It would be wrong to say that gender-studies academics welcomed Dr Wilson’s paper on “performative rape culture” among dogs uncritically. One reviewer wanted more consideration of “black feminist animal studies”. Another fretted that by recording dogs’ genders the research had “intruded into the dogs’ spaces”.
Ultimately, though, the paper, an elaborate fake, sailed into the journal Gender, Place and Culture.
In doing so, its real authors — who did not actually spend a year observing the “rape-condoning spaces of hegemonic masculinity” that are public dog-walking parks — said that it helped to highlight the serious academic malaise affecting a branch of the humanities that they termed “grievance studies”.
The paper, which lamented the political unfeasibility of leashing men to prevent sexual aggression, was one of seven that James Lindsay, Peter Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose, US academics, got published in peer-reviewed journals in an 18-month project.
Others included an investigation into how “transhysteria” means that men rarely insert objects into their bottoms, another into “fat bodybuilding” and one titled Our Struggle is My Struggle: Solidarity Feminism as an Intersectional Reply to Neoliberal and Choice Feminism.
The latter rewrote chapter 12 of Mein Kampf “with buzzwords switched in”. They were shocked by the ease with which papers were accepted. “This shouldn’t have been possible,” Dr Lindsay said. “What appears beyond dispute is that making absurd and horrible ideas sufficiently politically fashionable can get them validated at the highest level of academic grievance studies.”
The studies were variously praised by academic reviewers as “a rich and exciting contribution to the study of . . . the intersection between masculinity and anality”, “excellent and very timely” and — in the case of Mein Kampf — offering “important dialogue for social workers and feminist scholars”.
Dr Lindsay added: “Studying topics like gender, race and sexuality is worthwhile . . . The problem is how these topics are being studied. Only certain conclusions are allowed . . . the fields we are concerned about put social grievances ahead of objective truth.”
The Times approached Taylor & Francis, which owns several of the journals involved. Tracy Roberts, a director, said: “This hoax has taken valuable academic editorial and peer-reviewer time and expertise away from genuine research.”
Her colleagues may be tempted by an argument in Hypatia, a feminist philosophy journal, that social-justice activists can make fun of others but no one can make fun of social justice. It recommended “sanctioning members of culturally dominant groups who misuse irony, satire, hoaxes and double-voiced humour”.
If they did cite When the Joke Is on You: A Feminist Perspective on How Positionality Influences Satire, the joke would be on them. The praised paper, accepted this summer, was by the hoaxers.
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