Feminist Crisis? Philosophical Interventions

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Is feminism in crisis? Recently, in the United States and abroad, historic events rendered ever more precarious the lives and well-being of people marginalized by their sex, gender, race, and class, often in complexly intersecting and regionally specific ways. The rise of right-wing populism transnationally and attacks on reproductive rights, for example, exacerbate the challenges feminists confront. At the same time, as external conditions shift, feminism’s own faultlines continue to deepen. Feminism’s rising trans-exclusionary contingent, certain feminists' hesitancy to reckon with complicity in racial and colonial violence, and the ongoing cooptation of feminism by neoliberalism signal serious internal fractures.

As feminism faces external and internal pressures, how can philosophy help us understand this moment of potential crisis and what, if anything, can philosophy do to address it? To devise answers to these urgent questions, we welcome contributions that focus on: 

1.     The relation between feminism and philosophy, including how feminism should intervene in philosophical debates, and how philosophy should intervene in feminist debates;

2.     Questions concerning the nature and practice of gender, sex, sexuality, race, class, and disability that draw on feminist literatures or methodologies;

3.     Perspectives that integrate different feminist traditions to build intersectional and transnational feminist coalitions;

4.     Analyses of discourses on sex, gender, sexuality, race, class, and disability in media, law, and the sciences;

5.     Translating feminist views on sex, gender, sexuality, race, class, and disability into public policy and social advocacy.

We welcome contributions from scholars working in philosophy and who draw on a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Scholars of all identities, especially those from groups underrepresented and/or marginalized in academia, are encouraged to submit contributions. 

Please send anonymized abstracts of up to 500 words to [email protected], along with any questions you may have. The deadline for submissions is September 7th. 

You can find the conference program below.

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FEMINISM IN CRISIS? PHILOSOPHICAL INTERVENTIONS

Graduate Conference Program

Saturday, October 1, 2022

The Graduate Center, CUNY 

In-person | Room 5414, on the 5th floor 

Virtual | Via Zoom (https://ccny.zoom.us/j/85853354967)


Conference Program


9:00 am–9:15 am

Arrival and registration

9:15 am–9:30 am

Welcoming remarks

Session 1: Feminist Method and Metaphilosophy

9:30 am–10:10 am

Moya Mapps (Yale University)

“Personal Writing as Feminist Praxis”

10:15 am–10:55 am

Marc Virgile Gwodog (University of Douala)

“Feminism in Francophone African Philosophy of Liberation and Emancipation: Not Yet Started But Already in Crisis?”


11:00 am–11:15 am

Break


11:15 am–11:55 am

Yaara Rosolio (Bar-Ilan University)

“There is a Crisis, But…Thinking Through Rosi Braidotti’s Response to the Crisis of Feminism”


12:00 pm–1:00 pm 

Lunch – a light lunch will be provided for in-person speakers and participants



Session 2: Critical Theory and Phenomenology

1:00 pm–1:40 pm

Iker Suárez (The Graduate Center, CUNY)

“From Capitalism to Man: The Limits of Nancy Fraser’s Feminism and Sylvia Wynter’s Radical Possiblity”


1:45 pm–2:25 pm 


Sophy Porfirieva (Independent Researcher)

“Phenomenological Intervention: Rebraiding Feminism with Critical Phenomenology”


2:30 pm–2:45 pm

Break

Session 3: Analytic Approaches to Gender

2:45 pm–3:25 pm

Rose Fonth (Rutgers University)

“The Inclusion Problem Persists: Accounting for Resistant, Cross-Context Gender Identifications”


3:30 pm–4:10 pm


Audrey Powers (Rutgers University)

“Gender and Rights”


4:15 pm–5:10 pm

AG McGee (Rutgers University)

“The Problem of Misgendering Beliefs: Ethical Considerations in Developing a Metaphysics of Gender”


5:15pm–5:30 pm

Break


5:30pm–6:30 pm

Keynote: Robin Dembroff (Yale University)

“Real Men on Top”


6:30pm–8:00 pm

Dinner for speakers and conference organizers

List of Abstracts


Real Men on Top (Robin Dembroff)


The term ‘patriarchy’ is part of the common lexicon, appearing everywhere from The Simpsons and Ani DiFranco lyrics to academic tomes behind paywalls. Received understanding tells us that patriarchy is an institutionalized system that privileges men over women. I'll argue that, while we do need a concept of patriarchy, this received picture is irreparably flawed. In its place, I'll propose a new paradigm: patriarchy is the institutionalized system of gendering that puts "Real Men" on top.



Personal Writing as Feminist Praxis (Moya Mapps)

This is a paper about how analytic philosophers write. In particular, it is a paper about the ways in which we write – and don’t write – about ourselves in our work. In one sense, we write about ourselves all the time: we use first-personal pronouns like “I” and “me” and “us” and “we” liberally. In a survey of fifty papers published recently in top philosophy journals, rhetoric scholar Helen Sword found that 92% used first-personal pronouns; in my own survey of thirty-six recent papers, I found that 100% used such pronouns.[1] In another, deeper sense, however, analytic philosophy papers tend to be quite reticent about the personal. The typical philosophy paper is grammatically first-personal, so to speak, but not substantively first-personal. 


In the words of Annette Baier, writing in this (substantively) impersonal style “has become a nearly sacred tradition in moral philosophy.”[2] But is the tradition worth preserving? 


For many of us, writing in the impersonal style is a mere habit, a matter of disciplinary convention. I argue, however, that there is also a deeper, more ideological reason why so many of us write this way. “The free intellect will see as God might see, without here and now… Hence also the free intellect will value the more abstract and universal knowledge into which the private accidents of history do not enter…”[3] In more contemporary terms, the free intellect occupies a “view from nowhere.” On this conception, the whole point of philosophy is to transcend contingent facts of birth and circumstance; personal writing is, almost by definition, unphilosophical. 


Drawing on the work of feminist philosophers, philosophers of disability, and critical philosophers of race, I argue that we should throw off the impersonal “view from nowhere” tradition. Philosophers have a long, troubling history of trying to survey the world from a god’s-eye view and failing. All too often, we mistake white for “raceless.” We mistake male for “gender-neutral.” We think we are occupying “view from nowhere” when in reality, we are occupying a view from privilege. Thus the impersonal “view from nowhere” tradition is epistemically and politically counterproductive. We have good reasons to be more attentive to, and transparent about, our own positionality; we have good reasons to join the small but growing band of renegade philosophers who write openly how their experiences – their particular, contingent, embodied, socially-located experiences – inform their work. The personal, in short, is philosophical. 


Feminism in French-Speaking African Philosophy of Liberation and Emancipation: Not Started Yet but Already in Crisis? (Marc Gwodog)

The issues of inequality, injustices and discriminations are widely discussed topics in French-speaking African philosophy of liberation and emancipation. In the meantime, questions discrimination against women and gender issues appear to be ignored or overlooked in this discussion. One superficial explanation is to connect this omission to the overwhelming majority of males within the philosophical population who may not be familiar with the depth of women’s concerns. In this talk, I argue that the main reason for this disinterest in gender discrimination is the underlying suspicion of feminist claims as hiding a biased and confused ideological agenda. While philosophers of liberation and emancipation consider their activity as a fight for human dignity and right for everyone, they are less prone to tackle gender discriminations for they regard feminism as another medium of Western cultural imperialism. I will begin by setting out the frame of this francophone African philosophy of liberation and emancipation, with its objectives and methods, and by showing how it links post-colonialism to inequalities and injustice within African society. Then, I will explore the argumentative strategy connecting gender concerns with Western cultural imperialism. This will lead us to explain the fear of opening a Pandora’s box of discrimination that lies behind the pitfall of gender issues. Finally, I will explain why the same reconfiguration of the African societies that has fueled the philosophical reflection on liberation and emancipation must also lead us to rethink our whole gender categories in the African context, bringing still unanalyzed discriminations under philosophical spotlight. 


There Is a Crisis, But…Thinking through Rosi Braidotti’s response to the crisis of feminism (Yaara Rosolio)


In this lecture, I will address the 'crisis' question by referring to Rosi Braidotti's statement according to which, there is no crisis. The crisis, she states, is an ideological discourse embraced by forces that aim to undermine feminism’s ability to participate in coping with the challenges of today, and to annul the power that feminism has gained over the last century. Specifically, it implies that the tools and strategies associated with feminist theory, are ill equipped to deal with the task of changing the unjust social order. However, according to Braidotti, such discourses do no justice to what is really taking place in contemporary feminist theory. 


As a posthumanist feminist philosopher, Braidotti provides an affirmative account which aims to move beyond the negative critical deliberation regarding the inadequate infrastructures of feminist theory. Being highly committed to the task of social change, Braidotti engages with alternative ontological, ethical, and epistemic structures of thinking, to explore alternative methodological tools and strategies. Such alternative schemes of thought, she claims, allow different articulations of the subject figure, and hence for alternative ways of intervention in the world. In particular, these alternative schemes are not bound by the dominant vision of the scientific enterprise, which Braidotti equates with the humanistic framework of thought. Thus, without ignoring the conditional infrastructure that brought feminist theory to its 'crisis', Braidotti invites us to engage with alternative modes of critical thought, which might be more suitable to the socio-political challenges of the present. Paradoxically, in terms of our discussion, many of the premises and structures of thinking used by these alternative modes of inquiry, were actually developed by feminist theoretical endeavors. These include: standpoint theory, situated knowledge, black feminism, and the focus on the embodied subject, to name just a few. If this is the case, is it in fact accurate to claim that feminism is in crisis? 


In my lecture, I will examine one of the methodological strategies Braidotti provides in her response to the current discourse of crisis, namely – her notion of 'forgetting to forget'. I hope to demonstrate this notion as a conductive alternative methodological key Braidotti utilizes within her theory. To do this, I will first demonstrate how this conceptual figuration can function as an ethical imperative, which enables a different understanding of the Subject figure of our current times - not in terms of the liberal individualism promoted by Humanism, but rather as an affective and relational vitalist entity. Second, in light of Braidotti’s objection to the mechanism of ‘negative critique’, I will show how 'forgetting to forget' can function as an affirmative critical strategy that responds to adverse social conditions, not by denial or rejection, but rather by transforming them into affirmative knowledge. Finally, as an enigmatic conceptual figuration, I will suggest thinking of 'forgetting to forget' as a methodological key that opens the possibility for a different engagement with Braidotti's entire work and the knowledge coded within it. 



From Capitalism to Man. The limits of Nancy Fraser’s Marxist feminism and Sylvia Wynter’s radical possibility (Iker Suárez)


Nancy Fraser’s feminist reworking of Marxist thought has been pivotal to the current moment in feminist theory and praxis. Setting out to integrate the manifold critiques of the prior half century into an updated anti-capitalist politic for the 21st century, she comes closest to what we could call an intersectional Marxism that dialectically integrates patriarchal, racial-colonial and anthropocentric forces into the analysis of capitalism as a totality. This presentation (based on a paper in progress) aims to interrogate the theoretical premises of this updated feminist approach. Particularly, I engage with the persistent presence of economism – understood as the privileging of economic factors in the analysis of totality – in the Marxian grammar adopted by Fraser. Based on a close reading of some of her seminal texts, I argue that her amended approach does not successfully elude the limited epistemological legacies of Marxism, nor their political implications in the form of privileging certain modes of struggle over others. Fraser’s approach, I contend, does not uncritically replicate economism, but it economizes the analysis in ways that merit critique —more so considering her explicit attempt to counter such tendency. This mode of analysis not only continues to privilege economic materiality over others as its main site of power, but it does so in a disavowed and thus subtler fashion. In consequence, whatever it ‘integrates’ remains implicitly subordinated to the overarching logic of capital, betraying its explicit ambition to be a mode of ‘total’ critique. In the wake of this, I argue that Sylvia Wynter’s thought sketches a way beyond: both an implicit critique to such approaches and an explicit alternative. Her ‘genres of being human’ overcome the pitfalls we can find in Fraser’s Marxist feminism and enable a more comprehensive critique. 



Phenomenological Intervention: Rebraiding Feminism with Critical Phenomenology (Sophy Porfirieva)


As a social movement or academic discipline, in the broadest sense, feminism became something

obvious, something that ‘goes-without-saying.’ Initially being outside the basic structure, now feminism is relevantly absorbed and used by the dominant ideology (which, in turn, may appear in different shapes) or – using the Deleuzian notion of territorialization – becomes what it is. However, the same forces may be involved in the opposite process of deterritorialization, simultaneously remaining within the ‘connections of territories.’


I suggest that critical (as well as queer) phenomenology may (i) provide a helpful approach to

witnessing the crisis of feminism and (ii) offer a working model for overcoming it. In medieval Latin, the notion of crisis indicates ‘a medical situation calling for diagnosis and intervention’ (my emphasis, Guenther, 2021, 9); still, it is also a situation that requires one to think for a bettering action. Going beyond the simple description of the crisis of feminism (what is it like), such an inquiry is an analysis of how such a lifeworld is possible and how it is entered into the structure. This approach seems to be winning, as it implies that one should not adopt a meta-position but instead critique the structure from within; in other words, it is a practice of immanent critique. Another highlighting advantage of a phenomenological intervention in the crisis of feminism is the methodology of problematization. Following Salamon (2018), Mattingly (2019), and Guenther (2021), I tend to distingue critical phenomenology 1.0 from critical phenomenology 2.0: the former is about gathering philosophical as well as sociopolitical voices, while the latest is about subverting the dominant philosophical and sociopolitical concepts, including those the criticizing themselves hold.


Problematization, unlike questioning, opens a vast horizon of possibilities and endless routes to

problem-solving. Wondering is a crucial element for both critical phenomenology and feminism (see Enloe, 2004; Ahmed, 2017), and this is what allows us to flip obviousness or – as I would call it – to go through the process of unknowing and reconsidering what became familiar (and here I turn to the concept of familiarity suggested by Sara Ahmed, 2007).


Following the path of critical phenomenology, I will introduce a possible structural critique of the crisis of feminism and show why critical phenomenology 2.0 and feminism may benefit from braiding with each other. Finally, my investigation as a phenomenological practice per se will examine the limits of critical phenomenology and feminism, as well as the success of their engagement in the case of overcoming the crisis.



The Inclusion Problem Persists: Accounting for Resistant, Cross-Context Gender Identifications (Rose Fonth)


Some ameliorative accounts of gender fall prey to what some call “the inclusion

problem”: the problem of failing to count prima facie women as women. Sally Haslanger’s

(2000) ameliorative account paradigmatically exemplifies this issue, since it fails to count certain

trans women as women. In response to this problem, Katherine Jenkins (2016) proposes an

ameliorative, dual-aspect account of gender—“gender as class” and “gender as identity”—and

claims that her two-target-concept approach does count all trans women as women. However, I

believe that this is false: Jenkins’ account also falls prey to the same sort of inclusion problem

she charges Haslanger’s account with since it also fails to count certain trans women as women. I

claim that accounts like Jenkins’—and Haslanger’s—fail to adequately capture the resistant,

cross-context gender identifications of some trans women, and I argue for the need for feminists

to take such resistant acts seriously given current societal trans-exclusive trends.


The core problem is that, under Jenkins’ account, to gender-identify as a woman in a

dominant context, one’s “internal map” must be formed to guide those classed as women through

the social/material realities that are, in that dominant context, characteristic of women as a social

class. However, I claim that some trans women (a) gender-identify as a woman as understood

within some resistant context—i.e., as understood from a resistant ideological perspective, and

that (b) when operating within some dominant context, retain this (resistant) gender

identification. That is, some trans women understand their gender identifications as women

within some dominant context not in terms of an internal map that guides people classed as

women within that dominant context but rather in terms of an internal map that guides people

classed as women within some resistant context. So, the inclusion problem persists: Jenkins’

account, like Haslanger’s account, fails to count some women as women—it fails to account for

(what I call) radically resistant, cross-context gender identification.


In justifying such instances of (trans) gender identification, I construct cases that are both

possible and likely, given current resistant gender practices and strategies. And I refer to, among

other thinkers, Talia Bettcher’s (2009, 2013) claims on the need to take resistant trans

identifications seriously (e.g., affirming a trans person’s self-understanding of their own genderbased claims) and on the ability people have to reject the applicability of oppressive concepts by rejecting the systems/ideologies they are based in, as well as Robin Dembroff’s (2018) work on “The Real Gender Assumption”—i.e., the problematic assumption that gender classifications should track context-operative gender kind membership facts—and on the need to reject this assumption. I also gesture towards a further inclusion problem that these accounts face, insofar as it is applicable to those of other, non-traditional genders (e.g., nonbinary, mixed gender, genderfluid).


I then propose two paths forward. One path forward would be to keep both the gender-asclass

and gender-as-identity aspects as is, but to propose a third central, or core, aspect—e.g.,

gender as embodiment—and to produce target concepts corresponding to these aspects. A second

path forward would be to keep a two-aspect view of gender, but to give a two-part account of the

gender-as-identity aspect—one for non-resistant, non-cross-context gender identifications, and

another for resistant, cross-context gender identifications. While I give different reasons for

pursuing each path, I think that either is preferable to alternative accounts, and it signals our

prioritizing of under-theorized, non-mainstream (trans) gender identifications and experiences,

which I claim is necessary given current feminist and gender politics.



Gender and Rights (Audrey Powers)


In this paper, I argue that gender is a violation of rights. This claim, if true, necessitates the adoption of ethical gender eliminativism: the position that while gender may in fact exist now, it ought not to, morally speaking. In philosophy and feminist theory, gender eliminativism has faced criticism as potentially in conflict with principles of trans inclusivity and anti-imperialism. I will defend gender eliminativism from these objections, and make the case that in a future without gender, our feminist, trans-inclusive and anti-imperialist goals will be far easier to attain than in our unjust present. I end by arguing that while gender eliminativism does not necessarily make clear our route to such a future, ideal theories nevertheless have a place in our present-day non-ideal theorizing and activism. 

I first make and defend from objections two claims about gender and rights: 


(1)Gender isn't something that anyone has a right to.

(2)Gender is in itself a violation of rights.


Claim (1) depends on an account of what a gender-based right amounts to, whether such a right exists, and how such a right may be distinct from general rights against harm or to good treatment. Claim (2) depends on an account of gender and gender roles as harmful due to their necessary prescription of content, regardless of whether the content they prescribe is inherently oppressive or morally unobjectionable. These arguments will lead to the conclusion that gender ought not exist in a maximally just ideal future. In the second part of this paper, I consider that future, the practical ways we may get closer to it, and the role that feminist ethics and theorizing can or ought to play in attaining this future. 



The Problem of Misgendering Beliefs: Ethical Considerations in Developing a Metaphysics of Gender (AG McGee)


The predominant liberal folk theory concerning the metaphysics of gender asserts that what it is to be a certain gender is to, in some way, identify with that particular gender group. Recent work in trans-positive feminist philosophy — e.g., Barnes (2022), Barnes (2020), Dembroff (2020), Dembroff (2018) — has diverged from the folk theory. Under such accounts, despite the acknowledged importance of gender identity for how we should treat trans people, the metaphysics of gender must lie elsewhere. Often, a consequence of these accounts is that, at least in some situations, trans people fail to ‘really be’ the genders they identify as. In this paper, I raise worries about this philosophical trend. I argue that because misgendering beliefs (beliefs that trans people are not really the genders they identify as) harm trans people, trans-positive metaphysicians have an ethical obligation to seriously consider the possibility of a metaphysics that grounds one’s gender in one’s gender identity. I then propose an account of gender’s metaphysics that is more closely aligned with the liberal folk theory of gender. First, I sketch an account of gender identity as a unique feeling of personal relation with one or more gender groups (similar to some other meaningful social identities, such as one’s religious identity). Next, I briefly argue that (1) using gender identity so construed to ground gender’s metaphysics may avoid the bulk of ethical concerns raised by philosophical theories that necessitate misgendering beliefs and that (2) doing so is plausible. I conclude by arguing for the necessity of viewing truth-seeking as a practice with ethical stakes in addition to intellectual ones. 

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