This is entry #79 in our ongoing 100 Philosophers, 100 Artworks, 100 Words Series.Continue reading
This is Part I of a two-part series. Part II is a roundtable discussion of the below interviews, featuring scholars working on these issues.
I. What Is There To Discuss?
A Prompt for Discussion by Bill Adler
As wonderful as it is, as impactful as it is, hip-hop music has never exactly embodied a model of civil discourse. On the contrary, it has often been—and remains—rough, rude, and heedless. Indeed, those very qualities are at least part of what makes the culture so appealing to so many folks.
Happily, hip-hop has also generated a body of exemplary critical commentary from the very beginning. For over thirty years now, critics and journalists who came of age as hip-hoppers have wrestled with the music’s sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and materialism… and have done so with love, from inside the culture.
Naturally, the music’s sexism has been particularly vexing to women, and doubly vexing to women of color. In a review for the Village Voice in 1990 of Amerikka’s Most Wanted, the first solo album by Ice Cube, the critic Joan Morgan quotes a girlfriend of hers as follows: “Joan, you know this motherfucka must be bad if he can scream ‘bitch’ at me ninety-nine times and make me want to sing it.”
To Chuck D, though, it wasn’t a problem—at least not then. Women had R&B, he argued. White men had rock. Rap was by and for Black men. End of discussion.
What follows is a post in our ongoing collaborative series with the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. This is based on a new article by Adriana Clavel-Vazquez, “Sugar and spice, and everything nice: What rough heroines tell us about imaginative resistance.”
After five seasons of House of Cards, it was finally Claire Underwood’s turn to be a proper rough heroine. In seasons one to four we find an interesting contrast between the moral transgressions that make Claire and Frank Underwood rough heroes: she is a ruthless, selfish, and drunk-with-power woman who is uninterested in motherhood; he is a ruthless, selfish, drunk-with-power man who has murdered several people. But in season five, Claire (finally!) murders Tom Yates, her journalist lover who had been given full access to the Underwood’s in previous seasons, and who was ready to publish an incriminating tell-all book. After poisoning him, Claire gives herself a couple of minutes to spare a few tears before calmly leaving dead Tom behind. 2017 was the year of the rough heroine in pop culture: in addition to Claire Underwood, appreciators were given Grace Marks in Netflix’s adaptation of Alias Grace, and Katherine Lester in Lady Macbeth. But why did it take so long? Rough heroes, like Walter White, Patrick Bateman, and A Clockwork Orange’s Alex, have been around since, like, forever. Continue reading
Artist Lauren Kalman interviewed by Alex King
Lauren Kalman is a visual artist based in Detroit and an assistant professor at Wayne State University. Her practice is invested in contemporary craft, video, photography and performance. Kalman’s work has been featured in exhibitions at the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Museum of Contemporary Craft, Cranbrook Art Museum, Contemporary Art Museum Houston, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Mint Museum, and the World Art Museum in Beijing, among others. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, and the Detroit Institute of Art. She currently has a solo show at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City, running through March 15, 2017, as part of their MAD POV series; as well as an installation at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, PA, running through February 12, 2017.
[Ed. warning: this interview contains some nudity, may be NSFW]
What follows is a guest post by Sherri Irvin. Sherri is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oklahoma. She specializes in aesthetics and the philosophy of art with strong interests in ethics and philosophy of race. She has written extensively on matters related to contemporary art and on aesthetic experience in everyday life and is currently working on two books, both under contract with Oxford University Press: Immaterial: A Philosophy of Contemporary Art, which argues for a view of the ontology of contemporary artworks, and Body Aesthetics, a multi-authored collection that treats the aesthetics of the body in relation to art, evolutionary theory, ethical considerations, race, age, gender, disability, sexuality and sport. Sherri is also a member of the editorial boards of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, and Philosophy Compass.
Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism editors Ted Gracyk and Bob Stecker have announced some changes to the journal’s editorial policies: “[B]eginning with issue 73.4, we will adopt a new citation policy. We will move from a system in which all citations are in endnotes to one with in text citations and a reference list. Like our recent addition of abstracts at the beginning of each published paper, this change generates greater transparency about the contents of articles. “However, it also supports the second change that we will introduce, which is that JAAC’s instruction to contributors we will include our support for the GCC 2 language (Gendered Citation Campaign). The new instruction reads: We encourage authors to check whether there are significant but under-recognized papers or books by women philosophers, or philosophers from other under-represented groups, which you might have overlooked so far in producing your paper and/or assembling your bibliography.”
In my work as a reviewer and editor, I’ve seen a number of aesthetics manuscripts that fail to acknowledge relevant prior work (both philosophical and artistic) by women and people of color. When I became the first female co-editor of the aesthetics section of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy last year, I noticed that only 5 out of 37 (13.5%) articles that had been commissioned by the aesthetics section since the SEP’s inception were by women. (I am one of 5 co-editors of the section. All the others are male, and all of us are white.)
These and other experiences have led me to be curious about the state of publishing in aesthetics, which has the reputation of being a particularly collegial and woman-friendly sub-discipline of philosophy. I decided to do some research about the gender balance of publishing in 3 major aesthetics journals since 2010, and also to query the editors about their policies and practices. I focused on the two most prominent print journals, the British Journal of Aesthetics (BJA) and the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (JAAC), and the most prominent online journal, Contemporary Aesthetics (CA).
Data on Gender Balance for BJA, CA and JAAC
I collected information about the gender balance of the authors, referees, editorial boards and editorial consultants of BJA, CA and JAAC. I also collected information about the gender balance of membership in the ASA and BSA.
Gender Balance of Published Articles
BJA and JAAC are quite similar regarding the gender balance of articles published since 2010, women have authored about 20% of the articles in each journal. The balance of CA is strikingly different, with 33.3% of articles authored by women.
From the overall numbers, I broke out contributions to symposia and special issues, since these typically involve some pre-selected or invited contributors and thus may enable the editors of the journal or of the issue to have a greater influence on gender balance. I found that, as compared to the overall gender balance, women were somewhat more highly represented in symposia and special issues in BJA (at 25%) and CA (at 39.7%), with little difference from the overall ratio in JAAC (at 20.9%). Only 24 out of 139 (17%) total articles in BJA were in special issues or symposia, as compared to 29/93 (31%) for CA and 55/134 (41%) for JAAC.
At the suggestion of Ted Gracyk, co-editor of JAAC, I compared these numbers to the gender compositions of the professional organizations with which BJA and JAAC are affiliated. The British Society of Aesthetics (affiliated with BJA) has approximately 31.2% female membership, whereas the American Society for Aesthetics (affiliated with JAAC) has approximately 32.5% female membership (though I was unable to code for gender in about 1.8% of cases, so the actual number is probably a few tenths of a percent higher).
We thus have a situation where, in our two main print journals, women are very significantly underrepresented as compared to their membership in the affiliated professional organizations.
CA, on the other hand, is publishing work by women at a rate that closely mirrors their membership in these organizations (though it is not formally affiliated with either).
Gender Balance of Decision Makers
I also looked at the gender balance of the groups responsible for decisions about each journal or the articles to be published.
Both CA and JAAC publish lists of their referees. The referees for the last full publication year were 44.8% women for CA and 22.4% women for JAAC. BJA does not publish or maintain an annual list of referees and does not track the gender balance of its referees.
Women are currently well represented on the Editorial Boards of all three journals, relative to their membership in the ASA and BSA: 31.3% for BJA, 37.5% for CA, and 38.1% for JAAC. Both BJA and JAAC have made recent changes to their Editorial Boards that have increased the representation of women. (Full disclosure: I was recently added to the EB of JAAC.)
BJA and CA, but not JAAC, also employ a supplemental team of consultants to the editorial board. The BJAEditorial Consultants of BJA are 23.1% women and the CAInternational Advisory Board is 50% women. (I omitted deceased members of the CA IAB, since I am interested in the gender balance of current decision makers.)
Editorial Policies and Practices
I asked the editors of all three journals to tell me about their review process and about specific efforts they are making in relation to diversity and inclusiveness.
According to the editors, all three journals employ double anonymity in their review process: the author and referees are mutually unaware of each other’s identity, but the action editor for the article typically knows the identities of both.
Elisabeth Schellekens, co-editor of BJA, reports recent efforts to improve the gender balance of the Editorial Board and Editorial Consultants. In addition, she and co-editor John Hyman have worked “to broaden the journal’s contents to include new or less mainstream topics or areas of research,” and they are now receiving more submissions in such areas. With regard to citation of work by women, Schellekens reports, “We have never made it conditional of acceptance that an article should contain references to female authors but, where possible, we have suggested them.” In addition, “It has always been a serious consideration in the choice of special issues and symposia that there should be at least a few possible contributors who are female.” She reports that, in her experience, women are significantly less likely to accept an invitation to participate in a symposium or special issue, but also significantly less likely to pull out once they have accepted such an invitation.
Arnold Berleant and Yuriko Saito report that CA does not have, in Saito’s words, “a specific policy or practice to encourage submissions from female writers and minority writers.” However, “our practice has been to support and encourage good works that address diversity of issues and approaches. We also specifically discourage those works in aesthetics that are relevant only to a narrow circle of professional philosophers/aestheticians – what Arnold refers to as ‘in-house debates.’ We make sure that the issues and discussion are accessible and relevant to general readers from different disciplines, including practicing artists. This also means that we consider submissions that do not use the typical philosophy/aesthetics vocabulary, methodologies, approaches, etc.”
In addition, CA has an editorial practice (though not formal policy) regarding authors whose first language is not English. Saito reports that Berleant “specifically tries very hard … to encourage works from non-English speaking authors whose language may need a lot of editorial work. As long as the content is there, we do not automatically reject submissions because of poor English. [Berleant] spends an inordinate amount of time and effort working with the authors to improve their writing. I think this adds to the cultural diversity of our collection.”
Berleant notes that CA’s only explicit policy related to diversity is this one, noted on the CA web site: “In order to ensure diversity of subject matter, approaches, and voices, papers by authors who have not published in Contemporary Aesthetics for at least a year prior to submission are normally given precedence.” He adds, “[O]ur commitment to diversity does not include explicit attention to gender, institution, or nationality.”
Ted Gracyk and Bob Stecker, co-editors of JAAC, have continued a practice initiated by previous editor Susan Feagin of collecting statistics on gender and geographic distribution of submissions and acceptances (see next section). They report, “JAAC’s mission as an interdisciplinary journal generates a duty to editors to be as inclusive as possible.” For acceptances, they rely primarily on peer reviewers, whom they select “according to two criteria: we do not ask anyone to review a manuscript if they’ve done a report for us within the last six months, and we prioritize peer reviewers who have themselves published peer-reviewed work on the topic of the manuscript.”
Gender & Geographic Balance of Submission & Acceptances in JAAC
Since July 2011, JAAC has been keeping figures on the gender balance and geographic distribution of authors who submit articles and whose articles are accepted. BJA and CA do not collect this information.
These figures reflect authors, not manuscripts. If an accepted manuscript had a man and a woman as co-authors, its acceptance is reflected in both the “women” and “men” columns.
It is notable that over the past three years, women authors have submitted to JAAC at a rate substantially higher than the rate at which they are published in JAAC from 2010-2014, and closer to the proportion of women members in the ASA. During 2 of the last 3 years, the acceptance rate for women has been lower than for men. Though the differences seem small (only 2-3 percentage points), another way of putting them is that in 2012-3, men were 21.4% more likely than women to have their manuscripts accepted, while in 2013-4, they were 11.6% more likely.
US submissions tend to be accepted at a rate slightly over 20%, while submissions from non-English-speaking countries tend to be accepted at far lower rates. There has been a steep upward trend over the past three years in the acceptance rate of submissions from English-speaking countries other than the US (which may, of course, be a statistical anomaly).
It is, of course, impossible to draw any conclusions about causation from these data. But a few things are notable. In the two most prominent print journals in aesthetics, the representation of women is significantly lower than the rate at which women belong to the relevant professional organizations. In JAAC, the rate at which women have been published since 2010 is lower than the rate at which they have submitted articles from 2011-2014.
A much higher proportion of the articles in CA are authored by women, as compared to both BJA and JAAC. It also has twice as many women among its referees (as compared to JAAC) and editorial consultants (as compared to BJA).
JAAC is tracking gender and geographic balance of submissions, acceptances and referees, while BJA and CAare not. BJA is actively trying to broaden the range of topics that the journal is understood to embrace. CA has since its inception embraced (and, in my judgment, effectively signaled that it embraces) diversity of topics, and has an editorial practice of fostering publication by authors whose first language is not English.
Further Research Directions
There are many questions that would be worthy of further study, including these:
1. How do the publication rates of women in these journals compare to the rates at which women belong to philosophy department faculties? Since some, and perhaps many, members of the ASA and BSA are not professional philosophers, it is difficult to be sure that the gender balance of the ASA and BSA is reflective of the gender balance of the profession (though I am aware of no special reason to doubt that it is).
2. How do other aesthetics journals, such as the Journal of Aesthetic Education and Evental Aesthetics, compare to BJA, CA and JAAC?
3. How does the gender balance of submissions and published articles vary from country to country?
4. Are there identifiable differences in the topics that women and men tend to write about?
5. How do the citation rates for work by women compare to those for work by men? This would be a very important next line of inquiry, given the evidence that women’s scholarly work is systematically under-cited (see here and here). Especially notable is Kieran Healy’s finding that in top philosophy journals, David Lewis is cited almost twice as many times as all women combined.
6. All of these questions need to be studied in relation to racial and ethnic minorities as well. Such research might require surveying people about their race and ethnicity.
1. Publish bibliographies.
Given the evidence that women are systematically undercited, and the likelihood that scholars of color are as well, it would be valuable to take steps to improve the situation. Data about citation would be easier to collect if journals published bibliographies at the end of each article rather than just footnotes with embedded citation information. Bibliographies would also be easier for scholars and referees to scan if they are checking to make sure that relevant research by members of underrepresented groups has been cited.
2. Check for citations by women and scholars of color.
Authors, referees and editors should make a habit of checking to make sure relevant work by women and scholars of color has been cited. Editors could expressly instruct referees that this is among their tasks.
3. Work toward inclusion of women and scholars of color in symposia and special issues.
Editors and editorial boards should work to ensure that symposia and special issues are likely to have women and members of racial and ethnic minorities among their contributors. Those submitting proposals should address this, and editors and EBs can take this into account in deciding which proposals to accept. Those of us deciding which projects to undertake – what kind of books to edit, what special issues and symposia to propose, etc. – can consider topics that women and scholars of color are writing about, so that there will be a supply of people to collaborate on these projects with us.
4. Reach out to encourage scholars to submit their work and to propose symposia and special issues.
If editors become aware of a session that includes high-quality work by women or scholars of color, they can express interest in having particular papers or a symposium submitted for consideration. Cultivating relationships with scholars conveys to them that their work is more likely to be welcomed.
5. Look beyond non-standard English.
If we value diversity of topics, approaches and methods (as, I would argue, we should), and if we value the availability of excellent work from scholars around the world, we may need to make a special effort not to reject work based largely on linguistic infelicities.
6. Collect data about gender balance of submissions, acceptances, and referees.
I applaud JAAC for collecting and publicly sharing the data they have collected. Given that CA has a gender balance that seems to more closely reflect the gender balance of participation in the profession, this seems less urgent for them (though such information would still be useful, if only to allow us to gain more insight into what they are doing right). I hope that BJA will consider tracking these data as well. Given that editors can be subject to implicit bias regarding who comes to mind as a referee for a given paper, it would be useful to know how the gender balance of referees shakes out.
7. Use the double-anonymous evaluation system with care.
The editors of BJA and CAexpressed their opposition to triple-anonymous evaluation, and the editors of JAAC simply noted that they do not use this system. I understand the editors’ reasons for wishing to know the identities of authors and referees, and if I were an editor I, too, would want this information. But editors should be cautious about the possibility that, despite their best intentions, they may themselves be subject to implicit bias that affects the review process. They should also be alert to the possibility that implicit bias has affected a referee’s report: referees sometimes know the identity of the author of a work they have been asked to review (especially in a small discipline like aesthetics), and may infer or assume some aspects of the author’s social identity based on the content of the paper even if they don’t know the author’s name.
8. Reflect directly on these issues and formulate policies and practices.
The editors and editorial boards of journals that seem to be publishing work by women and scholars of color at a rate lower than that of their participation in the profession should reflect directly on how they might more effectively attract top quality work by members of underrepresented groups, so as to close the gap. I hope the above suggestions, and others that commentators will add below, will assist in this effort.
I am grateful to BJA editors John Hyman and Elisabeth Schellekens, CA editors Arnold Berleant and Yuriko Saito, and JAAC editors Ted Gracyk and Bob Stecker for answering my questions about their editorial practices and providing information to assist in my analyses. I would also like to thank Dabney Townsend of the American Society for Aesthetics (ASA) and Caroline Auty and Berys Gaut of the British Society of Aesthetics (BSA) for supplying information about membership in the ASA and BSA, respectively.
 I asked the editors of the journals to answer the following questions:
1. Does [your journal] have a formal policy or a set of informal practices that relate to diversity and inclusiveness in its content / authors / referees / editorial board / the works cited by its authors / the topics or authorship of symposia and special issues?
2. Do you keep figures on the gender breakdown of authors who submit papers and whose papers are accepted? If so, would you be willing to share them?
3. Does your review process employ triple anonymity?
4. Is there anything else you’d like me to know?
 All gender coding of items for this post was done by me, except in the case of BSA membership. My method of coding people as women and men was as follows. I relied on my knowledge of the gender presentation of people with whom I am personally acquainted. As a next step, I relied on first names where those names are used almost exclusively by people of one gender. For names not very strongly associated with a particular gender, I did internet searches for pictures indicating gender presentation and/or reliable references indicating gender. Where all of these methods failed, I did not code the person for gender. Non-coding occurred only for some of the ASA membership listings I received. I assume that this hybrid method of coding is associated with a small but non-zero error rate. I am not aware of anyone I coded having a gender identity other than ‘man’ or ‘woman,’ but if any recent authors, referees, editorial board members or editorial consultants who are represented in my data identify in this way, I hope they will inform me so that I can correct the data. I do not mean to erase other gender identities.
 I used a “fractional authorship” model: where articles have multiple authors, I gave each author credit for an equal fraction of the article. If an article was co-authored by a man and a woman, it was counted as .5 woman-authored. If we were to place articles with at least one woman author wholly in the woman-authored category, the numbers would be slightly higher:BJA: 22.3%CA: 34.4%JAAC: 21.6%
 This includes Anne Eaton, who has been mistakenly left off the masthead of the last two issues of the journal and whose membership in the EC is not yet reflected on the BJA web site.
What follows is a guest post by Elisabeth Camp. She teaches at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. Her research focuses on thoughts and utterances that don’t fit standard propositional models, including metaphor and sarcasm, slurs and insinuation. She also works on the varieties of imagination, the theory of concepts, non-human animal cognition, and maps.
I’ve been spending a disproportionate amount of time in the past year musing about pink. I have a daughter who just turned 2 and is quite vocal in her opinions. High among these is the general gloriousness of pink and the intrinsic goodness of things that happen to be colored pink: for instance, that strawberry ice cream is maximally delicious, in virtue of its color. Her passion for pink is, most obviously, a form of comeuppance being visited upon me by an irony-loving universe; but it also raises some puzzles at the intersection of aesthetics, semiotics, and the politics of gender. How can she be so inexorably drawn to pink, even before having any peers to mimic? Why am I so irked by pink? Why do I even care what she wears? What should I do about it?
The daily ritual of dressing is a prime locus for negotiation and reflection. Most of her clothes are hand-me-downs, and pink is heavily represented; but the various donation streams present different families of pink reflecting their different socioeconomic origins, ranging from Carter’s all-American hot pink to DailyTea’s dusty rose:
My daughter seems not to differentiate among these pinks, generally adopting a policy of “the more the merrier”; but I find myself repelled by some, and not merely reconciled to but attracted by others. While some pinks strike me as tacky, flat and one-dimensional, others look delicate, or resonant. Some go nicely with blue or grey leggings, while others demand white, or maybe stripes. Some make her look cute and spunky, others washed-out and dumpy.
These are aesthetic judgments with a vengeance: situational, perspective-dependent, richly evaluative. I’ve tried bracketing them, telling myself that none of it matters – a thought that was especially plausible when she was too small to care or even notice – and that it most definitely isn’t worth spending money on. Pink is fine, I mutter. She’ll just cover it in paint and applesauce anyway.
But those aesthetic evaluations are maddeningly persistent. It turns out that the ‘pure’ phenomenal property is anything but: pink – or rather, various pinks, otherwise close neighbors in hue and/or saturation – are imbued with thick, sticky, if largely intuitive, cultural significance. They are allied to, and in tension with, other colors in ways that make them suitable components of some overall styles and not others: hot pink fits with zebras and metallic silver stars; ballerina pink with tulle and hearts; dusty rose with gingham or Art Nouveau flowers. And those styles in turn fit with different personalities: sassy; sweet; elegant.
Pink matters, then, because it is embedded in aesthetic structures that are themselves bound up with ways of being in the world that are partially aesthetic, but also personal and political. Colors encode aesthetic norms that run straight through to style, personality, and culture. These norms are difficult to articulate; but like everybody else, my daughter and I are sensitive to them, and (already) dispute about them. As Arthur Danto says,
The structure of a style is like the structure of a personality… This concept of consistency has little to do with formal consistency. It is the consistency rather of the sort we invoke when we say that a rug does not fit with the other furnishings of the room, or a dish does not fit with the structure of a meal, or a man does not fit with his own crowd. It is the fit of taste which is involved, and this cannot be reduced to formula. It is an activity governed by reasons, no doubt, but reasons that will be persuasive only to someone who has judgment or taste already.
Moreover, my daughter cares about pink because, even in the absence of obviously gendered toys, without anyone urging her to be “a good girl,” with her only peers encountered fleetingly on the playground, she’s figured out that pink is for girls, which is something she wants to be. Her first forays in the world of aesthetics are also explorations in self-identity. And this is also why I care about pink: my aesthetic judgments about color, direct and immediate as they are, are now charged with my hopes and fears for her and her place in the world. I want her to be beautiful and kind and smart; I hope she grows up to be strong and self-determining; I fear she will be drowned in a sea of girlitude, as in JeongMee Yoon’s 2006 portrait of her daughter, See Woo and Her Pink Things:
Construction, Reality and Meaning
Of course, it wasn’t always so. Maybe pink was always freighted, but it wasn’t always for girls. According to Jo B. Paoletti, white clothing was common for children of both sexes well into the 19th century, because color dyes couldn’t sustain the rigors of repeated washing. When colors did become more common, the gender affiliation went in other direction, in virtue of aesthetic color judgments that might have seemed just as obvious but differed starkly from our own. Thus, a 1918 article in a trade publication intoned that “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” The contemporary gender association emerged in the 40’s but retreated from the 70’s – when feminism helped popularize a more uni-sex style – until the mid-80’s, when marketers began promoting strongly gender-differentiated clothes, diapers, cribs and toys. Our contemporary palette of pinks is also of fairly recent vintage. The instability of dyes made pale pink the only viable option until chemical advances enabled Elsa Schiaparelli to launch Shocking Pink in 1937, which she featured in her avant garde designs, often in collaboration with Surrealists like Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dali, and Man Ray.
Evidence for constructedness can demonstrate lack of inevitability, and hence the possibility of change. But it doesn’t show that what is constructed isn’t real, for us, now. My aesthetic responses to pink, like my daughter’s, are direct and immediate, something I can’t easily alter or put aside. Moreover, my taste for some pinks over others, and for other combinations of colors, textures and patterns, is part and parcel of a more encompassing set of tastes extending to food, furniture, turns of phrase, music, and ‘high’ art. These visceral, unreflective judgments hang together in a complex habitus, as Pierre Bourdieu would say, which is itself the product of my own meandering navigation through the socioeconomic environment. As a result, every time I dress myself – and my daughter – I signal to the world, and to myself, who I am, where and how I fit in. These signals matter, affecting what people expect from and how they respond to me. Conforming to and flouting these expectations has real, concrete consequences about how others treat me; and I ignore them at my peril.
If pink – or pinks – are systematically embedded in complex, intersubjectively robust semiotic structures, do they mean those structures? The parallel with names is instructive. Piles of empirical evidence show that names embody and transmit complex socioeconomic signals, with significant real-world consequences for factors like employment and promotion. Beyond the relatively coarse-grained categories of gender, ethnicity, and class, names can evoke more specific schemas, as the psychologist Tania Lombrozo discovered when she deployed Mechanical Turk to help name her second child: “Katia” sounds like a supermodel; “Austen” like a rich white tomboy. But none of this pushes me as a philosopher away from direct reference orthodoxy for names. This is not because I reject the possibility that something as messy and amorphous as a schema or habitus could belong to semantics; I’ve argued that slurs are conventionally associated with perspectives or schemas. But in the case of slurs, unlike (most) names and colors, the connection is tight enough to engender an indefeasible commitment: using a slur commits the speaker to endorsing a certain way of thinking about the targeted group. If we call to account someone who uses a slur in ignorance of its associated perspective, they need to retract their statement on pain of remaining on record as a bigot. By contrast, someone who names or dresses their child in ignorance of their associated schemas may end up regretting her choice, but doesn’t normally stand liable for endorsing that schema. More generally, associations and schemas are pervasive, powerful aspects of our cognitive and social lives, to which philosophers would do well to pay more attention; but we shouldn’t just lump them in with concepts or ignore important differences among varieties of meaning.
Heteronormativity, Heteronymy, and the Revaluation of Values
Still, even if pinks don’t mean sassy or sweet or sexy – or surreal – in any sense recognizable to analytic philosophers, pink is clearly freighted with sociocultural significance. And much of it isn’t pretty.
On the one hand, my gut reaction against my daughter’s wearing hot pink and zebra stripes is clearly an expression of snobbery. But like it or not, one of my tasks as a parent is to transmit the ‘cultural capital’ I have accrued, so that my children can locate themselves in the world – so that the most doors can be open to them, by knowing what signals they’re sending. Further, part of my aversion to hot pink derives from my (justified, I believe) aversion to its associated schema: to girlhood as heavily featuring cupcakes and poodles, and manicures and shopping as intrinsically entertaining, self-actualizing activities. By contrast, I can embrace more of the connotations surrounding dusty rose: gardens, tea and crumpets, woodland fairies.
On the other hand, both hot pink and dusty rose are bound up with gender codes that are at least stifling and plausibly repressive. Many of the boys at my son’s preschool liked pink, at least up through age 4. Maybe it struck them as a “decided and strong color,” or maybe they just liked it, though part of their attraction often seemed to be precisely to its associated schema. (As a child, my husband seems to have deemed it his favorite largely out of sheer cussedness.) By the time they reached kindergarten, though, these proclivities had been largely extinguished or at least repressed, except in those few who have doubled down with nail polish and ruffles. (Just before our daughter’s birth, our son announced that he was “allergic” to pink. Now, he exhorts his friends “We don’t like princesses and pink, do we?” Which, on the one hand, Right. But on the other, No.)
The exclusion of boys from a wide range of perfectly viable, even important forms of dress and play because of their association with femininity is bad enough. But in a patriarchial society, the confinement of girls to a limited set of permissible ways of being is considerably worse. In particular, empirical evidence suggests that highly gendered clothing can serve as a trigger for stereotype threat, leading girls and women perform worse on tests of stereotypically male abilities, like math and engineering.
These seem like decent reasons for my daughter not to go around constantly swathed in pink. At the same time, she just does really like it. And it’s not as if she’s engaged in a form of false consciousness, glomming on to something she doesn’t genuinely enjoy because other people tell her she should. She’s too hard at work constructing who she is in the first instance. And a crucial form of self-construction is feeling one’s way in to a style, finding what’s fitting for your own particular personality. She likes pink because it helps her to actualize her self; if anything, it would be heteronymous for me to banish pink from her wardrobe.
So what are we, as right-thinking, over-educated, squarely upper-middle-class parents, to do? One option is to actively appropriate pink, much as targeted groups have done with slurs like ‘queer’, by “revaluing the values” of schema-associated properties. We do attempt this with the princess mania that besets pre-K girls, giving Xena the warrior princess figurines for birthdays instead of the flouncy Disney royalty they would clearly prefer (not that Xena is entirely unproblematic in her own right). But reappropriation can’t be achieved in isolation; in the absence of a coordinated counter-cultural movement it just perpetuates established stereotypes. Besides, “pink pride” is easily coopted, so that apparent re-valuation becomes a more insidious form of accommodation. (I’ve decided this is why I hate Frozen.) I’d prefer my daughter to play with regular construction tools and LEGO, not cutesy heart-embossed pink ones; and Victoria’s Secret’s PINK Nation seems like a thinly disguised attempt to sexualize tweenhood by marketing thongs alongside sweatpants and bedding.
Mostly, I think, we just grit our teeth, indulge a wide multiplicity of pinks, and wait for first grade and the advent of the school uniform. We can play some of P!nk’s “big-voiced, tough chick music.” We can extol the beauties of blue and yellow. I can be less of a snob, accepting hand-me-downs of every color with much-merited gratitude. We can watch our daughter become herself, embracing and rejecting the various expectations that surround her. I’m confident she will have navigated the Five Stages of Gender Acceptance by the end of high school (ok, college??), moving from the shockingly short-lived phase of blissful ignorance to her current rather full-throated embrace, and on to more nuanced forms of negotiation. Hopefully, she’ll be comfortable wearing the pinks that I’ve often eschewed as too girly, including them as one strand in a multi-hued wardrobe. Ideally, she’ll convince her brother to spring for some snazzy pink high tops all his own.
What follows is a guest post by Andrew Kania.
Looking at the plots of Christopher Nolan’s films, you might worry about his attitude towards women. At the end of his first feature-length film, Following (1998), the only female character (“The [unnamed] Blonde”) is murdered with a hammer by her gangster boyfriend. In Nolan’s first mainstream movie, the revenge thriller Memento (2001), Leonard is on a quest to avenge his wife’s rape and murder, though it may be that Leonard himself has inadvertently killed her with an insulin overdose, the fate of another female character in the film (unless these women are one and the same – it’s complicated). The rivalry of the magicians in The Prestige (2006) begins when one kills the other’s wife by (again, inadvertently) tying a trick knot incorrectly. The wife of the first at least gets to exercise her agency in her own death – she hangs herself to escape a (semi-)loveless marriage. Suicide returns in Inception (2010): The protagonist’s wife, Mal, has killed herself in an attempt to wake herself up from what she takes to be a dream.
What follows is a guest post by Henry Pratt.
Sometimes, when asked what I work on, I’ve been known to reply, “Philosophy of the mustache.” In the past, this has always been a lie. This site seems like an appropriate venue for correcting the problem and mitigating my guilt, particularly because of esteemed Professor Mag Uidhir’s own fondness for sporting a mustache most appropriate to the genre of seedy 1970’s biker films.
Though ridiculous, the philosophy of facial hair is actually a pretty interesting topic, one that raises a number of issues in aesthetics and ethics and the intersection of the two.
by Christy Mag Uidhir
***UPDATED 07/31/13. I encourage readers to continue to send suggestions.***
[minor update by Alex King in 2020; major update coming soon]
Lamarque & Olsen’s Aesthetics & The Philosophy of Art: The Analytic Tradition is arguably the best general anthology in Contemporary Anglo-American Aesthetics. Unfortunately, this anthology distinguishes itself yet another way by having only 2 of its 46 articles written by women (in fact, the very same woman as it turns out). A friend of mine teaching philosophy of art for the first time recently discovered this and asked me to suggest some articles written by women with which to supplement the anthology. I’ve copied the list I sent him below so that it might be a useful resource for others in similar situations. I welcome and actively encourage readers to suggest additions in the comments section at which point I’ll update the list accordingly. However, please note that my interest lies with maximizing the number of distinct female authors rather than the number of distinct female-authored works.Continue reading