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Potential Lives Can Matter, but Only Through Actual Lives (Pt. II)

photograph of plastinated body on display

In the first part of this two-part article, I presented a way of thinking about the moral importance of potential which would support viewing most abortions as morally uncomplicated. The key claim is that potential matters only insofar as it matters for someone who already exists. I want to contrast this with, and criticize, an opposed way of thinking, one which I think is common among opponents of abortion. For this way of thinking, the embryo counts as a moral individual already, simply because of its potential. Potential lives can matter all by themselves – and, on the more extreme views, can matter as much as actual lives.

I think this way of thinking about potential is confused: moreover, I think its popularity comes from smuggling in illiberal ideas about gender. Let me explain.

Once we move away from how potential matters for already-existing people, we can’t make reference to what actual people want, intend, or care about, or to what’s realistic for them. We’re just talking about what is objectively possible. And many, many things are objectively possible.

For example, after removing your inflamed appendix, a doctor using sufficiently advanced medical technology could make the cells in it revert to a pluripotent state, implant them into somebody’s womb, and grow them into one (or more) clones of you – people who might be just as thoughtful, loving, and reflective as me or you. So if we say that an embryo already counts as a person because of its potential, why don’t we say the same about an appendix?

Of course one of these is far more likely, far more feasible, than the other. But does it make sense to assign degrees of moral status based on relative probabilities? Perhaps it does (though opponents of abortion generally don’t talk that way). But even if we accept that way of thinking: the odds of an embryo in the womb of someone determined to abort it has virtually no chance of becoming a person – because it’s very likely to be aborted. So it has virtually no moral status, and aborting it is morally uncomplicated, as I’ve been arguing.

It’s no good to say that the appendix won’t grow into a person on its own, that it requires outside intervention (and a surrogate womb). Exactly the same is true of an embryo: it won’t develop into anything on its own, it requires outside intervention. It requires another person and their body to feed it, house it, and protect it for nine months (and more care after that).

To say that the embryo is “in itself” a potential life, while the appendix is just something that “could be used to make” a potential life, is a way of positioning the pregnant person as a passive receptacle, and erasing the work that pregnancy is.

Could we say that the embryo’s development into a person is natural, while the appendix could only develop into a person in an artificial, technological, way? I think this is exactly how many people see it, implicitly or explicitly: the embryo is meant to become a person, that’s its proper function, while the appendix is meant to do something else, but could be unnaturally turned into a person.

The problem is that what is or isn’t natural can’t support this kind of moral weight. It’s not that we can’t make sense of it: statements like “my heart has the natural function of pumping blood” can be true and informative. What they mean is: “my heart wouldn’t be the way it is, if analogous organs in my ancestors hadn’t improved their odds of reproducing, and the way those organs did that was by pumping blood.”

This isn’t a moral prescription for a good and fair way to live, it’s just a convenient way to summarize a long causal chain of morally-neutral events. If we accept the theory of evolution, we can’t guide our moral judgments by reference to what is or is not “natural.”

So why do we keep doing so? Why do so many people find it deeply intuitive that embryos matter because of their potential, while appendixes don’t? I think it’s because “nature” is here a cover for a value-laden idea of how humans should live. In particular, it’s a cover for an idea of how women should live: for the idea that women are meant to be mothers, that parenthood is their “proper function,” and abortion is thus a perverse rejection of their own nature. It feels right to some people that an embryo is already somehow latently a child, because it feels right to them that anyone with a womb is already somehow latently a mother.

We can also put this in the language of possibilities and potential. In part 1, I said that a pregnant person might experience the destruction of an embryo, intended or unintended, as a tragic loss because the potential life it represented – a life where it becomes a child and they become a parent – was important to them. The moral importance of a possible future flows from an autonomous person’s capacity to choose.

But the anti-abortion perspective we’re considering doesn’t fit with that. It assigns importance to one possible future: the one where an embryo becomes a child and a pregnant person becomes a parent. And it seeks to promote this future, sometimes to the point of effectively mandating it for anyone with a womb.

So it severs the link between possible futures and autonomous choice, and treats this future as mattering all by itself, objectively, as “a potential life,” embodied in an embryo, that must be defended. It justifies this by appeal to “natural development,” but biological science, I’m suggesting, has nothing to do with it. The underlying explanation of why this potential is given independent moral status is, as Kate Manne puts it, to “Designate [a woman] a mother as early as is imaginatively possible, by reenvisaging a tiny cluster of developing human cells as a fully fledged human being.”

If this demand were presented explicitly, it would be obvious that it rejects the basic idea of liberal democracy. In a liberal democracy you can’t say: “we should ban abortion because women should be mothers (and anyone who can get pregnant should be a woman).” You can’t base laws on your specific view of what sort of life certain people should live: the law exists to protect people’s ability to choose for themselves what sort of life to live. That’s why it’s so useful for opponents of abortion to be able to repackage the demand that women be made mothers against their will as a demand to protect the equal rights of “unborn children.” It allows a deeply illiberal demand to masquerade as an extension of liberal rights to a vulnerable minority. But if the argument laid out here is correct, this relies on a philosophical mistake: selectively treating certain “potential lives” as independent bearers of rights. But potential lives only matter through actual lives.

Moral Duties in an Online Age: The Depp/Heard Discourse

photograph of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard at event

The Johnny Depp/Amber Heard defamation trial reached a verdict in late June, but the conversation around it is far from over. Both Heard and Depp have alleged that the other perpetrated domestic violence, and spectators have been quick to take sides. The televised trial dredged up salacious stories of abuse, the infamous turd, and a severed finger. The court largely sided with Depp, ordering Heard to pay $10.35 million to Depp and Depp to pay $2 million to Heard. But that is not the end of the story.

Over the weekend, over 6,000 pages of sealed court documents were released, reigniting the controversy. Some details within were not very flattering for Depp, and the hashtag, “#AmberHeardDeservesAnApology,” made its rounds on Twitter this weekend. During the trial itself, however, the hashtag, “#JusticeforJohnnyDepp,” was the predominant one, with discussion on TikTok largely supporting a pro-Depp narrative.

The news stories about this new development lead with headlines from “Unsealed Depp v. Heard court docs reveal ‘Aquaman’ actress was ‘exotic dancer’” to “Amber Heard Lawyers Claimed Johnny Depp Had Erectile Dysfunction That Likely Made Him ‘Angry’” to “Depp Swore in Declaration That Amber Heard Never Caused Him Harm: ‘Damning’” to “Amber Heard’s sister ‘told her boss the acres did sever Johnny Depp’s finger when she hurled a vodka bottle at him.’

We collectively have played into these events unfolding in the way that they did, both by giving our attention to the trial and then making judgments about Depp and Heard based on the evidence and testimony provided. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as Heard and Depp are public figures who should be held accountable for their actions.

But combine overconfidence in amateur sleuthing, the necessity of taking sides on the internet, fan loyalty to Depp or Heard, and trauma due to experience with domestic violence, and you do not end up with productive internet conversation.

While it seems that it might have been better in some ways to leave these details private instead of amplifying the public nature of the trial through social and traditional media networks, the information about the trial and the discussion around it cannot be taken back. Given that Depp’s and Heard’s former relationship was and is still being picked apart on the internet, what duties do we have in responding to this ongoing discussion?

There are roughly three ways that we could respond productively at this point:

1) We could let it go and turn our attention away from the spectacle.

2) We could dig through the court documents and records to try to determine the truth and either correct or affirm our previous judgments.

3) We could step in or comment on parts of the discussion around Heard and Depp when it becomes misogynistic, bullying, or otherwise rancid.

Take the first option: turning our attention away from the spectacle. In some ways this seems like a good option, because the ongoing toxic discourse survives and thrives on our attention. If we take our attention away from it, we remove its sustenance. At the same time, if the people who are making thoughtful contributions to the conversation turn away from it, that will likely make the quality of the ongoing conversation even worse than it already is. And now that this case has been so publicly litigated, there seems to be some injustice in allowing an inaccurate public conception of Heard and/or Depp to stand.

Take the second option: relitigating the evidence. While this does provide more fuel for the controversy, it can get us closest to understanding the truth about what happened. Trying to figure out what is true in this kind of case is difficult, however, as there are mountains of legal documents and testimony to review. Few people have the time or expertise to do that kind of investigation well. While it is good to find the truth and put it out there, especially in response to such a public maligning of Heard and Depp, this kind of response could still fall into the trap of digging too deeply into what should be private information about Heard’s and Depp’s lives.

Take the third option: stepping in at the level of the discussion itself. In some ways, this response is easier than the second option, because it does not require amassing the full information about the Depp/Heard trial. It does, however, require a keen eye for toxic patterns in internet discourse and the ability to point those out without creating a new, toxic meta-conversation. This kind of response has the potential to improve the collective conversation, but it does not by itself provide the full resources for doing justice to Heard and Depp by speaking the truth about the trial. It does, however, have the potential to speak truth and do justice to the way the public conversation around the trial has gone, though that might depend on having a good enough understanding of the facts of the case.

None of these responses are exclusive, and they likely do not exhaust the possible options for responding productively to the discourse. How should you figure out which response(s) to take? If you have poured lots of time and energy into speaking with strangers about this case on the internet, it might be good to step back and give the whole thing less of your attention. If you have made public judgments about Depp and Heard and realize that new evidence points towards your judgments being wrong, it seems that there is good reason for you to do your research to determine the accuracy of your public claims and to apologize if you were wrong. If you don’t have the time and energy to research everything but see bad patterns of discourse happening in your social media circles, you might step in and say something.

However, having the courage to step up and speak the truth and knowing whether it is the right thing to do can be very difficult in cases like these. Good intentions and true judgments may not be enough to turn the tide.

Because of the way the dynamics of cancellations like these play out, it is nearly impossible to make any substantive judgments about Depp, Heard, or the conversation around them without being accused of minimizing domestic violence and getting sucked back into the same unproductive patterns of discourse.

If someone thinks that Depp was the primary aggressor, that leaves them open to accusations of minimizing domestic violence against women. If someone thinks that Heard was the primary aggressor, that leaves them open to accusations of minimizing domestic violence against men. If someone thinks that there was mutual abuse, that leads to accusations of playing into both-sides-ism and ignoring the violence done by the real perpetrator. Meta-level observations about feminism or domestic violence against men can also get pulled back into these tropes. The only ways to get out might be to change the conversation to be able to talk more directly about the larger moral issues about gender and domestic violence that the trial raises, or to wait until the dust settles so all the facts can be properly addressed and appreciated.

Individual actions within the discourse are unlikely to solve the underlying structural problems of both social and traditional media that form the basis for the collective conversation, but they do allow us, as users of social media, to take responsibility for our individual actions that contribute to either a healthier or a more toxic discourse.

On Polygamy

photograph of three paper cutout figures holding hands

When gay marriage was legalized by in 2015, conservative lawyer John O. Hayward lamented in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision that “the only remaining marital frontier—at least for the Judeo-Christian nations of the West—is polygamy.” It’s difficult to determine how many practice plural marriage in the United States; one oft-repeated but sourceless estimate says somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 people, and the Pew Research Center puts the number at less than 0.5 percent of Americans. Though polygamists only make up a tiny sliver of the population, a 2020 poll conducted by Gallup showed that the practice is increasingly viewed as morally acceptable in the United States, jumping from around a 7% approval rating in the early 2000s to around 20% in 2020. This change could be the result of the widespread erosion of “traditional marriage,” or the proliferation of reality shows like Sister Wives, which normalize plural marriage. Then again, a more recent reality show called Escaping Polygamy, which follows three sister-wives who leave their Mormon community, suggests that for many, polygamy is still viewed as a a primitive and restrictive form of social organization rather than a viable alternative to monogamy. Is polygamy just one of many ways to organize a household, as Sister Wives suggests, or a trap for vulnerable women?

Polygamy, as practiced in most cultures, tends to involve one man with two or more wives, who share the burdens of domestic labor and child-rearing. There are tangible benefits to polygamy; housework is shared, which reduces burnout, and both children and spouses have access to a vast social support network. David Barash, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, proposes in his book Out of Eden: The Surprising Consequences of Polygamy that monogamy is infrequent in the natural world, and therefore too restrictive for human beings. At the same time, the argument that polygamy is “natural” is a complicated one. Even if a form of behavior is common in the natural world, we shouldn’t necessarily feel compelled to take it up. 18th-century philosopher Montesquieu further demonstrates the problem with the “nature is destiny” argument. Asian women, he wrote in The Spirit of Laws, reach sexual maturity at eight years old, before their sense of reason developed, so they need to be in “a state of dependency” on (presumably reasonable and sexually mature) men in a plural marriage. In cooler climates, reason and sexual maturity arrived at the same time, which led to monogamy and equal relations between the sexes. Of course, his hypothesis was mired in racist pseudo-science, but he illustrates the problem with attributing any social arrangement to “nature”: not only is it difficult to pin down what exactly we mean by “natural” (any concept of nature will itself be a social construct, in other words), but it leads us to paint our practices or institutions as inevitable and not subject to change. Like any social arrangement, polygamy has benefits and drawbacks, and raising it up as a utopian solution isn’t any more productive than disparaging it wholesale.

Criticism of the practice can come from both ends of the political spectrum, and disdain for polygamy usually makes a point about some larger ill plaguing society. As historian Sarah Pearsall explains in her book Polygamy: An Early American History, polygamy is as much a political metaphor as it is a form of domestic organization. She points out that polygamy was considered to be “the supremely unenlightened form of marriage” by Europeans, who encountered the practice both in North America and Africa. The frequency with which indigenous peoples practiced plural marriage demonstrated their unbridled sexual appetites, and therefore justified imperialism. Western thinkers in the age of Enlightenment also believed that plural marriage was insidious to good government. Wealthy men would inevitably have many wives while poor men could only afford to support a few, breeding jealousy and distrust that would ultimately undermine the stability of the state. In contemporary Western Europe, polygamy is inextricably linked to immigration and cultural assimilation. Traditional sects of Islam allow for a man to take multiple wives, but in countries like Germany and France, which have a large population of Muslim migrants, the practice is against the law. This isn’t to say that banning polygamy is necessarily Islamaphobic; it’s been well-documented that in many cases, plural marriages lead to abuse and exploitation of underage brides. But when France passed a bill in February of this year that increases the power of the state over mosques and schools with the ostensible aim of curbing the practice, it’s clear that a government’s stance on polygamy is very rarely just about polygamy.

Polygamists, much like same-sex couples, have historically struggled for recognition from the state and society at large. As Andrew Solomon explains in an article for The New Yorker, “polygamists face innumerable legal obstacles, affecting such matters as inheritance, hospital visits, and parentage rights. If wives apply for benefits as single parents, they are lying, and may be committing welfare fraud; but if they file joint tax returns they are breaking the law.” Though polygamy is criminalized in most places, that may not always be the case. In March of 2020, the state of Utah, which famously has a large Mormon population, effectively legalized plural marriage, though supporters of the bill argue that they’re trying to liberate those who have been forced into plural marriage by allowing them to seek help without fear of legal retribution. Criminalizing the practice makes those who wish to leave their situation less likely to come forward, in other words.

Critics of polygamy have raised up polyamory as a less hierarchical alternative. As Solomon explains,

“Unlike polygamy, which is usually religiously motivated and typically involves a man with multiple wives who do not have an erotic relationship to one another, polyamory tends to be based on utopian ideas of sexual liberty and may involve a broad range of configurations . . . In the popular imagination, polygamists are presumed to be right-wing misogynists and polyamorists to be decadent left-wingers, but the two groups share goals and, often, ways of life.”

The choice to enter a plural marriage is rarely political, but polyamory is consciously revolutionary, and both groups remain on the fringes of society at large. Polyamory, like any social arrangement, is never perfect, but it does prevent many of the abuses common in plural marriages, and presents an interesting challenge to monogamy as an institution. This isn’t to say that we should all abandon monogamy, but at the very least, criminalizing polygamy in all its forms is hardly the way to save those who want to leave their situation. As social mores change and these non-conventional relationships become increasingly visible, legislators and citizens alike will have to confront both the good and bad of plural marriage.

“Not Like Other Girls” and Internalized Misogyny

photograph of two young women of different attitudes

If you were a young person with internet access in the early 2010’s, you’ll almost certainly be able to visualize the “Not Like Other Girls” meme, which proliferated on sites like Deviantart and Reddit about a decade ago. Two girls stand next to each other, the one on the left (usually blonde and dressed head to toe in pink) is labeled “other girls,” and the one on the left (usually brunette, and less cartoonish than her counterpart) is labeled “me.” The “other girl” is the archetypal mean high school cheerleader. She wears makeup, loves boy bands, wears lip gloss, and is ostentatiously vain about her appearance. The girl representing the artist, while rarely being overtly tomboyish, rejects traits associated with traditional femininity. She eats voraciously, reads books, wears baggy or modest clothing, and snubs her nose at pop music. She’s quirky, unpolished, and raises an eyebrow with condescending confusion at her blonde neighbor.

A thousand versions of this image exist; sometimes the “normal” girl sports a mohawk and leather jacket, other times she’s holding an Xbox controller. Regardless of the finer details, the inherent silliness of this dichotomy, and the presumptuous superiority of the “normal” artist, was easy to mock. The meme rose to popularity because it spoke so directly to the experience of preteen tomboyish girls (or really any girl who felt alienated from her peers), but it experienced a wave of backlash as mainstream culture became more sensitive to feminist issues. The “other girl” is almost always a caricature of offensive stereotypes, which is why many have viewed the original meme as a manifestation of the artist’s internalized misogyny.

Internalized misogyny happens when we absorb and regurgitate sexist stereotypes, often subconsciously. Even the most diehard feminist is not completely immune to patriarchal socialization, which is why young women are encouraged to be vigilant with regards to gender norms. A 2009 study on this phenomenon published in the Journal of Integrated Social Sciences explains the manifestations of subconscious sexism:

“women and girls may learn to have low expectations of their capabilities . . . may be treated as if they need to be taken care of . . . may be criticized or ostracized for being assertive, visible, or outspoken, may find their opinions discounted, may be disliked as leaders unless they fit female stereotypes by acting nurturing, may be valued and appreciated primarily for their looks, bodies, or sexualities, may face expectations that they will spend considerable time and money modifying their physical appearance, may need to manage unwanted sexual attention or physical contact from men, [and] may be expected to act passive in sex, dating, and relationships.”

The study notes that this process usually begins in the middle school years, when girls are encouraged to relinquish their preadolescent androgyny and conform to femininity. Girls are made to feel incompetent and powerless, and then pressure other girls to conform with standards that hurt all women.

But at the same time, it’s hard to slap an “internalized misogyny” label on this meme and call it a day. After all, internalized misogyny is more than just a dislike for other women; it has to do with reinforcing power structures. Scholar Greta Olson explains that

“Within a system of hegemonic masculinity, women who have successfully internalized misogyny will be rewarded to the degree that they uphold and enforce the structures of this system to the detriment of other women who are less compliant. By contrast, such women will be treated with hostility who refuse to hold up the prevalent system of male privilege.”

In other words, feminine pursuits may be denigrated, but any girl who steps outside those pursuits is doubly ostracized. Sexism remains a double-edged sword, a fact that this meme (albeit unintentionally) captures with its simplistic dichotomy.

At the same time, the notion that gender-non-conforming girls are somehow too confident or arrogant, and that their unwillingness to conform to social expectations was a ploy to gain male attention or approval (as is so often implied in parodies of the original meme), is deeply misogynistic in itself. As Anusha Ashim explains,

“Many of these anti-’I’m not like other girls’ memes mock the girl on the other side rather than stating that both are equal. The unfeminine girl is portrayed as unhygienic, lazy, bitter, and even jealous. Things like baggy clothing, dark hair, and types of music are associated with her. We must ask ourselves this: Why are we creating another sexist caricature to prove that a sexist caricature is false?”

We’ve reached a point where any criticism or minor aversion to traditional femininity is labeled as internalized misogyny; even a dislike of the color pink, which many women were practically force-fed as children, is deemed a manifestation of their hatred for other women. Internalized misogyny is extremely hard to unpack, and often pits women against one another for arbitrary reasons. Empathy is required on both sides of the artificial divide if we’re to achieve any substantial form of gender-consciousness.

The Killing Joke: The Ethics of ‘Joker’

photograph of joker graffiti on wall

Batman and his archnemesis the Joker have been battling for almost eighty years. Since the Joker’s first appearance in Batman #1, the Batman versus the Joker rivalry has been taken from comic book pages and blown up on the big screen. From Cesar Romero’s slapstick take on the clown to Jack Nicholson’s off putting rendition, to Mark Hamill’s comically creepy voice acting, to Heath Ledger’s version, and finally Jared Leto’s, the Joker character has equally creeped out and engaged audiences for decades. Now, the clown has made his return to the big screen in director Todd Philips’ Joker. But this isn’t your typical Batman versus Joker story. It’s all about the homicidal clown’s backstory and how he takes over Gotham City. While the film has received great reviews, there’s a narrative of discontent attached to it. In the wake of a surge of mass shootings in the United States, some moviegoers have called Joker insensitive for how the film handles the character. The controversy surrounding the film asks the question: Should Joker have even been released at the time that it was?

The obvious answer here, and one that a business person or really anyone who can count, is yes. After all, the film earned $849 million globally, and $47.8 internationally over the weekend, with a budget of $64 million. But money isn’t the issue here; it’s what the movie means and how it’s message has translated to audiences.

It all started with the premiere of Joker at the Venice Film festival. The story of mentally ill Arthur Fleck, a struggling comedian in Gotham who has everything taken from him and descends into madness, resonated with the audience in Venice. So much so that the film was awarded a Golden Lion for best film. But on the other hand, critics pointed out that the disturbing story of Arthur Fleck hit too close to home regarding some of the recent events that have occurred in the United States. In Joker, at the peak of Fleck’s misery, he commits murder and realizes that he enjoys it. Finally, at the high point of the movie, Fleck “becomes” the Joker as he commits murder in front of a studio audience.

In response, critics explained that the Joker’s character inspires angry, misogynistic young men who’ve been responsible for far-right and white supremacist violence. Indeed, some of the most recent mass shootings have been caused by white men. For example, in August, Patrick Crusius entered a Walmart in El Paso, Texas and killed 22 people. Later, it was revealed that his motive was to kill as many Latinx people as possible. Nikolas Cruz, the gunman who murdered 17 students at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, was known to have a “desire to kill people.” Self-proclaimed white supremacist Dylan Roof entered a church and killed 9 African American worshippers in hopes of starting a race war. With these mass shootings in mind, it’s then understandable why Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson would say that Joker “may be irresponsible propaganda for the very men it pathologizes.” He might have a point. In the film, Fleck’s life automatically garners sympathy, as the opening shot of the film is him getting beaten up in a clown suit. Misfortune after misfortune, it’s almost as if Fleck has no choice but to become the Joker. And at the same time, the film suggests that maybe–just maybe–if a few lies weren’t told and Fleck was loved a bit more, he wouldn’t have become what he did. Now, with this in mind, how many more Patrick Crusiuses and Nikolas Cruzes are out there? What are the chances that they see Joker and identify with the character to such an extent that they feel inspired by him? Even the background of Adam Lanza, the gunman who killed 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School mirrors Arthur Fleck’s in Joker, as they both have behavioral issues, mental health problems, and detrimental relationships with their mothers. 

But Lawson wasn’t the only one with these concerns either. Families of the victims of the Aurora shooting in 2012, where a gunman opened fire on moviegoers watching The Dark Knight Rises, penned a letter to Warner Bros, the studio that made Joker, calling for them to use their platform to fight gun violence. In response, Warner Bros. said that Joker is not an endorsement of any real-world violence. Todd Philips then went on to say that the movie is more about a lack of compassion in the world than anything, and Joaquin Phoenix, the actor who plays the Joker, remarked that viewers should simply take the film for what it is. Maybe Philips and Phoenix have a point. Philips went on to say that art can be complicated, and it’s often meant to be complicated. Maybe that’s what Joker should be taken as–art. As a movie. Just because the film is relevant to some real-world events shouldn’t mean that it can’t be released or it should be criticized for reflecting real-world issues. The tragic shootings that have happened will always be a part of U.S history, so what difference does it makes if the film came out 5 or 10 years from now? No matter when this movie would come out, the real-world events that have happened would be associated with it.

But then, there’s another side to this Joker controversy. Protesters in Beirut over thecountry’s financial crisis have started to paint their faces like the Joker. Photos of people in Joker masks and face paint have been popping up in Hong Kong and Chile as individuals protests against their respective governments. Internationally, it’s as if the Joker has become a symbol of revolution, not a twisted justification for violence. But if the Joker has then become this symbol for protest, can the film still really be seen as just art–as just a movie? It seems that the film has gone past box office expectations, not in terms of money, but becoming a global phenomenon. In the same vein, the film’s international influence almost prevents it from being contained within itself. It’s sheer influence brings it into the real world. So maybe, the film did need to be released and the world needed to see the Joker on the big screen again. Because either way you look at it, the film proposes an idea–be it terrorism or revolution. Now, since the film’s release, there haven’t been any mass shootings, but perhaps the reason that the film shouldn’t have made it to theaters is the fear of what someone who thinks that those two ideas are synonymous would do.

Misogyny, ‘Purity,’ and Leggings at Notre Dame

Photograph of southern quad and Morrissey Hall at the University of Notre Dame

On Monday, March 25th, The University of Notre Dame’s student-run newspaper The Observer printed a letter to the editor from Maryann White, the self-described mother of four sons who recently visited the Indiana campus, titled “The legging problem.” The note scolded the university’s student body for its attire, specifically criticizing the prevalence of form-fitting clothing. More specifically, the letter chastised the female students of Notre Dame for their clothing choices and suggested that women who wear leggings as pants are unavoidably leading men to ogle their bodies. As White explained, she was simply concerned “For the Catholic mothers who want to find a blanket to lovingly cover your nakedness and protect you — and to find scarves to tie over the eyes of their sons to protect them from you!”

In addition to a variety of published responses (appearing in venues ranging from CNN to the Washington Post, to the Today Show) more than a thousand students responded to a Facebook event organized by the Irish 4 Reproductive Health club, an on-campus organization promoting reproductive justice and access to sexual health resources, indicating their intent to wear leggings to class last week as a demonstration against White’s misogyny. The Observer indicated that, in addition to the much-publicized controversy online, their offices received several dozen additional letters in response to the article, several of which they also published.

To be sure, there are many who might balk at my application of the word ‘misogyny’ to this story (“after all, isn’t ‘Maryann White,’ herself, a woman?”), but the term has benefited from an enriched treatment in recent philosophical work and is fitting, given White’s expectation that women at Notre Dame shoulder the burden of warding off the male gaze. (NOTE: the latent heteronormativity of White’s initial letter is also worth critiquing, but that’s an issue for another article.)

In her recent book Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, Cornell philosophy professor Kate Manne explains that misogyny is more than just an emotional hatred of a particular gender, but is instead, “primarily a property of social environments in which women are liable to encounter hostility due to the enforcement and policing of patriarchal norms and expectations” (19). On this view, misogyny can be entirely emotionless (and even not directly intentional), but still misogynistic if it continues to promote sexist ways of life; as Trent University professor Kathryn J. Norlock put it in her review of Manne’s book, “If sexism offers planks, misogyny provides the nails.”

Imagine instead if Maryann White had witnessed a mugging during her campus visit, then wrote a letter chastising students for not taking self-defense classes – anyone reading that newspaper would rightly complain that White had misplaced the blame for the crime onto the victim, rather than the perpetrator. Even though her theoretical argument (that “if people aren’t ready to defend themselves, then they can’t be surprised when they’re attacked”) might not be, itself, a mugging, it nevertheless functions to create a context which helps muggers to mug by shifting the blame for the problem onto the victims. In reality, the only person at fault in a mugging is the mugger; so, too, with ogling or any other kind of sexual assault.

Down Girl is perhaps most famous for coining the term ‘himpathy,’ what Manne calls the “often overlooked mirror image of misogyny” evidenced by “the excessive sympathy shown towards male perpetrators of sexual violence” (197). If White’s desire to patronizingly cover unknown women with blankets to protect their modesty is strangely misogynistic, then her felt need to find scarves to restrain her own sons is similarly problematic. Both actions assume that the sexualization of innocent women’s bodies is suffered mainly by the men doing the sexualizing, not the women being objectified.

Of course, White’s expectations about women’s responsibilities (and men’s lack thereof) is far from unusual, particularly in an American religious context; in Linda Kay Klein’s book Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free, she deconstructs what she calls the ‘purity culture’ that grew alongside American evangelical Christianity following the post-1980s ascendency of the Religious Right. In particular, Klein explores (primarily through interviews buttressed by research) how particular teachings about sexuality and gender, and particular interpretations of biblical passages (that see sexuality as a ‘stumbling block’ for one’s pre-marital ‘purity’) have led women, in particular, to feel burdened with guilt; as Klein explained of her own experience, “Intended to make me more ‘pure,’ all this message did was make me more ashamed of my inevitable ‘impurities’” (33).

So, the sentiment expressed in Maryann White’s letter is far from uncommon and, as Monica Hesse of the Washington Post put it, that’s the real conversation this letter should provoke. Far more concerning than the specific worries of one mother is the culture-wide phenomena of misogyny critiqued by thinkers like Manne and Klein.

On Supposed Harm

Image of Sen. Grassley with two people behind him

Editor’s Note: The confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, the allegations against him, and the subsequent congressional hearing interviewing Dr. Blasey Ford have spurred many difficult, complex reactions. This week, we will be publishing varied perspectives on the spectrum of topics brought to the fore by Dr. Blasey’s hearing. This is the fifth article of that series.   

This past week, Brett Kavanaugh claimed his life and family were significantly harmed by Dr. Ford recounting her experiences with him: “My family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed by vicious and false additional accusations.” The possibility that he may not receive the position of Supreme Court Justice has been framed by many as a punishment for behavior he performed as a youth, and therefore too stringent a comeuppance. Further, Kavanaugh “losing out” on this opportunity has been cast as part of the current climate brought about by the #metoo movement where supposedly men must be on their guard and are under unjustified attack.   Continue reading “On Supposed Harm”

Sexual Abuse and the Rhetoric of Powerful Men

Photograph of Brett Kavanaugh with his hand raised in anger

Editor’s Note: The confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, the allegations against him, and the subsequent congressional hearing interviewing Dr. Blasey Ford have spurred many difficult, complex reactions. This week, we will be publishing varied perspectives on the spectrum of topics brought to the fore by Dr. Blasey’s hearing. This is the third article of that series.   

Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination has been contested since Dr. Christine Blasey Ford alleged that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her three decades ago. Since Ford, Deborah Ramirez and a third accuser, Julie Swetnick, also have alleged sexually inappropriate behaviour from Kavanaugh.  Initially, Republicans attempted to rush through the nomination. But on facing public outcry about their seeming disregard for normal vetting processes, the Republicans permitted Dr. Blasey Ford to testify at a congressional hearing this past week. Dr. Blasey Ford’s controlled testimony about her experience has triggered a nation-wide distillation of grief and rage from sexual assault survivors.

In the wake of #MeToo, women are rejecting silence about their abusers en masse. Men are starting to get alarmed. Here, I focus on men as accused and women as accusers in part because it is reflective of the norm – one in five women are raped in their lifetime, while one in seventy-one men will get raped. Also, men are overwhelmingly represented in powerful positions, and are beneficiaries of social machinery that operate to keep them there. The suggestion that this gendered distribution of power could be challenged is raising serious anxiety for the Republicans, the party with an overwhelmingly male face. As one anonymous White House lawyer summed it up: “If somebody can be brought down by accusations like this, then you, me, every man certainly should be worried. “

Previously, the burden of responsibility for rape allegations has always been borne by the victim. Women are routinely scrutinized for being the recipients of sexual assault, while men’s actions are diminished as ”horseplay”, or drunken, youthful antics. Here, too, there are gendered laws as to how drink affects agency: a man who drinks automatically has reduced culpability for his actions, while a woman who drinks is de facto responsible for what a man does to her.

Now that the winds appear to be shifting slightly to ask more accountability from men, men are reacting with outsized emotions. Brett Kavanaugh’s petulant tirade following the testimony of his accuser, Dr. Blasey Ford, implied that he was owed one of the highest offices in the land without being subjected to scrutiny. And yet this appears to have worked for Kavanaugh – righteous male rage is an effective strategy to redirect narratives, empathy, and power to male perpetrators rather than to victims of sexual assault.

This indefatigable entitlement also characterizes a broader backdrop wherein men who have been accused by numerous women of misconduct are seeking returns to their former prominence.  Jian Ghomeshi, the Canadian media personality who was accused of sexual abuse by twenty women, was recently given a prestigious platform in the New York Review of Books. Ghomeshi’s self-indulgent essay came under fire for its mischaracterization of his offenses (for example, Ghomeshi said ”several” women had come forward rather than the actual number of twenty, and he characterized his actions, which included punching women in the head, non-consensual choking, and workplace harassment as being ”emotionally thoughtless”). Ghomeshi also expressed claims to newfound empathy, an empathy which seems misplaced in its primary fixation on other accused offenders rather than for the victims of his actions. Widely derided as an editorial choice, the publication of Ghomeshi’s essay triggered the departure of NYRB’s editor, Ian Buruma.  Rather than concede poor professional judgment in publishing an article that was neither fact-checked or published with journalistic due diligence, Buruma mourned that he simply wanted to hear from Ghomeshi after he was tried by a ‘court’ of social media, but found himself ‘pilloried’ in turn.  

This example reflects a common strategy of the sexual politics surrounding #MeToo: men rhetorically adopting the position of hapless victim of hearsay and public shaming, asking for ‘due process’ – whatever that is supposed to mean outside of a judicial system.  Surprisingly enough, judicial-sounding tropes of ‘courts’ and ‘due process’ in the context of public opinion have been rejected by none other than Mitt Romney.  In 2017, Romney tweeted in support of Leigh Corfman against Roy Moore, sayingInnocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections.” Mitt Romney has a point. This rhetorical strategy may seem persuasive on its surface, but does not hold up to scrutiny. ‘Innocent until proven guilty’ and ‘due process’ are concepts which reflect a high standard reserved for criminal and civil prosecution, because inflicting punishment by the state is reasonably held to a high standard of proof.

Public opinion, on the other hand, does not and need not operate beyond the shadow of a doubt. Most of our decisions about people’s characters in everyday life and politics are made with reasonably plausible levels of certainty, rather than courtroom levels of certainty.  What these pleas for impossibly high standards of proof in talking about rape truly advocate is preventing any outing of powerful men as sexual offenders. But powerful men do not need our continued support. They need it least of all in a world where only six out of every 1000 rapists will ever end up in prison and it takes sixty female accusers to persuade a court that one powerful man is a rapist. And yet, these same men who rail against their accusers should be the first to seek to clear their names by formal avenues.  If Brett Kavanaugh were truly convinced of his own innocence, he should have pleaded for an FBI investigation, rather than Dr. Blasey-Ford.

Today, op-eds abound asking whether high-profile sexual offenders have finished their time-out yet, or ask whether #MeToo is ‘going too far’, revealing a strong identification and concern for powerful men who have abused their power. Surprisingly, these same voices show a complete lack of curiosity and vision regarding the present and future of victims who have come forth in the tidal wave of confessing their experiences, often at great personal cost.  When do they get to reclaim their power, productivity, joy, and carefree lives?

In this pivotal historical moment, it is important to reflect and critically scrutinize the use of hyperbole as a rhetorical power play. Misapplied uses of language can obfuscate who are the real victims in an imbalanced state of affairs.  Misleading rhetoric can even re-victimize those who have already been violated, while reaffirming the status quo. As Aristotle proposed in the first book of the Rhetoric, citizens and thinkers must peel beneath rhetorical performances to evaluate where the better case for justice lies. It may not necessarily rest with those who are protesting the loudest.

 

Disrespect for Women—Indelible in the Hippocampus

Two women holding a sign that says "I believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford"

Editor’s Note: The confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, the allegations against him, and the subsequent congressional hearing interviewing Dr. Blasey Ford have spurred many difficult, complex reactions. This week, we will be publishing varied perspectives on the spectrum of topics brought to the fore by Dr. Blasey’s hearing. This is the first of that series.

On Thursday, September 27th, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford appeared in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss her allegation that Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her at a high school get together in the early 1980s. Judge Kavanaugh also testified at the hearing, denying the allegations without qualification.  When asked repeatedly if he would support an FBI investigation that might potentially clear his name, he dodged the question.

By Friday morning, it seemed all but certain that the Kavanaugh nomination would be approved by the committee. There had been some speculation that Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) might be a holdout, but a statement released by the senator Friday morning indicated that he would vote to move the candidate forward after all.  Then something remarkable happened. Two passionate women approached Senator Flake with a message: “You’re telling all women that they don’t matter. That they should just stay quiet because if they tell you what happened to them, you’re going to ignore them.”

For many women, this nomination is, essentially, a litmus test for misogyny.  What’s more, it is taking place in a political context in which women already have reason to feel that they aren’t being taken seriously.  In this case, it’s up to a primarily male committee to decide which violations of a woman’s body and dignity deserve to be heard and investigated.

Navigating one’s relationship to one’s body is a challenging and ever-evolving existential feature of being human. No person lives a life untouched by this—we all experience scarring and blemishes, weight loss and weight gain, aging and wrinkling.  Looking on with very little control, our bodies often feel less like who we are and more like vessels in which we are trapped. Current cultural norms exacerbate this existential challenge to maddening levels in the case of women in particular because we are made, in countless ways, to feel as if we are reducible to our bodies.  Nevertheless, when we try to assert any meaningful sense of ownership over them, we are met with resistance. We are told whether and which violations of our bodies matter, and how much they matter. We are not only told that we are reducible to our bodies, we are told which features of our bodies we are reducible to.  

Aristotle argued that virtue is a social enterprise. Successful societies encourage and assist in the development of virtuous citizens.  Young citizens learn good habits by watching the behavior of role models in their governments and communities. We can only hope that today’s young men and women aren’t modeling their traits of character with respect to how to treat women on the behavior of contemporary politicians. Aristotle’s own attitudes toward women weren’t worthy of emulation either, but he was right that young people look to older people to determine how they should behave. They need better role models when it comes to the treatment of women—role models who understand that women’s interests should be taken seriously and their dignity should be respected.

Respect for the dignity of women dictates that women are treated always as autonomous beings, not as prizes in the alpha male Olympics. This goal is, of course, undermined when future presidents brag about being powerful enough approach women and grab them by the genitals and nominees to the Supreme Court boast about female conquests in high school yearbooks and then tell obvious lies when asked about it years later.

Respect for the dignity of women requires the acknowledgment that men and women alike are the authors of their own narratives, and female stories are successful and compelling even in the absence of physically stunning leading ladies.  Our success or failure as women has nothing to do with what we look like, how old we are, or how much we weigh. The understanding of women as creators of their own destinies is undermined by comments like the one then-candidate Trump had for his opponent, Carly Fiorina, in the Republican primaries: “Look at that face, would anybody vote for that?”

Respect for the dignity of women is undermined when we are treated as if we are epistemic inferiors—like we don’t know good evidence from bad evidence—especially when that evidence concerns our bodies. Dr. Ford, a well-respected college professor with dozens of publications, was treated as if she might simply just be confused about the attempted rape. Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee were quick to acknowledge that she was a good, credible witness.  During a break, after Dr. Ford had offered her testimony, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) told reporters that he found her to be a nice, attractive woman.  On the topic of whether he believed what she had to say, he said, “It’s too early to say. I don’t think she’s uncredible. But it’s way early.”  Credible, nice people don’t typically invent conspiracy theories to unfairly affect the machinations of government, so what is Hatch trying to say here?  Similarly, after Dr. Ford’s testimony, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, “I think something happened to Dr. Ford. I’m gonna listen to Brett Kavanaugh.”  After Kavanaugh’s testimony, Graham said, “I am now more convinced than ever that he didn’t do it, that he’s the right guy to be on the court.”  President Trump got involved in similar speculation.  He indicated a willingness to listen to what Dr. Ford had to say, but also said, of Kavanaugh, “I can only say this, he is such an outstanding man, very hard for me to imagine that anything happened,”

There is a decent amount of speculation that Dr. Ford is not lying, she’s simply mistaken.  This may be one way of interpreting the seemingly contradictory message that Dr. Ford is nice and credible, but that Judge Kavanaugh should be confirmed and is being treated unfairly.  Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh are making statements that can’t both be true. All things being equal, the appropriate response seems like it ought to be suspension of judgment until more facts are known.  That isn’t what happened here. Instead, the conclusion is that Dr. Ford must be mistaken. Knowledge by acquaintance is fairly easily won in our day-to-day lives. For some reason Dr. Ford is being treated as if identifying her rapist in this case is tricky, even though she knew him before he raped her. Women get the message—when the word of a woman is in conflict with the word of a powerful man, it’s probably the man who remembers the event correctly.  In fact, it’s so likely that it is the man who remembers the event correctly that there is no reason for any additional investigation.  

A woman doesn’t have to take the harrowing step of testifying in front of a Congressional committee to have the experience of being treated as if she doesn’t know how to assess evidence.  Legislation across the country forces women’s hands when it comes to access to family planning, contraception, and abortion services. 38 states have “informed consent” laws in place according to which women seeking an abortion must be given a packet of information selected by the state legislature.  They must then wait some period of time during which they are supposed to reflect on the information given to them, often 24 hours. The information on which they are being asked to reflect is not information they sought out, it is unsolicited, and often unwanted, advice from the state legislature on what type of evidence women should take seriously when it comes to their bodies.  The implication is that women don’t know which considerations to take seriously on their own.

In a surprise turn of events, Senator Flake was moved by the words of the women who expressed that they were feeling marginalized.  He changed his vote. It didn’t affect the outcome in committee, but all parties involved know that Judge Kavanaugh is unlikely to win a vote on the Senate floor without Flake’s support.  Flake indicated he would vote no unless an FBI investigation was done into Ford’s allegations. Perhaps all is not lost, maybe some senators are proper role models after all. Then again, the investigation has been limited in scope and is not supposed to last longer than one week. Women’s interests should be given consideration, but not as much consideration as political interests.

 

The Cost of Motherhood

Image of a woman holding a young child

Having a child is one of the most impactful decisions a person will make in their life. And yet, this decision affects women much more than it does men. From the physical act of birthing a child to the thousand daily needs encountered in a day, women frequently inhabit what Mary Mellor has called ”biological time”. ”Biological time” is distinct from remunerative, capitalist time in that it includes all the work that is necessary for the maintenance and flourishing of human life, from giving birth and palliative care, to feeding, clothing, providing emotional reassurance, interpersonal interaction, education, laundry, specialist appointments and play dates, birthdays and leisure activities, and health care. This means that women, far from possessing leisure time, have traditionally created it for men by taking care of the innumerable necessities of daily life, including child rearing.

In 2018, it seems strange that we still face a gendered division of labour that was first rationalized in Aristotle’s Politics. Aristotle justified a labour division which grouped women (and slaves) as domestic workers – an arrangement he found reasonable in order to free up the male household head for self-development and the presumably nobler activities of studying philosophy and city governance.

Some strides have been made to close the gender gap in household tasks and caregiving. While the gaps have narrowed somewhat, they are far from closed. Men typically receive adulation and support for the parenting and adulthood tasks which they complete. A man taking his children grocery shopping will likely be perceived by bystanders as a swoon-worthy superhero, while a mother doing the same thing is more likely to be scrutinized. This unfair standard follows women into the workplace, where men who leave early to take care of family members are seen as responsible individuals, but women struggle to be seen as competent and professionally motivated when they do the same thing. White men who have children earn a fatherhood bonus, while women who have children earn 20 percent less in the long-term.

The design of the work week itself is not open to those who are responsible for giving care. Instead, the structure of contemporary labour presupposes a gendered division of labour whereby the worker is freed to devote eight or more consecutive hours daily without interruptions or crises from home. While economists have already critiqued the 40-hour work week, with evidence showing higher productivity and well-being among workers for less and more flexible work hours, companies are slow to follow the evidence. Even in businesses which have implemented these policies, women may avoid taking advantage of proffered flexibility to forestall being judged as “uncommitted”. On-site child-care remains a pipe dream for most professions. Even among Fortune 100 companies, which typically have generous terms towards its employees, only seventeen offer daycare.

Loss of leisure, earnings, workplace respect, and career opportunities are not the only penalties women face in virtue of having a reproductive body. Women bear intimate scrutiny, politicization, policing and even bans for actions regarding all their choices – from contraception to breastfeeding, while condoms, Viagra, and even public urination are taken for granted as essential.

Given these challenges, it is hardly shocking to surmise why young women are choosing to have fewer or no children. Young women realize that the idea that women can ”have it all” remains a cruel joke, and it seems they are responding with pragmatism to harsh facts.

But just as was the case with capitalism’s role in shifting gender roles (though in many cases by increasing women’s work rather than transforming it), we may be headed toward another shift. The post-recession economic challenges Millennial women face may place the zero-sum competition between career and family in a much starker light, to the degree that many are embracing their professional and leisure capacities fully to the point of declining parenthood.

It is clear that women, as individuals, are responding in creative and complex ways to competing social structures that combine to exclude them from ”having it all”. Women are negotiating their limited opportunities to make the best of their singular lives. Nonetheless, the struggles that they face reveal a society where lack of gender parity runs much deeper than numbers. When we look at women’s meager options, they reveal how the structure of late capitalism, imbued with patriarchal assumptions, has made absolutely no provision or priority for caring and the culturing of humans. Women are aware that they subsidize not only career and leisure opportunities for their partners, but also subsume the costs of producing workers, citizens and leaders of society as a whole. It is our collective responsibility to address the lingering absence of care in our economic and social structures that have so marginalized women from full participation in remunerative and political life, separated men from the responsibilities and the humanity of caring labour, and left our social structures and institutions so alienated from the needs of the human spirit.

Reframing Picasso: Hannah Gadsby and “Separating the Man from the Art”

Silhouettes of people in front of Picasso's painting "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon"

“High art elevates us and civilizes people,” the Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby claims, jokingly presenting an observation from her art history degree. “Comedy, lowbrow. I am sorry to inform you, but nobody here is leaving this room a better person.” When she delivered this joke, most of the audience probably did not detect the irony, because who would expect to leave a comedy show with a new glimpse at humanity? Those discussions are usually saved for the art museums. Continue reading “Reframing Picasso: Hannah Gadsby and “Separating the Man from the Art””

NFL to Cheerleaders: Down Girl!

Photo of cheerleaders performing at the 2006 Pro Bowl

I’ve always thought there was a problem with cheerleading. However great they are as athletes and dancers, cheerleaders give the impression that a woman’s place on an athletic field is to cheer on the men. But now we’re learning that there are also problems for cheerleaders. NFL cheerleaders are subject to a truly bizarre list of conduct requirements, as well as regular sexual harassment.

The story has been told in a series of New York Times articles (April 4, April 10, April 17, April 17, and April 24), but perhaps most compellingly in this interview of Bailey Davis, a former New Orleans Saints cheerleader, on the New York Times podcast, “The Daily.”

Continue reading “NFL to Cheerleaders: Down Girl!”

Hip-Hop Misogyny’s Effects on Women of Color

A photo from a Kanye West concert.

Hip-hop has become one of the most popular and influential music genres to date, with clout that has reached far beyond the United States and its inner-city New York roots. Rappers and poets alike craft clever verses and lay them over powerful beats, while smooth crooners sing over catchy instrumentals. Hip-hop has even crossed over music genres, with influences in styles of music such as rock, gospel, and even country. With hip-hop being integrated into so many different classifications, the music genre has brought people together, allowing individuals of different races, religions, and creeds to come together to enjoy something that they all have in common.

Continue reading “Hip-Hop Misogyny’s Effects on Women of Color”

Frank Ocean: Challenging Hip-Hop’s Hyper-Masculinity

A snapshot of Frank Ocean in a crowd.

Christopher Breaux, better known by his stage name, Frank Ocean, is coming off a month of success after releasing his fourth single of the year, “Provider,” on August 24. The track opens with the line, “Memo finna start acting out if I don’t see him soon,” potentially referring to Ocean’s rumored boyfriend, Memo Guzman. While the interpretation of this lyric is based off mere speculation, openly referencing his sexuality in his music is nothing new to Ocean.

Continue reading “Frank Ocean: Challenging Hip-Hop’s Hyper-Masculinity”

Sex in the Age of Sex Robots

Editor’s note: sources linked in this article contain images and videos that some readers may find disturbing.

From self-driving cars to smartphones, artificial intelligence has certainly made its way into our everyday lives. So have questions of robotic ethics. Shows like Westworld and Black Mirror have depicted some of the more controversial and abstract dangers of artificial intelligence. Human sex dolls have always been taboo, but a new development in the technology of these sex dolls, specifically their upgrade to robot status, is especially controversial. The whole notion of buying a robot to have sex with is taboo to say the least, but can these sexual acts become unethical, even if they are perpetrated upon a nonliving thing? Is using a sex robot to simulate rape or pedophilia morally permissible? And to what extent should sex robots be regulated?

Continue reading “Sex in the Age of Sex Robots”

Is Ivanka Trump Really “Complicit?”

Since the general election, the popular comedy show, Saturday Night Live, has had a Trump-themed segment every week. These segments are not just about Trump himself, but also poke fun at many of his family members, including his wife and children. Though Alec Baldwin has played a recurring Donald Trump and Cecily Strong often plays Melania Trump, Scarlett Johansson impersonated Ivanka Trump during the March 12 show. The skit, which took the form of a fragrance ad, portrayed Ivanka as complicit in her father’s wrongdoings. Though many found the skit to be hilarious and accurate, and even feminists applauded the portrayal of Ivanka, is it fair to assert that Ivanka is in part responsible for the actions of her father? Does Ivanka have a greater responsibility for the actions of her father because they negatively affect women?

Continue reading “Is Ivanka Trump Really “Complicit?””

Beyond the Locker Room: Donald Trump and American Misogyny

Only days before the second Presidential debate, a video of Donald Trump making misogynistic comments about women surfaced. The video is an excerpt of a conversation between Access Hollywood reporter Billy Bush and Donald Trump on an Access Hollywood Bus in 2005. Throughout the video, Trump can be heard recounting his attempt to seduce a married woman, and stating that he can “do anything” to “beautiful women” because he’s famous.  Numerous gendered slurs are used by Trump in reference to his sexual advances on women, which also sound a lot like sexual assault. The release of this tape was met with outrage by citizens and politicians alike. Despite this, mere minutes into the second debate Donald Trump brushed off his comments as “locker room talk” and admitted that he was “not proud of it”.

Continue reading “Beyond the Locker Room: Donald Trump and American Misogyny”