An open letter on the Hypatia controversy

We, the undersigned, are writing to express our deep concern and outrage over both the recent demand for the retraction of Rebecca Tuvel’s article, “In Defense of Transracialism,” which was published in Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy on March 29th, and Hypatia’s temporarily acquiescing to this demand by removing the article in its online form for a period of time.

The open letter to Hypatia (published on April 30), which garnered over 800 signatures of academics from universities within the US and elsewhere, in addition to a handful of writers, was a mean-spirited mischaracterization of a scholar’s work that was conspicuously lacking in any attempt to engage with the primary argument offered therein. Instead, the letter demanded a retraction based on spurious and, in some instances, demonstrably wrong assertions regarding the content of the work. We agree with Jessie Singal’s overall assessment in his article, “This Is What a Modern Day Witch Hunt Looks Like,” and we share his suspicion that despite calling for its retraction, many of the signatories had not read Tuvel’s article before adding their names to the letter. In fact, one must wonder if some of the signatories had even read the open letter to Hypatia given the petition’s absolute defiance to critical inquiry and academic deliberation.

Most of the signatories to the Hypatia letter enjoy both the intellectual and practical benefits of free and open debate and discussion within their institutions. A vast majority of the signatories also directly benefit from the mechanisms of fairness of review processes within publishing in order for their ideas and words to see the light of day. This letter is then addressed to the heads of the universities and publishing houses of those who signed the Hypatia letter, which not only set out to have an article disappeared, but contributed to a cultural climate in which debate is stifled and individuals are demonized. These signatories participated in a purposeful, modern-era witch hunt whereby some of the most privileged in academia and publishing created a groundswell of opprobrium for a junior scholar — one that can be reasonably expected to have serious ramifications for her career and reputation.

Many of us have watched in astonishment and horror over the last few years as identity politics has been used as a cudgel to disappear the material condition and facticity of the world, be it social or scientific. Instead of nurturing dialogue with one’s interlocutor, a climate of taking irrational, unscientific, and reactionary dogma has been championed by the academy and the media. Anyone who has dared to question, critique, or even — as in the case of Tuvel — subject it to rigorous logical scrutiny in an effort to expand its application, has been met with shaming at best and abuse at worst. This alarming call for the silencing of an academic who made a good faith argument has left little room for doubt that the proponents of this dogma will brook no questioning of it. We believe that the signatories to the Hypatia letter have engaged in a call for de facto censorship and deep intellectual dishonesty to intimidate not just Tuvel, but anyone else who might consider offering a contrary opinion or perspective.

The signatories sent a clear message: no inquiry into the function and precepts of the prevailing philosophy of gender will be tolerated. We unequivocally reject this message and affirm our right to question, critique, and rebut any and all philosophies or viewpoints, regardless of how much academic support they may have. We recognize the Hypatia letter as an egregious example of a growing authoritarian trend when it comes to engaging certain topics. We refuse to bend to it. We condemn the attempts of academics and others to silence and erase from public view an opinion solely because it does not fall within the discursive parameters that they have taken it upon themselves to set. We assert that the academics who signed on to this letter betrayed their fundamental duty as scholars to encourage — even demand — rigorous examination and robust discussion of ideas.

It is supremely ironic that Tuvel’s acceptance and application of many of the core arguments used to buttress one of the prevailing views of a certain type of identity, when applied to another social domain has, conversely, sparked such outrage. It is difficult for us to draw any conclusion other than that Tuvel — however inadvertently — has shown the hollowness of such ideas and that those who expound them can proffer no credible defense. The letter and the demand for retraction show nothing as much as a thorough inability to logically rebut Tuvel’s argument.

And there is a glaring paradox at the centre of this affair — that one of the better known signatories has previously written the following:

“This attempt to purify the sphere of public discourse by institutionalizing the norms that establish what ought properly to be included there operates as a preemptive censor. Such efforts not only labour under a fear of contamination, but they are also compelled to restage in the spectacles of public denunciations they perform the very utterances they seek to banish from public life.”

We find it difficult to fathom how this individual can reconcile these sentiments with a letter that calls for the silencing of a scholar without even a cursory attempt at counter-argument. We again note the irony. This professor and her co-signers have advanced an onslaught of harassment towards an individual whose ideas are merely an application of their own theories and belief-systems. This amounts to an abuse of power on the part of influential individuals ensconced in powerful institutions. In endorsing this call for the silencing of a good faith and rigorous effort on the part of a scholar, they have shown themselves to be inadequate models of scholarly integrity and intellectual honesty.

We are not all scholars or academics. Our political affiliations and outlooks vary in numerous ways. We are professionals and laypeople; workers and readers; some of us are activists and some are not. Many of us do not agree with the premise of Tuvel’s article in fact, but we wholeheartedly support open debate and the freedom of intellectual exchange through the medium of publishing. We believe that we must confront three distinct issues:

1) The growing academic trend, particularly evident when it comes to gender, to stifle debate and shame, harass, and defame anyone who does not mindlessly parrot the prevailing orthodoxy;

2) The logical and political shortcomings inherent in much of the currently popular theory concerning gender;

3) The elision of feminist politics and the troubling sidelining of sex over gender “feelings,” ultimately contributing to institutional sexism whereby only those who toe the genderist ideology are rewarded, while all mention of material reality of females is pushed aside in both academic and editorial structures (i.e. the disappearance of women’s studies departments over the past two decades in favour of gender studies programs and the conterminous decrease of publications related to the material and experiential reality of females and sex-based oppression).

We are a diverse group of people who understand that ideas matter and that intellectual trends impact the society at large. They affect law, media, medicine, culture, language, and politics; they affect how we are educated and how our workplaces function; and, as this episode has made abundantly clear, they can even determine who is allowed to express an opinion and who isn’t. Because of this, vigorous and open debate and discussion is essential. We see in the Hypatia letter a clear attempt to incite fear in anyone who dares to not show unswerving deference to certain propositions and we condemn it in the most unequivocal terms. Unlike “A Majority of the Hypatia‘s Board of Associated Editors,” whose apology showed a craven eagerness to abandon basic principles of free speech and editorial integrity, we stand strong in our commitment to open discussion and assert our absolute right to question ideas and to shape alternate views.

We demand that:

1) The provosts and other chief administrators and editors who serve at the institutions with which the signatories are affiliated publicly disavow the call for silencing made in the letter and affirm their support for free dialogue and debate and begin to consider programs and initiatives to address the alarming authoritarian trend on the part of certain academics evidenced clearly in the Hypatia letter.

2) Hypatia republish Tuvel’s original article in its original full form with an apology to the author and their readers.

3) The universities and publishers named herein engage in addressing the growing problem of intellectual harassment within their walls by opening up forums and publications which address the growing problem of silencing and no-platforming, with the usual suspects being females who question or, as in the case of Tuvel, employ gender identity within a perfectly reasonable academic exercise.

To view signatories and to add your name to this letter, please visit

This open letter will be sent to the following provosts and other chief administrators and editors who serve at the institutions with which the signatories to the Hypatia letter are affiliated:

  • Hypatia Editorial Board
  • Elizabeth Abrams, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Augustine O. Agho, Old Dominion University
  • Peter-André Alt, Freie Universität Berlin
  • Valerie Amos, SOAS University of London
  • Sona K. Andrews, Portland State University
  • Terri Anne Camesano, Bruce Bursten, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
  • Parvis Ansari, Westfield State University
  • Paul Arcario, LaGuardia Community College (CUNY)
  • Michael Arthur, University of London
  • Attila Askar, Koç University, Istanbul
  • Matthew R. Auer, Bates College
  • Timothy R. Austin, Duquesne University
  • Bert C. Bach, East Tennessee State University
  • Benoit-Antoine Bacon, Queen’s University
  • Gail F. Baker, University of San Diego
  • Turina Bakken, Madison College
  • Gerald Baldasty, University of Washington
  • Susan Baldridge, Middlebury College
  • Deborah Baldwin, University of Arkansas Little Rock
  • Alberto Edgardo Barbieri, Universidad de Buenos Aires
  • Jean Bartels, Georgia Southern University
  • Craig Barton, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
  • Scott A. Bass, American University
  • Patricia E. Beeson, University of Pittsburgh
  • Neeli Bendapudi, University of Kansas
  • Justin Bengry, Founder and Managing Editor, Notches
  • James Bennighof, Baylor University
  • Sheri Berger, Pierce College
  • Michael Bernstein, Stony Brook University
  • Neil Besner, University of Winnipeg
  • Hester Bijl, Leiden University Center for the Arts in Society
  • Dale B. Billingsley, University of Louisville
  • Christopher Bishop, Microsoft Research New England
  • Julia Black, London School of Economics
  • Fabienne Blaise, Lille University
  • M. Brian Blake, Drexel University
  • David Bogen, Maryland Institute College of Art
  • David Bolton, City University of London
  • Judy Bonner, Mississippi State University
  • Leszek Borysiewicz, University of Cambridge
  • Gene Bourgeois, Texas State University
  • Jeanne F. Brady, Saint Joseph’s University
  • Cheryl Brandsen, Calvin College
  • Guy Breton, Université de Montréal
  • Nancy Brickhouse, St. Louis University
  • Ross Brown, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama London
  • Marilyn Buck, Ball State University
  • Rosemarie Buikema, Bluestockings Magazine
  • Edward Burger, Southwestern University
  • Tom Burish, University of Notre Dame
  • David Burrows, Lawrence University
  • Ken Burtis, University of California, Davis
  • Edward Byrne, King’s College London
  • Mike Calford, University of Tasmania
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  • Joy Connolly, CUNY Graduate Center
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  • Ruth Crilly, Western Sydney University
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  • Ann Davies, Beloit College
  • Eric Davis, University of the Fraser Valley
  • Gayle R. Davis, Grand Valley State University
  • Janice Deakin, University of Western Ontario
  • James W. Dean, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
  • Donald H. DeHayes, University of Rhode Island
  • Jane Den Hollander, Deakin University
  • Marten L. denBoer, DePaul University
  • Carolyn Dever, Dartmouth College
  • Steven Dew, University of Alberta
  • John Dewar, La Trobe University
  • Todd A. Diacon, Kent State University
  • Jeannine Diddle Uzzi, University of Southern Maine
  • Daniel Diermeier, University of Chicago
  • Robbert Dijkgraaf, Loyola Marymount University/Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
  • Persis S. Drell, Stanford University
  • Thomas Dunk, Brock University
  • Dana Dunn, University of North Carolina Greensboro
  • Debasish (Deba) Dutta, Purdue University
  • Donald R. Eastman, Eckerd College
  • Executive Editor, Sarah Broadie, The Philosophical Quarterly, Independent Scholar
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  • Laurel Garrick-Duhaney, SUNY New Paltz
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  • Dean R. Gerstein, Claremont Graduate University, UC San Diego
  • Joseph Glover, University of Florida
  • Jeffrey Goldberg, Mount Royal University
  • Noreen Golfman, Memorial University of Newfoundland
  • David Graham, University of Ottawa
  • Domenico Grasso, University of Delaware
  • O. Finley Graves, University of North Texas
  • David Greenaway, University of Nottingham
  • Robert Groves, Georgetown University
  • Gail Hackett, Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Jeremy Haefner, RIT
  • Andrew (Andy) Hale Feinstein, San Jose State University
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  • Karen Hanson, University of Minnesota
  • Cindy Harcum, Baltimore City College
  • W. Ken Harmon, Kennesaw State University
  • Kathleen Harring, Muhlenberg College
  • Constance Harsh, Colgate University
  • Lyn Hejinian and Travis Ortiz, Atelos
  • Donald E. Heller, University of San Francisco
  • Joseph Hellige, Loyola Marymount University
  • Elizabeth Hendrey, CUNY Queens
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  • Steve Hollenhorst, Huxley College of the Environment
  • Editors, Homofactus
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  • Matt Inman, Three Rivers Press & Penguin Random House
  • Farrukh Iqbal, Institute of Business Administration (Pakistan)
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  • Carol Macdonald, Senior Commissioning Editor, Edinburgh University Press
  • Alfred MacKay, Oberlin College
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  • Jennifer Martin, Texas Woman’s University
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  • anne cameron

    Oh GAWD forbid anyone have their own opinion. Gawd forbid that opinion differ in any way at all. Gawd forbid we not all walk in lock-step!
    Let’s throw the tempest out with the teapot.
    Long live freedom of thought! The patriarchy must be killing itself laughing at this kerfuffle!

  • Sabine


  • Novo

    Judith Butler signed the original anti-Tuvel petition?!!! I completely missed that. Of course she did. Of course.

    Meanwhile, I’m curious how none of these people seem to be going after Laura Kipnis even though she appears to be a rape apologist who ridicules survivors and believes women lie about rape. I have seen almost no backlash to her book 🙁 Plus, I read something saying that Red Pill guy made a point of saying he supports trans rights. It’s almost like its cool to be openly anti-woman but hurting trans male feelings is this massive heresy.

    • ChoderlosdeLaclos

      When she was interviewed on CBC, I posted a comment saying: if Laura Kipnis is a feminist, I’ll eat my hat.

    • calabasa

      Oh, God, I just read a New Yorker article about Laura Kipnis and her new book. It makes my blood boil, because perhaps someone like me (that is to say, someone who has experienced male sexual brutality many times) could just be “oversensitive” and “weak” for letting it further erode my self-esteem. Also, the very real trauma bond that arises from an abusive relationship–the fact, for example, that rape was an effective tactic on the part of an ex-boyfriend in tying (binding, not just bonding) me to him–how vehemently I protested this afterward, according to her, is because at some level I liked it (and even that my wanting to stay involved with him somehow has something to do with “liking it,” in spite of my diagnosis of PTSD and depression in the aftermath, rather than that I have been conditioned, by demonstrable neurochemical processes, into a situation of Stockholm Syndrome (as well as struggling with the difficult issue of integration of my experiences and somehow remaining positive in the face of a negative shift in worldview–that some people really can’t be helped; that some people really can’t love, and instead seek to abuse; that a whole class of people are indoctrinated into hurting others through their investment in the notion of power and control, something which I can no longer deny). No, in reality, it is not out of grooming, sexual and psychological terrorism, or ideological confusion that I might have been both angry with and remained in contact with my abuser; it’s because I liked it.

      Such a flippant argument is not even an argument. What, exactly, then is “liking?” Should “liking” involve the level of misery women experience in relationships with abusive partners, regardless of whether they stay in those relationships or not (as many do, even to the point of death)? Kipnis comes to the conclusion, apparently, that a sexual relationship between a grad student and her professor must have been consensual because of the number of texts she sent him. Christ, stupidity doesn’t even begin to cover it.

      However, she accuses young women of being “coddled” into “victim culture” (and then is surprised she is invited to speak on libertarian and right-wing panels!), while claiming to never have experienced sexism (or rarely) from male colleagues, and to have received little support from other women!…(Without any reflection on how perhaps this might have to do with her distinctly male-affiliated, anti-woman stance). Clearly her privilege and entitlement is above that of young women just entering university who have experienced harassment and rape growing up, from older males and their male peers, and continue to experience sexual terrorism, harassment, and partner violence/sexual violence in this hyper-pornified culture. But “they’re too sensitive” (and all sexual relationships, to be exciting, should entail some sense of the elicit, and unequal power dynamics); it is denying women “agency” to deny that they can deal with the unequal power dynamics of being preyed upon by their male professors (or mentors, or other admired figures). This is dangerous rape apologism that is a step away from pedophilia apologism (maybe 13-year-old girls just need to be sexed up by their teachers too, right? To initiate them into the world of sex and let them live out their burgeoning sexual desires?) Regardless of what young women may have been indoctrinated into, in a world of far too many men who regard them as sex objects a man who is a mentor figure without objectifying, sexualizing or molesting them is far preferable to the “sexy professor” who sexily crosses boundaries with them. Within this world, there’s nothing “empowering” about that.

      Kipnis strikes me as being like Camille Paglia–just as male-affiliated, just as rape-apologist, just as confused in her positions, just as privileged while claiming that those she scorns (women victimized by male violence) are privileged and hypersensitive; i.e., a handmaiden in feminist’s clothing. Jeez.

      After reading “Loving to Survive” at the recommendation of some women on this website, and finding it quite compelling, I found this article on pscyhcentral, which is really good: The hyperlink on “normalizing addictive behaviors” links to an article on love and sex addiction, and what it means within patriarchy, also an interesting read.

      In any case, at least Judith Butler, in her books, appears to be attempting engage with discourse and make some sort of argument (however flawed), not just to kiss men’s asses and “women are hysterical over-sensitive victims who just won’t admit they like it” and “a real rape victim would not have contact with her rapist,” etc. I mean, just easily refutable stuff that for some reason is published and called feminist discourse.

  • Hekate Jayne

    Sometimes, this behavior can be considered to be gaslighting. But I don’t think so.

    What I am talking about is males that say “I only hit you when you make me” or “you were pushing my buttons, so it’s your fault I went off”.

    If you fail to do exactly what the abuser wants, in exactly the way he wants it, then it’s your fault when he gets violent.

    Trans do this. They don’t want a third bathroom, they want ours. And when we don’t submit, they get mean, and start issuing rape/death threats.

    And then they say THEIR actions are OUR fault. An abusive male is never responsible for his own actions. He’s always a victim, no matter what.

  • Meghan Murphy

    AHHH! I did not know this existed! SO good.

  • calabasa

    This is an amazing (and really clear takedown). I’ve tried reading Butler in the past, and couldn’t slog through it, nor make heads or tails of her position. Nussbaum punctures her position with clarity (the rather strange position that we should not fight for practical changes at the institutional level for oppressed people, because it would take away their ability to fight back in subversive ways). So…we should keep oppressing people so they have the fun of rebelling within the limits of their oppression? Huh?

    Also, what is the point of any social movement (or indeed, engaging in any philosophical discourse) if we will always be operating within the paradigm of power as we know it, and it is inescapable, and unchangeable in any meaningful sense (something which Nussbaum points out is actually not true, as changes have been made to institutions, in a meaningful sense)…but if we were to accept that premise, what’s the point to anything, really? It’s a completely amoral anarchist stance (as Nussbaum points out) which can’t defend why some subversive acts are better than others (as she also points out).

    I swear, I tried reading a couple of her books a long time ago (Gender Trouble was one; I think Bodies That Matter might have been the other) and just put them down. She was so utterly guilty of the purposeful obfuscation of meaning that is endemic in the upper echelons of academia that I didn’t even want to try to parse her writing for its meaning (this critique by Nussbaum really is a gem, as it’s far clearer than anything Butler has ever written…I love how at one point she “translates” that particularly bad sentence she wrote, which won an award for being such a bad sentence).

    When writing quickly, without editing, I tend to write wordy, syntactically complex sentences out of laziness (I am aware that they only work when alternated with shorter sentences, and when saved for complex and original ideas). Actually I think they work best in creative rather than academic writing, in that the author can make tenuous connections without any expectation of supporting evidence (the point is to make thought leaps and do thought and language experiments, and see if they work. Usually, of course, they don’t. Even a “good book” only qualifies as good because it’s working more than half the time, which itself is quite difficult to sustain). Academic writing ought to be MORE, not LESS, clear. However, it’s not, because otherwise it might be understandable to the masses, practically applicable, and, as Nussbaum points out, if easy to grasp then easy to take off with and to use (an idea clearly articulated is not an idea of which the author can maintain ownership). Isn’t that supposed to be the point, though–collaboration, getting our hands dirty, the noise and clamor of the creative commons? Not hushed conversation in the rarified atmosphere of the thin air at the height of an ivory tower?

    It’s all very much an “Emperor’s New Clothes” phenomenon (post-modern online language generators are hilarious). It is, however, the antithesis of good writing, which should strive at all times for clarity and precision. Such obfuscating writing strives only to obscure the intellectual poverty of its arguments.

    I agree with Meghan. Thanks for this. So good! (And finally I understand what the hell Butler is on about)!

    (As an addendum…it’s no wonder the trans crowd has embraced post-modernism and queer theory, as these overlapping trends/philosophies are as circular in logic and completely ill-defined as the concept of “gender”…I mean, what does “deconstructionalist” mean if there are no concrete, identifiable, and near-universal human constructions to deconstruct, or if there’s no point in the deconstructing? This is the maddening nature of post-modernism in a nutshell. It’s tautological: we believe language is meaningless, or does not have fixed meaning, and we purport not to believe in any fixed meaning, therefore because what we are peddling to you is meaningless we are right about the meaningless nature of language). Argh.

  • ♧BobbiEllen♧

    Well it’s up to 323, after myself & husband signed, so keep spreading the word! (Says its goal is 1000)

  • Lynn

    Laura Nadar produces some really great work imo. In my first year of University I read her paper on how men use images of women in other cultures to blind women to the seriousness of their own oppression. That was definitely a bell for me that couldn’t be unrung.

  • FierceMild

    Sometimes I wish the activists would just get on with it if they feel so damn suicidal all the time.

  • Julie Katz

    Martha Nussbaum is a brilliant philosopher and feminist, and always a real pleasure to read. She got totally screwed by Amartya Sen, who got credit (and a Nobel Prize) for the capabilities approach to global development even though she’s the one who thought it up and developed it into something cohesive that could actually be applied. I used to work on some projects with a university research group that worshiped Sen and when I bought up Nussbaum they didn’t even know who she is. Totally erased. She’s a footnote or at best a helpmate because they slept together.

    I don’t agree with her every argument, but they are always well argued and based in a strong belief in and expression of normative values of humanism. (e.g., she accepts a pragmatic legalization of prostitution under a bunch of conditions in order that women can
    be protected by the law and the course she sets out to abolish prostitution is to create better
    options for women, for which her ideas are concrete. You’ll never find her defending prostitution as a freedom or something good.) Her writing gives hope and a course of action in institutional change, like Mills and Dewey, and fights against the deep dark pit of nihilistic, constipated, navel gazing, anarchist, sadomasochistic postmodern sophistry in which we swim today.

    I do so hope that the academics signing this letter get to work at the real task of dismantling postmodernism and the cynical sidelining of important debate on human rights and stopping the utter destruction male violence has inflicted on the world.