After backpedalling on a controversial article, the feminist philosophy journal Hypatia is now backpedalling on that backpedalling, saying they now stand behind their original publication.
The article in question, by an assistant philosophy professor at Rhodes College, looked at society’s level of acceptance for Caitlyn Jenner vs. Rachel Dolezal. She questioned why we’re Ok with Jenner self-identifying as a woman, but not OK with Dolezal thinking she’s black. Rebecca Tuvel, the author, argued her case for “transracialism.”
That article sparked public outrage, with more than 800 academics anonymously signing a letter calling for an apology and a retraction. On May 1, an apology appeared on Facebook from “the majority of Hypatia’s Board of Associate Editors,” who said that “clearly the article should not have been published.” They apologized for the fact that the author was straight white woman—and said she should have relied much more heavily on gay and minority researchers.
I wrote about the editors’ intellectual cowardice for the Wall Street Journal earlier this month. New York Magazine’s Jesse Singal also denounced the backlash as “a modern-day witch hunt.” And a Daily Kos writer said the saga “only further proves to me that there is indeed something dark and gangrenous in the heart of modern academia.” (That writer added that she, herself, writes about feminism under a pseudonym because “I’m afraid of my fellow feminists branding me a bigot or trying to destroy my personal and professional life.”)
In a post for Daily Nous, a philosophy blog, the board of directors for Hypatia acknowledged that the bad publicity had caused “harms to current and prospective authors, editors, and peer reviewers of Hypatia.” (The board of directors is the non profit publication’s corporate owner, while the board of associate editors are involved the review process of pieces that appear in the journal and appoint its editor in chief.)
The board said they stand “behind the judgment of the editor, Sally Scholz, concerning the publication of Professor Tuvel’s paper,” adding that “we endorse her assessment that, barring the discovery of misconduct or plagiarism, the decision to publish stands.”
(Scholz had said in an earlier statement that she stood behind Tuvel and wanted Hypatia to “publish on a wide array of topics employing a wide array of methodologies.”)
Moreover, the post says, the board of associate editors didn’t have the authority to speak for the publication. “The Board finds that the Associate Editors’ statement undermining the editorial decision was disseminated without adequate consultation with the editor,” the post says.
Buried in the statement is a brief defense of Tuvel. “The Board also recognizes Professor Tuvel for her work and condemns any ad hominem and personal attacks that may have been directed against her.”
Even so, echoing the anonymous letter from Tuvel’s critics, the board of directors promised to “review its governance structure, procedures, and polices, aiming to continue to improve its inclusiveness and respect for marginalized voices.”
Ironically, the journal is named after the fourth-century philosopher Hypatia, who was murdered by zealots who ripped her body to pieces. The latest developments suggest that it’s not just Tuvel who’s being torn apart by her fanatical critics; clearly this philosophy journal has its own deep internal divides to reckon with. Stay tuned.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.