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Anita Superson
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Thanks everyone! Glad to be aboard! And Go Bears! (I hope I'm not offending anyone already...!) It's just that I haven't missed a game since the Real Superbowl year (1985). Glad you've noticed the picture of Ditka on my webpage, which has garnered many comments over the years. It was posted by a former colleague, Dien Ho, and I didn't notice it for six months. It pays to check your webpage every so often...
Toggle Commented Sep 10, 2009 on Welcome Anita Superson! at PEA Soup
Hi Everyone, Ian Blaustein and Janice Dowell have independently told me that my book was being discussed on this blog, and I promised them I'd weigh in. Sorry for the delay. I haven't been a blogger (still using dial-up, the last in the universe!), but here goes. First off, thanks to Jussi for your review of my book in the NDPR. And thanks to everyone for discussing a topic that I raise in my book. Your comments are all very interesting and instructive. I should say that this issue (of members of dominant groups benfiting from certain practices that cause group harm to nonprivileged groups) came up in my book in the context of trying to pit morality against the worst kind of behavior. I was arguing in the chapter (5) that the traditional view of the skeptic, who contrasts morality with self-interest, would leave out certain kinds of behaviors that are in opposition to morality yet not necessarily motivated by self-interest. One example was the ways that various social practices advantage in the sense of privilege members of a dominant social group while disavantaging the members of another group. This is simply the phenomenon of oppression and its flipside, privilege. Those who benefit do not aim to satisfy their desires or preferences (making this not the typical case of self-interest v. morality), yet still benefit in an undeserved way (from nothing they have done) from the presence of an unjust system, benefits which are shared by all members of this social group. I used rape (and sexual harassment) as examples, where men enjoy systematic benefits in virtue of the systematic harms that women as a group suffer as a result of this practice, a practice which reflects and sustains women's oppression. Although I picked on rape (and SH) as examples, I believe that rape is just one practice among many that functions to harm women and privilege men. A device that many feminists have found useful to explain this phenonemon is Marilyn Frye's famous bird cage analogy (see the chapter on "Oppression" in her book, The Politics of Reality). Frye argues that oppression is much like a bird being trapped in a bird cage -- the individual lines of the cage are like the factors that function jointly to keep the bird/women in the cage/oppressed. The idea is to understand not just the lines themselves, but the way they are interconnected, to see how the forces of oppression work. Frye makes a huge point about having a myopic perspective on oppression, which is had when a person sees only one or two lines of the cage, and can't understand why the bird can't escape. This kind of perspective explains why some don't understand oppression: they are looking at just one thing, and try to fix it, and believe that if just that one thing is fixed, oppression will no longer exist. But the thing about oppression, Frye explains, is that it involves many factors, all of which are interrelated, and it doesn't end by fixing just one or two things (e.g., giving women equal pay to men). And the factors affect other factors, etc. In my book, I was talking briefly about the practice of rape and how it contributes to women's oppression. Since privilege is just the flipside of oppression (for every oppressed group there is a privileged group -- see Iris Young, "The Five Faces of Oppression," on this point), I pointed out some of the harms that women as a group suffer from the practice of rape, and some of the corresponding privileges (special kinds of benefits or advantages in that they are systematic -- and here a good thing to read is Alison Bailey's paper, "Privilege: Expanding on Marilyn Frye's Oppression," Journal of Social Philosophy) that men have because of the existence of this practice. And just as individual women might not experience the direct harms of rape by being themselves victims, many men do not expeirence whatever benefits a rapist might get, yet they still experience these systematic benefits from the existence of the practice of rape. This, I think, is what Jussi takes issue with. I agree that this is a bit nebulous, so let me explain. One way that women as a group are harmed (and each individual, in virtue of being a member of the group women, is harmed) by the practice of rape is that rape feeds the stereoytpe of women as being weak, helpless, and in need of protection. (For a good paper on this, see Ann Cudd's, "Rape, Enforced Pregnancy, and the Image of Woman," Phil Studies. For that matter, for an excellent analysis of oppression and how the factors feeding it are interrelated, see Ann's book, Analyzing Oppression (OUP 2006).) The presence of this stereotype harms women as a group by damaging the image of women, and this harm can lead to other harms, some of which factor into women's oppression. For instance, if employers believe that women are weak and in need of protection, they are probably more likely not to hire women for top positions or in the professions because they think they can't handle the job, or can't handle it as well as men can. Women then suffer economic harm, at least, from these decisions. You see how one harm can lead to another, and be represented as two interrelated lines on the cage of oppresion, to use Frye's analogy. The benefits that I'm thinking that men get from the practice of rape are also systematic in nature. If women are not hired for top positions because employers believe these stereotypes about them, then these positions get filled by men, giving men an economic advantage over women. Not every man, of course, so not each man will get a direct benefit. But the group men is seen as more competent in this regard, so they have the upper hand initially at least in getting these positions (and many do, as statistics about men and women in the workforce show). This is a privilege, a systematic benefit that men have vis-a-vis the harms women suffer from oppression. Some privileges, according to Bailey, are negative, some are positive. The negative ones are the absence of barriers, while the positive ones are the presence of additional perks. I like Peggy MacIntosh's paper on White Privilege. She lists 46 privileges that whites have vis-a-vis blacks. One is that you don't have to answer for your race, if you are white. Another is that you can show up late for a meeting and not have it be attributed to your race. I think these indicate an absence of a barrier. Another privilege whites enjoy is that they can buy flesh-colored bandages. This seems to be a positive privilege. Maybe some of the privileges that the group men have because of the existence of rape are positive, while others are negative. Maybe it's the negative ones that are more subtle and so not easily recognized. There was some conversation about how men really benefit from rape, and do rapists themselves really benefit. I agree that on an Aristotelian kind of picture, it's better for a person to have a good moral character, and this would mean not being a rapist! I think you'd have a better life if you were a morally disposed person than not. Classic Gauthier here, though maybe still hard to convince a skeptic (complicated by the fact that the benefits the rapist gets are ones that the group men get from the practice of rape being in place). But there are still these systematic benefits of certain practices like rape, and lots of people don't even think about them, or maybe focus too much on what a particular rapist might get out of his behavior. And it would be hard to show what rationality requires, if we take rationality to mean self-interest. This is the age-old question of why be moral. I don't know if this issue maps nicely onto a classic Prisoner's Dilemma situation. For one thing, as I've said, participating in systematic injustice (just by being a member of a dominant group, which one can't help) and benefiting from it is different from benefiting by satisfying one's desires or preferences. These need not be involved in benfiting from systematic injustice. Also, suppose the benefit that a rapist gets is power or dominance over his victim, and maybe over all women, if his act sends the message that "My kind is superior in worth to your kind" (see Jean Hampton's paper, "Defining Wrong and Defining Rape," for this view). Also, in a classic PD, we're making three comparisons: (1) whether the world with morality is better for each than the world without (I should think that the world without rape is a better world for each -- all people could flourish, etc.); (2) whether being disposed to being a rapist/immoral person is better for x than not being so disposed/being disposed to morality (here we'd think of the benefits of being a moral person); and (3) wehther acting immorally (raping) on the occasion was better for x than acting morally even if x has to make sacrifices from time to time (I'm not sure what to compare here in the rape case, because I'm not sure what direct benefits rapist actually get. They get power over their victim and women as a group, but this really manifests itself in the power they get from being a member of the group men, but they don't have to be the one carrying out the act to enjoy this power. And maybe we just need the threat of rape for this power to manifest itself, not the actual rapes. I'd like to think more about this, esp. in terms of the PD.) Some of the posts discussed the harms that women feel from the practice of rape. I like Janice's comments about this. I'd also recommend Susan Brison's paper, "Surviving Sexual Violence," in Violence Against Women (ed. Stanley French, Wanda Teays, and Laura Purdy). Brison discusses the after effects of her own horrendous experience. And on date rape, there's the classic article by Lois Pineau, "Date Rape: A Feminist Analysis," Law & Philosophy. This won a prize for best paper of the year in that journal. Thanks for all your comments! My book is really a book about moral skepticism -- about trying to spell out explicitly what we need to show in order to have a complete and successful defeat of the skeptic. It's informed by feminism, partly because I think that if we defeat the traditional skeptic we'll end up leaving out some cases of immorality, and the case of systematic benefits which need not entail immorality or any bad attitudes on anyone's behalf. I argue for broadening in some ways, and narrowing in other ways, the traditional picture of the skeptic, and I'm afraid I've argued that we need to show much more than on the traditional account (showing that rationality requires acting morally, even when self-interest and morality conflict) to defeat the skeptic fully. As if that wasn't hard enough to do!
Toggle Commented Sep 7, 2009 on Not in My Interests at PEA Soup