Sam Harris recently posted a link to a kickstarter campaign for a documentary film titled The Outcast of Beauregard Parish. You can watch the trailer below:
Sam Harris recently posted a link to a kickstarter campaign for a documentary film titled The Outcast of Beauregard Parish. You can watch the trailer below:
I’m no expert when it comes to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) graduate grants, but I did get a SSHRC the first time applied at both the master and doctoral level. I’m not sure what I did right in either case, but I can tell you how I approached the application process.
One of my starting points was, strangely enough, a blog. Glen Farrelly, a PhD student at the University of Toronto, maintains Webslinger, which he uses to write about digital media and other tech stuff that’s way over my head. I came across Farrelly’s blog while searching for successful SSHRC programs of study (a small essay detailing one’s research project) and tips for putting together the best application. You can read Farrelly’s excellent suggestions here, if you’re so inclined, as I won’t repeat what he has already written.
Farrelly thinks that it’s necessary to have at least one peer-reviewed article if you’re applying at the doctoral level. I think he’s right, but when I was applying my one journal submission (at the time) hadn’t finished going through peer review, so I knew I couldn’t count on that as a publication. Since I knew I was at a disadvantage, I focused on getting the best reference letters I could and fine tuning my program of study. The reference letter part of the equation was the easiest to manage, as I had managed to develop some good relationships with professors throughout my undergrad and MA.
Writing the program of study is challenging. You really need to be on your game when it comes to explaining your project in such a way that people who don’t share your nerdy interests can understand and even be enthused about your project. I’m sorry to say that there’s no template for you to follow in writing your program of study, and some of the information you’re given by your department and previously funded applicants will contradict.
Once I realized that no amount of digging would help me write my program of study, I focused on producing multiple drafts and using my ideal readers to help me communicate my goals as clearly as possible. Below, you will find two files. The first is my MA program of study and the second is my PhD program of study. Neither is a final draft, but they’re both pretty close to what I eventually submitted.
I have often sympathized with Justin Vacula’s resistance to thought-terminating clichés, which are perhaps necessarily (though unfortunately too often) raised in disputes about contentious issues. They’re endemic to all sorts of social movements and they’re a common feature of our political discourse. As Lifton argues, “The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché. The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis.”Despite my misgivings about certain reductive phrases, I must disagree with Vacula’s post about rape culture. I won’t comment too much on whether Candy Crowley should be lampooned or whether the media coverage of the Steubenville rape trial should be regarded as promoting rape culture (as I have not followed the issue closely), though I must say that I found the reporting incredibly insensitive; the narrative of young men with promising futures, etc., presents the rapists like they’re fallen kings rather than predators, and Paul Callan’s comment that “lives are destroyed” seems rather callous, as if the victim and perpetrators have the same standing. Regardless, I will defend the concept of rape culture, which Vacula does not find to be “coherent or even helpful to describe anything.” Since he asks, rhetorically, what people are talking about when they use the phrase, I will begin there.
Sexual assault is more than an individual act, though I understand the temptation to see it through a psychological or individual lense. There is strong evidence that there is a social basis for acts of sexism and violence, i.e., there are elements of our culture that create a hostile environment for women. Questions about Wikipedia’s veracity aside, I am not convinced that Vacula understands what rape culture is, as indicated by his comment that the conviction of the Steubenville rapists provides evidence against rape culture. We live in a culture that both accepts and denies rape, based on the context within which a sexual assault happens. This shouldn’t come as much of surprise given rape and proscriptions against rape are common across cultures, even though the tendency, at least historically, has been to see rape as a crime against men.
Rape culture seems like a slippery phrase, but it’s rather simple. Like many of the concepts used by scholars there is some variation in how it’s applied, but the starting point for most definitions of rape culture is that certain cultural patterns (persistent, commonly held beliefs and assumptions) are destructive to women and either perpetuate or intensify rape. This should not be controversial to critics of, say, authoritarian patriarchal states, where a large number of women are illiterate, limited in terms of mobility, education, and autonomy (such as when an adult woman is the ward of her father). Critics of unequal gender relations in the West, however, have a more difficult task ahead of them given that we are considerably more egalitarian than, say, Saudi Arabia.
Like religion, rape culture is an abstraction. Rodney Stark, one of the primary contributors to rational choice theory approaches to religion, defines religion as the utilization and manipulation of the supernatural. This doesn’t really tell us much about religion, but it would be rather silly to say religion isn’t helpful as a concept (other definitions have similar limitations).
True, rape culture isn’t a concrete particular, but, just as religion exists, rape culture exists, insofar as it is a word (or phrase in this case) we use for a collection of different “things” or elements. It helps us sort patterns in the world. A more specific definition might be as follows:
A rape culture is a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm (Buchwald, Fletcher, and Roth, 1993)
Despite recent and continuing declines in sexual violence in the West, there are a number of myths that contribute to rape culture:
I would love to tell you that these myths are no longer prevalent in the West, but they continue to exist, at the very least, among college students (Barone et al., 2007). You will notice that they place responsibility, not with the perpetrator, but with the victim.
In a rape culture, women are socialized to take responsibility for men’s behaviour. They are to expect and accept lewd gestures, pickup lines, sloppy protestations of love, being groped, touched inappropriately, and intimidated. They also engage in self-monitoring behaviour: women are careful about what they wear, how they carry themselves, where they walk, how much they drink, whether they’re alone, etc. The lived experiences of most women, I’m sad to say, are quite different from the lived experiences of most men. That doesn’t mean that men are “privileged” and so can’t understand (I won’t be so condescending), but the risks posed to men are different by degree and quality than the risks posed to women, who not only self-monitor, but are frequently monitored by others (what they’re wearing, how they carry themselves, where they walk, how much they have had to drink, who they’re with etc.). Since the rape culture is normalized, most of us take it for granted, and yes, some women are either unaware of it or unconcerned about it, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think seriously about the beliefs and social norms in question.
Victim blaming emerges as a major consequence of this hostile social environment, perhaps explaining why more than half of sexual assaults are unreported. Additionally, prosecution rates are low and conviction rates have been decreasing. There are huge social consequences for reporting a rape, with blame and stigmatization being the most common, and different types of rape are sadly seen as more “legitimate” than others: an intoxicated woman who is date raped, for example, is afforded less support than a woman who is raped by a stranger, even though the former is far more likely to occur than the latter.
In addition to the elements just described, there’s the idea that men can’t be raped or victims of unequal power relations; the expression of dominance in language (usually tied to sexual dominance); and casual jokes, made about male rape and female rape (prison rape jokes are an example). Additionally, the association of sex and violence in popular culture imagery is also indicative of rape culture. Some of these elements are more important than others (or more severe in their consequences), but they suffice as particulars.
I think rape culture goes beyond patriarchy to address some of the persistent narratives about rape and other forms of sexual violence. It has analytic utility in that it helps social scientists frame patterns of behaviour and discourse, which in turn helps target educational messages and challenge traditional socialization scripts.
Barone, R. P., Wolgemuth, J. R., & Linder, C. L. (2007). Preventing sexual assault through engaging college men. Journal of College Student Development, 48(5), 585-594
Buchwald, E., Fletcher, P. R., & Roth, M. (1993). Transforming a rape culture. No.: ISBN 1-57131-204-8, 470.
I recently came across an interesting article about vaccine denialism written by Mark Navin, an assistant professor in the Philosophy Department at Oakland University. Navin argues that vaccine denialism is in some sense a response to the authoritarianism of mainstream medicine, fostering democratic communities. He adopts a feminist perspective because the interactions that occur among vaccine denialists are often influenced by gender, and that vaccine denialism may in fact be explained by the oppression of women. While Navin recognize that mothers have good reasons to be skeptical of physicians’ claims about the safety and efficacy of vaccines, denialists manifest poor epistemic practices, including epistemic relativism and a failure to recognize expertise. One of Navin’s more interesting statements in the paper is that authoritarian pediatrician-parent relationships might be necessary (though unfortunate) in order to encourage recognition of differences in expertise and competence. Here’s the abstract:
Recent increases in the rates of parental refusal of routine childhood vaccina- tion have eroded many countries’ “herd immunity” to communicable diseases. Some parents who refuse routine childhood vaccines do so because they deny the mainstream medical consensus that vaccines are safe and effective. I argue that one reason these vac- cine denialists disagree with vaccine proponents about the reasons in favor of vaccination is because they also disagree about the sorts of practices that are conducive to good rea- soning about healthcare choices. Vaccine denialists allocate epistemic authority more democratically than do mainstream medical professionals. They also sometimes make truth ascriptions for nonepistemic reasons, fail to recognize legitimate differences in ex- pertise and competence, and seek uncritical affirmation of their existing beliefs. By fo- cusing on the different epistemic values and practices of vaccine denialists and main- stream medical professionals, I locate my discussion of vaccine denialism within broader debates about rationality. Furthermore, I argue that gender inequality and gendered con- ceptions of reason are important parts of the explanation of vaccine denialism. Accord- ingly, I draw upon feminist work—primarily feminist social epistemology—to help ex- plain and evaluate this form of vaccine refusal.
Navin, M. (2013). Competing Epistemic Spaces. Social Theory and Practice,39(2), 241-264.
I am so boring that in my spare time I read articles about feminism, even though they have little to do with my research. Recently, I came across an article written by Michaele Ferguson at the University of Colorado at Boulder, provocatively titled “Choice Feminism and the Fear of Politics.” Ferguson argues that some self-professed feminists will fall back on “but that’s just my personal opinion,” presumably when voicing a position or defending a claim that has to do with subject matter relevant to feminist politics. These so-called “choice feminists” emphasize personal freedom and individual choice, consequently avoiding judgy behaviour or attitudes: “Choice feminism hopes to defuse … criticisms by representing feminism as a nonthreatening, capacious movement that welcomes all supporters—however discordant their views—while demanding only the thinnest of political commitments” (p. 248)
Ferguson tries to explain why choice feminism is so seductive, pointing out that it is difficult to be consistently feminist, especially when loved ones are non feminists or even anti-feminists. It seems to me that Ferguson is accusing choice feminists of being lazy about their principles, but she goes further, claiming that the really dangerous bit about choice feminism is the notion of a “free choice.” Take for example public displays of sexuality: is that really a choice? Are women who put on a show for men (for men’s approval) really making a free choice? Women’s choices have a whole backdrop of influences that they might not be aware of, and there are social consequences for the choices they make.
The easy way out of this mess is to just avoid taking responsibility by retreating into the private. Women’s choices don’t get politicized, critical discussions evaporate, and nothing much ever happens. One of the more compelling points in Ferguson’s article is that by discouraging women from giving a public account of the choices they make, choice feminism uncritically embraces consumerism. I’m currently writing a paper about how certain scholars of the social constructivist persuasion uncritically embrace consumerism when it comes to complementary and alternative medicine, and one of the positions that I keep rubbing up against is that individual choice is paramount. Not only does this smuggle in pseudoscience by privileging the consumer, but it also makes for really tepid writing. Moving on.
After illustrating the problems she has with choice feminism, Ferguson goes in for the kill: the turn to choice feminism, she argues, is motivated by a fear of politics. Politics requires that women make judgements, exclude people, and call for change, all of which are apparently unpalatable for feminists that want to just get on with their lives, living in a blissful conflict free zone where everyone is polite and tolerant:
The exercise of political freedom is difﬁcult and demanding because it requires that we make judgments—hard, messy judgments. Claims about the relative value of different choices, claims about the justice or injustice of particular courses of action, are exercises in judgment. Without making judgments, politics becomes vacuous relativism: we have no reason to prefer one course of action over another. Yet making judgments is always potentially terrifying and demands a certain amount of courage because, when it comes to political matters, we have no objective set of standards for judging that could serve as a set of guidelines for us to follow. Political freedom requires that we make the best judgments that we can, without knowing for certain that the judgments we make are correct (p. 251)
Of course, if women put themselves out there, there’s a strong possibility that they’re going to get criticized and rejected. Feminists might have to reconsider their positions on a given issue or work harder to persuade those they don’t agree with. It’s bloody risky and may require difficult choices, but engaging with politics also has many rewards: in addition to being an agent of social progress, the dialectic can be pleasurable. Thoughts?
I’ve been reading about Mark Lynas a lot lately, mainly because of The Agenda with Steve Painkin. Michael Shermer appeared with Lynas and the perpetually smug Chris Mooney to discuss the anti-science left. I’m surprised that I haven’t come across Lynas’s work before, but I’m pleased to be catching up on his transition from an anti-GM activist to a science-based environmentalist. His lecture at the Oxford Farming Conference is well worth watching if you’re concerned about anti-science movements.
I’ve encountered the concept of victim blaming in health literature, particularly from a sociological perspective. Some scholars think that health-promotion can be a form of victim blaming or at the very least, people tend to blame themselves if they become ill. I share the positions of critics who think health education and promotion are good and necessary, regardless of how some people internalize certain messages.
Because of my forays into this discourse about victim blaming, I’m probably oversensitive about how it’s used in other contexts. Recently, Hayley Stevens changed her mind about Heather Keating’s tweet “Its always sad to see young women become victims of sexual offenses, Don’t drink too much on New Year’s Eve and regret your actions!” Stevens initially criticized Keating, writing in response that she should stop victim blaming. She now thinks that she overreacted and that there is a “certain amount of responsibility that all of us should take to keep ourselves safe.”
My first thought when I read Keating’s tweet had nothing to do with victim blaming, but the utility of this kind of advice. Putting aside for a moment whether women should change their behaviour to avoid being assaulted, do they follow this advice?
Alcohol or drugs are involved in about a third to two-thirds of sexual assaults and about half of perpetrators are under the influence of alcohol when committing an assault. So, for whatever the reason, there is a link between sexual assault and alcohol or drugs.
Testa and Livingston (2009) investigated whether reducing women’s drinking can prevent rape, while also providing a survey of research which shows that sexually victimized women tend to consume alcohol more than women without a history of victimization. This in itself is a controversial statement to some people, but the authors make it clear that women are not responsible for their own victimization:
Few would dispute that it is the perpetrator, nearly always male, who is responsible for sexual victimization and that it is imperative that prevention efforts target male perpetration. Nonetheless, without in any way blaming the victim, it is also responsible to help women to reduce their risk of sexual victimization by altering the behaviors that increase their vulnerability.
They conclude that because there is a strong relationship between women’s heavy episodic drinking and sexual victimization, existing alcohol consumption interventions should be targeted towards reducing heavy episodic drinking.
Perpetrators are solely responsible for their actions and everyone “should” have the right to go out in public without fear of harm. Additionally, coercing anyone into avoiding certain areas or limiting their mobility and normal public behaviours is of course unwarranted, but that’s not what we’re talking about here; we’re talking about verbal warnings.
Of course, we have the freedom to ignore warnings, and doing so doesn’t shift responsibility from perpetrator to victim, but the warnings are justifiable insofar as they address risk. Regarding the issue of victim blaming, Testa and Livingston seem to agree:
Advocating drinking reduction for women as a way of reducing their vulnerability to rape implies neither that women are to blame for their own victimization nor that prevention directed toward male perpetrators is unnecessary. College drinking reduction programs have most commonly been directed toward women and men, and this two-pronged approach, targeting both victim and perpetrator drinking, may prove especially effective in reducing sexual victimization.
As one would expect, the regular consumption of alcohol is related to risk taking behaviours, but Hertzog and Yeilding (2009) argue that “drug awareness is not correlated with the incorporation of risk reduction strategies.” Their study used a small sample and it was limited in the sense that it’s cross-sectional, but it appears to be consistent with other studies.
It might be argued that changing the culture might reduce the prevalence of rape myths and decrease incidents of sexual assault and violence, but it is perhaps utopian to think that drinking in public will every be a risk-free proposition. We could tell men to avoid having risky sex or putting themselves in positions where they are likely to be sexually aggressive. It’s an interesting idea, but I’m not convinced that men are any more likely to implement risk reduction strategies than women.
Hertzog, J. & Yeilding, R. ( 2009). College women’s rape awareness and use of commonly advocated risk reduction strategies. College Student Journal, 43(1).
Testa, M., and Livingston, J.A. (2009). Alcohol consumption and women’s vulnerability to sexual victimization: Can reducing women’s drinking pre vent rape? Substance Use & Misuse, 44.