized by trans* philosophers decades ago for seeming to imply that being trans* was merely at matter of role-play. She acknowledges these critiques in Undoing Gender (2004) and significantly revises her concept of performativity to take them into account.
Someone who had done their homework, whether as an author or reviewer, would have known that this was a contested assumption.Report
Tuvel’s analysis assumes that being trans*, and the frequently difficult decision to not hide that one is trans*, from oneself and from others, is akin to choosing to convert to Judaism or to identify as another race. This assumption of “choice” is commonly made by outsiders, but rarely by persons who are familiar with trans* experiences and/or trans* philosophy / theory. To provide just one example from the scholarly literature, Butler’s early concept of performativity (e.g., in Gender Trouble) was criticized by trans* philosophers decades ago for seeming to imply that being trans* was merely at matter of role-play. She acknowledges these critiques in Undoing Gender (2004) and significantly revises her concept of performativity to take them into account.” Someone who had done their homework, whether as an author or reviewer, would have known that this was a contested assumption.
Thanks for this example, Amy. However, it is not clear to me that you’re interpreting Tuvel correctly.
Tuvel uses the Judaism example to show that (a) one’s identity transformation may depend on acceptance by a relevant community or official, not just self-identification and (b) “barring strong overriding consderations, transition to a different identity category is often accepted in our society” — or more strongly, that we tend to believe that “we treat people wrongly when we block them from assuming the personal identity they wish to assume.” Beyond this usage of the Judaism example, there is no claim that about the similarity of being a religious convert and being trans.
Further, you write that Tuvel’s “assumption of ‘choice’ is commonly made by outsiders, but rarely by persons who are familiar with trans* experiences and/or trans* philosophy/theory.” However, Tuvel makes no assumption that ‘choice’ is the only factor (and her use of “self-identification” rather than “choice” throughout her paper leaves open whether even “self-identification” is a matter of choice), nor does she ultimately argue that it is.
So I do not think we have, yet, a clear example of someone not having “done their homework.”Report
‘Tuvel’s analysis assumes that being trans*, and the frequently difficult decision to not hide that one is trans*, from oneself and from others, is akin to choosing to convert to Judaism or to identify as another race. This assumption of “choice” is commonly made by outsiders, but rarely by persons who are familiar with trans* experiences and/or trans* philosophy / theory. ‘
Can you explain how her analysis depends on the assumption that conversion to Judaism and deciding to transition are relevantly similar in a respect in which they in fact, according to the testimony of trans people clearly differ? If I draw an analogy between A and B, I’m not necessarily saying they are alike in all respects, or even all important respects. Nor am I necessarily even implying that they are. (I question whether religious converts would all find ‘choice’ an appropriate description either. Conversion is very powerful and emotional for many, and sometimes includes a feeling of compulsion (God called me; here I stand, I can do no other, etc.). Regardless, in a literal sense, even things we feel absolutely emotional compelled to do can be things we chose to do, so that would include transitioning. By contrast of course, *being* trans is not typically a choice in the same way, because it’s not an action that people intentionally perform, but a state of mind. But I take it she was comparing conversion to Judaism to transitioning, not to being trans.)Report
The point of my comment was not to adjudicate the issue or to say that Tuvel’s comparison is indefensible and wholly without promise, but rather to reply constructively to AnotherOpenMind’s statements that “This can’t be a matter of specific arguments, locateable in specific texts, which Tuvel hasn’t engaged, or works not cited.
If that was it, we’d have the very specific examples being requested, which we don’t.”
Now we have a specific example that has been of central importance to approximately three decades of trans* philosophy and with which one would expect a reviewer or author with competence or a specialization in this subject area to be familiar.Report
Thank you Amy Donovan, this is exactly the sort of thing I’ve been looking for. I’m sympathetic to David Mathers’ comment as well, and would like to ask a follow-up question – with a few preparatory remarks. There’s certainly a – perhaps uninteresting – sense in which one chooses to convert to Judaism or chooses to transition. One gets in one’s car and drives to the office of the doctor or rabbi, for example. The point that trans* individuals feel compelled to do so – i.e. do not ‘feel as if they have a choice’ about whether to do so or not – is well taken. But what I to Mathers’ point to be – and correct me if I’m wrong, but if this is it then I am in full agreement – is that the analogy holds with respect to this aspect of religious conversion as well. It is not something about which the convert feels that he/she has a choice. (On this phenomenon, I’d recommend the discussion of the psychology of conversion in James’ “The Varieties of Religious Experience”.) If this is right, then the assumption Prof. Tuvel is working with is that transitioning is a choice in *precisely* the way converting is a choice – no more and no less. And given what has been said about the experience of internally felt compulsion behind transitioning, and what I know from my own reading of the experience of internally felt compulsion behind converting, the analogy is quite apt. This leaves me thinking that “a reviewer or author with competence or a specialization in this subject area” and with familiarity with the phenomenon of religious conversion would not read Tuvel’s article as assuming that transitioning is a choice in any objectionable way. So my follow-up question, with these remarks in place, is: what precisely is it about this argument that reveals an uneducated assumption about trans* individuals and transitioning, and what precisely is that assumption?Report
“I don’t see how any tightening or other improvements would make a discussion of conditions for formal admission to a religion count as relevant to obtaining an identity category.”
Why not? You haven’t given any reasons why. Judaism in particular is a religion that is seen as an ancestral inheritance, and a robust identity category (shared traditions, language, history) and yet it is also possible to convert to it. And Jewish people have faced, in should go without saying, terrible discrimination for millennia. So I can see the same concerns raised about a convert in an antisemitic society appropriating a history of oppression that they weren’t born into.
That’s an aside though, anyways. The point is that it does seem like, even setting that aside, it shares some features with race as an identity category.Report
Some quick summary, and then an invitation.
The conversation has, I think, now been narrowed down to the following question: Would the scholars of the relevant sub-disciplines please provide the rest of us, experts in other fields of the relevant disciplines or in closely related disciplines, with either a specific example or two of an argument or a portion of text which Tuvel, or anyone writing on the topic of Tuvel’s article, needed to engage with but did not, to the detriment of her argument; or, failing that, with a general sense of what scholars in the relevant areas are able to identify as seriously deficient in her writing or argumentation. To do so would be to redeem the promissory note issued by point 4 in the letter to the editorial board, in a way which would go some distance toward justifying the insistence that Hypatia review its practices of reviewer assignment and editorial decision making. (It should be clear enough by now that points 1-3 don’t hold up, and that the appropriate grounds for retraction aren’t present.)
Amy Donahue has been generous enough to offer an answer to this question, in the form in which I posed it in my comment in the thread above. Her answer pertains to the argument referred to in point 2 of the letter, but engages with that argument in very different terms. But so as not to unfairly burden Amy, let’s be clear that anyone interested in contributing answers to the follow-up questions posed by David Mathers, Justin, and myself in the thread immediately above is more than welcome to; and anyone with an answer to the original question which differs from Amy’s is more than welcome to chime in as well.
Maybe, just maybe, we’re all close to getting somewhere with, and learning something from, this episode.Report
Mark, concerning your point in (4) about the need for an articulation of the methodologies implicit in standpoint stuff, I think you’re looking for Bren Markey’s superb ‘Feminist Methodologies in Feminist Philosophy.’Report
Sorry; link: https://research-repository.st-andrews.ac.uk/handle/10023/9107Report
“Privilege certain voices” is a far cry from retracting an article based on narrow minded ideology and authoritarian demands that certain language be used.
Also, if the only people entitled to a voice are those already embedded within the doctrine, then other legitimate voices are being shut out. Indeed, often it is those who come from a different background with different areas of scholarship that contribute the freshest ideas.Report
The biggest issue is the nefarious and growing anti-liberal idea that the way to deal with dissident voices, even voices that are a minority of one, is to crush them, shut them down, oppress… If the article is screwy, write a response1 and calling people names is the mark of the rascal, the autoritarian, the intolerant t.. and HATE mail.. Holy bejesus!!!!!
I thought we were supposed be involved in the disinterested pursuit of truth but I guess its all spite and passion and hatred.Report
My sense is that some of the academics working in areas like trans theory and critical race theory do not always see themselves as *merely* involved in the pursuit of truth. They also (at least sometimes) see themselves as engaged in a kind of political or anti-oppression activism. They see their work not only as true, but also as *liberating*. And so it not entirely surprising that a paper which questions their work — or which flouts some of the norms governing that work — would be viewed not only as misguided or false but also as *harmful*. The appropriate reaction to a paper one deems merely false or misguided might indeed be just to write a response. The appropriate reaction to a paper one deems to be harmful or oppressive may be quite different.
Note that I don’t think this justifies *Hypatia*’s response to the controversy, especially insofar as the journal presents itself as a venue for disinterested academic scholarship. Given the tension described above, I think the editors of *Hypatia* needs to decide whether it is a politically engaged activist journal dedicated to bringing about certain results or an academic journal dedicated to “the disinterested pursuit of truth.” The norms governing the first sort of journal are clearly in conflict with the norms governing the second.Report
“My sense is that some of the academics working in areas like trans theory and critical race theory do not always see themselves as *merely* involved in the pursuit of truth. They also (at least sometimes) see themselves as engaged in a kind of political or anti-oppression activism. They see their work not only as true, but also as *liberating*.”
I think this is exactly right about the ideological divide.Report
A disinterested pursuit of truth may be sufficient if you do not have any skin in the game, but not when your status as a person is at stake. This, it seems to me, is one of the key points being voiced by critics of Tuvel’s paper, and one of the main things being missed by her defenders. By not engaging with scholars who have skin in the game (black women who work on race, trans scholars who work on gender), she effectively sent the message that their status can be decided independently of them, and therefore that their scholarship does not matter. It shouldn’t be so hard to see how this comes across as yet another way in which white cisgendered people effectively tell black & LGBTQ people that they don’t matter.Report
It seems odd to describe cisgender women as not having skin in the game when trans* identities put constraints on how to understand gender in the way “transracial” identities would put constraints on how to understand race.Report
(I agree that she should have engaged with the other people with “skin in the game.”)Report
That’s a fair point, WP.Report
Can you explain why that is the message that has been sent? Seems to me that anyone who reads her charitably would realize that that is *obviously* not what she means. But then why think that’s the take away from it? Serious question. People always talk about these messages being sent, but they never tell us why it is those messages that are sent, or whether it is rational to think that that is the message.Report
This is also a fair question, and some charity in reading would have gone a long way in this debacle. But that goes both ways: her critics could have been more charitable in their reading of her article, and her defendants could have been more charitable in their reading of her critics (at least of point #1 above). I have tried to be charitable to her critics here, by trying to articulate what has been my understanding of the problem I’ve seen most commonly brought up (since the vast majority of commenters here seem to have missed that point).
The whole thing got out of hand so quickly though, that I’m no longer sure if I was right to do so.Report
Correction: I did not mean #1 in the open letter. I meant the charge that not engaging in the scholarship of black women and trans* people the author committed violence or enacted harm.
My apologies for the typo. It’s been a long day, and this whole thing has proven exhausting. And I’m just a bystander! I can only imagine what this has been like for Tuvel, as well as for those who felt so harmed by her article (and I do want to take seriously, and understand, the claim of harm here).Report
Andre’s comment here makes explicit the requirement that seems to be conveyed more implicitly or euphemistically elsewhere on this thread. It seems like the request to engage with “lived experience” is not really about engaging with a certain range of facts or data. (For example, it is not a request one can satisfy by conducting rigorous empirical studies.) Rather, as Andre says explicitly, the real requirement is specifically to cite the work of people who are either black women or trans scholars.Report
Is it really that puzzling that black women would have insights about what it means to be a black *and* female that are unavailable to a white woman, or to a black man? If not, then how can you not see that engaging with scholarly work by black women on race and gender would be a requirement to conducting adequate scholarship on race and gender? Or do you really believe that anyone can interpret “empirical data” (and it’s unclear what exactly you mean by this: interviews? statistics?) and arrive at an undistorted view of the Truth?Report
Thanks for this reply, Andre. I was not intending to say that this claim was incorrect but more just to clarify what the content of the claim actually was.
Just so that I understand better, would you apply the same logic to work on white men? Suppose that a black female social psychologist decides to do systematic experimental studies to understand the lives and mental states of white men. (In my view, there has been a lot of truly excellent work in the existing literature along these lines.) Would you say that there is specifically a requirement on this psychologist to engage with the work of white male scholars?Report
I am not a social psychologist, so I’m not sure if the same logic would apply there. But as far as philosophical engagements with whiteness and masculinity goes, I’d say yes.Report
I have to say that this thread is almost as depressing as is the incident itself. Name-calling, glibness and snark are unappealing on both sides of the debate here .
Using less hyperbolic language, I think “g” above has it more or less right. This thread is not the place to debate the merits of Tuvel’s argument–especially since most of the debaters don’t seem to have actually read the paper. Nor even is the issue, as Lance implies, one of the merits privileging certain voices. The issue is that the open letter is not positioned as an intervention but rather as a censure. What we do in scholarship is to write back and critique arguments and views we find problematic. We don’t call for their retraction because of some nebulous idea of “harm.”
To be fair, the open letter does suggest that there has been scholarly malfeasance on Tuvel’s part and that this is one reason the article ought to be retracted. But notice how that point is in the same sentence as the one about deadnaming, which has nothing to do with scholarship per se but instead with a normative position adopted by people of certain ideological commitments. These latter have, or at least ought to have, very little to do with the pursuit knowledge in a disciplinary context.
We often talk about a metaphorical chilling effect that interferes with inquiry. What’s happening with Hypatia is no metaphor–the purpose of the open letter is to foreclose a line of thinking. That line of thinking might be bad. If so, let’s show how it is bad by discussing it, not by hounding it out of existence.Report
Silencing is a manifestation of insecurity.Report
Having one’s cake and eating it too – insisting on the norms of disciplinary expertise while embracing a tight fit between the scholarly subfield and a particular set of social and ethical goals.Report
I tend to think that the most interesting ethical work emerges from carefully considering apparent conflicts between our judgments in particular cases. We tend to think that saving the drowning child in the shallow pond is obligatory, but saving the starving child in Malawi is not, though the differences we can point to between the cases all either dissolve upon closer inspection or seem, on the face of them, to be ethically irrelevant. Some of us are inclined to think that you have the right to unplug yourself from the violinist, but not to abort a fetus, though it can seem that the differences between the cases are either illusory or, at a first pass, ethically irrelevant. Considering these cases and thinking hard about them can lead us to accept counterintuitive or unpopular conclusions or to refine our understanding of why exactly it is we have the obligations and rights we do. That’s all for the good—that’s what making progress in ethics looks like. Conflicts in our intuitions either point us towards better, more careful, ethical principles, or lead us to revise our ethical judgments.
Since the Dolezal case became national news, I’ve thought that the apparent conflict in most people’s judgments (or, at least, the apparent conflict in the opinions of most of the people I associate with) between so-called “transracial” and transgender people was really worth thinking about carefully. I don’t feel like I’ve thought about either case deeply enough to have an opinion about whether what we need is a more nuanced principle or a change of judgment, but the analogies between racial transitions and sex-gender transitions seem to me to be clearly a profitable area of exploration. Thinking through such cases, and listening to the various arguments on all sides, and not just the sides we antecedently agree with, is a sine-qua-non for making serious progress in ethics.
So I was glad to have DailyNous direct my attention to Rebecca Tuvel’s article. Like most philosophy papers I read, I was left unpersuaded at certain points, there were objections I would have liked to have seen raised that weren’t, and so on and so forth. But this was still a top-notch work of philosophy that gave me lots to think about. Of course, I’ve yet to hear any response to the arguments Tuvel presents in her paper; some of them may be persuasive. I’d like very much to read a response like that. But this is a serious work of philosophy, and as such, it deserves a serious reply. The article does not deserve a retraction, and its author does not deserve to be pilloried in the way she has been.
I, for one, am grateful to Rebecca Tuvel for the work she put into this thought-provoking article (even though she had reason to suspect it would win her professional enemies); I am grateful for the referees and editors at Hypatia for getting it published; and I will be grateful to anyone who provides the careful and thoughtful reply the paper’s arguments deserve. (Perhaps some of her arguments have already received responses in the literature. If so, I’d be grateful to anyone who could direct me to them.)Report
Very well said. It is I think the task of a moral philosopher (or, for that matter, a good citizen) to think through the “conflicts between [their] judgments”, to think about how to reconcile them, and to recognize in the conflict space for new moral growth. Whatever your theory of morality is, you should take the problem of internal inconsistency seriously since any mutually contradictory set of explanations can’t be right.
What terrifies me about this ‘scandal’ is that it reflects the growing consensus on the left as well as the right that its better not to ask. The political doctrines on issues of race and sex and sexuality are sacred and to be treated as if religious belief, properly defensible through doublethink and thought terminating cliches rather than reasoned arguments. To even consider reasoning through these questions appropriate is anathema to the left-identitarian ideology because it implies that everyone might be able to think through political dilemmas rather than only those with the epistemic authority of their demographic based “lived experiences.”Report
This is one of the most terrifying and tragic developments for academic freedom and free thought to have come out of the dominance of identitarianism over the last several years. I knew that university administrations fold in the face out of outraged students when it comes to the academic freedom of often politically sketchy faculty or speakers, but for a philosophy journal to condemn a leftwing feminist philosopher for not toeing the precise (and internally contradictory) a party line is a new level of thought policing through shaming.
One of the most disturbing elements is that Hypatia allowed itself to be cowed by a grotesquely ad hominem argument:
“A message has been sent, to authors and readers alike, that white cis scholars may engage in speculative discussion of these themes without broad and sustained engagement with those theorists whose lives are most directly affected by transphobia and racism.”
In turn, Hypatia has in effect announced that ideas will no longer be judged according to their merits but rather according to whether their author possesses the requisite demographic characteristics to permit them to discuss those ideas. This is calling for the end of serious philosophy, the rejection of moral universalism, and an acceptance ofReport
Wait a minute, this article was published on March 29th. Why did it take so long for this controversy to start? Or has it been there all along and we’re just now discussing it?Report
The objections here are based almost entirely on who has the authority to speak and who provides the permitted terminology. That’s a bit Orwellian, isn’t it?
To the extent that anything substantive has been addressed about the ideas in the article, they are incoherent. Phenotype, for example, has nothing to do with anything. I know a white guy adopted and raised by Taiwanese parents in Taiwan. Does he not identify as Asian, and frankly who has the right to tell him?
Anyway, the bottomline is that these identity politics are becoming the laughing stock of common folk who no longer fear your bullying by claims to authority (“Oh but there’s 30 years of scholarship!”)
And, btw., I have a Ph.D, have and have published in a couple of decent peer reviewed philosophy journals, but now I feel like the little boy pointing at the ridiculous emperor.Report
Most of the discussion above seems to concern the academic and moral rights and wrongs of Professor Tuvel’s article. But the “open letter” is not simply a criticism of that article: it is a demand that Hypatia retract the article (and take various other actions going forward).
Hypatia is published by Wiley and so falls under Wiley’s policy on retraction, which reads, in relevant part: “On occasion, it is necessary to retract articles. This may be due to major scientific error which would invalidate the conclusions of the article, or in cases of ethical issues, such as duplicate publication, plagiarism, inappropriate authorship, etc.” Wiley also subscribes to the Code of Publishing Ethics (COPE), which give further guidance on dealing with direct and social-media reports of problems with papers, including a requirement to contact the author and get a response from them, and an instruction to separate complaints that “contain specific and detailed evidence” from those which do not.
At least on the basis of what’s in the public domain, there seems to be no case at all for retraction:
1) The “open letter” can’t plausibly be taken as providing the “specific and detailed evidence” noted in the COPE guidelines: the four numbered complaints (discussed by Justin, above) are in total only 164 words and follow an explicit disclaimer by the letter’s author that “it is not the aim of this letter to provide an exhaustive list of problems that this article exhibits”. The very fact that the letter is open and signed by hundreds of people supports the idea that it’s intended to communicate to Hypatia *that many people think there are problems with the article* not *what the specific problems are and that they are serious enough to warrant retraction*. (Number of signatories can communicate strength of community feeling; it can’t plausibly add weight to an academic argument.)
2) If (1) is set aside and the open letter is interpreted as a list of problems meriting retraction, it seems pretty clear that it falls wildly short of Wiley’s retraction policy. There is no suggestion that there are any ethical problems with Professor Tuvel *in the sense meant by Wiley’s policy* : she does not fabricate data nor plagiarise; she conducts no formal research with subjects and so cannot have failed to get research permission; she has not published the article elsewhere. (Her alleged failure to “seek out and sufficiently engage with scholarly work by those who are most vulnerable to the intersection of racial and gender oppressions” would fall ridiculously short of counting as an ethical failing in this sense, even if the open letter provided specifics.)
So retraction would have to rely on “major scientific error which would invalidate the conclusions of the article”. In scientific contexts, that normally means straightforward errors with mathematical or technical tools, of the kind that everyone in the field – including the author(s) themselves – would recognise as invalidating the conclusions of the article. (It’s telling that COPE doesn’t even give guidelines of how to handle disputes with an author on “error” issues of this kind, presumably because scientists themselves would want to retract a paper if it had a straightforward error of this kind).
I’m not sure that *anything* could count as “major scientific error” in a philosophy article (except when that paper borrows the formal methods of other disciplines, but there is no mathematics or scientific technique in Prof. Tuvel’s article). In any case, as can be seen from this thread itself the errors in Professor Tuvel’s article, if any, are a matter of academic dispute between members of the community and so fall far short of this standard.
3) The open letter itself urges retraction not primarily on the grounds of academic failings but on wider moral grounds. (“More importantly, these failures of scholarship do harm to the communities who might expect better from Hypatia.”) But there is absolutely nothing in Wiley’s retraction policy (or COPE’s guidelines on such policies) permitting retraction on those kinds of grounds.
In addition to this, Hypatia’s own response is odd, to say the least:
4) I don’t know for certain whether Hypatia followed the COPE guidelines and contacted Professor Tuvel, and received a response from her, before their public comment. But I think it’s most unlikely: the “open letter” appears to have been in circulation for only 48 hours or so, and Professor Tuvel’s own comments don’t give any indication that she has been in correspondence with the journal since then.
5) The comment is on Hypatia’s public Facebook page, and so appears to be official in some regard; and it begins “We, the members of Hypatia’s Board of Associate Editors”. But it ends by noting that it’s signed by “a majority of the associate editors”, which strongly suggests that it’s a collective statement by that group and not an offical statement of the journal. So I don’t know what status it has. (In particular, it’s unclear whether it’s speaking for the editor of the journal.) If it *is* an unofficial statement, it seems in tension with COPE guidelines requiring confidentiality during investigations of research misconduct and the like. If it’s an official statement, it seems to have pre-empted a proper investigation, again in tension with COPE guidelines.
6) The letter mentions retraction only after its extensive mea culpa and its declaration that publishing the article was a mistake, saying “Several further types of responses have been suggested to us, including issuing a retraction … we continue to consider those responses and all of their potential ramifications thoughtfully.” I’m rather struck by the lack of any indication that the Board of Associate Editors know that their journal has an official policy and process for retraction. (One might argue, in their defense, that they’re not sufficiently close to the running of the journal to know things like that, but if so, they probably shouldn’t be writing as if they speak for the journal and take responsibility for its process.)
7) Most strikingly, the letter (insofar as it does speak for Hypatia) seems to tread a most uneasy middle way. A journal that has carried out a standard arms-length review process and on that basis published a paper has well-established responses available to subsequent criticism: it can defend its decision on grounds of academic freedom and due process, or it can carry out a proper investigation of whether there are academic or ethical grounds for retraction or correction, and then make that retraction or correction if indeed there are such grounds. The Associate Editors’ Board, in condemning publication (and themselves) ahead of any formal retraction investigation, seem to be on procedurally thin ice, and leave Professor Tuvel in a very awkward position: her paper remains published; there is a declaration, by some part of the journal team but possibly not the journal itself, that it should not have been published; in the absence of a formal process she doesn’t seem to have any appropriate scholarly recourse. In her position, I think I’d be talking to a lawyer.Report
Is it wrong to think the Associate Editors of the journal, who weren’t involved in the Tuvel decision, are making a public condemnation of the Editor, who was involved, and mounting an insurrection against her? That’s how it seems to me.Report
You said it, David. I found disturbing that among the signatories of the letter demanding a retraction were a number of current and former journal editors who should have known better than demanding a retraction in the absence of providing an actual justification for that demand, a justification that meets the standards of international ethical guidelines that are binding on the journal. The response from various people attached to the journal’s editorial management structure (ie an essentially anonymous letter of ‘the majority’ of Associate Editors) is truly something else. It seems oblivious to guidelines that are binding on the journal (COPE anyone?) To be fair, probably a lot of folks who are on journal editorial boards are not familiar with those sorts of guidelines, but still, they ought to be. An uncharitable interpretation of their letter would suggest that they do not believe procedural justice is owed to the author. There are formal processes in place to address concerns about published content, anonymous letters on behalf of ‘the majority’ of editorial board members are not quite part of those processes. Unless I have missed something, there has been silence from the actual Editor of the journal. I understand there will be Errata w/ re to the deadnaming and transgenderism issue.Report
I am one of the AEs and want to clarify a couple of things.
1. Hypatia has a complicated (feminist and procedure oriented) organizational structure where the Associate Editors select the Editors, which makes us share the responsibility with the Editors for what gets published in the journal. The AE statement is the official Hypatia statement. It was signed “A Majority of Hypatia’s board of Associate Editors” at first because time was of the essence and members were offline. This did not signify a disagreement on the board.
2. I can say that from my perspective, apart from the deadnaming (which should be relatively easy to fix) the central issue is not the topic or the conclusion, but rather to whom we consider ourselves accountable and how we theorize about other people. Hypatia is a philosophy journal, but it is not a standard one in that it is committed to the feminist community and to fighting against the ignoring and silencing of marginalized and minority voices. That practical commitment translates into a methodological one: when we theorize about other people and their experiences, we need to listen to and read what they themselves say and have said on the matter. Papers published in Hypatia should reflect that commitment.
What to do? I personally think the journal owed an apology and we need to change our review process and naming policies but a retraction is a different matter. And I absolutely condemn the attacks on the author of the article. This is not about her, the topic, or the conclusion. It is about our own journal standards.Report
Thanks for the helpful comment, Ásta. I’m wondering whether your view that the issue is not the author herself is consistent with the apology from the Associate Editors, which says “publishing the article risked exposing its author to heated critique that was both predictable and justifiable.” If the AE’s view is that a heated critique of the author is justifiable, then they must consider that the issue is at least partly about the author herself, mustn’t they?Report
No, the issue is the journal’s own methodological commitments.Report
I hope the editors of the journal will expand how they currently understand the journal’s methodological commitments and will work to eliminate the under-representation of disabled philosophers and philosophers of disability (and indeed disabled philosophers of disability) on the journal’s editorial boards.Report
“Hypatia is a philosophy journal, but it is not a standard one. . .”
That is, it seems, the problem.Report
” when we theorize about other people and their experiences, we need to listen to and read what they themselves say and have said on the matter.”
Whether this is true surely depends on what properties of persons we are theorizing about. Still,
(a) there is no reason to think Tuvel didn’t listen to what transgender people say and write about themselves and their experiences, and
(b) listening to what transgender people say and write doesn’t require citing *theorists* who are transgender,
(c) listening to what theorists who are transgender say and write about the metaphysics of gender or the character of their experience doesn’t require *agreeing* that their metaphysical conclusions are correct or that their experiences are veridical.Report
This strikes me as a rather amazing comment. You pretty much openly admit that Hypatia has abandoned the fundamentally critical stance that has defined philosophy since Socrates, in favor of ideological and political advocacy. In real philosophy, every one of the commitments you describe Hypatia as operating under should be open to critical scrutiny.
At a bare minimum, Hypatia should make it very clear to prospective authors (and readers) that it is not a philosophy journal in the Socratic tradition and that while it is peer-reviewed, the reviewers operate under a number of nonnegotiable ideological standards that will be enforced, regardless of the quality of the arguments in a submission; that there is an ideological litmus test, which even translates (incredibly) into a methodological one, which articles have to meet, regardless of their philosophical quality. But to be honest, I think the journal should be officially censured by the APA, until it demonstrates that it is full committed to truly philosophical — and thus, critical — inquiry. Until it does, I don’t see how it is any different from — or better than — the publications of partisan think tanks, like Heritage or Cato, none of which would be acceptable as publishing venues in hiring, tenure and promotion decisions … at least, not as fulfilling requirements in the area of research.
I must say that as a person who not only has chaired several hiring committees but chaired and served on personnel committees, knowing what I know now makes me seriously question how I would treat a publication in Hypatia in hiring and tenure and promotion decisions.Report
That is a gross misreading of what I said. Listening to, reading, and engaging with people one theorizes about does not mean one has to agree with them about the issues or the conclusions reached. The methodological commitments do not translate into constraints on content, including the questions asked or the conclusions reached.Report
You may think it is a “gross misreading.” I do not. What I described is clearly communicated by the following passages of your comment:
“Hypatia is a philosophy journal, but it is not a standard one in that it is committed to the feminist community and to fighting against the ignoring and silencing of marginalized and minority voices.”
= = =
That is advocacy, not critical scholarship.
= = =
“when we theorize about other people and their experiences, we need to listen to and read what they themselves say and have said on the matter. Papers published in Hypatia should reflect that commitment.”
= = =
And this is a clear statement that an article on, say, trans issues, will not be printed unless it includes references to the reports of trans people. So if, for example, one wanted to publish a piece on the purely scientific dimension of the issue, one could not only use and cite the work of non-trans scientists.
So, no, I don’t accept your charge that I have engaged in a
“gross misreading.” The remarks are there for everyone to see in black and white.Report
“That is advocacy, not critical scholarship.”
Though there are ways to arrive at that conclusion that don’t involve a false dilemma, what you’ve written gives me no confidence that you used one of those roundabout ways. No, I surmise you went straight through via that false dilemma.Report
“when we theorize about other people and their experiences, we need to listen to and read what they themselves say and have said on the matter”
I assume ‘other people’ refers to demographic categories, not individuals, correct? (Can one write about Dolezal, or Trump, without reading their books about their lives, or no?)
Does this obligation apply for all people or only to people, as a commenter put it above, ‘with skin in the game’? (That is: are we required to engage with the writings and self-conceptions of both millionaires and homeless people before writing about issues around either, or are we only required to engage with the latter due to their marginalized status.)
Asking out of genuine curiosity, for what it’s worth, no subtext or agenda intended.Report
I am glad to see that there is a discussion about this topic, somewhere, somehow. I am on the side of Rebecca Tuvel, as I have wondered about that of which she writes. Just as women / men are on a spectrum, POC certainly would be as well (as others have pointed out with varying terminology).
I have been annoyed that discussion has not been allowed regarding ‘transgenderism’ / transpeople.
I am one of the crazy people who is not willing to remain silent about the business of transwomen expecting everyone to go along with them being called women (full stop). And if some feminist should transgress (esp. those with any recognition) – then she gets the hate that supposedly the transwoman is being saved from by everyone pretending that s(he) is a she. It is a pretense – though some will pull it off quite well.
The idea that ‘male genitals’ cannot be referred to – as if they don’t exist is absurd. It’s delusional. Functioning genitals are real – so is denial.
I think Hypatia should return the article to viewing.Report
You can pretend that only biological females are women, and in that way contribute to serious harms happening to actual people, or you can pretend that many biological males are women, and in that way not contribute to serious harms happening to actual people. Pick your poison, if you must pretend that pretense is poison.Report
Wow, this is a very sad day for academic freedom and philosophy.
As a feminist philosopher who has published in Hypatia, I’m horrified; I will obviously never publish or do refereeing work for the journal again. Sadly, Hypatia has revealed itself to be anti-intellectual and hostile to ideas. This sort of attitude will destroy philosophical feminism (and possibly philosophy more generally) from within. The calls are coming from inside the house!
My questions: since we are now in an age where philosophy Journals spinelessly capitulate to social media pressure, why not name names? Which of the (rather illustrious) journal editors actually endorsed this statement? And for the minority who did not, why haven’t you resigned in protest?Report
With respect, I’m not sure the defenders of the article have read the article. The author shows little knowledge of relevant scholarship, and relies heavily on popular internet sources giving favor to “transracialism”. The author’s pleas for “intellectual engagement” presume there is new intellectual ground here. I can frankly understand the frustration of scholars well versed in these subjects who have spent more time researching their complexities than the author. Hypatia’s decision to review its editorial standards is the right call.Report
Most bad scholarship goes quietly into the night unread and uncited. Why is this one viewed as a moral crime?Report
Because a bad paper about deontic semantics will not be used as a justification by the public to tell trans women that they are just men in dresses or black people that they can should just get over their race issues.Report
What if a good paper is used as a justification to do those things?Report
People can cite virtually anything as a justification for virtually anything, if their intent is bad.Report
These points about poor scholarship regularly apply to articles published in philosophy journals. In the case that an article gets published on the back of positive referee reports, this happens. It’s perfectly consistent to think both that (1) the paper is an example of substandard research, and that (2) the level and nature of the public criticism of the article and the author on social media and the unofficial response of the journal are not justified and undermine the integrity of academic journals.Report
Can you give an example of a claim made by Tuvel in the article that is central to her overall argument and that has been so clearly refuted by some specific piece of relevant scholarship that no academic philosopher could competently defend it?Report
I’ve read through a lot of comments on this, in an effort to sincerely discern, so do forgive if I’ve missed something. But: What is the editorial standard that Hypatia was supposed to have followed but failed to?Report
I’d venture just from reading the article and the associate editors’ response and reflecting on my own knowledge of the subject areas, that the scholars who completed the peer reviews lacked AOSs or AOCs in the scholarly areas central to the author’s argument.Report
Thanks, that’s helpful, and a sensible ground for criticism. However, that is hardly grounds for retraction. Ill-qualified reviewers is a normal, and regrettable, feature of the peer review process – especially given the concentrated responsibility on editors. Risk mitigation measures should be in place, but they will always be mitigation measures – sometimes an article will not get the reviewers it should (and often this will be to the disadvantage of the author). Moreover, a single instance of an article not being properly peer reviewed is inadequate evidence of a procedural failing (any more than an instance of a mistaken conviction is by itself an indication that a trial process should be changed). If an article should not have been published, proceed by criticizing it through normal scholarly channels. If there is a pattern of articles that should not have been published, raise the issue of process. In sum, if improper reviewers is the main criticism of the article’s publication, a much different tenor and set of claims is called for.Report
As of now, AR, I do not believe that the article has been officially retracted. And yes, if this were the first, isolated instance of an improper peer review, then the response could be inappropriate.
But for the sake of argument, let’s consider the possibility that it was not the first, improper instance….
With thanks and all best wishes,Report
Right – the letter is calling for it to be retracted.
I’ll grant you more than ‘for the sake of argument, it is a possibility’ – I’ll grant you that it is a possibility full stop. But, most possibilities are not facts. Is there any evidence that a troubling pattern is actual? (I have seen no one even begin to marshall evidence of an illicit pattern. If the process is the core issue, then that evidence should be front and center. How else could Hypatia non-arbitrarily modify its process?)Report
Are you asking, CR, if there is an established pattern of cis and trans* women of color serving generally as objects but rarely as subjects of inquiry?Report
AR — apologies.Report
No, that is not what I am asking. I was asking about Hypatia, and whether there is a specific procedural failing on its part. That was my initial query, and my subsequent points concerned that narrow question. The letter is directed at Hypatia’s process – and you’ve helpfully clarified what aspect of the process might be the matter of concern. I won’t repeat what I’ve said, but I certainly agree that editors have a responsibility to find qualified reviewers, and if there is systematic neglect to consult a certain body of qualified reviewers (who are also personally affected by the questions raised in the literature), then there is a serious problem with the process and/or editorial judgment. Is it true that Hypatia is guilty of this? (I am not really asking you to answer that question, but an answer to that question appears to be at the basis of the associate editors’ letter.)Report
I had thought that the point about familiarity with the literature from POC and trans* theorists was part of it, but that the overall reason to retract (rather than just, say, apologize for publishing a sub-standard paper) was that its availability in print from a legitimate scholarly source somehow does ongoing harm to the relevant marginalized communities. I can imagine cases in which this might be true (a paper that argues in favor of a specific people’s genocide, for example) but personally I think that’s pretty overblown here…Report
Regarding comment 1, “If you’re not a member of the Catholic clergy, what makes you qualified to even discuss whether or not Catholicism is correct?”Report
Rebecca, thank you for your comments. I’m one of the people whose jaw dropped when I read your paper abstract, what with the Jenner reference and the use of the word “transgenderism” there at the front. I appreciate your clarification regarding the use of the word “transgenderism” (which we now know you did not mean to be derogatory). But please know that for the audience of this essay (Hypatia readers), everydayfeminism is a great website, but not an academic resource. That’s not where we would look for a justification for the use of the word “transgenderism.” We know the conversation that is taking place in the field. If folks like Sheila Jeffrey are using the word “transgenderism” in a derogatory way, well, then that’s the meaning it takes on for us. So this language was particularly confusing.
As to the deadnaming, thanks for retracting that. I get that that was an accident. Many of us feminists could have made this mistake had we not been in touch with trans folks. The readership of Hypatia is really broad. It is unique among philosophy journals as being a venue where people from other disciplines – English, sociology, anthropology and more – publish. As anyone who does interdisciplinary work knows, sometimes we talk past each other. We use the same vocabulary, but the words have different meanings. Anyway, this was a mistake of not knowing the respectful practices (but which is pretty important if you’re going to be talking about a group of marginalized folks, and are not a member of that group). Philosophers are often playing catch-up to the new ground that’s being staked out in feminist studies. So it helps immensely to talk to feminist folks in other fields and stay abreast of the current literature (which I confess to not doing as well as I should).
Had these two features of the article been absent from the get-go, the article would not have received the outrage it did. But it still would have received a fair amount of criticism, in my view. Here’s why. The methodology and argument go contrary to what the sources cited would recommend. For instance, the quote from Talia Bettcher about gender identity being political is really misleading. That’s a super complex paper. Her main argument is that trans people (and all of us really) are subject to a kind of reality enforcement regarding genital verification. She distinguishes between actual moral genitalia (which is concealed) and the merely presumed moral genitalia that is attributed in concealment. Trans people are in a bind when it comes to actual vs presumed moral genitalia. Although they might want to be seen as “beyond the gender binary”, trans people try to “pass” in order to not be considered a pretender. This is because of “reality enforcement,” which is institutionalized through sex segregation in public restrooms, changing rooms, domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, etc, make trans people have to conform to dominant gender norms in order to move about. This reality enforcement is a kind of trans oppression. Her solution is to take Maria Lugones’ approach to meaning, and argue that there are “multiple worlds of sense” – we have different concepts and meanings to “women” which are open-ended and multiple. This is an amazing paper and I’m not doing it justice, but to say that gender identities are merely political in nature is misleading.
Further, the irony is that your paper seems to engage in a kind of “reality enforcement” on trans people because it reifies the gender binary through your discussion of transitioning. So, to reference Bettcher as providing support for your approach to the topic is, at least to me, bizarre. (For anyone who wants to read Talia Bettcher’s paper, it’s up on her Academia.edu site.)
Second, Charles Mills. Mills’ is known for endorsing the idea that race is a social-political construction. It’s not about skin tone. It’s clear that you agree with that, but when the four objections to ‘changing race’ are discussed, the way they are discussed is as if race is about how skin tone is perceived/constructed in society. But Mills’ point is that race is intrinsically about hierarchy and thus about power relations. “Where are you in the system?” For ease, check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epAv6Q6da_o. So if race is intrinsically hierarchical, then the question being asked about the ethics of changing race is nonsensical, or at best confusing. You can’t change your own place in the hierarchy without changing social location. And you certainly can’t do that on your own. So all the objections are, to some extent, beside the point, if you take Mills’ view of race (and critical race theory) seriously.
There are some other debates about methodology that are relevant but this is not my area and I am not a qualified reviewer for the paper. I apologize to any trans theorists or critical race theorists if I’ve misunderstood or misrepresented your work. I’ve read enough to teach a class, not write an article. And contrary to what Thomas Mulligan thinks, this feminist is not short of clothing, and has loads of laundry to do, dishes to clean, and kids’ lunches to pack. Peace out.Report
Thanks for this careful response. “The methodology and argument go contrary to what the sources cited would recommend.” This happens a lot in philosophy. Then we get into a debate about how to interpret the sources. Then papers get published that argue the interpretation was wrong. *That* is the right response to these remaining worries. Not the public outcry and demand for retraction, I think.Report
Thank you for this. I agree with K — the way to respond to this paper, and the way to treat a professional colleague who seems to be acting in good faith here (however mistaken or problematic the paper may be), is to provide considered critical push-back. I can imagine few examples where public outcry of this sort *might* be appropriate, but those all involve having reason to believe the normal way of dealing with disagreements within our discipline (presenting and publishing critical papers, or at least a thoughtful and even-handed blog post, that explain why this paper is wrong or even why this paper is morally problematic, and argue for some alternative approach/view) would not be adequate in some serious way, but I really can’t see how that would be the case here.Report
This is really helpful, thank you.
Is it generally accepted that gender is not intrinsically hierarchical? My impression was that that was a reasonably standard way of thinking about it.Report
Hi WP, so far as I can tell, the only one thing that most gender scholars agree upon is that gender is a “social construction.” The thing is, there are 100 definitions of social construction and it’s more complicated than it sounds. So, people spend a lot of time debating the ins and outs of whether gender is a natural kind (in the philosophical sense, not the biological sense), how gender relates to (biological) sex, problems with the gender binary, whether and how gender constructs and roles are oppressive to both men and women (and how they are not), where the come from, how they limit people’s lives and opportunities (limiting our perceptions of women’s capabilities, preventing men from being emotional, etc.), the way that gender relates to perceptions regarding reproductive capabilities, whether we can revise gender categories, etc. Sally Haslanger’s view has been particularly influential in philosophy, and on her view, part of what it means to be a woman is to be in a subordinate social role (again, there’s a lot of ways to cash that out, so other philosophers revise and modify this view). I hope this helps just a little. If you want to read more, this might be of interest: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-gender/Report
Gender is a hierarchy. Gender benefits males. Women cannot tell a rapist, “I identify as a tree” when her rapist is targeting her. Men can identify and appropriate the so-called identity of a woman. But, women cannot identify out of being the target of rapists who want to dominate a woman. Many trans women concede that as men they do not change se but they like to express a very feminine version of masculinity. Many detransition from a gender change, and many de-transitioned people have social media presence that should not be ignored.
There are a lot of questions that philosophers an help to answer. How can you prove an innate gender identity? If gender identity is 56 labels according to Facebook, and can be fluid, why are we treating children with dysphoria as if they have a permanent, innate gender identity and in some cases given powerful puberty blocking drugs that are unstudied for long term effects in children?
Please, philosophers, pick up this philosophical discussion. The author in question is pro-trans gender.
I am gender agnostic, there is no legal definition of gender. Why does feelings of 0.03% of population trump biology? With a gay and lesbian sibling I’m very sympathetic to non-hetero sexual orientations. I do know trans people. But, why do the feelings of 0.03% of humans get to erase the lived experiences of 50% of the population which is women?
If Rachel Dolezal cannot make me believe she is black, why can Jenner make me believe in changing sex? Besides, 90% of trans women keep their male tackle. Many are heterosexual and retain attraction to the opposite sex, women.
Any of you academics worried about free speech, pay attention to Jordan B Peterson of the University of Toronto. On Patreon, as his grant funding is cut for questioning compelled pronouns, his social media subscriptions have replaced that income. Interesting conversations about gender identity, free speech and definitions of words should not be silenced. Watch out for shaming labels, name calling, smear campaigns and threats of rape, death to happen to any woman who questions the gender party line. That has been happening online for several years, and women who question gender hierarchy very much know how gender harms women and girls. Stand up, they are coming for the field of philosophy now. Look what has happened to this junior professor. Consider keeping up the conversation about how society is to balance the rights and conflicting needs of women for privacy and safety vs. men for the expression of their preferred personality gender identity.Report
Ha! Wow. When Bex said they could imagine a few contexts where a pile-on might be warranted, Jordan Peterson sprang immediately to mind. How funny that he should then be recommended as someone worth listening to.
For those who don’t know, Peterson is a University of Toronto psychologist who is currently making over $28K/month by producing YouTube Videos claiming that Communists and Feminists have taken over the Ontario government and are threatening the fabric of society by forcing him to use people’s preferred pronouns.
His grant funding was not cut. He applied for a SSHRC and didn’t get it (for his proposed research into the biological origins of “political correctness” according to his Twitter).Report
One thing that seems to be emerging in this thread is a tendency for critics and supporters of the Tuvel piece to talk past one another. I’ve by no means read all of the criticisms out there, but one of the most common refrains I’ve seen is that Tuvel fails to engage with the lived experiences of trans people and people of color, and that this suffices for it to be poor (perhaps even inadequate) scholarship. However, the pushback to this point has almost entirely been of the form “show me the arguments that Tuvel should have cited/responded to”. But I think this is to misconstrue the norm that’s being invoked – it’s a norm about connecting (certain domains of) philosophical enquiry to the messy reality on the ground, and attending to the voices of those who are so often excluded from philosophical discourse, rather than a norm about identifying and responding to abstract philosophical arguments. (FWIW I think there are strong echoes here with the debate about Tommie Shelby’s keynote at the SAF conference – critics objected to the way Shelby’s talk occluded the contributions and perspectives of Black women, and an all too common response was ‘but tell me what was wrong with his argument!’, as if the only standard by which a philosophical paper could be judged is its soundness.)Report
Eloquently stated but a bit of a straw man. Few have defended the quality of the article. The objection is that such critiques should have led to a demand for a retraction.
Moreover, while the lived experience is relevant, philosophy , of all subjects, should be willing to engage with the detached observer as well. Indeed, perhaps detachment allows for an equally thought provoking perspective (albeit that may not be the case in this instance).Report
That is a good point, Suzy. But why is it ok to exclude self identified trans racial voices from philosophy? Who decides which voices should be included and which voices should be excluded? Why should self identified trans gender or trans sex voices dominate self identified trans racial voices?Report