Advanced Search

Sexual harassment is often defined as "unwanted sexual attention." Isn't the

Sexual harassment is often defined as "unwanted sexual attention." Isn't the idea that all sexual attention must be "wanted" by a women for it to be okay simply a perpetuation of the idea that women have no independent existence outside of the wants and needs of men? Don't women have the right to be indifferent to sexual attention? And don't women have the right to interpret unwanted sexual attention in other ways other than thinking of it as harassment? Basically I find it incredibly ironic that one of the the pillars of modern feminism has such a weirdly sexist underpinning.

I just answered a question very like this one. It isn't sexual harassment to express interest in a woman in a social circumstance, at least in the first instance. There are lots of ways of doing this that are rude, crude, and stupid, of course. But it is only "harassment" if it continues after a clear expression of non-interest has been conveyed by her. If I go up to a woman in a bar and express sexual interest, it is not harassment, even if I am clumsy about it. That would make me a loser, maybe, but nothing in feminism (or in the legal concept of harassment) makes it harassment in the first instance. If I continue after she has told me to take a long walk off a short pier, well, then, it starts at that point to become harassment, and yes, women (and men) have a right not to be pestered and...well, harassed!

The law currently defines sexual harassment as "unwanted sexual attention. There

The law currently defines sexual harassment as "unwanted sexual attention. There is more to the definition but in my own workplace the policy specifically defines sexual harassment as "any unwanted sexual attention". However I recently went out on a date with a girl that I wasn't interested in having "casual sex" with. She however proposed that we do just that. I therefor received "unwanted" sexual attention from her. However, I don't believe that I was harassed one bit. I have seen numerous website that declare dogmatically that women have a "right" to not experience "unwanted" sexual attention. I can't help but to think to myself that that is sheer lunacy. In my mind nobody has a right to not experience "unwanted" sexual attention and that "unwanted" sexual attention is not even a big deal. The term "unwanted" is a fairly neutral term and many things which are neither unpleasant nor pleasant can fit into that category. So how can such a obviously poorly defined definition of sexual harassment continue...

As I understand it, the issue at stake here is that people (and not just women) want to be able to regard their workplace as just that--a workplace. The minute someone in that place begins to give sexual attention to someone else in that workplace, the environment is changed--and changed in a way that makes the workplace no longer an entirely comfortable place to work.

There are obviously degrees of sexual harassment, and I frankly don't think that giving unwanted sexual attention (that is in no way coersive) on a date could count--either ethically or legally--as harassment. But it is different in a workplace. If you find someone's sexual interest or expressions thereof unwanted on a date, you can always refuse to go out on another date with that person. But if you have to deal with this at a workplace, your only option is to try to find another job--which these days can be a major problem, and which a good worked should not have to feel that he or she has to do, to avoid someone acting in a way that is inappropriate for a workplace. So this is not simply a "freedom of speech" issue. It has to do with making the environment of a workplace no longer comfortable for some other worker working in that place. Please respect this!

Suppose a very well to do doctor was married to a very bright man who happened

Suppose a very well to do doctor was married to a very bright man who happened to be a house husband. They had no children but he worked very hard maintaining their household. One day however the wife loses her job unexpectedly and asks her husband to help pitch in and get a job. He says, "well I don't want to do that." and in reply she says, "well then maybe we should get a divorce. And he says "Well, yes you can divorce me but I am entitled to half of your earnings for during the time we were married." I don't know this for sure but my gut tells me that most women would find something very wrong with that situation. It would seem wrong because it would seem like the man is responsible for his own livelihood after the relationship terminates. In most situations however the man is the bread winner and the women is the housewife and I think most people don't have a problem with a man paying half his earned income to his divorced wife. Am I wrong in my assumption that women (and men) would balk at the idea...

Certainly nowadays the law would require the woman to pay alimony in this situation, and I am sure there have been many such cases.

I find it hard to see how anyone who wasn't just flatly sexist might think it should be otherwise. Perhaps vestiges of sexist thinking with which we have all been saddled by our society would make our gut reaction a little different, but fortunately we have brains and do not have to be ruled by our guts.

A majority of feminists as I understand them argue that the per se enjoyment of

A majority of feminists as I understand them argue that the per se enjoyment of the physical body and particularly the female form is a form of "objectification". I completely disagree because in my opinion the female form has aesthetic qualities that are not "object" like at all and are actually quite human and therefor the appreciation of the female form is not objectification. Are there feminists who agree with that stance?

Many philosophers committed to feminism are concerned with 'objectification', i.e., roughly, treating a person--often, as in this case and henceforth, a woman--as a thing in some way. While the concept of objectification is slippery, as noted in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on the topic, from which I profited and which one can access by clicking here, the case you present is clear-cut.

While there are senses of objectification that are akin to taking the female form as an object of aesthetic appreciation--such as the reduction of a person to her body or her appearance--the mere appreciation of the beauty of the female form in particular or of the human body in general does not seem to me, in and of itself, to constitute a form of objectification, and I would be surprised if it were indeed the case that the majority of feminists would consider the aesthetic appreciation of the human body to be a form of objectification. To be sure, if one rigorously and uniquely adopts an 'aesthetic attitude' towards the human body, one might come to objectify the body, but one certainly need not do so, and so I do not think that the consideration of the human body as an object of aesthetic appreciation should actually be seen as a form of objectification.

I often hear certain individuals declaring it to be imperialistic to try and

I often hear certain individuals declaring it to be imperialistic to try and help improve women's status in countries where women's rights are in a bad state. They say that imposing Western values ideals of what a woman should be on Afghan or Congolese women is destructive. How can it be destructive, when women in these countries are confined to their homes, raped, considered minors, denied an education or denied the right to work? There is a lot of chatter about how Western women are oppressed by the patriarchy, but surely their experience pales in comparison to that of an Afghan girl who gets acid thrown in her face for daring to go to school. Sure, we can't just run in, emancipation guns blazing - when we intervene in any way, we need to take into account local cultures and values and views, and best adapt our aid and intervention so as to minimize harm to the women involved while still providing them with what they feel they need (since such help must obviously be on a voluntary basis). So what...

I think the point is that we should not expect people to behave exactly the same everywhere, so that in some countries women behave in ways which are culturally appropriate, and look oppressed from the perspective of other countries. Take the head scarf for example. Many interpret this as a sign of oppression, but many women in particular do not, and have no difficulty in both covering themselves to some degree and also believing in equal treatment with men. In Islam both men and women are supposed to dress modestly, and if that is taken to mean that women should cover their hair, and men also dress in certain ways, then there seems to be nothing unduly oppressive about that. Or at least no more oppressive than the feeling that women in any country will probably be expected to dress in a certain way. I think that is the logic that is operating here.

Imagine a novel or film that satirizes sexism by pushing it to extremes in order

Imagine a novel or film that satirizes sexism by pushing it to extremes in order to make it seem ridiculous. Assuming there aren't any explicit criticisms of sexism within the work (i.e. the only criticism is the satirical extremes to which the sexism goes), is the work actually a sexist work, despite its satire? If we ignore what the author(s) might say about their work, how can we distinguish satirical sexism (or sexism, or xenophobia, or anything else) from the real thing?

Provided that there is some cue to the fact that the work in question is a satire of sexism--even if the cue is only a matter of conversational implicature (a notion introduced by the philosopher Paul Grice to capture aspects of meaning that may be communicated without being made explicit in the communication)--as the question seems to assume, then it would clearly seem not to be the case that the work is itself sexist. (Similarly, it seems to me that Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" is clearly not an invitation to cannibalism or infanticide.)

But how, exactly, can one tell that a piece of writing is satirical: that's a nice and subtle question. (A parallel question: how can one tell one a speaker is being sarcastic? Some people have difficulty in doing so, at least with some speakers.) I don't know that any necessary or sufficient conditions could be enumerated that would allow one to determine when something counts as satire and when it doesn't; to my mind, in order to be able to identify writing as satire, one needs to have a good grasp on what it is for writing to be sincere (just as, in order to be able to identify speech as sarcasm, one needs to have a firm grasp on what it is to speak in one's own voice). But what is sincerity in writing? What is sincerity? I would think that one might start there and work one's way towards a better understanding of what's distinctive about satire as a particular mode of discourse.

Is the role where men financially support a woman in a marriage compatible with

Is the role where men financially support a woman in a marriage compatible with the feminist belief in the equality of the sexes?

A society where this is the norm is not one in which the two sexes are equal. So, as a social norm, this division of gender roles is not compatible with the feminist belief in the equality of the sexes. But at the individual level the two are compatible. In a society in which the sexes are equal, there would be lots of women working while their male partners mind the kids. This is compatible with feminism, surely. Therefore, a feminism that believes in the equality of the sexes must then also find acceptable the mirror image: men working while their female partners look after the kids. If these two role divisions were roughly equally frequent, I think feminists should find no fault.

Catherine MackKinnon and Andrea Dworkin were among those feminists who lead the

Catherine MackKinnon and Andrea Dworkin were among those feminists who lead the charge against pornography, so to speak, calling it what amounts to a central pillar in the edifice of patriarchal oppression. However, humans have only had free and easy access to visual pornography for the past few decades, maybe the past century, at most; and even literary pornography, like Fanny Hill, only dates back to the 18th Century. Before this, the inability to mass-produce pornographic materials seems to imply that it can't have had much the same impact as it could potentially have today - and many such depictions were on urns, floor mosaics or other objects with further purposes, so they weren't there strictly for sexual arousal. Yet it doesn't seem unreasonable to say that Western civilization has seen women forced into the status of second-class citizens for many more centuries than that, even millenia. So how can pornography be the central factor, or even a central factor, in the oppression of women? Or...

A fascinating issue. I'm not familiar with the specifics of MacKinnon and Dworkin, but I'm not sure that the considerations you mention would necessarily undermine their thesis, as you stated it. For whatever the history, it may well be that right now, these days, pornography plays that role (assuming that's what they argue for, of course), even if other factors played more significant roles prior to relatively recent technologies. Or it might be that ultimately their status as sexual objects has reflected and/or caused their secondary status all throughout history, and the contemporary technologies serving pornography merely continue (and exacerbate etc) that same trait. No doubt anyone concerned about the status of women in western society will begin their investigation historically and find plenty of explanations for the oppression of women; at the same time, any attempt to emphasize one, or give it central prominence, risks undervaluing the others ....



I'm interested in creativity and gender: specifically why the discussion of

I'm interested in creativity and gender: specifically why the discussion of women writers seems to get extraordinarily fraught when one throws in the idea of motherhood. I have seen young female writers write long manifestos about why they'll never be mothers because motherhood will interfere with their work; I've seen how mostly women who are granted bona fide "genius" status are childless (Austen, Dickinson, Eliot, Wharton, O'Connor, Welty). It is less severe today, but still exists: our only universally recognized feminine "geniuses" seem to be the non-mothers Zadie Smith, Joyce Carol Oates, and, of the six female Nobel laureates in literature in the past twenty years, only one half--Morrison, Lessing, and Gordimer--had children, which can't be representative of either the population of women in toto, or that of women who are writers. Worse, and this may simply be an assumption on my part, but oftentimes women don't get judged as "important" as their male counterparts until they are beyond the age of...

No doubt there is a debate on this topic in the literature, but whatever this says, it is surely the case that in most societies mothers are obliged to spend longer looking after their children than are fathers, and this obviously has an impact on the other things they can do. Writing is often a rather solitary activity and childcare does not usually fit in that well. It is hardly surprising that women find it harder to do as compared with men if both have family responsibilities. We still tend to expect more from women, and less from men. It is not just with respect to children but also with caring in general, for siblings perhaps or parents.

When I look after young children and take them out I receive all sorts of help and interaction from people, since the assumption is that if a man is doing it then this is unusual and unexpected. When their mother or grandmother take children out they are routinely ignored, this is just what is expected of women. Clearly this has always had a significant impact on the scope for creativity and achievement among women with children. There is nothing mysterious about it which requires reflection on the basic differences between men and women, it is surely a reflection on basic differences in gender differentiation.

Some thinkers mention the possibility of a "feminine" (not feminist) form of

Some thinkers mention the possibility of a "feminine" (not feminist) form of ethical reasoning, and contrast this to prevailing forms of ethical reasoning, which are "masculine". What does it mean for a way of thinking about ethics to be masculine or feminine? What would a "feminine ethic" look like?

The idea that there is a distinctively 'feminine' approach to ethics was articulated forcefully in the pioneering work of Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Gilligan argued that there are certain distinctive virtues and traits--such as care, empathy, forgiveness, etc.--that are coded 'feminine' that had gone underemphasized in more traditional, 'masculine', approaches to ethics and character development, which stressed the primacy of the development of an impartial, more 'rational' standpoint in ethics. The basic idea, that there are differences in the way that men and women make moral judgments, that reflect the way that they are socialized, makes good sense to me, and has been championed by a number of philosophers and developed in various ways, particularly by those interested in the 'ethics of care'. However, it seems to me to be incorrect to think that these differences are somehow 'fixed', or that men cannot come to look at the world from a more 'feminine' perspective (and vice versa, of course), although it may well be a matter of psychological fact that men generally approach ethics from a more 'masculine' perspective, and women from a 'feminine' perspective. For more on this topic, and on feminist--not 'feminine'--ethics, you might follow the link to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on feminist ethics.