lundi 8 mai 2017

Hypatia Transracialism Controversy

An article called "In Defense of Transracialism" was published by a young professor named Rebecca Tuvel, in the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia, passing the peer review and editorial process. It posed the question of whether some of the arguments in favor of transgenderism could also be applied to "transracialism". The author made very clear that she was supportive of trans people, in the article.

500 people, including some academic philosophers (apparently it included two people who had served on Tuvel's dissertation committee) signed an open letter to Hypatia demanding for the article to be retracted. It lays out four criticisms of the article and four steps Hypatia should take to remedy the situation. You can read the letter here: Open letter to Hypatia


[The article's] continued availability causes further harm, as does an initial post by the journal admitting only that the article “sparks dialogue.” Our concerns reach beyond mere scholarly disagreement; we can only conclude that there has been a failure in the review process, and one that painfully reflects [a lack of engagement beyond white and cisgender privilege.
One complaint was that Tuvel "deadnamed" Caitlyn Jenner by writing "Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner". Another complaint was about her use of the term "transgenderism", which the writers of the letter deemed an unacceptable term. Another was that she didn't cite work by women of color in her article. (This is not an exhaustive list. Read the letter for yourself.)

Hypatia's Board of Associated Editors responded to the open letter by posting an apology on Facebook, throwing Tuvel under the bus and agreeing that the article should never have been published.


[i]t is our position that the harms that have ensued from the publication of this article could and should have been prevented by a more effective review process.
However, the editor-in-chief said that she stood by the article and claimed the associate editors acted independently. The editor-in-chief's position was supported by the president of Hypatia's board of directors.

Nora Berenstain, a philosophy professor at University of Tennessee wrote a Facebook post critical of the article's publication:


Tuvel enacts violence and perpetuates harm in numerous ways throughout her essay. She deadnames a trans woman. She uses the term “transgenderism.” She talks about “biological sex” and uses phrases like “male genitalia.” She focuses enormously on surgery, which promotes the objectification of trans bodies. She refers to “a male-to- female (mtf) trans individual who could return to male privilege,” promoting the harmful transmisogynistic ideology that trans women have (at some point had) male privilege.
Jesse Singal of New York Magazine wrote a lengthy and detailed article defending Tuvel and decrying what he perceived as a witch hunt against her: This Is What a Modern-Day Witch Hunt Looks Like.


The point of the article, as the title suggests, is to toy around with the question of what it would mean if some people really were — as Rachel Dolezal claimed — “transracial,” meaning they identified as a race that didn’t line up with how society viewed them in light of their ancestry.

What’s remarkable about [the Open Letter] is that, as Justin Weinberg noted in the Daily Nous, a philosophy website, each and every one of the falsifiable points it makes is, based on a plain reading of Tuvel’s article, simply false or misleading.

It is pretty remarkable for an academic journal to, in the wake of an online uproar, apologize and suggest one of its articles caused “harm,” all while failing to push back against brazenly inaccurate misreadings of that article — especially in light of the fact that Tuvel said in a statement (readable at the bottom of the Daily Nous article) that she’s dealing with a wave of online abuse and hate mail.
Suzanna Danuta Walters wrote a similar article in The Chronicle of Higher Education: Academe's Poisonous Call-Out Culture


As a feminist journal editor, I am not only shocked by the policing move of the signatories and their weak, vague, and easily refutable argument. I am astonished by the immediate and hyperbolic "apology" by the associate editorial board of the journal, an apology that the editor herself did not sign and has in fact rebutted. Indeed, the apology doubles down on the notion of the "harms" caused by the publication of the article. Nowhere does this apology challenge the inaccuracies and empty accusations made by Tuvel’s critics. It simply reiterates them as if they were fact. And nowhere, but nowhere, does this "majority" of the associate editorial board defend the right of a junior feminist philosophy professor to make an argument.
Tuvel has since written a statement, which can be found here (scroll down). A few excerpts:


I regret the deadnaming of Caitlyn Jenner in the article, which means that I referred to her birth name instead of her chosen name. Even though she does this herself in her book, I understand that it is not for outsiders to do and that such a practice can perpetuate harm against transgender individuals, and I apologize. The deadnaming will be removed from the article.

But so much wrath on electronic media has been expressed in the form of ad hominem attacks. I have received hate mail. I have been denounced a horrible person by people who have never met me. I have been warned that this is a project I should not have started and can only have questionable motivations for writing. Many people are now strongly urging me and the journal to retract the article and issue an apology. They have cautioned me that not doing so would be devastating for me personally, professionally, and morally.

So little of what has been said, however, is based upon people actually reading what I wrote.

Calls for intellectual engagement are also being shut down because they “dignify” the article. If this is considered beyond the pale as a response to a controversial piece of writing, then critical thought is in danger. I have never been under the illusion that this article is immune from critique. But the last place one expects to find such calls for censorship rather than discussion is amongst philosophers.

I don't know that Tuvel's article wasn't flawed. I haven't read it, other than a few quotes here and there. But I find it disturbing that so many people, including academics are calling for what sounds an awful lot like censorship within academia. I find it more disturbing that the associate editors of Hypatia almost immediately threw the author of an article they'd accepted into their journal under the bus and agreed with those calling for retraction. I see this kind of thing all the time in other spheres, but I've never heard of it happening in academic philosophy before.

via International Skeptics Forum

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