I can count the number of courses that have changed my life in college on one hand - and that's impressive. Some people aren't lucky enough to even have one. But I've had four. And I don't mean courses that I really enjoy - because those I can count in the double digits, I mean courses that really truly change you in the way you think, live, and grow. Two of the four courses that did this to me are taught by philosopher Nancy Bauer. (As I wrote that, I resisted the urge to qualify her title as "feminist philosopher," which she is, but the fact that we still use "feminist philosopher" or "female executive" to qualify that being a woman is somehow impressive and unique needs to change (but that's for another post)). Anyway, the two courses I've taken with Nancy Bauer are PHIL48: Feminist Philosophy and PHIL192: The Legacy of Simone de Beauvoir. Both beyond awesome. I have learned how to think critically and examine philosophy as an academic, but I've also been pushed to understand the paternalistic side of texts and to critically examine feminist ideas in modern society. I have been encouraged to explore the idea of oppression and injustices as a feminist in 2013. Professor Bauer leaves you stupefied at the end of class thinking, how can the world be like this and when can I tell everyone I know what's happening in feminist philosophy?
And, besides the great professor, another unique part of her course is the use of technology as a learning tool. She encourages us to communicate and chat via an online book reader called SocialBook, and use a Facebook page to share relevant and current feminist musings. The page is blowing up right now and I love trolling for new information that my classmates post on issues of gender, sexuality, Freud, Hegel, Sheryl Sandberg, etc. My most recent internet discovery was an interview with Professor Bauer in a European online magazine. It's all about feminist philosophy and I'll entertain you with a few excerpts here. When you come to Tufts in the fall as a member of the class of 2017/2018/2019 and beyond, or whether you already go to school here and love reading Jumbo Talk - be sure to try and take a course with Nancy Bauer. You won't regret it, in fact, it will probably change your life.
Johanna Sjöstedt: You are a philosopher, doing feminist work and you have chosen to stay within the field of philosophy. What attracted you to philosophy in the first place and why have you stayed?
Nancy Bauer: As I was beginning my dissertation, which at that time was on J. L. Austin and ordinary language philosophy, I had a baby who didn't sleep at all. Somebody had given me a copy of Michèle le Dœuff's Hipparchia's Choice right before I had her and that made me want to go back to read Simone de Beauvoir. So while my daughter did not sleep and was up all night and needed to be walked around, I had her in a sort of package in front of me and The Second Sex in one hand and the flashlight in the other. It was like a complete revelation to me, it changed everything. For me it dovetailed completely with what I was doing with Cavell and Putnam and I was still heavily influenced by Le Dœuff, too. So I just changed my dissertation topic. At Harvard no one had done any feminism, no feminism had ever been taught and there was nobody working on existentialism or continental philosophy at all. But Putnam and Cavell really helped me.
To get to the second part of your question, I kind of just stayed. I liked the teaching and I liked the life. It was an easy life to have with children, or easier than another kind of life might have been. I was also very lucky and got a good job right away. However, I have been offered full time jobs that were partly in philosophy and partly in women's studies. The university that is ranked in the top three of PhD programs in philosophy in the United States was very interested in hiring my husband and offered me a job too, which was split between philosophy and women's studies. I turned them down. I think it's really important for women to stay in philosophy. The percentage of women in philosophy is appallingly small; in the US the percentage of women with secure tenure stable jobs is about 15-18 percent. I think the field suffers from a lack of the brainpower, the interest, and the particular experiences that women bring to it. I would never join the diaspora, even though I'm very sympathetic to what Butler and Grosz did. It's almost impossible to do it.
Johanna Sjöstedt: In your dissertation, you discuss objections raised against feminist philosophy, objections that could also be extended to include any project that aims for political change. One argument is that a feminist ought not to waste time on theoretical debate, but rather work to change the world in a more direct fashion. At first glance this might seem to be a rather reasonable claim. Do you think it's a legitimate critique of feminist philosophy?
Nancy Bauer: A critical thing to do in order to change the world, in my opinion, is to attract people to the enterprise of thinking about their views on the subject that is in the question.
Although it's important to make legal changes, to enact various kinds of social changes, or physically change the environment, none of those gains are going to be enough if you don't have people who are prepared – mentally, emotionally, intellectually – to take advantage of those things that are being offered, or to make sure that they stay there or fight for more. Therefore, it seems to me that the job of feminist philosophy is to attract people who are not feminist philosophers to the enterprise of reflecting on their own experiences as gendered beings. My experience, in the classroom at least, is that when people do that, they are overwhelmed by what they have taken for granted and their lives are changed. So I think both things are important.
Johanna Sjöstedt:You also write about the uneasy relationship between philosophy and feminism, describing how philosophy from a feminist perspective might look like a masculine discourse that there are many reasons to reject. From a philosophical point of view, feminism might seem to be weighed down by political tenets that are similar to dogmatic thinking. Given that we reject this picture and acknowledge that the project of feminist philosophy is worthwhile, you still speak of the difficulties of developing thought that is both feminist and philosophical at the same time. What are these difficulties?
Nancy Bauer: Feminism is a political movement that doesn't feel that it has to justify its ground level goals and assumptions, which for any feminist is that the world is a sexist place and that it has to change. Philosophy sees itself as having no prior commitments, as being grounded in nothing other than – I mean, at least in its fantastical understanding of itself – pure reason, pursuit of truth. Thus there seems to be a political bottom line in feminism that's incompatible with the kind of openness and lack of commitment that we find in philosophy. So you could see why philosophy finds feminism, feminist philosophy perhaps, not philosophically apt. At the same time, in so far as philosophy doesn't have any commitments, it's not clear why feminism should have any interest in it. I argue that we need to take this tension seriously. Even if every single philosophy department on earth says: "Oh yes, let's have feminists" this issue is not going to simply go away, it's a very serious issue. It doesn't come up only in feminism of course, it also comes up in other kinds of identity marked pursuits in philosophy, but I think the reason these things aren't taken seriously as enterprises is partly because we don't take that apparent contradiction seriously. I think we should, on both sides. It's a productive tension.
Hope you enjoyed! Oh - and the other two life-changing courses are UEP230: Negotiation and Conflict Resolution and EXP29: Science through Other Disciplines (no longer offered :( )