Male Nerds and Feminism

by Belle Waring on February 15, 2015

First I want to thank all of you for an implausibly thoughtful and interesting thread. I think I am going to close comments on it soon so that it can retain its purity. Thanks especially to commenters who shared difficult events in their lives.

One thing I thought of saying at the start was, “feminism sucks and is harmful” is not an unpopular view but rather a really popular one, and so a bit beside the point, but there wasn’t much of that, so, no worries. One thing that several male commenters did talk about was the problems created for shy, nerdy guys when they hear the message from feminism “you suck and are a sexual aggressor in a bad way.” Several people pointed to the Scott Aaronson affair: an MIT professor wrote a confessional of sorts in a blog comment about how feminism made him so terrified of his own feelings of heterosexual desire that he spent period of time genuinely to be medically castrated. Amanda Marcotte was among a number of people who thought this was bullshit. Now, here let me say, my first impulse, if I had chosen to write about it on my own, would have been to be a total dick. BUT. In the spirit of not being a dick to everyone all the time, I thought I would actually address this…issue? Cluster of related issues, more like. Because more than one of our commenters felt it was a live issue in their lives, even if only in the past.

Now, part of me doesn’t even understand what’s being complained about here. Here is my best effort to break it down, based on what Aaronson and his supporters, and detractors, and more-or-less middle of the road commentators have said, and also based on some things men have said in the thread below. And by this I don’t intend to call anyone out or imply what anyone said was beyond the pale or anything, but let me know if you are bothered in any way and I’m happy to adjust this.

Young men with left-leaning political inclinations start reading feminist theory before feeling urgent stirrings of sexual desire. Then, when the waves of lust that batter the shores of their adolescence come surging in, they think, “aha! I’m one of those bad guys with overpowering sexual desires! The kind who rapes people! I must keep my terrible sexual fantasies about Melissa to myself, lest I be outed as Evil!” To quote Aaronson, this constellation of feelings would come about “because of a culture that told male nerds since childhood that they’d be horrible people if they asked [i.e. for sex]—even more horrible that if they didn’t ask! Thereby ceding the field by default” [to “Neanderthals” who are sexist ass-grabbers but somehow have success with women.]

I…don’t know quite where to begin here. Are boys really reading about feminism before they begin having lascivious thoughts about the peach-shaped asses of their female schoolmates? Is that what’s happening nowadays? And then, if they did read all that feminism wouldn’t they learn a) rape isn’t about overwhelming sexual desire and b) there’s a lot of sex-positive, porn-positive feminism on the internet? A lot. Except he was all about radfems and Andrea Dworkin for reasons known only by dudes that want feminism to neg them.

OK, and then being afraid to express any sexual interest in a girl lest he be outed as a male nerd who has sexual interest in girls, but ass-grabby Neanderthals are pulling so much tail?! This. This is pure, crystallized Nice Guy-ism. I’m sorry. I have sympathy for painfully shy teenagers of both genders. But, although he tries to walk it back, this does cast aspersion on the clueless girls who choose to go out with anti-feminist, actively-sexually harassing jerks. Because the girls are surely the standard-bearers of this oppressive feminist message, right? So they perforce are masochists or liars? Then we hear how it would have been better, “in a different social context—the shtetl my grandparents grew up in, for example, I would have gotten married at an early age and been completely fine.” Oh, wow, we have gotten into some seriously problematic territory now. If women still belonged to their fathers and could be given away as chattel to some other man deemed suitable, yes, you would have had a sexual partner at an earlier age. IRONICALLY this it the only point at which any person reading ever his comment says, “wow, so he would maybe ever rape someone.”

He complains that the sexual assault and sexual harassment seminars he attended in college made it sound as if there was no conceivable way to initiate anything sex-oriented with a prospective parter without it’s being, ipso facto, harassment. “I left each of those workshops with enough fresh paranoia and enough self-hatred to last me another year.” Now, he went to college at 15, and I personally think this in itself explains a lot, when you consider what his interactions with ALL classmates must have been like, but he himself explicitly disavows any connection there, saying that his experience of being terrified away from the opposite sex was disjunct from that fact, and persisted into his 20s. I think this encapsulates his point: “[the] broader image…was the clash between my inborn personality and the social norms of the modern world, norms that require males to make romantic sexual advances, but then give them no way to do so without running the risk of being a ‘bad person.’” Well, having said it recapitulates his main point I now realize things have gone somewhat aslant. Aaronson doesn’t pretend to think that Andrea Dworkin and her “bonerificus destructo” spell run Hogwarts American society. He knows that when you’re up against the Neanderthals, it’s not feminism you’re fighting: it’s men who are more powerful than you, or you have something you want. Sometimes girls are just the toy in the Cracker Jack box and bullies are beating you up on the playground and stealing your fucking Cracker Jack. I’ll return to this in a moment.

More generally, as a white male MIT professor, Scott Aaronson resents very deeply the suggestion that he enjoys any ‘privilege’ of any kind. He especially resents the frequent suggestion that it is his brothers in spirit—shy male nerds—who are in some way keeping women out of STEM. He thinks this suggestion amounts to “blaming the victim,” with the victims being shy male nerds. Now, his cri de coeur met with smashing success in some parts of the Internet, even as it was derided in others. Namely, those shy, white, male, self-identified nerds who somehow take up a greater percentage of CS than in the 1980s were happy to hear that it was logically impossible for them to form a group that would actively exclude women—precisely because of their experience with crippling shyness. More generously, they personally identified with a lot of what Aaronson said, about feeling a conflict between their sexual desire and their role as nerds, that they were somehow pre-cast as “creepy” or “neckbeards” or whatever to a degree that paralyzed them within themselves and led to a lot of real suffering. This is a legit way to feel and having a shitty sex life is a world-renowned source of human unhappiness. But is it something that needs a social movement, or, as Aaronson suggested something with some fraction of the resources a rape crisis centre would have? A…a I’m not going to name this centre. More specifically, is it a feminist issue? If you would like to read a less attractive version of Aaronson’s argument, read this. Sample: “but the male version of the problem [slut-shaming] is nerd-shaming or creep-shaming or whatever, and I don’t feel like most woman, especially most feminist women, take it nearly as seriously as I try to take their problems.” Umm, thanks for trying to take our problems seriously? I’m not sure it’s totally working, though.

There are about a billion obvious objections here. Feminism isn’t supposed to be Tindr for Reddit. Also, the girl nerds? What happens to them, do they sublimate directly from the solid state playing MMORPGs and reading Anne McCaffrey novels about space dragons in 8th grade to an invisible gas? Are they shy, maybe? Do they have trouble expressing interest in boys? What if they are fat and have acne and people mercilessly mock them for being nerds, and then they just have every regular old shitty normal sexist thing happen too?

But speaking of mocking, comments in the thread below turned to an adjacent topic, namely, bullying. Are boys socialized to accept violence and be mocked if they fail to meet it? (well, obviously yes, but you’ll see in context…) While girls are nominally “protected” from getting a straight beat-down? Is this part of the reason sexual assault and rape are so disturbing for women to experience, because it’s the eruption of violence into a world stipulated to be free from it, even if that’s not true?

I thought about it. I’ve never been a bullied schoolboy. It looks horrible. Especially if you are picked on for several grades. That, I never saw first-hand because I switched schools so many times and then went to high school at a girl’s school. One must keep in mind that girls are using their superior social skills to devise secrets and false friendships to break the souls of bullied girls on a wheel of acid and fire. That pretty much bites ween also. BUT. People hit girls and women all the time. All the time! Like even just innocent fights with your brother, nobody ever hits anyone? Girls will get in fights with each other. And then grown up men hit girls and grown up women all the time. It is so too much all the time. It’s true there’s a sparkly fake front of “dudes don’t hit girls.” It’s often used to make people hide abuse though. But it can be used to say some shit to a dude’s face that another man would get hit for. There’s sort of an advantage there. Thin gruel, though.

And it’s not like people don’t sexually abuse male children! You don’t line up! “Um, sorry, this is the forcible oral sodomy line; you’re supposed to be over there in ass-whupping with the buckle-end of a belt with the other boys.” “My mistake, miss!” I’ve been straight-up punched in the face by a man to where I blacked out for a second and came to, lying down, looking up at the cold sky rimmed all in an oval frame of red, all my lashes beaded full to overflowing with blood. Broke my nose pretty bad. All-in-all I’d take it over being raped again in some hypothetical tortured example, because I don’t get people to punch me in the face for fun. It’s not my thing. Really, that’s nobody’s thing, this was TOO punchy in the face. Getting raped is sex-adjacent and can annoy you more than getting hit because once you get your shit together and aren’t being, like, physically bullied by anyone, then you don’t get uncomfortably reminded at inopportune moments or anything. Hahaha that’s funny that I said that. Re-read me is LOLing at initial me. OMG that is false but it’s still true, the thing I said before. “Don’t get uncomfortably reminded at inopportune moments” Never change, optimist first draft Belle.

So, I am interested to hear what readers have to say, and I am not going to cruelly mock you in comments. I’m honestly more baffled than anything else because it seems like feminism is getting jammed into a mechanism for producing unhappiness that is quite self-sufficient. And it’s getting stuck in twice. So, we’ve got painfully shy boys, whose interests are coded socially as “unmanly” in comparison with physically active classmates. These boys get bullied, and with the merciless logic of children, all turn on them, boys and girls alike. Except, possibly, for their painfully shy nerd female classmates, who are too shy to talk to them. So they retreat into the magic world of internet porn! Woo information superthighway! This produces a cascade of withdrawals into solitude and perhaps a subconscious feeling that the only girls involved in sex are smoking hot. Actually they probably could be having sex right now with a shy nerdy girl who is slightly overweight and obsessed with Skyrim. But they don’t associate her with the things the see as “sex.” This is too bad because being a teenager is kind of a drag and once you’re 17 or whatever you might as well have sex, it’s your best entertainment value. Their loss! They get to college and…things change, but only slowly. They learn to have female friends? Ever? Right? Cheer me up, yos.

ANDREA DWORKIN WAS NOT LOGICALLY NECESSARY FOR THE PREVIOUS SERIES OF EVENTS TO OCCUR.

OK, now, in theory, feminism could rear its terrifying head. But it’s more like, if you’ve never had any female friends, or asked anyone out, you’re going to be kind of bad at it, probably, at the beginning? And then you’ll read about all the ways you can fail and be really annoying in a Jezebel listicle. (It could be accurate tho! I’m really sorry, but.) Eventually things will work out, but because of your loooooong dry spell and painful teen years you’ll…deeply resent that feminism qua political movement isn’t addressing your concerns? And be permanently resentful at feminism? BUT NOT AGAINST THE PATRIARCHY? Iiiiiii got nothing. Really guys. Help a sister out.

{ 410 comments }

1

david 02.15.15 at 2:01 pm

The nature of power – being, you know, powerful – is that it has the power (cough) to deflect the efforts of the less powerful to resist it onto the powerless.

That’s a pretty good rule of thumb, I find. In any case, hasn’t a recurrent theme of post-1980s neoliberalized politics across the entire Anglosphere featured quite a bit of, you know, hating and despising capitalism, and colonialism, and imperialism, but the persons(s) who really deserve to a fist to the face in the here and now are the DFHs right before me? Screaming “but I care about your unemployment! I care! More than the Thatcherite fucks across the row!” ain’t do you no good, at that point. At least until the worm turns again.

2

Michael Drew 02.15.15 at 2:05 pm

Are boys really reading about feminism before they begin having lascivious thoughts about the peach-shaped asses of their female schoolmates?

I had the same thought. But… why would it be/have to be before? You have the desires, then at some point you get introduced to “feminism,” and learn they are “bad.” Even if Aaronson said it was in the other order for him (and I’m not clear that he did), why would it matter?

3

Shatterface 02.15.15 at 2:12 pm

I have Asperger’s.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to indulge on special pleading, but the traits that define my condition – social awkwardness, obsessive interests in often obscure subjects, poor co-ordination, lack of inflection, difficulty maintaining eye-contact, etc. – are shared, to some degree, by a large proportion of the male population. That’s why Asperger’s has been defined by some as the ‘extreme male brain’.

I can identify with ‘nerds’ because the stereotype overlaps considerably with that of people on the higher-functioning end of the autistic spectrum. Indeed many of the insults aimed at nerds – Spock, Vulcan, lacking empathy, etc. – are more than familiar to me.

But until relative recently most of these traits weren’t considered moral or even political failings.

People have a wide range of abilities and social skills are on a spectrum. In some cases that lack of skills is associated with a development disorder but in most they simply reflect the fact that some people are simply better at communicating others.

Now, I’m not saying some people are autistic so make allowances for them but non-clinical cases deserve scorn: that, in itself, is ableist and discriminatory. What I’m saying is don’t treat someone with contempt because they are different and don’t expect them to simply ‘grow out of’ an awkward phase.

You can improve your social skills but we don’t all start from the same place. Someone with dyslexia might improve their reading skills but they are unlikely to become as fluent as other readers; people who stammer may learn coping strategies but the condition may always be with them; and people with a poor understanding of social cues are always likely struggle with them.

4

Michael Drew 02.15.15 at 2:46 pm

Overall I have little sympathy for Aaronson’s complaints. I was pretty much a nerd (yay cello!), and I just didn’t and don’t feel as put-upon by the demands of being a Good Guy (or whatever) as he unfortunately was. (I was also never particularly concerned about being a Good Guy or really gave much of a shit about feminism at those ages either, though, so perhaps I’m not the best test case.)

But what I’m left wondering as I watch this is what the point of this exercise is. You’re a bit better than Marcotte, but the extremeness (in Marcotte’s case) of the anti-charity in interpreting his arguments makes me completely uninterested in this whole . I’d be more moved by a simple, “You’re a freaking white-guy MIT professor with a wife and kids, I guess things turned out okay for you” (which is in fact kind of my take on the situation). But I’d really be more impressed if the choice was to leave it at that, rather than engage in a kind of false exercise in taking his claims seriously. At least Marcotte disclaims that her treatment is undertaken with extreme prejudice, but that in actuality doesn’t justify falsely interpreting every one of the statements of his she considers.

You’re fairer than she is, but then you claim to be. And you’re not fair.

And I understand why not. I don’t think his complaints particularly deserve fair treatment. But neither do they deserve actively unfair interpretation. Broadly, I think they deserve disregard. But if you’re going to choose to deal with them, you only discredit yourself and any movement you may claim to represent (perhaps that’s none) by doing so in a way that chooses to understand his statements in ways that are least sensible, least defensible, and least flattering to him and his viewpoint. It essentially is an announcement that I (or my movement) can best, and possibly only, deal with this person’s story by interpreting in the way in which it is least challenging to me/the movement, and not if it’s taken roughly as offered, or even in its most sympathetic form. And I think, in fact, both you and feminism could deal with this challenge in its strongest form quite handily.

You’re just choosing not to, and in the process dealing unfairly with someone you could deal with very satisfactorily fairly. And I wonder what the point is. Well, I get the point, actually. It just collapses the value of the discussion to me down to essentially nothing. I’d be more receptive to a simple, “Looks like things turned out okay for you anyway, there, guy.”

But that’s just me. I think I get the point.

5

Michael Drew 02.15.15 at 2:49 pm

contretemps

6

Collin Street 02.15.15 at 2:51 pm

> in the process dealing unfairly with someone you could deal with very satisfactorily fairly.

“Fairly”?

Why does the teacher only give me fifty points on the test? They have a limitless supply, they could give me as many as they wanted by a stroke of the pen: why are they keeping the points to themselves?

7

Phil 02.15.15 at 2:54 pm

I’ve got four sisters; my parents had rather a fractious relationship, frequently characterised by my Mum out-thinking and out-arguing my Dad, who would then dig his heels in, say the same thing louder and if necessary sulk. So I grew up in a world where
a) girls are people like me, only different
b) men are arrogant and a bit dim
c) women are smart, I mean properly smart
With that lot behind me, making friends with girls wasn’t a problem. What was hard was moving into chat-up mode – not so much hard, in fact, as impossible and undesirable (why would I even want to pretend to be the kind of guy who pays girls a load of insincere compliments on the off-chance of getting them into bed?).

I was single for a long time, and for a long time I did blame my upbringing. Thinking about it now, though, the “taking girls seriously” and “wanting to be friends” things weren’t the problem; the problem was finding myself so undesirable that I didn’t really want to inflict myself on anyone, while at the same time being too proud to fake it. Arrogance and lack of self-esteem are a bad combination. Nothing to do with feminism, though.

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Michael Drew 02.15.15 at 3:01 pm

I agree with Phil that in my experience understanding that women are real people and treating them as such is a 100% human moral imperative and broadly life-improving for men, and also largely in practice orthogonal to succeeding at getting women to want to have sex with you. You do it because it’s good on its own terms, not for the second reason.

9

engels 02.15.15 at 3:02 pm

The main thing that struck me about Aaronson v. the middle-class feminists was American the whole thing seemed.

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tub 02.15.15 at 3:03 pm

“why are they keeping the points to themselves?”

It’s pretty interesting that you analogize feminism with scoring points.

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Belle Waring 02.15.15 at 3:15 pm

Michael Drew: that’s a fair point. But I really kind of don’t get the massive fire-hose of information spraying directly on young men that heterosexual desire is a Bad Thing full stop. Who is telling them this? I am like a bantam-weight semi-professional teller of shit about feminism on the Internet and I have never said anything remotely like that to anyone. I don’t know who did. Twisty Faster convinced them all blowjobs are sexual domination? Didn’t anyone else come along behind and say, “in a good way, amirite?” like me? I would totally say that. And why Twisty? She’s rockstar, but where are these allegedly shamed geeks reading all this stuff? Why?

Shatterface: obviously it would be mean and disrespectful of me to suggest you’re supposed to grow out of autism. And naturally it’s true that since things are on a spectrum there are going to be people who shade off in infinite gradations from mildly idosyncratic to truly, ultimately, withdrawn in themselves (like the curiously seductive palettes from paint companies that make you want to paint everything emerald green because fuck seafoam.) But suggesting men not be assholes to women is not by any means the same thing as suggesting that men have a moral or political obligation to be fluid conversationalists. No one thinks this latter thing. That would be profoundly stupid. And I have seen a lot of ordinary unpleasant online behavior palmed off with the suggestion that all the male nerds participating in the discussion were ‘on the spectrum’ so… No. If anything I would say it is unfair to you to have self-diagnosed perfectly ordinary people excuse themselves from dickery by free-riding on your genuine struggle. I can’t understand your lived reality and would genuinely appreciate your insight, so please do respond. But it’s disingenuous to say feminists want to say awkwardness is a moral wrong. It’s conversational unfortunateness.

Is it possible that an awful misunderstanding could take place, and something that is genuinely hurtful be said/done to some female colleage, entirely by accident? Logic dictates that it must be possible, but it is not a threat against which woman guard. Women are on guard against people who wish them ill. Not people who read the code of human interaction badly through no fault of their own. Now, again, women sometimes feel they are faced by many people who mean them ill! They must read the code from the other side! They are surely wrong sometimes just like I’m wrong often in life in general. To have someone think you’re ‘creepy’ in some way when you’re not would be painful. But if you are faced with something that can seem truly like a barrage of threats…you may become wary. Easily startled. To reserve the right to one’s own attention, to oneself, is a difficult thing for a friendly young woman to do. No one should be shamed in ableist language that belittles true suffering. No one should be able to wave a thin flag of self-claimed spectrum and dominate others.

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The Dark Avenger 02.15.15 at 3:15 pm

How charatible can one be about this passage:

My recurring fantasy, through this period, was to have been born a woman, or a gay man, or best of all, completely asexual, so that I could simply devote my life to math, like my hero Paul Erdös did. Anything, really, other than the curse of having been born a heterosexual male, which for me, meant being consumed by desires that one couldn’t act on or even admit without running the risk of becoming an objectifier or a stalker or a harasser or some other creature of the darkness.

Equating being hetero wih being tainted or cursed should be ridiculed, IMHO.

13

Josh Jasper 02.15.15 at 3:16 pm

I don’t really know why Aaronson’s complaints are treated as an expected experience.

I was a shy nerdy boy. I played D&D (Still do, in fact. I hope to skype into a long running campaign today). I never had a girlfriend in high school or junior high, and I desperately wanted one. And I wanted sex, of course. At times more than a relationship.

At the same time, I was never upset with my attractive female classmates who hooked up with jocks. I even went out drinking on occasion (bear with me, this was Singapore in the 80’s) with two smart, fun, exceptionally attractive young women who had me over to hang out and shoot the shit some days, but never hooked up with me. Even the men in my social crowd who hooked up with women didn’t get me upset, or the women who hooked up with them.

In short, being a “nice guy” does not mean you’ve lived my life and therefore get upset that the girls you liked didn’t put out for you. It’s not a foregone conclusion. We need to stop treating it like it is.

Once I found out about feminism, I wasn’t upset that having sexual desires made me a bad person. Quite frankly, there’s no literature out there outside of radical feminism that says it has to, and there’s competing types of sex-positive rad feminism that says porn and blowjobs are OK as long as it’s ethical and consensual. You actually have to pick the rad fems who can make you feel bad for being a man. Almost all of them are transphobes, BTW, so of you follow them you ought to be transphobic too.

The fear of “what if I cross a line in my coming on to a girl and do something antifeminist” is, as far as my best guess goes, a good excuse to not overcome your fear of flirting AT ALL because you’re afraid of rejection, and a desire to blame women for your own failings.

I had the former fear of flirting, but I knew damn well that the later blame heaped on women and feminism was profound bullshit grounded in contempt for women. And I don’t care if you’re married or have daughters. If you feel that way, it’s because inside of you is contempt for women. Some married men with daughters have had contempt for women since we invented marriage.

14

Rich Puchalsky 02.15.15 at 3:22 pm

I mentioned in that other thread that I was in a men-only group against rape back in the mid-80s. It was maybe 1/3 to 1/2 gay or bi men (or it seemed like it, anyways), the rest straight, long before Gay-Straight Alliances became popular. And it was generally older people than nerdy teens are (I was an early-20s astrophysics grad student at the time.)

I don’t want to give the impression that this was “macktivism”. But, like, we hugged each other a lot. And I really recommend a version of this kind of thing at the high school level for nerdy male teens concerned about sexuality and so on. This group was animated by straight-up second wave feminism (third wave not existing yet) and it’s really different when it’s all guys talking to each other about it.

15

Brett Bellmore 02.15.15 at 3:26 pm

Ok, I’m confused: Is this another safe space thread, or just an invitation to step out of line and be attacked?

On the former assumption…

I was a typical nerd in elementary school. Easily aced the academics, bottom of the pecking order, routinely bullied. (The kind of bullying that leaves contusions, not hurt feelings.) I’ve already related one instance of that, don’t need to repeat it.

The school administration was supportive, to put it mildly. I think maybe they found the social order created by bullying useful somehow. At any rate, I was not allowed to defend myself at school, the usual “bullies just want a fight” nonsense.

Finally the head bully called me out *away* from the school, and I joyously beat him unconscious. That ended the less subtle forms of bullying, which was enough for my purposes, as by then I was as misanthropic as I was phobic about social contact with women, and didn’t really care to have friends. Fortunately, when I went on to college I got into social circles where being a ‘nerd’ was a positive, and got over the misanthropy. The phobia took longer.

The idea that, when I encounter a daughter of wealth, who never had to deal with beatings, that I, the son of a blue collar worker, who picked radishes next to migrant workers as a teen, am the ‘privileged’ one, strikes me as more than a little hilarious.

Look, people are individuals, with individual circumstances, and life stories, and this business of assigning ‘privilege’ to entire genders or races, in complete disregard of those individual details, isn’t just nonsense. It’s destructive nonsense. Real life isn’t lived on the basis of nominal ‘privilege’ and ‘up/down’ relations that exist only in theory.

Real life is lived in the fine grain, where the daughter of Ivy league parents goes to college, meets the first son of Appalachian farmers to make it past K-12, and imagines she’s confronting an embodiment of the “patriarchy”, rather than a prole struggling to better himself.

Less assigning power relationships, people, and more observing what’s really there. You’re not living in feminist theory, you’re living in a world that isn’t constrained by it. Don’t let the theory blind you to what’s really around you.

16

Fuzzy Dunlop 02.15.15 at 3:29 pm

Belle, thanks for starting this conversation!

Scott Aaronson’s comment 171 has become identified with this full frontal assault on feminism–nice-guy-ism combined with complete refusal to acknowledge male privilege–which I don’t think is justified from the comment. For example, in the OP, Belle says: “More generally, as a white male MIT professor, Scott Aaronson resents very deeply the suggestion that he enjoys any ‘privilege’ of any kind.”

This is what Aaronson says (his updates to the original comment are in boldface, as in the original):

“Alas, as much as I try to understand other people’s perspectives, the first reference to my “male privilege”—my privilege!—is approximately where I get off the train, because it’s so alien to my actual lived experience. This is not, insanely, to suggest a lack of misogyny in the modern world! To whatever extent there is misogyny, one could say that there’s also “male privilege.” Rather it’s to suggest that, given what nerdy males have themselves had to endure in life, shaming them over their “male privilege” is a bad way to begin a conversation with them.

He’s not at all saying (and I don’t even think his original comment could be read as saying) that the description of “privileged” is actually wrong, but that it’s often used as if it’s all-or-nothing–some people are “privileged”, others aren’t–and that is–well, I don’t think I can do better than his words: “so alien to [his] lived experience”. Somebody who is bullied in a really severe way, including boys, could be ‘privileged’ in certain ways, but if you tell them that being “privileged” is something that essentially defines their life experience, it makes as much sense as saying that feminism is frivolous because it’s only for upper-middle-class white women.

I was wondering what Aaronson said in response to the hubbub, and found that he wrote a much more formal follow-up post in which he proclaimed “Smash the Patriarchy!”

I should also mention another response to Aaronson that I had mixed feelings about: Arthur Chu’s.

What’s the biggest difference between Scott’s and Amy’s stories? Scott’s story is about things that happened inside his brain. Amy’s story is about actual things that were done to her by other people against her will, without her control.

That’s true, although Scott has told us so little in his post that I wouldn’t at all be surprised if violent bullying and social exclusion were formative experiences for him, and in any case, they are for many other boys and men. But what Chu is saying is basically, this is all in your head. That’s dismissive, and for that matter it could easily describe a huge chunk of the issues that feminism is concerned with, but hopefully nobody here would say those things are unimportant because they’re “in your own brain”.

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Brett Bellmore 02.15.15 at 3:29 pm

Oh, just to clarify on reading that, not personally from Appalachia, that was just an example. My father hailed from Iron Mountain, not much better, and a lot colder.

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Michael Drew 02.15.15 at 3:33 pm

Belle, I wonder the same thing. This also goes back to fair reading. You can cnonstruct that view from an unfair readng of some feminist authors, but it’s hardly the overall message anyone ought to take from them. But the problem is, feminism is not just an idle intellectual movement. If it was, it could just passivle say, hey, dudes are misunderstanding me. But presumably feminism wants dudes to get it a bit. Does feminism propose to do anything to clarify its message to men? No one is saying it has to (well, maybe some are, but who cares?)… but maybe it wants to? Or maybe it doesn’t. Sometimes I feel like there are things feminism chooses not to do simply because the suggestion that it ought to do it can be identified, when if it weren’t for that suggestion, it would want to. But that’s feminism’s business.

This also goes back to a road I wish you had stayed on a little longer wrt to Aaronson as an example: his seems to be a quite a particular case. With the early reading of Dwarkin or whatnot. Maybe he’s just not.

But that doesn;t mean that young men aren’t getting a fractured set of signals about how to understand how their behavior (and, yes, desires) are understood and problematized, especially as they matriculate on campus. I don’t think Aaronson is wrong that sexual assault/harassment awareness sessions tend to have a pretty strong effect on men – and I’m not sure there’s a whole lot of awareness of what effect that exactly tends to be. I’m also not sure there is always really that much concerted thought that’s even put into defining the message that’s even meant to be sent in them. Then you come to another set of messages for any men who take the step of signing up for a women’s studies course.

I guess my view is that, right now, there seems to be a lack of coordination or wide understanding of best practices for introducing college (or younger) men to, basically, feminism, but at least to the “how not to rape/sexually assault/be otherwise inappropriate sexually” curriculum, with the result being scattershot and unpredictable reactions and levels of understanding among college- and young-professional-age men.

To which your response can not without justice be, “Their problem. They need to figure it out.” Yes, it’s their moral responsibility to figure these things out. I just don’t know why you’d want that to be your response (and I’m using a general ‘you’ there) when something more collaborative and productive might actually result in better conditions.

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Hore 02.15.15 at 3:34 pm

Let me help you : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JqHPTKa8Yms

This is a video of Russell Brand, the epitome of the alpha male in popular culture. According to sex-education seminars currently taught in universities, he just committed sexual assault. And yet women love him. So it puts morally conscious young men in an impossible situation : either listen to feminists and let the Russell Brand of the world get all the women, or become an evil supporter of rape culture (I actually like Brand, I’m just repeating what we are being taught).

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Michael Drew 02.15.15 at 3:39 pm

…Sorry. Maybe Aaronson is just not a case to consider as any kind of useful example in all of this because his life experience is so particular. In which I just feel like the response I’d want to have to him is, Sorry you had a rough few years there, in… adolescence? I’m glad you came through okay.

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AcademicLurker 02.15.15 at 3:39 pm

I don’t think that hoards of teenage boys are reading radical feminist theory, but it’s not that surprising the someone who (like Aaronson) was very intellectually precocious would do so, especially since I think nerdy types in general tend to intellectualize things as a way of dealing with them.

In fact, I wonder whether Aaronson isn’t misremembering the order of events, and that it wasn’t: read Dworkin –> develop crippling anxiety and guilt over sexual feelings, but rather: develop crippling anxiety over sexual feelings –> read Dworkin and use that as an intellectual framework for understanding the anxiety.

Somewhat off topic, but it seems to me that in the last few weeks the left-ish blogosphere has been treating Aaronson’s comment and Chait’s piece in New York magazine in a similar manner but they really are pretty different. Aaronson wrote a comment nearly 200 comments deep in a thread on his own (not particularly famous or high traffic) blog. Maybe it was ill advised, but that seems to me to be qualitatively different from taking to the pages of a major publication to troll everyone. Aaronson was, ultimately, whinging on his own personal blog, not getting in people’s faces and demanding that they listen to him.

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Omega Centauri 02.15.15 at 3:45 pm

Isn’t the mixed message which spawned Aaronson’s oversensitivty to “feminism”, just another way that way that the mixed messages our society sends unintentionally cripples many young people with regard to sex? Traditionally it has been religion that served this function, now feminism and political correctness are taking up the slack. But the result is similar, some not insignificant fraction of the young population ends up with seriously dysfunctional with respect to sex related social skills, and has a rough time for several years before their lives normalize. Rather than making a battle of the sexes, or of the sexists versus the enlightened out of this sorry state of affairs, shouldn’t we first and foremost recognize that we have individuals struggling with life’s complexities? I think that would be a more productive mindset, assuming the goal is the advance of human happiness.

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Michael Drew 02.15.15 at 3:56 pm

OC,

I agree, but religion was the ultimate Institution, whose ways were not to be questioned much less reformed.

If the college sexual-issues-awareness seminar is the modern reincarnation of the role that religion once played, fair enough. And, to be sure, humans’ reactions to that will continue to be… human, and we should recognize. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t recognize the opportunity to remake, or more to the point, to simply make the new institution in some conscious awareness of our new set of purposes and some greater scientific understanding of the way that people take on board and react to opportunities for learning than the religious founders of antiquity had.

Point is, this can perhaps to some extent be done more or less successfully through our own devices. There’s no reason to throw up any hands about this effort. We’re still early in this process.

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Fuzzy Dunlop 02.15.15 at 4:00 pm

AcademicLurker makes a good point about treating comment 171 as some kind of manifesto, when it’s a comment deeply buried in a thread on his own blog.

Brett @15 The idea that, when I encounter a daughter of wealth, who never had to deal with beatings, that I, the son of a blue collar worker, who picked radishes next to migrant workers as a teen, am the ‘privileged’ one, strikes me as more than a little hilarious.

The whole point of the term “privilege” is that different people have different privileges. You as a grown man can move a lot more freely, with a reasonable expectation that people will not sexually harass or assault you, in places where women would not feel safe. A woman raised by no-matter-how-wealthy parents can’t expect the same thing, but has other privileges. I think it does get used as an essentializing term (some people are just “privileged”, others aren’t), because people aren’t always clear about the parameters of discussion–are we saying somebody’s PoV is privileged with respect to one particular situation, or in a more fundamental way? But it’s really unfair and uncharitable to assume all uses of the word “privilege” are the second thing.

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Belle Waring 02.15.15 at 4:02 pm

Oh, I didn’t actually mean to be re-piling on Aaronson; it was just that another commenter brought it up. If there’s any current hassle of him I’ll take the link down, I don’t mean him any harm. It’s just a really weird set of things to think, to my view, but one that actually attracted a lot of identification.

Brett, I’m sorry you were bullied like that and I agree schools can be complicit in maintaining bullying hierarchies for reasons that I think are kind of like why the British divided Singapore up into neighborhoods and then let them police themselves. Fans ended up running Chinatown, it was a big mystery. And if there’s a thing that mcmanus can be right about it’s fluid dynamics of privilege. No one denies that there are specific situations in which some given woman outranks some given man. Like…the army.

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Anarcissie 02.15.15 at 4:03 pm

I read a lot of feminist material in the ’70s and I don’t recall any of it saying that sex was necessarily bad, or even that male sexual desire was necessarily bad. The nearest I can come to it is that the great demoness Andrea Dworkin wrote that under conditions of political oppression, sexual acts between people of different power classes could be construed as rape, and that is entirely logical, just as financial transactions between people of different classes can be construed as robbery. In those days I hoped the feminists would do away with sex as class on the way to getting rid of class, hierarchy, etc., altogether. No such luck. When feminists started talking about cracks in corporate glass ceilings, I got bored, so maybe I missed something. In regard to Aaronson — I think I read the available material — I could understand how someone might have a personal experience like that, but I think it was an error to generalize much from it.

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Phil 02.15.15 at 4:04 pm

The fear of “what if I cross a line in my coming on to a girl and do something antifeminist”

For me it was more a case of “what if I get talking to a girl and then I can’t think of anything to say because secretly I just want to use her sexually and then she’ll know I only want to use her and if she knows then it’ll be true and I won’t be able to deny it…“. Or panicky half-formed thoughts to that effect.

The idea that some boys were no good because they were ‘users’ was very current in my teenage years; the idea that if I made any kind of move I’d be a user was very real & very disabling for me. But in my teens it wasn’t really “no sex for me because urgh! male heterosexual desire!” so much as “no sex for me because urgh! me!”. I am not Scott Aaronson, however.

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Omega Centauri 02.15.15 at 4:16 pm

Michael. I think an important takeaway is that the spectrum of response to the message is very wide. On the one end you have the frat-boy mentality, and on the other a kind of crippling shyness.
As a nerdish type growing up in the seventies, I saw plenty of the later, boys who like me desired a serious relationship with a female, but our shyness and awkwardness almost always prevented that from happening. Even in cases where its obvious to everyone but the subject that that girl simply adores him, he is too inhibited and uncertain to ever make a move, that she ends up giving up on him. I have plenty of regrets about great relationships I probably would have had, but was too hesitant.

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Belle Waring 02.15.15 at 4:19 pm

Lol GANGS ruled Chinatown. Ok, my iPad died, I am both freaked out and tired because Zoe is in the hospital and I am stuck in Bali (she is ok) and thus I am not swapping out the links in this to Aaronsons…retraction? Michael Drew: you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry? No, seriously, what am I supposed to do with this? Baby steps, ok, maybe next time I try to not be a total dick to someone I won’t fail so bad but a more honest response to this would have been me writing I AM A FUCKING HUMAN BEING WITH THOUGHTS AND DESIRES AND AN INTERIOR LIFE JUST LIKE YOU I AM A FUCKING HUMAN BEING I AM A FUCKING…etc. What arguments, even…I don’t…I tried. Seriously, the shtetl? What was I supposed to do with that?

Talk about bullying, whyn’cha then. Ain’t no one stopping you. Just nobody fuck up my other thread or I will cut you.

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Michael Drew 02.15.15 at 4:27 pm

My whole point was to say what I thought you should have done (if you wanted me to think more highly of what you wrote, which obviously should not be your priority but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to trouble you with it) rather than what you did, and I made clear what that was.

But obviously you should be you rather than what would make me think more highly of you.

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Stephenson-quoter kun 02.15.15 at 4:29 pm

Young men with left-leaning political inclinations start reading feminist theory before feeling urgent stirrings of sexual desire. Then, when the waves of lust that batter the shores of their adolescence come surging in, they think, “aha! I’m one of those bad guys with overpowering sexual desires! The kind who rapes people! I must keep my terrible sexual fantasies about Melissa to myself, lest I be outed as Evil!”

I…don’t know quite where to begin here. Are boys really reading about feminism before they begin having lascivious thoughts about the peach-shaped asses of their female schoolmates?

It does feel very unlikely, but I guess if anyone did this then it was probably Scott Aaronson. Also, ‘lascivious’ is an excellent word.

My guess here is that there were many reason why he was unable to interact healthily with women, which kinda makes sense when you think about how badly affected he was – this is clearly an unusual, though certainly not unique, case. The idea that someone could be put off the idea of sex altogether simply by reading some feminist literature, even really bad feminist literature, although the notion does cause me to laugh involuntarily as it reminds me of one of my favourite South Park scenes (yes, I know it’s not a laughing matter, but damnit).

To take the complaint seriously, I think there’s an extent to which feminist theory and the behaviour of actually-existing women diverge significantly, and it can create an odd situation for men: they can treat women well, be sex-positive (good thing), non-slut-shaming (also good) and find themselves totally unable to get any of this sex that everyone keeps saying is so important. The reason nice-guyism comes up so often is that there’s certainly some truth to it, in that sexual attractiveness in men is not particularly well-correlated with not being a total dick. However, you could only see this as being the main problem if you were really just looking for a straw woman to blame for your life’s ills.

A better point is that sexual politics tend to affect men and women very differently; where women are slut-shamed if they show too much interest in men, men are… virgin-shamed?.. if they show too little interest, or are unable to attract any reciprocal interest from women, which comes to about the same thing. Slut-shaming actually further discourages women from showing interest in marginalised men because to do so would lower their perceived ‘standards’, which they are expected to maintain in order to remain respectable. This works fantastically to the advantage of the most attractive or charismatic men as they are undisputably the winners from this arrangement, benefiting from a situation where women can only have sex and remain respectable by having sex with them, but for the men at the bottom end of the scale it’s a pretty shitty place to be, and feminists aren’t exactly sympathetic (even though there’s a fairly straightforward case that both are being harmed by a patriarchal structure). There’s just not that many feminists who want to get up and make a big deal about wanting to be allowed to sleep with not-that-attractive-but-actually-decent-and-interesting guys without suffering a loss of social standing. Nor am I suggesting that that’s what they should be doing, because frankly they have bigger problems already. It’s just one of those situations where there’s not quite enough justice to go around, and the best thing we can do is figure out how to talk about it reasonably (which Belle can do and Amanda Marcotte evidently can’t).

My own view is something like this: everyone should have a chance at romantic relationships, and one of the bad things society does to some people is to damage their chances of doing so by stigmatising them. One group that gets stigmatised in this way is nerdy young men, and in its most extreme cases it can lead to serious mental health issues and/or suicide. However, the mechanism here is straightforwardly patriarchal: young men are measured by their ability to ‘attract’ (in a predatory/acquisitive sense) women, which, if it wasn’t bad enough to start with, is turned into a near-impossible task by strong taboos against women actually sleeping with them, all of which works to the advantage of a privileged group of men. The greater the extent to which women become free of patriarchal taboos, the better the chance Scott Aaronson’s modern equivalents have of getting laid. Ergo, feminism is not the enemy but a potential source of relief.

Of course, there’s plenty of debased mainstream-media feminism, which is less about giving women more choices and is more about ensuring that women get better deals from that privileged group of men we were talking about. This kind of thing does precisely nothing for Scott-types, and might even see beating up on them as a harmless pursuit that yields a cheap victory in some imagined sexual conflict (I guess there’s some tendentious analogy to be made with the role of the middle class in Marxist class conflict). In the end, there’s no shortage of awful people, and you can’t blame an intellectual tradition for the actions of its most awful proponents (the reason I like commenting here is that there are far fewer awful people than the average across the internet as a whole, and that’s a quite remarkable achievement).

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William Timberman 02.15.15 at 4:31 pm

Sex for me (I graduated from high school in Lawton, Oklahoma, in 1961) wasn’t so much the problem — or at least it wasn’t any more a problem than you find described in the literature of pretty much every generation everywhere. The problem was the repressive official culture of American high schools and state universities, particularly in greater and lesser Dixie, (otherwise known as the South and Midwest), and in that era, yes, it very much was a problem.

The answer I found to that problem was subcultures, either informal groups of weirdo friends in my Oklahoma high school, or the elaborate counter-cultural pretensions of my later college years in California. College feminism in its early stages was, frankly, a pain in the ass, in that it provided yet another set of social obstacles on top of those already enforced by the male pecking order passed down from the previous get-a-haircut-and-play-more-football WWII generation, but it always seemed more an intellectual pain in the ass to me than a genuine threat to my sexuality.

Part of this — maybe more than a part of it — was no doubt down to my being an army brat, who grew up mostly in small towns near southern army posts. For those who find themselves at a loss to understand what that was like, maybe reading The Great Santini simultaneously with anything by Faulkner would clear everything up. It was, in short, pretty alienating, and most definitely anti-sex, at least officially.

From my reading — everything from Orwell’s horrorshow schooldays to Dubliners to Ian McEwen’s On Chesil Beach, to Tana French’s The Secret Place — I gather that England and Ireland had/have their own ghastly forms of anti-sex official culture, and that young people have been wounded by them in ways that were different, but no less nasty for all that than mine.

The short version: all God’s children got their problems, real problems, and by that measure, I find complaints like those of Aaronson nothing short of bizarre. It’s not that I’d go so far as to deny them a sort of first-person legitimacy, but honestly….

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Stephenson-quoter kun 02.15.15 at 4:32 pm

D’oh, editing fail in my second para. Was intending to say that the idea of men being put off sex solely by feminist literature does not sound particularly likely to me.

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Sam 02.15.15 at 4:32 pm

First, Belle, thank you for several of the most compelling threads I’ve ever read, on CT or anywhere.

There’s so much meat here, I fear that anything I write will already be irrelevant by the time I finish typing…

White. Male. Nerd. Never suffered for it. Lucky me. Happily married. Took a while.

What’s hard for me to tease apart is the different threads of Aaronson’s experience: college at 15 vs. nerd vs. sex dynamics vs. privilege and everything else. The way these threads of Belle’s have built on one another over the last couple weeks is fascinating to me, and it’s made me think about my own experience, limited as it is.

So much of what Aaronson writes about resonates, not because of the root causes he attributes it to, but because of how universal it feels, regardless of the forces it’s attributed to. Friendship has always been easy for me; sexual relationships were tricky, for a long time – because I didn’t know how to ask, because they were shrouded in mystery, and the problem compounded itself as I got older and failed to try, and fail, and make the mistakes that many of us make when we’re adolescents. And when I read Aaronson, that’s what I hear – a misattribution to feminism of what amounted to crushing shyness and not knowing where to start. (And, of course, I’m sure that I’m succumbing to the temptation to interpret my own experience as universal.)

But as I grew older, and somewhat wiser, and the notion of privilege was made clear to me (and yes,it had to be made clear – I didn’t figure it out for myself), I realized how much of my behavior when I was younger, in spite of my shyness and awkwardness, could easily be characterized as manipulative, or abusive, or threatening. It wasn’t intended to be – but I can easily imagine how it might have been interpreted that way. I didn’t have enough self-awareness to recognize that the way I was thinking about sex was too centered on what I wanted and needed, and not enough on how the other people involved were going to feel. I’m blessed by being surrounded by very forgiving people, some of whom would have every justification not to talk to me anymore. And, I think, I eventually figured it out.

Humility. This is what so many people seem to lack. When people talk about privilege, when they toss it as an accusation, or when people catch it as an accusation, it’s so horribly misinterpreted, I think. You don’t have to be free of suffering, or want, to exploit it, just by existing; privilege is the invisible stair we stand on. It’s the whiteness or maleness I don’t even see. People want to believe they’re good; they want to believe that they haven’t taken unfair advantage of others. But privilege is not my own history; it’s how people experience me when they encounter me for the first time.

I don’t walk around in sackcloth because of the advantages I have in life. I try to respect them, and I try to pay back; I probably don’t do a fabulous job, but I try. And sometimes I want to apologize for being a jerk when I was younger, but experience has suggested that it does more harm than good a lot of the time; so what I try to do now is remember that I can be a jerk, and not be.

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Shatterface 02.15.15 at 4:33 pm

Is it possible that an awful misunderstanding could take place, and something that is genuinely hurtful be said/done to some female colleage, entirely by accident? Logic dictates that it must be possible, but it is not a threat against which woman guard. Women are on guard against people who wish them ill. Not people who read the code of human interaction badly through no fault of their own. Now, again, women sometimes feel they are faced by many people who mean them ill! They must read the code from the other side! They are surely wrong sometimes just like I’m wrong often in life in general. To have someone think you’re ‘creepy’ in some way when you’re not would be painful. But if you are faced with something that can seem truly like a barrage of threats…you may become wary. Easily startled. To reserve the right to one’s own attention, to oneself, is a difficult thing for a friendly young woman to do. No one should be shamed in ableist language that belittles true suffering. No one should be able to wave a thin flag of self-claimed spectrum and dominate others.

I never mentioned ‘waving a thin flag of self-claimed spectrum’ to ‘dominate others’. That’s something you plucked out of the air.

I was very careful to spell out that I wasn’t special pleading on behalf of autistics.

I stated as clearly as possible that the traits associated with autism exist on a scale and that many of those traits will be present in a large proportion of the male population.

I don’t see how I could have been clearer.

I think when someone has spelt out that communication is difficult that the reader should make at least some attempt to understand what they are trying to say rather than confabulate some class of domineering pseudo-autistics to dismiss what they have said.

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Rich Puchalsky 02.15.15 at 4:42 pm

Once again: once you get in a group of all men and talk about this, a few things become obvious: 1) men suffer from sexual assault as well as women, 2) men commit most of the sexual assaults on both men and women, 3) no one is suggesting that men give up on sexuality as a result. And seriously, straight male nerds should get more exposure to the problems of gay male nerds. “I feel really awkward” then gets decoupled from all of the stuff about mysterious women others.

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AcademicLurker 02.15.15 at 4:44 pm

Regarding the question at the end of the original post: I think I’m near to Aaronson’s age and my impression from high school in the 80s is that it was vanishingly rare for teenaged boys, nerdy or otherwise, to be reading feminist theory. So Aaronson’s experience was pretty unusual in that regard.

I do wonder whether the internet has changed this. Plenty of people (even feminists!) use the consequence free anonymity of the internet to behave like dicks. I certainly think that people going through the awkward and confusing business of learning how to navigate sexuality would do well to avoid feminist identified sites where dickish behavior is the norm, but I honestly have no idea whether this is an issue for a non-vanishingly small number of people.

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magistra 02.15.15 at 4:51 pm

Brett@15: I take your point about class, but what happens to the daughters of Appalachian farmers? Do they get to go to college as well, if they’re unusually bright and applied? Or do they have all the disadvantages that their brothers have plus extra as well, because they’re women and they therefore shouldn’t be getting educated?

I think that’s the reason that Aaronson and the like rub me up the wrong way: because they talk about how awful their situation is without asking: would it really have been better if I’d had the same personality and social background but also breasts? I was a shy plain bright girl and didn’t have a boyfriend till I’d been at college for several years, so I had to accept as an adolescent that probably no-one would ever desire me. That is the experience that a lot of young men and women have always had, long before feminism existed.

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JanieM 02.15.15 at 4:53 pm

“I feel really awkward” then gets decoupled from all of the stuff about mysterious women others.

Yes yes yes and yes again. In my experience, most pointedly in a workshop world I inhabited in the nineties that was specifically “about” gender and relationships, and where I was often (almost always) the only gay person in the group, a lot of what the heterosexual people were interpreting as having to do with gender differences was stuff that I had experienced in relationships with both men and women. In other words, as I said in the other thread, people polarize around certain axes and it only looks like gender to straight people because they’re always getting into relationships with the opposite gender.

I also want to put in a word for — as someone mentioned — the female nerds. I have found it much easier to figure out my “place” in the world as a gay person than as a math nerd. I wish I had time to elaborate, but I don’t right now. Regardless, thanks yet again, Belle, and everyone else, for providing this forum.

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Shatterface 02.15.15 at 4:55 pm

I’d liken nerd-shaming to fat-shaming. Weight is distributed and some people are much heavier than others. There might be genetic factors, there might be environmental factors (class, peer groups, advertising), etc.

What bullies do is they pick on fat people.

What decent people do is accept that there are multiple causes for obesity but more importantly a range of physical form. We are no longer so normative about weight because fat-shaming is morally unacceptable and counterproductive as stigma leads to further isolation, bulimia, anorexia and expensive and largely unnecessary medical procedures to solve something which is essentially someone else’s problem, i.e. bigotry. And for many, the fuller figure is accepted as beautiful because we have expanded out norms. That goes for men, women, straight or gay.

The same goes for social skills: there might be genetic factors, there might be environmental factors, etc. which account for the uneven distribution of social skills but we – at least some of us – recognise that nerd-shaming is not only morally repugnant but exacerbates the problem.

Male ‘nerdiness’ is an expansion of gender performance beyond the thuggish masculinity of the jocks.

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JanieM 02.15.15 at 5:00 pm

it only looks like gender to straight people because they’re always getting into relationships with the opposite gender

Okay, I know, if the polarization within opposite-sex relationships seems to mostly go in one direction (as reported by lots and lots of couples), then there’s something to that. But that’s not all there is to it….

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Shatterface 02.15.15 at 5:05 pm

I do wonder whether the internet has changed this. Plenty of people (even feminists!) use the consequence free anonymity of the internet to behave like dicks. I certainly think that people going through the awkward and confusing business of learning how to navigate sexuality would do well to avoid feminist identified sites where dickish behavior is the norm, but I honestly have no idea whether this is an issue for a non-vanishingly small number of people.

One of the ways the internet has made things worse is that many people encounter the bastardised forms of intersectionality they find on the internet rather than in gender or colonial studies. On the internet it really is used to dismiss all men or all white people. It’s like a cargo cult built from academic jargon the user doesn’t really understand.

A more rigorous application of intersectionality recognises privilege and oppression are factors in a dynamic matrix of power relationships. That’s not how the concept is used on the internet though: it’s demands to ‘shut up and listen shitlord!’ issued by people oblivious of the real world power differentials between them and the person they are shouting down.

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Abbe Faria 02.15.15 at 5:10 pm

“Michael Drew: that’s a fair point. But I really kind of don’t get the massive fire-hose of information spraying directly on young men that heterosexual desire is a Bad Thing full stop. Who is telling them this?”

Er… parents, teachers, general culture? I don’t know where the ‘reading feminist theory’ strawman came from, it’s about as ridiculous to say people are only exposed to feminism if they read Dworkin as to say that only reading De Sade counts as rape culture .

Feminism has a deep cultural base, in my experience lots of middle class parents are notionally feminist, educational theory is strongly feminist, these people are in authority and do pass messages on to young boys. No, it isn’t straight from the firehose Dworkin, but it has an impact. Now internet college feminism is militantly sex positive, but the more mainstream stuff much much less so – particularly when people are dealing with children (e.g. I think most parents/teachers would agree with Dworkin that impregnating a 14 year old girl is an act of victimisation, even if they hadn’t read her, and many would justify this in feminist terms).

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Tiny Tim 02.15.15 at 5:13 pm

I don’t want to universalize my own experience, but I’d say the problem for relatively nice (or “nice”) shy nerdy teen dudes wasn’t feminism, but the intersection of feminism with prudish patriarchal disney princess it’s all about falling in love and living happily after culture. This is not the fault of feminism, of course, but the fact that teen boys who are perhaps trying to be a bit more enlightened and good are getting a bunch of mixed up cultural signals about what it means to be enlightened and good. So you hear the radical message that woman are actually human beings too and you should treat them decently AND you get the message that all women really want is to fall in love and settle down and get married and have babies and therefore the combination leads you to think that the way to treat women with respect is to not have sex with them until the honeymoon.

And then you’re sexually frustrated and notice that some of these women are having sex with “bad” guys who aren’t necessarily bad but they are bad because they’re having sex with women, the women you were nice enough not to have sex with because they just want rings and marriage and babies, and you get confused.

Yes this is all stupid. But it isn’t feminism.

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Shatterface 02.15.15 at 5:14 pm

And seriously, straight male nerds should get more exposure to the problems of gay male nerds. “I feel really awkward” then gets decoupled from all of the stuff about mysterious women others.

Most if the gay people I know are also nerds. That’s a reflection of my social circle. And I suspect that misreading social cues can be even more devastating. I’m not likely to get beaten up if I ask the wrong person out.

As with the discussion on alcohol and sex there are often hidden heteronormative assumptions.

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Dean C. Rowan 02.15.15 at 5:16 pm

I’ll second Anarcissie up there at 25. The feminism, singular, that captured the attention of pop culture is an absurd caricature of the feminisms, multiple, that were being produced. Andrea Dworkin happened to be one of the finest exponents of a literary approach to the polemics. I read her then and read her now not just to learn from her experience and analysis, but to watch her operate with words. I have no tolerance for the willful misreading of her good work and that of others as a means of justifying one’s own shortcomings.

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Fuzzy Dunlop 02.15.15 at 5:22 pm

Belle @24 Oh, I didn’t actually mean to be re-piling on Aaronson…

I for one don’t have any problem with talking about him, at this point the ‘damage’ is done, his comment is already internet famous. We should just be mindful of the context when reading the text–that it was a blog comment that got coopted into a larger discussion, which makes certain inferences (like, that he feels entitled to the most attractive women) uncharitable when they might not be if it were something more polished.

So as for that question of what we’re really talking about, you say in the OP:

Young men with left-leaning political inclinations start reading feminist theory before feeling urgent stirrings of sexual desire. Then, when the waves of lust that batter the shores of their adolescence come surging in, they think, “aha! I’m one of those bad guys with overpowering sexual desires! The kind who rapes people! I must keep my terrible sexual fantasies about Melissa to myself, lest I be outed as Evil!”

Maybe this is too obvious, but since people seem to be mulling it over still, I think what’s actually happening is young men get a form of feminist theory that has been filtered through various social contexts–classroom discussion, friends talking to each other, internet discussions, sexual harassment seminars–so what Aaronson or (certainly) lots of other people are really seeing is not the writings of Andrea Dworkin carefully read in context, annotated, underlined, and otherwise fully digested, but a kind of gestalt of her ideas inferred from the above-mentioned conversations, people’s behavior (the ever-elusive “practice”), and maybe some bits of the text they actually read, which the best way they know how to describe is by mentioning the one in-print name associated with it. A kind of The Cheese and the Worms version of Andrea Dworkin & other feminists.

That all being the case, I think these encounters with “feminism” (or cheese-and-worms versions thereof) are really interesting and worth looking into, not because they tell us about what Andrea Dworkin is ‘really’ saying/doing, but because it’s the place where feminist ideas that are documented and accessible interact with assloads of other things that are not well-documented, but that we’d really, really benefit from learning about.

(And of course, feminism does, if anything, offer a potential solution, and certainly shouldn’t be blamed for not having already made these problems a priority, which Aaronson wasn’t even doing IMO, though surely other people were.)

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MPAVictoria 02.15.15 at 5:27 pm

In a new found spirit of empathy I am trying to be sympathetic to Scott Aaronson’s complaints, and I am sorry he was so unhappy and hurt for a big junk of his life, but it seems to me his problem was a mental health issue and not the result of a feminist conspiracy to make men feel bad for wanting sex.

Also given gamergate my patience for nerds against feminism is wearing pretty thin at the moment. Yeah being called a neck beard or loser sucks, however it is nothing compared to some of the threats that some female members of the gaming community are receiving. There is a misogyny in the nerd community that I feel is a much bigger problem that needs to be dealt with.

/In my experience, so many of self-identified nerds who claim that women won’t have sex with them really mean that “hot” women won’t have sex with them. My heart fails to bleed for them.

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hix 02.15.15 at 5:29 pm

“Do they get to go to college as well, if they’re unusually bright and applied? Or do they have all the disadvantages that their brothers have plus extra as well, because they’re women and they therefore shouldn’t be getting educated?”

Her odds to go to college aswell as finishing college are much better. Definitly no disadvantage for women in that regard from partriarchy these days (in most of the west).

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Fuzzy Dunlop 02.15.15 at 5:30 pm

magistra @37 I think that’s the reason that Aaronson and the like rub me up the wrong way: because they talk about how awful their situation is without asking: would it really have been better if I’d had the same personality and social background but also breasts?

Scott Aaronson says: The second concession is that, all my life, I’ve benefited from male privilege, white privilege, and straight privilege. I would only add that, for some time, I was about as miserable as it’s possible for a person to be, so that in an instant, I would’ve traded all three privileges for the privilege of not being miserable.

See how he’s pointedly not talking about having the same personality, but with breasts?

51

Patrick 02.15.15 at 5:31 pm

I’m a male nerd who was bullied in school, up to and including being tackled unexpectedly from behind and thrown to the ground in some pretty serious body blows that I now know could have really injured me. Got over it though all by my lonesome- through the classic and extremely important Technique Which Must Not Be Named yet all teenage boys know and which I will now name- I grew up a little, got bigger, and when someone struck me hard from behind just because they could, I got back up and hurt them enough that they ran away and hid with a teacher for protection, and hid the bruises for a few weeks after. Deterred all four of my bullies, permanently, in about eight seconds.

People who know me IRL almost all think I’m a feminist. Feminists don’t think I’m a feminist though, and neither do I.

So at least with respect to those criteria, I’m basically a more violent Scott Aaronson. Male, nerd, bullied, feminist but not enough to be accepted by feminists.

And…

1. I don’t think we can take much from Aaronson’s story. There’s a tendency to assume that if people react in an extreme way to abuse, then the abuse must have been extreme. Might be. But the person might just be particularly unstable. For the record, I apply this both directions- when people give me sob stories about how abused some teenager was, just look, they committed suicide… I get skeptical. Maybe their abuse was so terrible it drove them to suicide. Or maybe they just had emotional problems? Literally zero percent of the suicidal people I’ve personally known were motivated by being treated really badly. It was always, “Oh, my girlfriend broke up with me, and I don’t know what to major in, and my parents expect a lot from me.” Ok, that sucks and you have my sympathy, but I’m not going to assume your girlfriend and parents are particularly monstrous. I know you and your problems and they look a lot like everyone else’s.

2. On the other hand, I do think that feminism’s treatment of young men is cruel. And I have no in principle objection to argument’s like Aaronson’s- I certainly know people who, as Christians, didn’t understand that religion is a game even to it’s believers, and actually took seriously the idea that they’d burn in a literal hell if they didn’t believe with enough sincerity. It gave them traumatic childhoods filled with sleepless nights shivering in the blankets, terrified that God could “take them away to judgment” at any moment, and they’d fail because their belief wasn’t as rapturous as the girl in church who “got saved” for the fifteenth time this week. That was a thing that happened. So I imagine that could happen with feminism as well. Feminism’s loaded with statements that are really, really extreme, to the point that feminists won’t really defend them. My alma mater presently states that kissing your girlfriend unexpectedly is a violation of her affirmative consent that can subject you to sanction, and if you aren’t sure enough to risk the enormous social sanction of being treated as a sex offender, you should verbally ask her before kissing her. That’s right there on their affirmative consent FAQ, or it was, the last time I had an argument about it (not interested in revisiting it). But if you want to argue that this is bad and should stop, first you have to convince the person you’re talking to that they should acknowledge words that are right there in black and white, and once you’ve pulled those teeth, they’ll just claim that obviously no one will enforce the rule by punishing someone for an unexpected kiss, so who cares if it’s treated as a grave offense on paper? Only MRAs make the silly argument you are making, you must be one of them! See, negotiating that as a young person is REALLY HARD, ok? Figuring out how to behave, how to be a good person by your society’s standards, is an important part of being young. And giving out rules, then denying that you did so, then claiming that anyone who questions the rule is evil, then claiming that anyone who believes the rule is evil… that’s hard to deal with, alright? And really common! It literally gets in the way of one of the most important emotionally and morally formative parts of someone’s life. So in principle I could see someone being traumatized by this.

3. But… I’m not sure many people actually are, and even if they are, I don’t know how much of that, percentage wise, can really be pushed to feminism’s door. It’s hard to negotiate, but by and large we do negotiate it. Mostly be ignoring feminism, which, uh, for those interested in social change, might be worth noticing. But no, that’s probably because everyone else is evil, right?

4. And the reaction to Aaronson’s piece- that’s the most interesting part for me, because the reaction itself is the part of feminism that verges on abusive. He pointed out feminism messaging that traumatized him. Ok, I think that a more balanced person would merely have been agitated and then gotten over it by ignoring the messaging, which is easy to do for a teenage male American. But it was still a bad thing that happened, and it still hurt. And the response has been to launch a now familiar routine that is part and parcel of the ever shifting grounds that make it so difficult for a young man to engage with feminism and to find an ethical code by which he should live if he wants to be a good person by his culture’s lights.

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Belle Waring 02.15.15 at 5:38 pm

Shatterface, I apologize for putting words in your mouth. What I was saying was that I myself see a lot of men on the internet claim that they are “on the spectrum” in some vague way, and then demand that other people excuse behavior that’s just ordinary rudeness. I always, and quite naturally I think, feel a sort of stab of irritation on behalf of genuinely autistic people who have been associated with one asshole on a flimsy basis. I must admit that I bristle somewhat at the “extreme male brain” hypothesis as well. It seems to leave autistic women in the cold, for example. In it’s crudest reductionist version it also seems to suggest that I am capable of enjoying formal logic only insofar as my brain is ‘male,’ on this account of what constitutes ‘maleness’ with respect to the brain. Surely Frege is fun for everyone! (It was my failed Sesame Street spinoff project.) But you would know more about it than I. So, please continue correcting me as you feel I wrong, but I am honestly quite interested in whether you feel that feminism is a societal force arrayed against nerdy men, which shames them about their natural desires and causes needless suffering. It ain’t supposed to be like that, and Aaronson did a very poor job advancing his claims. If you share his view to any degree, would you be kind enough to do better?

STEPHENSON-QUOTER-KUN! SUUUGOI! Nice to see you, man. How’s tricks?

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Soru 02.15.15 at 5:39 pm

I don’t get how anyone can say Scott’s situation had nothing to do with feminism.

You can’t usefully define feminism as solely ‘writings which few have read, fewer have agreed with, and fewer still have acted on’. But that’s what you’d need to be confident it never hurt anyone.

SA says himself that a few generations back he would have most likely had a marriage arranged on largely economic grounds. That doesn’t happen in his ethnic group anymore.

It’s reasonably clear that’s a consequence of feminism as a political movement, ie the 1930s to 1970s reorganisation of the class system so women could be working class in their own right.

As with any class struggle, no matter how many gain, whatever the increase is the median, average, worst case and distribution, some people lose out.

The key to moving on from that battle to whatever comes next is not to hold the losers in contempt.

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Tiny Tim 02.15.15 at 5:39 pm

Yes, MPAVictoria, I do think many men way overestimate their willingness to have sex with anyone. And, hey, perhaps they are at 2 in the morning when they’re drunk and have failed to score with or even talk to that hottie they had their eye on, but one can perhaps understand why their 2nd or 3rd choice might not appreciate their late night drunken stumbling pass.

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Barry 02.15.15 at 5:40 pm

Belle: “But it can be used to say some shit to a dude’s face that another man would get hit for. There’s sort of an advantage there. Thin gruel, though.”

As you sorta pointed out, that works right up until the man you’re talking to hits you. And as people have become more aware of over the past few decades (in the USA, at least), there’s actually a lot of hitting women going on, it was just covered up.

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harry 02.15.15 at 5:44 pm

Belle — I haven’t read every comment on this thread (or the others! but like other people I;m sure I’ll go back over and over again). But I think I have something to say about one of the things that puzzles you. I came of age in the late 70s/early 80s, when information wasn’t everywhere. I did encounter a lot of feminist thinking, both in print and among my the (considerably older) crowd I hung out with, when I was 15, 16, 17, 18. No doubt I had experienced some sort of sexual desire by then (indeed I know had) but I was alienated from it by a generally repressive attitude toward sex and sexuality, and in fact emotion altogether, that prevailed in my family and broader environment. Sure, boys shared pornographic images, including boys who were friends of mine, but they wouldn’t have shared them with me because I was a repressed (and somewhat stuck up) prude. The variants of feminism I encountered were definitely not sex-positive, but even if they had been more balanced than they were, it wouldn’t have mattered. You are assuming that when people read or encounter a body of work they take from it the message it is sending. But they don’t!! Not even people who read CT! They take from it the message that comes through, which is filtered by and has interacted with all their prejudices, biases, phobias, etc. I was already predisposed to be pretty repressed, and the message I took from feminism reinforced that. I didn’t at all have Phil’s fear of being found out or off being a user, but I was very alienated from whatever desires I had, and reacted to them erratically. Certainly in my head the alienation from desire (and consequent withholding from many kinds of intimacy, not just physical) was strongly connected to my feminist beliefs and commitments. I was determined not to hurt anyone, and that nobody would do anything with me they didn’t want to, with the consequence that I did in fact hurt people (by being withdrawn) and (semi-hilariously in some cases which I won’t go into) people not being able to do things with me that they really wanted to (and I wanted too, but was largely incapable of recognizing signals that were… well, the semi-hilarious bit is that they were sometimes so unsubtle not even to count as signals, really).

I regret how I conducted myself at that time of my life, partly because I missed out on a lot, partly because missing out on a lot has resulted in subsequent things in my life being less good than they could have been, and mainly because it resulted in other people, then, and more recently, missing out.

BUT! How much of whatever I regret is a result of my encounters with feminism? Impossible to know! I’ve no idea what I’d have been like otherwise, but I very much doubt I would have been someone who was able to identify my desires and emotional reactions to other people and situations, and able to integrate them into my self in a way that was sensitive and balanced and gave proper weight to my own emotions and desires.

And how much is feminism to blame for what I regret? Easy to know — NOT AT ALL! To associate one’s encounters with feminism with bad things in one’s life seems entirely reasonable in many cases (and I’d include my own case), but blaming and resenting it is a completely different matter.

Quite apart from the upside of of feminism. Feminism is at least somewhat (I suspect very considerably) responsible for a social environment in which men can more easily have richer, closer, relationships with a wider variety of people than before, including but not limited to their spouses and children (but also… friends!). All sorts of things in my own life are so so much better not at all because of my encounters with feminism (though there’s that too), but because feminism has hugely reshaped the social environment for the better (for me, and everyone else). My female students, so few of whom consider themselves feminists, all have substantive moral views and empirical beliefs that, if you held them 40 years ago, would have made you a radical women’s liberationist.

And then there’s what magister says. Except what she says is probably not true, it just seemed to be true to her, because the boys who find ‘shy plain bright girls’ attractive at 16 are keeping themselves to themselves.

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Stephenson-quoter kun 02.15.15 at 5:44 pm

MPAVictoria at 46:

Also given gamergate my patience for nerds against feminism is wearing pretty thin at the moment. Yeah being called a neck beard or loser sucks, however it is nothing compared to some of the threats that some female members of the gaming community are receiving. There is a misogyny in the nerd community that I feel is a much bigger problem that needs to be dealt with.

Most of my friends are a) nerds, b) feminists or c) both, so ‘nerds against feminism’ is a particular problem for me, especially as it seems to me that both groups have a lot to be upset about, but not very much to be upset with each other about, in the grand scheme of things. Or, to the extent that they do have reasons to be upset with each other, it’s not particularly obvious that their complaints are to be resolved by deciding that one or the other of these sides is on the wrong side of history and must spend a good while in purgatory before readmission to society-of-people-we-kinda-get-along-with, any more than, say, Muslims-in-the-wake-of-yet-another-terrorist-outrage do.

/In my experience, so many of self-identified nerds who claim that women won’t have sex with them really mean that “hot” women won’t have sex with them. My heart fails to bleed for them.

This, however, is pretty much entirely correct. There’s definitely some rhetorical sleight-of-hand going on with the difference between the right to have sex and the right to have sex with particular women.

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harry 02.15.15 at 5:46 pm

Hix — that’s definitely true now. Definitely wasn’t, even 35 years ago.

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Phil 02.15.15 at 5:47 pm

I realized how much of my behavior when I was younger, in spite of my shyness and awkwardness, could easily be characterized as manipulative, or abusive, or threatening.

I think this is absolutely key. Say you’re a teenage girl and there’s a guy walking down the road fifty yards behind you on a dark night (not trying to catch up, not overtly interacting with you in any way, just keeping pace, fifty yards behind you, all the way till you get to your house). Say he’s somebody you know; maybe you’ve come from the same social occasion. But he’s not catching up with you (or falling behind) – just keeping pace, fifty yards behind – and one time when you glanced around at him he just sort of looked back at you, expressionless. Do you feel threatened – do you feel less safe than you would if he weren’t there? I should think you probably do.

I was about to say that this happened to me when I was 17, but of course it didn’t happen to me – I did this, when I was 17. Like Scott Aaronson – and even more like teenage Scott Aaronson – I didn’t feel privileged in any way; I didn’t smile back at the girl because I was terrified, and I didn’t catch up with her and say Hi because… well, come on, in what universe would I be brave enough to do that? I felt like the absolute lowest man on the totem pole of life; I felt far less privileged – less empowered, less validated – than almost any of the girls I knew, this one included. So I walked on, silent, expressionless, miserable, frightened – and quietly in possession of the adult male privilege of walking the streets at night and not being afraid. Whereas, just by walking behind her, I made that girl feel uncomfortable (as I later found out at second hand, greatly to my surprise).

Shorter: privilege isn’t (necessarily) something you feel, it’s something you have.

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Belle Waring 02.15.15 at 5:51 pm

Hey, I didn’t sass that man a TALL. He was a tweaker, back I’m the crack epidemic when meth was called ‘ice’ for a while. He and I, walking towards one another on a shitty block inNYC did the head-bob of who would walk to one side, 20 ft away, so far so good. As per NY protocol I was looking straight ahead as I passed him, not at him at all, which was why he got the drop on me so bad. Also, he was like 6″ and 180 and I was 5’6″ and 125. I wasn’t punching above my weight.

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magistra 02.15.15 at 5:57 pm

I think Tiny Tim @42 makes an important point about the mixed messages that male teenagers are getting from different sources about correct sexual behaviour. I also wonder if some of the trauma young men appear to be receiving from sexual consent classes at university is that the concept of consent hasn’t been properly introduced to them a lot earlier. I’ve heard of programmes that start a lot younger, teaching primary school age kids, for example, that you shouldn’t tickle someone if they tell you to stop tickling them. If you can start talking about such ideas of bodily autonomy earlier on then maybe it would come as less of a shock to some boys (and equally girls ought to be taught such matters). But in the UK, at least, any attempts at better sex education get condemned as corrupting children, so some children are likely to get left with a toxic mix of ill-digested feminism and evolutionary psychology.

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MPAVictoria 02.15.15 at 5:58 pm

“but not very much to be upset with each other about, in the grand scheme of things.”

Hmmm ask the women chased from their homes by angry gamers for daring to say that perhaps today’s games are a little too focused on appealing to young males how they feel about that.

But I hear what you are saying more generally.

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Barry 02.15.15 at 5:59 pm

Shatterface: “But until relative recently most of these traits weren’t considered moral or even political failings.”

That certainly wasn’t my junior high or high school experience.

64

MPAVictoria 02.15.15 at 6:00 pm

“SA says himself that a few generations back he would have most likely had a marriage arranged on largely economic grounds. That doesn’t happen in his ethnic group anymore.”

A marriage to a partner who did really choose him! Forgive me if my heart fails to bleed because women are not traded like cattle anymore.

65

bianca steele 02.15.15 at 6:02 pm

Phil, I appreciate your comments. But you don’t seem like a nerd, yet it seems in a way like you’re asking nerdy guys to take on your self-understanding as their own, as a way of understanding that–just as you were a jerk–they are too, in the same ways. Not so much this last one, as the one above, where you talk about how you talked to girls all the time but were concerned they could tell you wanted sex.

My guess, as a nerdy woman who grew up in a different place and time than you did, is that these are often guys who didn’t talk to girls all the time, but who didn’t avoid girls because–for the most part–I found SA’s confession kind of surprising–because they were afraid of being insulted or laughed at, by the girls they approached and by others, even if “I want sex” wasn’t actually the first thing in their minds. Maybe I’m wrong and maybe I’m projecting. Maybe the problem was that they always wanted sex and had no interest in women for any other reason, couldn’t imagine women wanting to talk about TV shows or music or anything like that, and so had no interest in them except for sex, which they wanted despite actually disliking women. But I haven’t heard this from their mouth and it doesn’t match my experience of nerdy guys.

I have known more or less nerdy guys who were angry and expended a lot of anger on women. But IME they were angry to begin with, and they were people who liked venting about their anger and its causation by social forces of various kinds, without paying much attention to whom they were venting at. Though yes, there was some, I like talking with you about jazz, but hey I’m starting to be attracted to you, and you can’t expect me to hang with you now, either because it’s clear nothing will happen, or because to be frank you don’t really meet my standards.

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bianca steele 02.15.15 at 6:05 pm

should read: “but who didn’t avoid girls for the reasons you describe–but because they were afraid of being insulted or laughed at,”

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MPAVictoria 02.15.15 at 6:05 pm

God damn it. Sorry about 61.

/I am working on being less aggressive in the comment section here.

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Fuzzy Dunlop 02.15.15 at 6:12 pm

Abbe Faria @41, I think you maybe did a better job of making the point I was trying to make @45.

This broad/deep cultural base of feminism is something we should pay more attention to. I think the internet actually helps this a lot, it lets you connect the well-documented and ephemeral stuff a lot, because people’s words get preserved…

It seems like the experiences Aaronson & others had have a lot to do with some kind of interaction between feminism and a broader social attitude of sex-negativity, which sex-positive feminism does a lot to fix. I’ve noticed that Dan Savage has done a good job in his column of acknowledging that male sexuality is demonized and declared dangerous in a way that female sexuality isn’t. (This is not saying that male sexuality doesn’t have many entrenched, institutionalized structures working to satisfy it, or that female sexuality isn’t also ‘dangerous’ in a big way–this is not talking about the MPAA rating certain films NC-17, but about how civilians interact…)

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bianca steele 02.15.15 at 6:15 pm

And though SA’s experience surprises me, for a lot of the same reasons AcademicLurker cites, in my high school class, of the top five or six in the class, two boys and one girl had somewhat visible crises, plus another boy who was smart but not quite at the top. And no one really knows what that was all about, only what the results were (academic drop-off and sudden in-class rudeness, move from non-kosher household to boarding yeshiva, etc.) So you never really know what’s going on with people, and I really don’t know how common those experiences are.

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Russell L. Carter 02.15.15 at 6:17 pm

Ditto on what the Timberman sayeth. Especially the part about Faulkner. And Joyce, hoo boy. I read a few before I was twenty and said to myself, so that’s what’s going on! These uptite people around me are all fucked up and these writers are fascinated and write about it exquisitely, but I’m personally just, well, disgusted. And my refuge subculture was nerd overachievers simultaneously rebelling as outrageously as possible. I read my Dworkin and Frieden et. al. but also the Joy of Sex and I adore(d) shy nerdy feminist girls. I went to Georgia Tech in the early ’80s (M:F ~ 5:1) and I had no problems at all[1].

What I don’t understand about Aaronson, by analogy with my similar experience as an accomplished (but not as accomplished as Aaronson!) student at the local region’s premiere nerd school, is you get a *lot* of cred with the girls at all the less esteemed schools surrounding the temple. It’s easy to date, on account of the perception that as a smart *white guy* you’re going to conquer the world. (er, those were the days…) There’s weekly organized mixers, has been for centuries. I’ve even heard such things about Harvard and MIT. If your eyeballs are the least bit open, this social structure is impossible to miss. This man is not stupid (the extreme opposite), and is described by his female students as personally engaging and inspiring. I can see having him as a valued friend, in some other life. But in my opinion, he made a social perception mistake, and then makes another mistake by blaming it on feminism.

[1] I cannot resist recounting this anecdote. My freshman year (1980) I was a pledge(!!) in a white, deeply southern (chivalrous) frat and this nerdy feminist girl I was interested in says she has an extra Bob Seger ticket and would I like to go. Now having read my feminist manuals, it occurred to me that a feminist wouldn’t expect me to pay, if she asked me. Being interested in such things, I put the question to the frat: should I pay for my ticket? It was unanimous that I wasn’t a real man unless I paid. I decided I wasn’t going to offer, but would pay if asked. She never asked, and eventually we became the couple that we are today. This outraged a number of the elder brethren (sans girlfriends). Threw beer on us at a later party, they did. I found that puzzling, shouldn’t they be rooting for me? I ditched the frat not long after that.

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Watson Ladd 02.15.15 at 6:17 pm

@magistra: But it’s unlikely that sexual advances from you would have been regarded as “creepy”. Let’s compare nerds to fat people. Both are occasionally considered unattractive. Both have desires that are regarded as unwanted. But in only one case that unwantedness is regarded as evidence of a society turned against them by internet feminism. (Unless said fat people are male)

The point Scott is making is that, whatever feminists actually say about male sexual desire and its expression, that desire is taxonomized according to a social hierarchy, and what determines what is harassment has more to do with the status of those involved then you would think. I’ve seen people argue “no, that’s not what I meant” only to see them turn around when men ask “how do I respectfully express sexual desire” and not answer. It’s not the patriarchy (even if we accept that the US circa 1920 and Eastern Europe circa 1720 shared anything in common with regards to marriage and sex) that’s causing the problem here: traditionally sexual desire and romantic feelings were expressed in socially regulated ways, and those regulations were explicit.

I don’t think Scott is right: I think romance is always a fraught social interaction, and there will always be angst over it.

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New Pseudonym 02.15.15 at 6:26 pm

Background: (1) I never comment on this blog and don’t follow posts very closely. (2) I only know as much about contemporary feminism as I read in the NYT.

I guess I missed the last thread, but in the interest in expanding horizons, let me offer a few issues that are seen from the outside.

Issue 1: Descriptively normal male-female sexual dynamics are effectively normatively pathologized by loud voices in feminism. Example: the escalating active verbal consent policies for sexual encounters on college campuses. Example: female attraction to male aggression is not discussed (in places like the NYT) as a confounding factor in any policies of these issues.

Issue 2: Exaggeration of the rates of (criminal) rape in college campuses. What Belle described would have lead to a criminal prosecution and jail time if I were a prosecutor or juror. But redefining rape to any regretted sexual encounter after the fact or as any sex while intoxicated is a disservice to actually taking seriously and fixing real problems of rape. We don’t need an epidemic of rape to deal with rape. It’s a CRIME!

Issue 3: A general tendency among feminists to ascribe the poorer outcomes among men to intrinsic properties (or to just ignore them) and poorer outcomes women to extrinsic properties. (The fundamental attribution error writ large?) Generally when feminism veers from pro-equality to pro-women, it starts to lose folks like me. In my personal experience, women can be every bit as nasty, vile and brutish as men, but are more often given a pass for that behavior. If a person can’t be criticized for their bad behavior then there’s no way to correct that behavior.

Issue 4: [no doubt this will get everyone fired up] No public discussion that the lived experience of leading feminists who were lesbians (e.g. Dworkin) could be very different than the average heterosexual women who’s rights they were arguing for.

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MPAVictoria 02.15.15 at 6:30 pm

“So you never really know what’s going on with people”
This.

“I think romance is always a fraught social interaction, and there will always be angst over it.”
This as well.

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Shatterface 02.15.15 at 6:32 pm

So, please continue correcting me as you feel I wrong, but I am honestly quite interested in whether you feel that feminism is a societal force arrayed against nerdy men, which shames them about their natural desires and causes needless suffering. It ain’t supposed to be like that, and Aaronson did a very poor job advancing his claims. If you share his view to any degree, would you be kind enough to do better?

See, I really don’t understand why you do this. You take something I wrote and twist it out of recognition.

I never said ‘feminism is a societal force arrayed against nerdy men.’

I said many feminists nerd-shame men.

Can you really not see the difference?

Nerd-shaming is punishing men who do not meet a narrow definitions of masculinity: physically, socially, emotionally.

That shaming should be anathema to feminists.

It’s no use asking why aren’t the Scott Aaronson’s of the world blaming patriarchy while so many feminists are acting as agents of that patriarchy.

What the hell happened to the notion of ‘patriarchy harms men too?’

75

Asteele 02.15.15 at 6:46 pm

I find the whole “why can’t women in feminism do more to fix men’s problems” thing mystifying. Feminism has enough on its plate. Pushing back against the idea that women should fix men, or owe men their attention and time is one of them.

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Tiny Tim 02.15.15 at 6:51 pm

I don’t think there’s much feminist nerd-shaming of men in any general sense. I think there’s some “back at you” stuff – if you’re going to focus on my looks, then fine I’ll make fun of your neckbeard (currently sporting one as I need to shave) and your probable tiny penis. Sometimes women respond in kind to make a point, and, yeah, maybe some dudes don’t pick up on that dynamic and it makes them sad.

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Phil 02.15.15 at 6:51 pm

where you talk about how you talked to girls all the time but were concerned they could tell you wanted sex

I don’t think I said I talked to girls all the time – if I did, I was lying!

I wanted to be friends with girls (OK so far). But I particularly wanted to be friends with girls I was attracted to, and if I got anywhere near a girl I was attracted to I immediately thought she’d see through me to the callous exploitative male chauvinist pig I really was (evidence: I found this girl attractive). Also, if I ever did get talking to a girl (or a boy for that matter), the person I wanted them to be friends with was this deeply conflicted and unhappy individual with really complicated feelings about sex, so there was that as well.

But what did the damage wasn’t having the concept of “callous exploitative male chauvinist pig” available, it was the self-hatred that made me apply it to myself all the time. If feminism had never happened I would have found some other way to beat myself up.

78

Brett Bellmore 02.15.15 at 6:56 pm

“Once again: once you get in a group of all men and talk about this, a few things become obvious: 1) men suffer from sexual assault as well as women, 2) men commit most of the sexual assaults on both men and women, “

2 might be true as a statistical matter, in fact, I’ll accept it as true. OTOH, the extent of this difference is rather exaggerated by the reluctance, verging on complete refusal, of the legal system to admit it when a woman has raped a man. In fact, about the only circumstance under which the legal system is willing to make this admission, is when their relative ages render the rape statutory.

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engels 02.15.15 at 7:00 pm

I normally agree with Magistra but I find the idea of educating primary school kids that it’s wrong to tickle other kids if they say ‘stop’ a little disturbing; seems a bit like trying to turn them into little liberals. Isn’t it possible to focus on empathy or something else instead?

80

Stephenson-quoter kun 02.15.15 at 7:06 pm

Shatterface @70

It’s no use asking why aren’t the Scott Aaronson’s of the world blaming patriarchy while so many feminists are acting as agents of that patriarchy.

I’m not sure that so many of them are, really. Although it is fashionable for everyone to call themselves “feminists” now (cf. the “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt thing), I think it’s unfair to blame feminism-the-intellectual-tradition for the actions or words of anyone who vaguely associates with feminism-the-tribal-affiliation.

Actually, the dynamics of the internet argumentation culture here are really interesting. Feminism-the-intellectual-tradition has spent quite a long time pursuing the valid and beneficial project of figuring out ways of talking and arguing about things without being trapped by certain patriarchal tropes or forms of argumentation. As a result, feminist arguments are actually really hard to effectively rebut using some of the standard tools of Western rhetoric (you basically can’t use analogies at all because feminism is premised on some strong ideas about the subjectivity of experience). This is all fine and good, but arguing on the internet is modern society’s favourite form of ritual combat, where what matters is beating your opponent using whatever means you have to hand. On the internet, a good working knowledge of feminism is a substantial advantage in that ritual combat. Tools that were developed by academic feminists to better understand and navigate the path towards equality are basically being used for the purpose of handing out verbal beat-downs to people for fun. C’est la vie, of course – this is what we use the last 3000 years of the Western tradition for too. It’s just that right now, there aren’t many intellectual antibodies around for misuse of feminist argument, because it’s pretty new and somewhat different to the kinds of argumentation that we’re used to (especially nerdy men).

I’ve learned to not take this too seriously. Some people clearly do: the worst cases are your gamergate morons who know that they don’t like what Anita Sarkeesian is saying but can’t really articulate why; in the best cases they’re people like Scott Alexander, who has the rationalist’s belief that intellectual ritual combat is important, possibly even slightly sacred, and is worried that the use of feminist argumentation is bringing nuclear weapons to a knife fight. And, if I look at how a lot of these arguments play out, I can’t really say that he’s wrong. I can just say that it probably doesn’t matter very much, in the long run. It’s a shame that some people are going to be beaten up by pseudo-feminists, and we should probably try to stop that from happening when it does, but society will survive and we’ll probably end up intellectually better off once we figure out how to avoid the misapplications of feminist arguments, just as we learned to avoid the misapplication of Kantianism or Marxism or what-have-you.

Belle @50:

STEPHENSON-QUOTER-KUN! SUUUGOI! Nice to see you, man. How’s tricks?

Until very recently, I have been greatly enjoying myself by not arguing with people on the internet. Right now I’m supposed to be writing a book, so I might have to blame you for distracting me with discussions interesting enough break my self-denying ordinances with regard to internet ritual combat (though not really, I actually wanted to be distracted. And also the safe space thread was fantastic, I know everyone has said this already but you’re, like, pretty awesome and stuff for starting that).

81

Brett 02.15.15 at 7:09 pm

I’ll be honest – Aaronson name-dropping Dworkin set off a major alarm for me, because she’s the Poster Woman of choice for MRA-types when they want to say that feminism is an anti-man movement. At best, that makes me think he deliberately sought the meanest, often quite radical feminists to validate his belief that feminism was telling him he was worthless – sort of like if a white guy living in a predominantly black neighborhood deliberately sought out the hardest black nationalist stuff to validate his perverse belief that being white made him an evil person (and allow him to decry all anti-racism as anti-white).

At worst, it’s bullshit, like all those religious conversion stories where the folks talk about how they were Just The Biggest Atheist alive before Jesus. Then you find out they were from religious families growing up and fell away into a kind of apathy before running to religion when hard times hit.

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adam.smith 02.15.15 at 7:13 pm

Yeah, I’ve been trying to understand this, but so far without success. Bullying of nerds is a real thing. It’s bad. It should be taken seriously and fought. I don’t get what it has to do with feminism. At all.
So far the two things I have seen is internalized and de-contextualized Dworkin and the fact that some feminist react to attacks by trolls with ridicule. Neither seems like a particularly strong case, to put it mildly.

83

Pete 02.15.15 at 7:15 pm

– Feminism is starting from a position of lacking formal and conventional social power.

– Feminism uses the traditional remedy in this situation: moral shaming.

– A lot of the most problematic people are shameless, so shaming rhetoric is intensified in order to budge them

– the Internet both has an outrage culture of its own and is capable of directing 15 minutes of global shame on people (remember the space program guy who wore the cheesecake shirt?)

– different people respond differently to shame, and the socially anxious may be more vulnerable to it, or the imagined possibilities of future shame

– there is also a masculinist culture in which shame is worse than death

– therefore, when using shame as a means of controlling people’s behaviour, you can never be quite sure what the effect is going to be and some people are going to be allergic and possibly more hurt than intended.

– Using privilege as a one-dimensional axis in which it’s by definition impossible for someone with less privilege to commit an injustice against someone with more privilege is silly, but this often seems to be the way in which the concept is used.

84

AcademicLurker 02.15.15 at 7:16 pm

77: If Aaronson was seeking out feminist writings at the age of 14-15, then this would have been around the early-mid 90s, when Dworkin’s cachet was considerably greater than it is now. I can see how he could have stumbled on the her work without deliberately looking for the most extreme stuff he could find.

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AcademicLurker 02.15.15 at 7:19 pm

Besides, if he wanted extreme, surely the S.C.U.M. Manifesto would have been better than Dworkin…

86

Watson Ladd 02.15.15 at 7:32 pm

That’s far too charitable to feminist theorists. Simon de Beauvoir works solidly in the Western intellectual tradition, and credits the utilitarians with having overcome misogyny. Was something wrong about that? The turn from a political movement as expressed by Juliet Mitchell and others to a form of psychotherapy was not completely forced by circumstance, but was rather a political move, just as Ta-Nehisi Coates is a black nationalist, and not a socialist.

Society didn’t survive the Enlightenment. Auschwitz exists because of the crisis of the Enlightenment. Feminism in its identitarian form is not socialism. We can’t recognize that 1917 universalized labor, made divorce easy, legalized abortion and homosexuality, socialized cooking, because to recognize that reality is to realize that the question of feminism could be made one about universal rights, instead of an essential difference.

You don’t need to abandon reason to promote women’s rights.

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adam.smith 02.15.15 at 7:33 pm

@Brett – Aaronson actually does say why he picked Dworkin:

[paraphrasing his thinking as a kid, not his current thinking:] if I want to know the truth about how women think—and in particular, about how they’d judge me and my choices—then I need to seek out the most radical feminists I can find, since they’re the ones most likely to give it to me straight without sugarcoating.

Makes you wonder why he didn’t go straight to the SCUM manifesto…
Elsewhere he complains how Feminists ™ haven’t done enough to disavow Dworkin.

(Also, let’s not imagine how a teenage girl would feel if she were to find writing by the most radical men’s rights activists to understand how men think, and then entirely internalized that.)

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adam.smith 02.15.15 at 7:35 pm

overlapped with @81 — glad we had the same thought there.

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bianca steele 02.15.15 at 7:49 pm

(Also, let’s not imagine how a teenage girl would feel if she were to find writing by the most radical men’s rights activists to understand how men think, and then entirely internalized that.)

This is true. Look, even, at a play like The Constant Wife, fairly recently a staple of introductory drama courses. It argues that (upper class) women should work, because otherwise they’re trading sex for money. Is it a work of feminism or of an early MRA movement?

Phil, sorry if I misunderstood you. I read your description as something more in the vein of Holden Caulfield or an early John Updike character. I do think there’s something to the idea that “nerd” occupy a different social place than non-nerds. And that “nerd,” today, in the US, means something other than “studious.” The person who gets A+’s in English-class essays is usually not the kind of “nerd” being described here, I think.

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engels 02.15.15 at 8:35 pm

‘Bullying of nerds is a real thing… I don’t get what it has to do with feminism’

What it has to do with feminism is that feminism is supposed to be opposed to patriarchy (rule by jocks, to use the dumb US vocabulary which I suppose were all stuck with at this point).

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adam.smith 02.15.15 at 8:49 pm

sure. Feminism should be against bullying–against nerds and more generally. So yeah, I’d argue a position that favors bullying is incommensurable with feminism. I’m not aware of any “pro bullying” factions among feminists, though. Are you?

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Patrick 02.15.15 at 9:04 pm

There’s no pro bullying factions anywhere on Earth. Must be no bullying either.

93

engels 02.15.15 at 9:11 pm

It isn’t just bullying, but bullying which serves a hierarchy feminists aim to subvert, as I understand. But I take your point that feminism isn’t to blame.

94

Abbe Faria 02.15.15 at 9:15 pm

A good chunk of internet feminism main protest activity is bullying. #shirtstorm is a great example. At the culmination of an ostensible campaign for respectful, tolerant, and non-hostile workplaces they made a guy break down in tears at his job while live on TV – that’s almost performance art.

95

Ordinal 02.15.15 at 9:17 pm

Aaronson spoke of guilt over having been attracted to women, leaving himself open to the charge of misinterpreting feminism, and that his self examination didn’t go far enough. Feminism could not bear any of that burden–it was his problem, he was told. But suppose you heard the same messages Aaronson heard before you understood what sex was, when the kind of interaction Aaronson felt guilty for even thinking about would have been too remote and abstract to have been a consideration. You might have been informed that you have privileges as if you were an adult who understood those things. You might come away with the sense that being male was existentially evil. You might think you had no choice but to grow up as an oppressor, despite your interests, abilities and inclinations. Again, you might be told this was your problem, and that popular feminist thinking had nothing to do with it–only these were formative experiences, picked up from the environment. It is not surprising that one might keep coming back to relative virtue and blame, when it seemed you were–and continue to be–called to account for your own existential evil.

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engels 02.15.15 at 9:17 pm

Anyway to clarify my point about this not translating well outside of US- I’m pretty sure there weren’t any jocks at my (working class) secondary school and I’m dubious of the existence of nerds (we didn’t have a prom queen either). There were in groups and out groups of various kinds but it was generally a far less hierarchal place than my (posh) university.

97

PatrickfromIowa 02.15.15 at 9:20 pm

It’s weird. When I was in high school, I was way into jazz and writing, and I felt like a nerd.

It wasn’t until later that I realized that I was an all-state football player, drove a Thunderbird convertible to school, and had a gorgeous, blonde (she was nerdy as all get out, natch) girlfriend, so I couldn’t have been a pure nerd, really. What to make of that, I don’t know…

Here’s what I do know, because I’ve participated in two of them in the last week, and a whole bunch of them over the last few years. Consent/anti-violence workshops on college campuses repeat, over and over, “This doesn’t mean that heterosexual sex is wrong, or that asking a woman to have sex with you is bad. This doesn’t mean that all men are rapists. Here are the statistics. Oh, by the way the statistics have their flaws because, well, you know…” If you want to see more people bend over backwards, you’ll have to go to a yoga class.

Over and over again.

I don’t know how it works at other places, but here, if you’re a man and you think you were told your desires were bad, and that you are a rapist for having them, then you’re actively not hearing the explicit message being delivered.

Why are first year college students are set up to do that? My guess is that’s a victory on the part of the anti-feminist forces on a par with the fact that many young women are inclined to say, “I’m not a feminist, but I believe that women should be treated as fully autonomous human beings, with equal economic, social and political rights.”

It makes me sad people feel that way, but I don’t think it’s feminism’s fault.

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Jake 02.15.15 at 9:21 pm

Pete in 79 gets a lot right.

A lot of the feminist rhetoric against “male nerds” boils down to “you say you have problems, but they a) aren’t that bad, b) are kind of your own fault anyway, and c) other people have worse problems so you shouldn’t complain about yours.”

Which may be true!

But has that approach convinced anyone of anything ever?

99

Lynne 02.15.15 at 9:21 pm

Belle. Whoa. Zoe’s in hospital? Glad to hear she is okay, but that’s a worry right there.

100

verbatim 02.15.15 at 9:22 pm

I can’t speak for others, but I will try after a short description of my own background. I grew up in a middle-class family in small town India. Talking about sex was taboo. My parents never mentioned sex, except disapprovingly. Respectable/good (‘sharif’ in Hindi/Urdu) boys were supposed to respect women and only platonic conversations were appropriate; flirtatious talk was tantamount to an assault on the honor of women. And any sort of gazing at women was the most despicable of lecherous behavior. Actual society and Hindi movies didn’t operate that way, but the honor code imposed by my family was strong enough to overcome the influence of media and reality.

I think it was my overall upbringing rather than radical feminist literature that made me think of my desire as evil (although my mother self-identifies as a feminist). May be this is true for other male nerds too.

When I was an undergraduate college in the US, I felt I was surrounded by people engaging in sex. Since it had always been morally wrong for me to flirt or express any sexual interest in women, any attempts that I undertook came across awkwardly and unattractively and hence failed spectacularly. The only people who seemed to be in my boat were (other?) male nerds.

The intense desire for sex combined with my inability to get any did make me contemplate chemical castration and suicide on more than a few occasions although I was too cowardly to go through with either. I feel a bit invalidated when people mock me for having those feelings – they were intense and they still hurt sometimes. Sure it is a personal problem and it has nothing to do with feminism, but for someone who has felt starved for approval from women, mockery by women (feminists or others) even now sometimes makes me wish I had in fact committed suicide.

What the internet has made me realize over the last few years is what I considered to be a personal problem is much more widespread and common than I had ever imagined. Thankfully, other male nerds who seem to suffer from this problem also tend to be rather cowardly in general; if cowardice and insecurity were not so highly positively correlated, my guess is we would have seen many, many more successful suicides and castrations by this population than we currently do. And so I want to say ‘it gets better’ to male nerds and others who find themselves sex- starved in a society where sex and sexualization is rampant.

I believe many male nerds will agree that they are privileged as males along every dimension, except for may be one: they feel (or felt, during their formative years) inferior to women (women who had the power to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, since in the male nerd’s mind at least, their own answer was always a ‘yes’ to any woman, regardless of her ‘attractiveness’ – in a sense, the male nerd feels that his ‘yes’ is a helpless, powerless ‘yes’ driven by a cruel, immoral, uncontrollable, unrequited physical lust burning within him). And male nerds may consider the asymmetry of responses to personal ads as evidence of the continued prevalence of this power differential.

What does any of this have to do with feminism? Nothing really – women have MUCH more serious problems to contend with everyday, systemic problems that have much worse consequences and are much more deep-rooted.

The fact that I was a virgin (not really by choice) until I was 28 is trivial in the grand scheme of things. The fact that I desperately yearned for sex and almost everyone was getting it but me is also trivial in the grand scheme of things. The fact that I erroneously believed that women had the power to end my misery (even if only with some pity sex) while I mistakenly felt powerless is also trivial in the grand scheme of things.

I mean, let’s face it, women are much, much more likely to be victims of extreme barbarism like rape, sex trafficking, dowry deaths, etc. And its not just these drastic problems… Even within my field of academia, I understand that it is easier for me get good teaching evaluations solely because I’m a man. So yes, I am, as a matter of undeniable fact, very privileged due to my being a man.

And so I completely understand why I must not mention my own problems and instead be apologetic for all my unfair privileges as well as contribute to the cause of feminism more broadly.

This has been very hard for me to write.

101

Ronan(rf) 02.15.15 at 9:28 pm

Yeah, I agree with engels. I have a little trouble following this as I can’t really place the idea of a ‘nerd’ social category/subgroup.(I’m also not an American) I thought it was more just something that existed in high school tv shows than in reality.
I guess I knew people who might have had ‘nerd’ tendencies, but they certainly weren’t defined by them and social groups weren’t explictly created around these identities.

102

engels 02.15.15 at 9:30 pm

I read somewhere on Twitter that there’s been a dialectical synthesis of jocks and nerds: gamers.

103

Val 02.15.15 at 9:36 pm

Belle mentioned Twisty Faster earlier (http://blog.iblamethepatriarchy.com)

“Twisty Faster convinced them [the unhappy nerdy boys] all blow jobs are sexual domination?”

And Twisty does talk about women being the sex class for dudes, and I guess if you didn’t really understand feminism you could read her as saying that feeling desire for a woman makes you an exploitative dude. But sadly reading this thread does seem to confirm Twisty’s position – it seems that some men do see women as the sex class – that their main response and preoccupation in regard to women seems to be ‘how do I get laid?’ (Or as some have pointed out ‘how do I get laid by a hot chick?’)

A few years back when I got divorced I went on some internet dates. (I basically gave it away in the end because it all began to seem so pathetic and useless.) But after a few of those dates I had a strong wish to say to some of the men: ‘please, this is not a test of your performance. Just cool it man, let’s just talk to each other, get a chance to get to know each other – and who knows, we might even like each other, and we could take it from there’. But you can’t say it, because for so many of these men, it seemed, all they could see was ‘reasonably attractive woman, must perform like a man’ which sometimes, in the worst cases, means spend all night talking about themselves. You get the feeling in this scenario that they can’t even see you – they just see this stereotype ‘attractive woman’ and they go into performance mode. I’m sure their anxiety is unpleasant for them, but honestly it was no fun for me either.

Feminism is not to blame for this – or only in the sense that I, as someone who had adult children, a good job, and a fair amount of financial security, wasn’t desperate for a man. But really it’s patriarchy that’s the problem here. Patriarchy that says ‘perform like a man and you will get a woman as your reward’. I honestly – I can’t stress this enough – don’t know how anyone can not see that.

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Pat 02.15.15 at 9:37 pm

Pete #79 YES!

There’s some good stuff being written about this topic using the religious concept of scrupulosity. That is, some people are not able to read a biting critique of their group and say to themselves ‘Yeh, but that’s not me.’ Some people have a default setting of ‘OMG, that must mean me — I didn’t *think* I was like that — OMG…’

I think people who choose to read radical critiques of their segment of society are perhaps more likely to be over-scrupulous. Also, I think the people who a movement is targeted at are less likely to be over-scrupulous. This leads to a problem where the activist speaks as if people were only going to pay attention to 10% of what’s said if they’e beaten over the head with it, and the scrupulous reader reads as if every casual word were the law graven in stone.

There was a sort of thing last year on a lot of activist sites — It’s not about you. It was supposed to keep people from interrupting threads to say ‘But not all ___ are like that!’ and I found it the most ridiculous thing ever. I mean, you have a whole thread titled ‘haploids be like…’ and the haploids reading it are supposed to assume it’s not about them? How could anybody even think that’s possible? But lots of activists not only seem to think that’s possible, but to be peeved at people who can’t do it.

105

Tiny Tim 02.15.15 at 9:39 pm

Right, Val, most of whatever is valid in this stuff isn’t “feminism” it’s the bizarre mishmash of feminism and patriarchy signals that young dudes hear. The feminism is fine, it’s the patriarchy hangover that’s the problem.

106

Pat 02.15.15 at 9:41 pm

Oh, and someone said feminism wasn’t into nerd-shaming way upthread. It may have already been mentioned, but here’s an article about the web site ‘Fedoras of OKCupid’ analyzed as an exemplar of shaming in feminist activism.

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adam.smith 02.15.15 at 9:57 pm

Pat – from the article you link to:

The conceit is extremely simple: the author (who goes by the pseudonym “misandristcutie”) trawls the popular dating site OK Cupid for pictures of men in fedora hats and posts them to the site, often including excerpts from their dating profile highlighting some undesirable,frequently sexist, and occasionally downright worrying aspect of their stated views and attitudes.

(my emphasis)
I’m not familiar with FOOKC (I vaguely recall hearing about the “Nice Guys of OK Cupid tumblr), but from the source you link to it doesn’t sound like nerd-shaming but like sexist-shaming and maybe POA-shaming.

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Bruce Baugh 02.15.15 at 10:05 pm

This is the correct response to Aaronson:

“Here’s what I thought. If someone came to me and said that he earnestly believes that he will be “expelled from school or sent to prison” if a woman finds out that he finds her attractive, and that he has “constant suicidal thoughts,” and that his daily existence is characterized by “crippling, life-destroying anxiety,” I would not recommend that he read Andrea Dworkin or attend a sexual assault prevention workshop. I would recommend, gently and tactfully, that he go see a therapist.

“I would do that because these are very serious issues. They are serious enough that, when a client tells me that they have “constant suicidal thoughts,” there is an entire protocol I’m required to follow in order to ensure that they are safe and receive appropriate care if they accept it.

[…]

“Maybe Aaronson didn’t think to seek therapy as an adolescent, because therapy and mental illness are still quite stigmatized and would have been even more so when he was younger. Maybe nobody close to him noticed or cared what was going on, and therefore did not encourage him to seek therapy. Maybe the psychiatrist he asked to prescribe castration drugs did not pause to consider that a teenager seeking castration is a red flag, and that maybe he should refer him to a colleague who practices therapy. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

“But why aren’t we talking about it now? Why are people blaming feminism–the feminism of the 1970s or 80s, no less–for failing to cure what appeared to be a serious psychological issue? Why are people claiming that the solution now is simply for feminist writers and activists to be more compassionate and considerate towards male nerds like Aaronson, as though any compassion or consideration could have magically fixed such a deeply layered set of deeply irrational beliefs?

“This troubles me. If I ever start claiming that, for instance, I’m a terrible person and deserve to literally die because I’m queer, or that I cannot be in the same room with a man without literally having a panic attack, I sincerely hope that people advise me to seek mental healthcare, not to read feminist literature.”

That nails it. Aaronson isn’t a kind of extreme case of a normal problem; the way he presents himself is someone with an actual other kind of problem altogether.

When it comes to what I do think is a pretty normal kind of problem, I agree a lot with Rich and Janie: getting to see how little of the routine social hardships have to do with boy + girl in particular is very liberating.

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Pat 02.15.15 at 10:05 pm

adam.smith you may be right. I’m not too clear about the current terms, and some of what I’ve read conflated ‘fedoras’ and ‘neckbeards’. What interested me most about the article was the analysis of shaming as a strategy.

110

Pat 02.15.15 at 10:11 pm

However, I think when I have to distinguish between ‘fedoras’ and ‘neckbeards’ in a discussion of feminist rhetoric, more serious questions have been raised than answered. I didn’t sign on to feminism so we could make up clever insults.

111

Rich Puchalsky 02.15.15 at 10:20 pm

Thanks to JanieM and Shatterface for previous comments.

Bruce Baugh: “When it comes to what I do think is a pretty normal kind of problem, I agree a lot with Rich and Janie: getting to see how little of the routine social hardships have to do with boy + girl in particular is very liberating.”

Yes, I should have mentioned this — I’d sort of implicitly assumed that psychiatric problems were one thing and more or less typical problems were another. The course of action for someone with suicidal thoughts or constant anxiety should be to seek trained help.

Val, I think that if you ask more or less typical gay men about how their recent dates have gone, you’ll find a good number of them saying something like “Tonight’s was bad: that guy never stopped talking about himself.” It’s an open question whether this happens less often to gay men than to women dating men or to women dating other women, but I don’t think that it happens zero times for any of these cases.

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Bruce Baugh 02.15.15 at 10:30 pm

Oh, no criticism, Rich – I was writing in a “yes, and” spirit.

The benefits of taking part in talk about romantic trouble with people who don’t share your orientation seems to me to work with both kinds of pairing: “someone like me, interested in someone like me” and “someone like I’m interested in, interested in someone like I’m interested in” both illuminate a lot.

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Bruce Baugh 02.15.15 at 10:31 pm

(For an observer who’s basically straight, of course. The same principle is very much true for folks who are basically gay, too, though, and bi folks have plenty to give and get as well. It’s good for all orientations.)

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adam.smith 02.15.15 at 10:34 pm

Pat – did you even read the article you posted? Fedoras (which are a piece of clothing as opposed to neckbeards, which are a piece of a person’s body, just so we’re clear) were specifically chosen for their close association with the pick-up artist movement. The people were shamed for wearing headgear closely associated with a super-sexist scene and saying sexist or super-sexist stuff.
Now, you may want to argue that shaming is never the right way to go. I think some of the stuff that Rich P. has been writing here goes into that direction. But that’s an entirely different topic and has zilch to do with feminists “bullying” male nerds.

@102 Bruce — agree that is an excellent response.

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Moz of Yarramulla 02.15.15 at 10:37 pm

Are boys really reading about feminism before they begin having lascivious thoughts about the peach-shaped asses of their female schoolmates?

For me, yes. I read a lot, and a fair bit of what I read was popular feminist. But a lot of it also came from my family and the disturbing stuff that was going on as I entered adolescence. Overall the message that “men are bad, and sex is bad” permeated my life. I can see how the same material is much more readily available now, and much more misandric material too. I didn’t read Daly, Dworkin or McKinnon until university, for example. My experience has been that I am awful at initiating sexual relationships with women, but they will often (try to) do that with me. What I have to do is listen when they try. Often in the “every few years” sense, not “multiple times a day”. Which works for me.

I think it’s very difficult to untangle all the different threads that make someone the way they are, and incredibly hostile to push an unkind interpretation onto someone the way some people have been doing with Aaronson. One of the interesting things with the internet is that we now have access to a great deal more teenage thinking and a lot of it makes no sense at all, from an adult perspective. So reaching back in time and saying “even for a teenager, Aaronson was insane” the way Marcotte does is a considerable reach.

I studied feminism at university, and spent quite a lot of time socialising with diverse groups while I was trying to work out what I wanted and where I was comfortable. Perhaps I’m unusual in that, but it makes sense to me today that people would (and should) do that. So yeah, I’ve been the rich, educated, intellectual white guy in a whole bunch of situations, and people who just want to be angry at a random representative of their chosen enemy are rarely worth spending time with. But I’ve also been accepted much more often than blamed, and like to think I’ve contributed.

The “you have privilege STFU” argument is one I’ve seen a few times, and I’ve never seen it work well. The best description I’ve seen for the result is still the “hierarchy of oppression” critique that was widely used by the 1970s, so anyone claiming to know anything about privilege activism who doesn’t at least know what that is is… uneducated, at the very least. Likely dishonest, in my experience.

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JanieM 02.15.15 at 10:42 pm

Speaking as someone who was born in 1950 and raised by one Catholic and one Baptist parent, and had twelve years of Catholic school, I just want to point out that the idea that “sex is bad” is hardly new, whatever new clothes it’s wearing these days, and regardless of our sex-drenched pop culture.

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MPAVictoria 02.15.15 at 10:49 pm

““Here’s what I thought. If someone came to me and said that he earnestly believes that he will be “expelled from school or sent to prison” if a woman finds out that he finds her attractive, and that he has “constant suicidal thoughts,” and that his daily existence is characterized by “crippling, life-destroying anxiety,” I would not recommend that he read Andrea Dworkin or attend a sexual assault prevention workshop. I would recommend, gently and tactfully, that he go see a therapist.

“I would do that because these are very serious issues. They are serious enough that, when a client tells me that they have “constant suicidal thoughts,” there is an entire protocol I’m required to follow in order to ensure that they are safe and receive appropriate care if they accept it.”

This seems right Bruce. Thank you.

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Matt 02.15.15 at 10:55 pm

I have a little trouble following this as I can’t really place the idea of a ‘nerd’ social category/subgroup.(I’m also not an American) I thought it was more just something that existed in high school tv shows than in reality. I guess I knew people who might have had ‘nerd’ tendencies, but they certainly weren’t defined by them and social groups weren’t explictly created around these identities.

I am an American but was lucky enough to go to K-12 schools where physical bullying wasn’t tolerated at all. Until my late teens I thought the idea of students being threatened with violence or actually experiencing it at the hands of other students was a crazy TV convention like “cars explode when you shoot them” or “people wake up in bed with their hair already styled.” When I came to gather it was actually A Real Thing that still gets tolerated in a lot of contexts I was stunned. Doubly so when I heard some of the excuses for not dealing with it. It was like someone snuck behind my back while I was sleeping and replaced reality with the sinister visions of Philip K. Dick.

I was/am quite a nerd but more verbal than mathematical, though I did well in the latter area too. I liked talking to girls or to anyone with anything interesting to say. I liked public speaking and performances. I was a literature and drama nerd who attended a SLAC before I was a STEM nerd. I went with technology later in graduate school and professional life because the employment opportunities are so much better. For a long time I didn’t understand at all shy nerds who could never talk to women or socialize with them. I was a nerd — I had better grades even! — and it was easy. Maybe the shy nerd pain is more about shyness than nerdiness.

The two prior paragraphs are not totally independent. What I also realized much after leaving elementary school was that I bullied other students when I was 11 or so. TV bullies were beating people up and I was just talking. But I could make people laugh with me, invent nicknames, do funny voices and imitations. I sometimes used that to hurt people who annoyed me. When I was considering colleges as a high school senior I encountered another prospective student who I had bullied that way in elementary school before my family moved to another city. We hadn’t seen each other in years. I apologized for what I had done back then. She told me she was depressed and in therapy for years. I’m sorry, Crystal, and I still think about it. For me it was a lark and for you it was hell. I can’t reverse it or erase it.

I like verbal sparring, argumentation, and rhetoric. Nobody ever made me cry or despair with words. But I think about the hurt I caused all those years ago when someone says that words, written or spoken, hurt them a lot more than I could imagine the same words hurting me.

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Bruce Baugh 02.15.15 at 10:57 pm

Matt, that’s a tough realization, and you’ve expressed it really well, in a way I respect deeply. When I think “I like to see people accept responsibility with no weaseling at all”, that’s what I’m thinking of.

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Rich Puchalsky 02.15.15 at 11:03 pm

adam.smith: “Now, you may want to argue that shaming is never the right way to go. I think some of the stuff that Rich P. has been writing here goes into that direction. But that’s an entirely different topic and has zilch to do with feminists “bullying” male nerds.”

I’m trying to avoid going into my usual rant: “activism — what it is for”, with sub-branches “why ‘shaming’ a corporation is not really the same as shaming an individual” and “changing group behavior through shaming individuals: does it really work?” (yes, sometimes, but wow is there a lot of technique to consider).

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Dean C. Rowan 02.15.15 at 11:43 pm

Meanwhile, over at Mother Jones, this article appears, amply illustrating the disproportionate and reactionary character of popular anti-feminism. Maybe the author of the piece has an axe to grind with Warren Farrell, whom I remembering hearing in interviews on the radio pitching his books and ideas. It’s clear that one core tenet of second-wave feminism from which Farrell and presumably Aaronson do not want to distance themselves is “The personal is the political.”

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Val 02.15.15 at 11:46 pm

Rich @ 105

“Val, I think that if you ask more or less typical gay men about how their recent dates have gone, you’ll find a good number of them saying something like “Tonight’s was bad: that guy never stopped talking about himself.” It’s an open question whether this happens less often to gay men than to women dating men or to women dating other women, but I don’t think that it happens zero times for any of these cases.”

Rich I can certainly see that the fact that some gay men talk about themselves all night on dates is not irrelevant to what I said. So I hope you can also see that I have some serious concerns about what you’re doing here. I gave a fairly complex account of my own experiences of dating a significant number of heterosexual men who seemed to me to be anxiously performing a version of masculinity which prevented them from making contact with me as a person. You gave a reductionist ‘well gay men sometimes talk about themselves too much on dates as well’ response which seemed to be rather like ‘nothing to see here, move on’. And so my experiences and thoughts about dating “nerdy” men get dismissed as irrelevant to the conversation.

I hope – and in fact trust – that you won’t just tell me I’m over-reacting and being emotional, but if you don’t understand what I’m saying here, please tell me and I’ll try to explain it better.

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Fuzzy Dunlop 02.15.15 at 11:48 pm

Bruce @102 This is the correct response to Aaronson:

“Here’s what I thought. If someone came to me and said that he earnestly believes that he will be “expelled from school or sent to prison” if a woman finds out that he finds her attractive, and that he has “constant suicidal thoughts,” and that his daily existence is characterized by “crippling, life-destroying anxiety,” I would not recommend that he read Andrea Dworkin or attend a sexual assault prevention workshop. I would recommend, gently and tactfully, that he go see a therapist.”

Was that really such a good response? It sounded a little smug to me. Almost like… mansplaining. “Here’s what you should have done when you were a teenager to solve those problems that you’ve just catalogued for me years and years after you dealt with them yourself.” Like, I bet adult Scott Aaronson knows that he actually should have seen a therapist instead of/in addition to reading radfem literature. At the risk of being unkind and too provocative, would you respond that way to a victim of abuse who had just described the less-than-optimal way that they tried to deal with their trauma in their youth? ‘What you really should have done is see a therapist.’

This point implied by that post is good though: women are expected to do emotional labor for men, make them feel better &c., and that should be taken into account when we talk about men asking ‘what does feminism have to say about bullying?’ But I also think part of the reason this whole question of the relationship between feminism and geek culture is so interesting now may be that feminists and people who experienced bullying or a lot of social stigma each feel that the other group are people they might actually be able to talk to–like they feel the need to confront somebody about the horrors of patriarchy, and these are the people within reach.

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Bruce Baugh 02.15.15 at 11:52 pm

Fuzzy: Yes, I think so. There’s a lot to be said about fragile men’s emotional needs and the difficulties of establishing a sense of self and place in the midst of deeply conflicting directions from competing authorities. That’s real stuff, and serious. But unrecognized, untreated mental illness is also serious, and it’s important to separate it from other things. Yes, I would say “you should have gotten therapy then; have you since?” I owe a lot to the trusted friends who helped me recognize when I needed it and for what, and it did a lot to make my general social development easier because I wasn’t tangling the two.

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Fuzzy Dunlop 02.15.15 at 11:56 pm

Bruce: Okay, fair enough. I don’t object to the recommendation to get therapy, per se, but the implied dismissal of whatever circumstances made it necessary in the first place. But Aaronson didn’t say much about that.

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themgt 02.16.15 at 12:02 am

From my perspective there’s a fair amount of hypocrisy in modern-day feminism, in that let’s be honest, most self-proclaimed female feminists still essentially find stereotypical patriarchal male attributes sexually desirable and cultivate/use their own feminine sexuality to advance socially as well. So you get people like Hugo Schwyzer on the one hand abusing the system, but then on the other men like Aaronsen who don’t have those attributes and are treated as the lowest rung on the social totem pole.

There seem to be many feminists who want to have their cake and eat it too – i.e. participate in, value and benefit from patriarchy and de-valuing men who lack traditional patriarchal male qualities, while simultaneously demanding those men’s allegiance to the cause of feminism, a cause many more socially adept men cynically ally themselves to and benefit from, escaping criticism even though their personal behavior appears far less feminist than Aaronsen’s.

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Ronan(rf) 02.16.15 at 12:07 am

Aaronson did say he got therapy at the time (afaicr, I read it for the first time earlier) But what he seems to say in the post (I think explicitly said) is that what got him out of this phase was growing out of it, or at least becoming more secure in himself with time.
I agree with Fuzzy that the link was a little partonising. And I’ll add that although I didn’t love his comment on this, I think people are confusing a little what his intent was (ie to show his perspective at a certain time in his life) Although he *did* also make excuses for that perspective (a bit) from his current vantage, rather than explictly state where his younger self was confused and wrong.

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Ronan(rf) 02.16.15 at 12:08 am

ie Aaronson “At one point, I actually begged a psychiatrist to prescribe drugs that would chemically castrate me (I had researched which ones), because a life of mathematical asceticism was the only future that I could imagine for myself.”

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Fuzzy Dunlop 02.16.15 at 12:10 am

Ronan @122 Oh yes, it’s right there, about the psychiatrist, isn’t it? That really makes (much of) the ‘see a therapist’ response seem kind of silly.

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cwalken 02.16.15 at 12:20 am

I’d agree that the point here is that the nerdy guy’s dilemma (if we can even agree that it exists) isn’t the product of feminism, but patriarchy. Having been a nerdy guy who didn’t want to be a Neanderthal but also wanted to have sex and have been friends with a number of other nerdy guys, there’s some truth to the feeling if not the causal account.

Thing is, from a young age patriarchy makes you feel unmanly if you don’t play sports, pick fights, harass women, etc. And this is enforced not only normatively but by the manly guys who pick on you and the like. So you end up with a counter-culture identity of not-being-like-one-of-them-Neanderthals. (And in my case, you also end up with more female friends, nerds and not, as they didn’t torment you for your unmanliness.) But when adolescence rolls around you have more desires that are in conflict with your oppositional identity. And it’s difficult to reconcile the two without feeling like you’re betraying who you are (or what makes you better than the Neanderthals), in a sense. So you either have inner turmoil, a sexless life, or a betrayal of your own previous sense of self as the only options. In fact, my partner and I had these discussions about our sex life very early on in our relationship as we tried to reconcile sexual desire with our norm breaking selves.

But again, this is the Patriarchy, not the Feminism, making this happen. Feminism is actually the antidote as it would liberate men from their narrow social roles as much as women.

I’m old enough that all of this comes before the current nerdy is cool ethos of Silicon Valley. So that might change things up a bit.

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Rich Puchalsky 02.16.15 at 12:22 am

Val, here’s the problematic part of what you wrote:

“But really it’s patriarchy that’s the problem here. Patriarchy that says ‘perform like a man and you will get a woman as your reward’. I honestly – I can’t stress this enough – don’t know how anyone can not see that.”

That assumes that men who “perform like a man” want women as their rewards. But some men don’t. I’m not trying to invalidate your experience, but how would you know about their experiences, and how these experiences affect what kind of conclusions they can or can’t see?

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AcademicLurker 02.16.15 at 12:23 am

women are expected to do emotional labor for men, make them feel better &c.

This touches on my note above about the context of Aaronson’s comment.* If he had been showing up on feminist websites derailing threads and demanding that people address his past trauma’s I would be inclined to be much more critical, but he wasn’t doing that. I do think that complaining on your own personal blog is different. Not that no one should discuss his comments, but I see a lot of entitlement being projected onto Aaronson when he wasn’t demanding much in particular from anyone, at least not in a very obtrusive way.

*This is not to complain about Belle mentioning him in the OP. As Fuzzy Dunlap says upthread, the cat is already well out of the bag, so there’s no harm in discussing it.

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Collin Street 02.16.15 at 12:31 am

> That assumes that men who “perform like a man” want women as their rewards.

It doesn’t assume that. “Get the women” — get your ‘assigned social role’ — is what patriarchy offers: if that’s not what you want — if you don’t want women, or if you don’t want women ‘as rewards’ — then you’re kinda fucked.

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js. 02.16.15 at 12:32 am

The fact that dude asked a psychiatrist for “chemically castrating” drugs doesn’t at all imply that he sought therapy (I’d have thought this is fairly obvious).

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Pat 02.16.15 at 12:33 am

adam.smith it’s an interesting topic about which I did not know much until your question sent me searching to find out where I had gotten the firm idea that ‘neckbeards’ and ‘fedoras’ were both pejoratives for nerds. I found it clearly stated on know your meme:

“Neckbeard is a pejorative term referring to unattractive, overweight and misogynistic Internet users … Neckbeards are commonly associated with men who wear the fedora felt hat as a fashion accessory, which is often mocked online for being worn by men without poor sense of style.”

I agree that the article I posted described the fedora-shaming site as attacking people associated with the pickup artist scene. But even back when it was written, fedoras were associated with geeks. Boingboing indicated that geeks who adopted this fashion end up being targeted by the fedora shaming. It quoted another fedora-mocking site:

“Says Forever Alone Fedoras: “a fedora speaks volumes about one’s character. It implies that he is a basement dwelling, live action role playing, no social skills having, complete and utter geek in the worst sense of the word.” ”

I found that quote right on the front page of the tumblr cited, along with “Shame on you geeks of America! Here is your wall of shame.”

I suppose you could say that this is geek shaming rather than nerd shaming. And you could say that geeks are collateral damage, being attacked for the connotations of the fedora that were established by pick-up artists.
That turned out to be an interesting little exploration into memes and their drawbacks.

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MPAVictoria 02.16.15 at 12:36 am

“The fact that dude asked a psychiatrist for “chemically castrating” drugs doesn’t at all imply that he sought therapy (I’d have thought this is fairly obvious).”

Yes. I have a lot if experience dealing with mental illness and it seems pretty obvious to me that Aaronso was hurting inside like a bag of broken glass and was desperately in need of help. His issues, for which he has my greatest sympathy, are not the fault of feminism.

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js. 02.16.15 at 12:41 am

One other thing: Val’s claim—“Patriarchy … says ‘perform like a man and you will get a woman as your reward’.”—seems totally consistent with Rich Puchalsky’s point, one way of reading which is that some gay men “perform like a man”—in a related sense, if not the same sense—but not to get a woman precisely. I can see why some people would find this sort of reading problematic, but…—but I’ll deal with that objection if it shows up.

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Ronan(rf) 02.16.15 at 12:55 am

“The fact that dude asked a psychiatrist for “chemically castrating” drugs doesn’t at all imply that he sought therapy (I’d have thought this is fairly obvious).”

Yes you’re right that he didnt say he had therapy. (as I said above) I still dont see the evidence for this specualtion though:(which is what I was responding to)

“Maybe Aaronson didn’t think to seek therapy as an adolescent, because therapy and mental illness are still quite stigmatized and would have been even more so when he was younger. Maybe nobody close to him noticed or cared what was going on, and therefore did not encourage him to seek therapy. Maybe the psychiatrist he asked to prescribe castration drugs did not pause to consider that a teenager seeking castration is a red flag, and that maybe he should refer him to a colleague who practices therapy. Maybe, maybe, maybe.”

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js. 02.16.15 at 1:01 am

Those are—as you rightly point out—speculations, with a lot of very prominent “maybe’s”. If I had to guess, I would say they are speculations based on broad-based social patterns. But clearly, they’re not claims she (I think it was a she) has specific evidence for. That’s why they’re presented the way they are, no?

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Ronan(rf) 02.16.15 at 1:07 am

The post is about a specific person not a ‘broad based social pattern.’ If you want to speak about a specific person then you have an obligation to get their story straight, no ? Especially if by ‘just tossing out speculations’ you imply his parents didnt care, the psychiatrist he visited was incompetent and he was an idiot. (and just in response to something Bruce said above, there’s obviously a huge difference between gently saying to a friend you’re worried about them and telling a stranger what to do, publicly)

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js. 02.16.15 at 1:22 am

I guess I don’t see the passage as implying any of that, but if you’re saying that one shouldn’t speculate when writing about an individual case, then sure, I can sort of see that. My only point, in my original comment, was that there’s no suggestion that AS sought therapy.

And sorry, Scott Aaronson decided to write a mopey, amazingly self-involved, twenty paragraph (or something) long post, quite publicly, so the fact that he’s gotten public responses seems only fair. (Tho AcademicLurker’s point is taken.)

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Val 02.16.15 at 1:31 am

Rich @ 125
I don’t really understand what you’re saying Rich. Are you saying that patriarchy doesn’t say getting a woman is the reward for performing like a man? What do you think it says?

The other point of course is that we all still largely live in the contemporary version of patriarchy (males at the top, hierarchical, competitive, unequal sharing of resources). Of course it’s not total, and there are alternatives and resistances in society, but that’s the overall shape. Think of most large corporations, for example.

So it’s not surprising that anyone, male or female, straight or gay, might be tempted to ‘talk themselves up’ in a situation of anxiety. We’re all taught to perform that way now, except women were traditionally taught to perform the complementary role – listening and rewarding the performance (so that we’re now also being told it’s our fault we’re not getting ahead in the hierarchy and we should ‘lean in’ more).

Look I got married way back in the dim dark ages, but my then husband told me something his father had told him: the best thing a man can say to a woman is ‘I love you’, the best thing a woman can say to a man is ‘I’m proud of you’. Ok I’m getting on, but if you think the influence of that sort of thing has somehow totally disappeared from society within my lifetime, I think you are kidding yourself.

It’s the “mishmash” that some men make of traditional patriarchal messages and feminist messages that confuses them, as Tiny Tim said up thread @ 99. I actually know a lot of young men who seem really sorted out, but I think there are many men in the in-between or older generation (my age group) who are confused by the mishmash in their heads, and unfortunately through the MRA movement etc they are now influencing some young men also.

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Quite Likely 02.16.15 at 1:56 am

I think the point is that Aaronson was trying to share a difficult and painful experience, and the response was overwhelmingly people (unjustifiedly) calling him anti-feminist, or minimizing the suffering he had been through. He’s not making the claim that his problems are greater than those of women, he’s just saying that they’re real and should also be paid attention to. It’s not so unreasonable.

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Bloix 02.16.15 at 1:57 am

“And be permanently resentful at feminism? BUT NOT AGAINST THE PATRIARCHY?”

Belle, did you read Eszter’s post of a few weeks back?
http://crookedtimber.org/2015/01/27/crying-babies/

When her father was three, he was interned in a concentration camp for Hungarian Jews, where he cried himself to sleep every night, much to the annoyance of fellow inmates. Years later, when he met other survivors, they complained to him of the difficulties he’d caused them. Decades had passed, and who did they resent? The Nazis? The Hungarian authorities? No. A 3-year-old.

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Ronan(rf) 02.16.15 at 2:12 am

Just to correct something I said above, ie:

“And I’ll add that although I didn’t love his comment on this, I think people are confusing a little what his intent was (ie to show his perspective at a certain time in his life) Although he *did* also make excuses for that perspective (a bit) from his current vantage, rather than explictly state where his younger self was confused and wrong.”

I don’t actually think this is correct (or at least it’s maybe 20% of the story) He was responding to a someone talking about sexism in STEM and decided to use his own history to ..Im not sure what. Excuse it ? Explain it away ? (while denying it exists?) So I do agree with js that his comment was a legitimate target for pushback.* (and aesthetically it’s not my cup of tea)
(I will say that, personally, I don’t like these types of ritualistic public shaming excercises that seem to occur on a weekly basis. Something can be objectionable and deserve criticism -even a comment in the comment section of your own blog – while not justifying the level of blowback it gets. That is a different story though, and I don’t think theres anything that can be done about it)

* general criticism of what he said. I stand by my problems with the post linked above.

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Emma in Sydney 02.16.15 at 2:35 am

In the spirit of Matt at 112, I’m going to plead guilty to being one of those snarky feminist students at my university back in the 1980s. I was smart, and convinced of my own correctness, as many young people are. I had also been unpopular and boyfriendless at school, and had channelled that energy into beating everyone at my school in our end of high school statewide exams, which I accomplished.
When I got to university, there was no stopping me. I threw myself into student politics, feminism, ‘theory’, socialism — all the options. There were right-wing born-to-rule boys in our students’ association political battles who felt the sting of my rhetoric and resented it deeply. Thinking about it now, I was not taking care only to dish it out to those who could take it, and it is highly possible that a number of those now 50+ year old men took away from ANU’s students’ association meetings painful memories of being laid in a pool of metaphorical blood by ‘a feminist’, over issues as diverse as Palestinian women’s rights in Israel, abortion law reform, women-only spaces on campus, support for the local rape crisis centre and so on. I wasn’t the only one, there were lots of other women and blokes in the socialist caucus who could also cut down a conservative argument with ease.
Here’s a thing — I know that the right-wing guys often took it badly BECAUSE I was a woman speaking forcefully, which in their ideal world would not even happen. One of them grudgingly admitted that my sister and I “argued like men” (we’ve called each other ‘bro’ ever since). He meant it as a compliment. That was what really got on their wicks, that we would not step back, be quiet and behave in a way that they thought was suitable.
I am actually very sorry for any damage I might have caused, both to individuals (even right-wing ones), and to the cause of feminism itself. I now look back on that unforgiving and sharp-tongued young woman with regret, because I also used those skills on people on my own side, and ruined some friendships that I valued because of them. But the ones that might have put my youthful aggression down to feminism, rather than to me? They WERE on the wrong side. Some of them probably still are. If you don’t fight, you lose.

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Ronan(rf) 02.16.15 at 2:43 am

Slightly in this spirit (and I’m really going to stop going back recorrecting past comments now!), the comment above to bruce:

“and just in response to something Bruce said above, there’s obviously a huge difference between gently saying to a friend you’re worried about them and telling a stranger what to do, publicly”

I wouldnt say *obviously*, which is a good bit arrogant..instead replace with ‘I think there is.’

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Ronan(rf) 02.16.15 at 2:56 am

You make a valid point.

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Charles R 02.16.15 at 2:58 am

Val, when you wrote in response to Rich:

So it’s not surprising that anyone, male or female, straight or gay, might be tempted to ‘talk themselves up’ in a situation of anxiety. We’re all taught to perform that way now, except women were traditionally taught to perform the complementary role – listening and rewarding the performance (so that we’re now also being told it’s our fault we’re not getting ahead in the hierarchy and we should ‘lean in’ more).

are you meaning by this that ‘talking one’s self up’ in a “situation of anxiety” is what men alone were expected to do in those situations of anxiety but now all of men, and women, and everyone are expected to “perform that way?”

Who is being taught to listen and reward the performance now? Are women being taught to do both talk up in situations of anxiety and listening and rewarding self-uptalkers? Or are all people being taught to perform both complementary roles?

Are they complementary? Presumably notions of rivalry, especially when people think humans are fundamentally competitive creatures, interject right here the idea that a proper complement of talking one’s self up is another dressing them down. I see this kind of behavior when people—both those familiar with one another and hostile towards outsiders and sometimes even with the various mixing that occurs in open boundary groups—will roast or rag on or josh or rib or just backtalk one another. So, my point here is that there’s lots of options and opportunities for what counts as “complements” in these “situations of anxiety.” Some men who highly value thinking of social activity as fundamentally competitive might approach the self-uptalking as an invitation to being dressed down—as measure of the competitive spirit in a rival. In this sense, patriarchy looks less like one’s self being about “being a man” and more like “acting like a particular pattern of social evaluating that itself looks like what people today think people in other places think being a man looks like.” Because, we can also have men and women who highly value these competitive activities of self-uptalking and dressing down when done among those whom they regard as equals, and these kinds of verbal trades become those endearing kinds of banter one sees in, say, Charade. Perhaps, though, Grant and Hepburn are just further demonstration of yet another traditional instance of patriarchy. He does call her petlike names.

It’s very possible I completely misunderstand what talking one’s self up is. I don’t think I’ve ever been good at it, and now that everyone’s doing it and being taught to do it, I’m even that much further out of the loop.

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Daniel 02.16.15 at 2:59 am

At worst, it’s bullshit

I also filed this one in the “currently calling bullshit on …” mental category, because as it happens, I read “Intercourse” by Andrea Dworkin a couple of months ago, and … well, it’s not that it doesn’t say any of these things. It’s more that it doesn’t say anything that could reasonably be interpreted, at all, even at a stretch, as meaning any of these things. It’s mainly a book of literary criticism. If you were going to take any message from it addressed to men (which would mean you were already doing something quite odd), you would interpret it almost as a “how to” manual for someone who wanted to have a sex life that followed Dworkin’s utopian model. Seriously, show of hands – how many people who have been using Andrea Dworkin’s name in this thread as a shorthand for man-hating anti-sex feminism have read “Intercourse”? Is there another (obviously less famous because that’s her most famous book by an order of magnitude) book by her that carries a totally different message?

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AnonymousThisTime 02.16.15 at 3:05 am

Hey, Belle-thanks for creating the space.

FWIW-

I’m a straight cis-male, 60, grew up in an upper-middle class home in the US Midwest. Grandfather was a Socialist, Father not so much, Mother not at all.

From about 14 to, oh, 37, I was nerdy, anxious, had friends but no successes in establishing a relationship with a woman.

I got exposed to a ton of 1980’s feminism in the 1970’s and 1980’s in college, by a bunch of really intense, smart women, most of whom were more than willing to express their anger at me for not living up to an ever-changing standard of feminism. I took a class in 1975 in feminist philosophy; got exposed to more in law school around discussions of pornography (I argued in favor of a required Surgeon General’s notice on porn: “Warning: This may distort your thinking in horribly dysfunctional ways.” Nowadays, I’d apply that to the MRA arguments). Dworkin was well known then, at least in the crowds I ran with.

From my experience, if you’re lacking in self-confidence, there are many ways to react to it–over-compensation, rationalization, withdrawal, etc. Depending on a person’s life experience, I can see a male, especially of my age, or Aronson’s, thinking “I’m really f’cked up in this who male thing. Maybe I can get this right through feminism–they really seem self-confident in what they’re doing.”

Two more things:

First, if a person feels disempowered, their objective status is irrelevant, except in so far as it enables them to access resources to fix that problem, IMHO. There’s nothing intrinsically harder, worse, better, easier about being nerd-shamed, or virgin=shamed, than being slut-shamed.

Second, it strikes me as absurdly presumptuous to assume that Aronson wasn’t in therapy, when he said he was seeing a psychiatrist. What, people usually seek out a psychiatrist just for the chemical castration drugs? Further, based on my own personal experience, and that of many people I’ve known, it’s incredibly common to have had suicidal thoughts, even constantly recurring ones, especially among adolescents.

So, yeah, Aronson was a messed-up adolescent. Umm, isn’t that a big part of what he was saying? And year, for him, feminism played some role in that (along with the patriarchy, as he has also made abundantly clear). For someone else, it might have been a fundamentalist upbringing, or some other cause. But is there some reason why feminism is beyond critique in a way that fundamentalism is not?

Third of two points: Yes, there’s a patriarchy, and it results in lots of bad stuff for women-the violence, the pay inequity, the difficulty for women in reaching positions of influence/power/authority, etc.. Patriarchy results in lots of bad stuff for men, t00–emotional stunting, shorter lives, etc. I personally believe that the consequences for women are worse than those for men. That doesn’t magically disappear the bad consequences for men. And I don’t see some magical way of overthrowing the patriarchy that only fixes women’s problems, or only fixes men’s. We’re all on the same team, in this, even if we have different priorities.

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Rich Puchalsky 02.16.15 at 3:14 am

Val, I think that I have too many different inchoate things to say about this, most of them off-topic, for me to really respond well. Mostly I think that you’re turning from your observation to a conclusion that I don’t necessarily agree with. When you start saying that “anyone, male or female, straight or gay, might be tempted to ‘talk themselves up’ in a situation of anxiety”, I’m not sure if you can put that under the heading of patriarchy saying that if you perform as a man you are rewarded with a woman. Capitalism has quite a lot to say about social status anxiety too. This whole question of performance and what happens when the message gets sent to different addresses seems to me to be around where second-wave feminism turns to third-wave feminism.

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Moz of Yarramulla 02.16.15 at 3:29 am

virgin-shamed?.. if they show too little interest, or are unable to attract any reciprocal interest from women, which comes to about the same thing. Slut-shaming actually further discourages women from showing interest in marginalised men because to do so would lower their perceived ‘standards’, which they are expected to maintain in order to remain respectable. This works fantastically to the advantage of the most attractive or charismatic men

That’s a fascinating take, and rings kinda true to me.

Patrick@92: I wasn’t aware that early-teen schoolboys were allowed to attend those talks. But that’s the age Aaronson is talking about. It’s also the age where I was introduced to feminist writing. I take your point about the courses, but it’s not actually relevant.

refusal of the legal system to admit it when a woman has raped a man. In fact, about the only circumstance under which the legal system is willing to make this admission, is when their relative ages render the rape statutory.

Sometimes. There have been too many cases where a 13 year old rape victim is told “man up” or worse. Like, “now pay child support to your rapist”, because there are very few jurisdictions that have made the legal leap from “rape is bad” to “making the victim pay” is really bad to “reminding the victim of their rape every week for the next 18 years is awful”. It’s AFAIK not possible to get out of child support by saying “she raped me”, even if she’s been convicted. Not that we have a statistically meaningful sample of the latter, there not being… oh, wait, that’s the problem.

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Dean C. Rowan 02.16.15 at 3:43 am

Daniel @147, Thank you, and fucking amen. It is literary criticism, literature was of paramount importance to Andrea Dworkin and Intercourse is one of her spectacular literary achievements.

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Abbe Faria 02.16.15 at 3:53 am

“The fact that dude asked a psychiatrist for “chemically castrating” drugs doesn’t at all imply that he sought therapy (I’d have thought this is fairly obvious).”

What actual point are you trying to make? The fact he saw a psychiatrist indicates he did seek help from a mental health professional. Are you trying to get into some sort of argument about whether someone with a mental health problem self-diagnosed to your satisfaction (in which case I’d remind you that mental illness is an barrier to this, so please fuck off). Or are you trying to start a debate about the relevant merits of psychiatry vs psychotherapy in this instance, in which case I’m pretty sure your internet diagnosis on the matter isn’t worth shit.

And also, let’s also bear in mind that in the mid-90s the most high profile consequence of feminist advice to see ‘therapists’ was a diagnosis of recovered memory and Satanic Ritual Abuse, so I’m not sure I’d blame anyone for not taking their advice on the matter.

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js. 02.16.15 at 4:10 am

Ronan @121: “Aaronson did say he got therapy at the time (afaicr[)]”

Ronan @122: “ie Aaronson “At one point, I actually begged a psychiatrist to prescribe drugs…”

Fuzzy Dunlop @123: “Ronan @122 Oh yes, it’s right there, about the psychiatrist, isn’t it? That really makes (much of) the ‘see a therapist’ response seem kind of silly.”

Me @124: “The fact that dude asked a psychiatrist for “chemically castrating” drugs doesn’t at all imply that he sought therapy”

Hope that helps.

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js. 02.16.15 at 4:12 am

Sorry, that should be “Me @128” in the last. And closing quotes are missing at the end of the second quote. Apologies.

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Landru 02.16.15 at 4:13 am

Daniel at 147: Seriously, show of hands – how many people who have been using Andrea Dworkin’s name in this thread as a shorthand for man-hating anti-sex feminism have read “Intercourse”?

Aaronson claims to have read and appreciated _Intercourse_, but he does not actually specify it as the source of her “disapproving” views on male sexuality. Rather, he mentions _Intercourse_ only as part of a general claim to have read a certain amount of feminist literature. Here is his reply to the commenter “Amy”, part of the famous blog post:

You also say that men in STEM fields—unlike those in the humanities and social sciences—don’t even have the “requisite vocabulary” to discuss sex discrimination, since they haven’t read enough feminist literature. Here I can only speak for myself: I’ve read at least a dozen feminist books, of which my favorite was Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse (I like howls of anguish much more than bureaucratic boilerplate, so in some sense, the more radical the feminist, the better I can relate). I check Feministing, and even radfem blogs like “I Blame the Patriarchy.” And yes, I’ve read many studies and task force reports about gender bias, and about the “privilege” and “entitlement” of the nerdy males that’s keeping women away from science.

(blockquote experiment, we’ll see if it worked)

So you can’t pin it on Aaronson that _Intercourse_ has been mis-characterized in this discussion. If bring up his blog page and search on “Dworkin” you’ll see (unless I missed it) that he doesn’t actually name any other book as a specific source, but seems to expect that the readers will be familiar with her generally as the avatar of what you term “man-hating anti-sex” views.

It is right after this, in the famous post, when he takes issue with the application of the concept/term “privilege”, which really marks the introduction of the shit to the fan.

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adam.smith 02.16.15 at 4:18 am

I think people are entirely misunderstanding the post Bruce links to if they think it’s about Aaronson’s (possible) failure to see a therapist when he was a kid. The point is that he’s blaming feminism for not helping to fix the mental health issues he had as a kid, which simply isn’t something even a perfect feminism could possibly have done. (And by doing so, he does play into long-established tropes about the care-work that women are commonly assumed to perform. Something he could have recognized if he was anywhere near as familiar with contemporary feminism as he starts out suggesting that he is. It’s certainly something he could have seen on feministing.)

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Dan S. 02.16.15 at 4:22 am

Pat #98
I mean, you have a whole thread titled ‘haploids be like…’ and the haploids reading it are supposed to assume it’s not about them?

Gamategate.

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Julie 02.16.15 at 4:32 am

In response to engels @75: I also found the idea that we should stop tickling kids when they say “stop” a bit weird.
However I think the idea is not so much that “tickling kids when they say stop is violating their bodily autonomy”, but rather that you’re teaching kids that when playing with (larger and stronger) people, their request for it to stop ought to be respected. You don’t necessarily want to have an explicit conversation with a little kid about sexual harassment, but you can still give them expectation that they can say “stop” to whatever, even if it’s just a game. Especially if it’s “just a game”, as I suspect some abusers frame abuse this way.
And I can report that this in no way spoils the fun…. once you get the ground rules down, it’s all “stop! no, MORE tickling! please!!!”

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Landru 02.16.15 at 4:41 am

Bruce Baugh at 102, re-quoting the “correct response” to Aaronson:

“But why aren’t we talking about it now? Why are people blaming feminism–the feminism of the 1970s or 80s, no less–for failing to cure what appeared to be a serious psychological issue? Why are people claiming that the solution now is simply for feminist writers and activists to be more compassionate and considerate towards male nerds like Aaronson, as though any compassion or consideration could have magically fixed such a deeply layered set of deeply irrational beliefs?

(another blockquote experiment; you really have to spell the closer right)

I don’t at all agree; just the opposite, in fact, as I think this reply is a rather transparent sleight-of-hand that avoids the main point altogether.

Why are people blaming feminism–the feminism of the 1970s or 80s, no less–for failing to cure what appeared to be a serious psychological issue?

Aaronson, and people taking his side, are not blaming feminists of the era for failing to cure anyone, they’re blaming feminists for hurting people and exacerbating their problems. And, if you believe that to be the case, then is it not reasonable to ask that they stop? and also admit some responsibility? Falsely recasting “he asked not to be hurt” as instead “he insisted on being healed” is really moving the goalposts sideways, and I can’t respect it.

Similarly, I think the description by Fuzzy Dunlop at at 117

This point implied by that post is good though: women are expected to do emotional labor for men, make them feel better &c.,

is an invention and an over-reach. The standard of expected to do emotional labor for men is a loooong way past what Aaronson was asking for, which was more like don’t hurt men by telling them over and over again that they’re all basically rapists in waiting. Exaggerating his argument with a straw-person accusation doesn’t help anyone in this discussion.

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js. 02.16.15 at 4:42 am

@adam.smith,

Yes, that’s totally right. I took myself to be making a minor point @128, which somehow elicited a somewhat violent response (not Ronan’s, which was only fair).

The other thing about this though, is that it’s really hard to take any of it as being in good faith. I mean, dude himself is like, oh yeah, then I got successful and confident, and I was able to meet women, etc., and even marry one. So… yeah, that happens to a lot of people: the shyness, the awkwardness, the getting over it when you gain some confidence through other channels. This seems… normal? Also too what seems normal is that at the end of this progression you lose your old, weird grudges that seem to be have been a product of your lack of self-confidence. Ok, so maybe SA had (or has?) other, mental health issues that prevent him from losing these grudges. And yes, it sucks to have serious mental health issues, like, really. Which would make me sympathetic to him. But it certainly doesn’t incline me to give any credence to his literally pointless rant. (That’s the charitable reading.)

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Barry Cotter 02.16.15 at 5:01 am

Val @ 116

Many, many people spend dates talking about themselves, men and women both.

From a review of Self-Made Man, Norah Vincent
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2006/apr/01/highereducation.biography

Some of Vincent’s most appalling stories are about going on dates, through which self-involved, demanding and resentfully unhappy women never ask about Ned, his feelings or his past, and never shut up about theirs. Single women might be well advised to read this chapter as a How-not-to guide. Determined to have their cake and eat it, Ned’s dates expect an impossible combination of new-age sensitivity and old-fashioned toughness. Ned learns not only how relentlessly men are obliged to suffer romantic rejection, but how hard it is to surmount a woman’s cumulative grudges against their whole sex. “When a woman approaches a man armed to the teeth with ulterior wounds for which men as a species are presumptively to blame, the man has no choice but to fight back, and when everything he says and does is measured against the front-loaded politics of sex, he can’t help but shrivel or putrefy under the scrutiny.” Intelligent, articulate and perceptive, Self-Made Man has much to offer men and women alike.

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Fuzzy Dunlop 02.16.15 at 5:05 am

Landru @158 I was unclear/misspoke before: I think the point about women being expected to do emotional work for men is generally salient, but not actually as an objection to Aaronson’s post specifically, for the reasons Academic Lurker @20 pointed out–this was a comment buried deep in a thread on his own blog post (and calling such a comment “self-involved”… really? his party, he can cry if he wants to).

The extent to which a lot of the responses to Aaronson’s post badly, badly misread him really does suggest to me that people were inventing points of disagreement to avoid acknowledging the validity & importance of what he said (as Quite Likely @137 suggested). IME suspiciously high frequency of misreadings or uncharitable readings tends to be a thing that happens a lot when feminists voice their grievances in mixed company, so this is all very familiar (maybe not the exact degree or frequency, but that it’s a really noticeable problem).

That said, while accusing Aaronson of wanting feminism to have already addressed his own problems is a straw man, that doesn’t make the thing he actually did say–that certain aspects of feminism exacerbated his problems–actually right in the way that he said it was. This is where I think the distinction between scholarly/expert feminist writing and feminism as a broader cultural phenomenon is important.

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Russell L. Carter 02.16.15 at 5:10 am

” Seriously, show of hands – how many people who have been using Andrea Dworkin’s name in this thread as a shorthand for man-hating anti-sex femini Seriously, show of hands – how many people who have been using Andrea Dworkin’s name in this thread as a shorthand for man-hating anti-sex feminism have read “Intercourse”?”

Well, I didn’t intend for my mention to mean “man-hating anti-sex-feminism[sic]”.

It’s not on my shelf, though there are another 20 standards from that vintage in this category, but I did read it and was not impressed. But I didnt’ think it was man-hating anti-sex feminsism. What did impress me though is that through all the vilification of Dworkin, at the time, 30+ years ago, she had a live in man, who was quite happy to talk about the relationship. Carefully listening to him, he didn’t seem oppressed at all! I thought at the time that that was very interesting.

I think I should go revisit some of these earlier books. Thank you for being a good example Daniel.

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MPAVictoria 02.16.15 at 5:14 am

“IME suspiciously high frequency of misreadings or uncharitable readings tends to be a thing that happens a lot when feminists voice their grievances in mixed company,”

Bitches be crazy am I right?

/damn I am being derisive again.

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clew 02.16.15 at 5:41 am

There’s just not that many feminists who want to get up and make a big deal about wanting to be allowed to sleep with not-that-attractive-but-actually-decent-and-interesting guys without suffering a loss of social standing. “

There are feminists who would like to be in female-breadwinner male-caretaker relationships without shocking their bosses or families. (Scorn if he has a job instead of a career; shock if they have the same career but he’s the trailing spouse.)

Also, my memory of being a teenage nerdess is that I wasn’t allowed to suggest I could desire, even in theory in the future. It was unfeminine and threatening and made me “any man’s meat”. (Threatening to guy nerd friends; the comment from a non-friend.) I have found feminism very useful for saying I could have sexual agency, not just choose between the bowerbirds in front of me.

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Val 02.16.15 at 5:57 am

Rich, Charles R, Barry, anyone else interested

I agree it’s all getting really complicated. But maybe this at least is simple. I’m saying:

– Patriarchy in its basic form says to those men “perform masculinity and you get a woman”.

– Liberal capitalist patriarchy (in which most of us live to some extent) also says ‘sell yourself’ (aka ‘talk yourself up’) which some people of any gender or sexual persuasion may at times on a date interpret (unconsciously) interpret as ‘impress this person by talking about how good you are’ (misguided).

These are two different, but not conflicting, interpretations I am putting forward to explain two different phenomena. There are other possible interpretations as well, like the people who talk about themselves too much have some mental health condition, or weren’t brought up properly, or whatever. It’s complicated.

And (this comes with an apology for repeating myself, but you have different conversations with different people on the internet, and they may not have read every word you previously wrote ha ha) I am the particular kind of feminist and historian who believes that patriarchy has been the dominant social order for the last few thousand years. Within that you get different variants – capitalism, socialism, liberalism, neo-liberalism, etc. I don’t think that “patriarchy” and “capitalism” are alternative explanatory theories, and haven’t ever been convinced by those people who suggest they are (who usually suggest that capitalism is the correct one, of course). But a high capitalist patriarchy does tend I think to position us all as products with a brand that we have to sell.

As for those women who spend the whole date complaining about men – oh goddess I don’t know. I think this probably does happen (and is also related to patriarchy) but I don’t know much about it. I’ll have to read the book.

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ayched 02.16.15 at 6:03 am

The standard of expected to do emotional labor for men is a loooong way past what Aaronson was asking for, which was more like don’t hurt men by telling them over and over again that they’re all basically rapists in waiting. Exaggerating his argument with a straw-person accusation doesn’t help anyone in this discussion.

Wait a minute… Just which is the exaggeration here? I find the idea that feminists feel men are “all basically rapists in waiting” to be at at least as big a stretch as an assumption that men feel that women should do the emotional labor for them.

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Zora 02.16.15 at 6:20 am

I’m an Aspie nerd (female) and so is my brother. We went to the same US high school, a few years apart. He was physically bullied: head flushed in the toilet, thrown from a second story window. I was simply treated with contempt. He was suicidal; I was not.

However, I think life has been somewhat easier for him since high school. He’s an electrical engineer; I am a struggling freelance editor. I went back to school and got an A.Sc degree (because it was cheap) in computer tech, but no one wanted to hire an older woman. A disabled Aspie older woman.

People accept that a nerdy guy can be somewhat socially challenged; they do not seem to accept that from a female. They think I’m being intentionally rude.

So far as I know (and I’m not close to my brother), he didn’t have problems with women because he was an Aspie nerd. He had problems with jocks.

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adam.smith 02.16.15 at 7:19 am

Aaronson, and people taking his side, are not blaming feminists of the era for failing to cure anyone, they’re blaming feminists for hurting people and exacerbating their problems. And, if you believe that to be the case, then is it not reasonable to ask that they stop?

Two things about this: 1) his evidence of this damage done by feminism is a) Andrew Dworkin and b) sexual harassment prevention, neither of which is all that convincing and
2)
there is this passage:

So I scoured the feminist literature for any statement to the effect that my fears were as silly as I hoped they were. But I didn’t find any. On the contrary: I found reams of text about how even the most ordinary male/female interactions are filled with “microaggressions,” and how even the most “enlightened” males—especially the most “enlightened” males, in fact—are filled with hidden entitlement and privilege and a propensity to sexual violence that could burst forth at any moment.

(my emphasis) First, he’s very clearly blaming feminism for not presenting a solution to his problems here.
But beyond that–Fuzzy, he is clearly claiming to read academic feminism here. And this reading of academic feminism during the mid-1990s is, frankly, absurd. If you read bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, This Bridge Called My Back (all of which were classics by that time that any intro to feminism reader or class would have introduced him to) and that’s what you get out of it–well, I don’t know what to say.
Remember–this wasn’t some guy in a basement in rural Oklahoma. He was in Cambridge, MA at that point. It wasn’t hard to learn about that stuff if you actually wanted to. I’m not saying everyone needs to become an avid reader of feminist literature. The point is that if you were reading feminist literature in the mid-late 1990s and this is what you were getting out of it, the problem was you, not the literature. And so blaming the literature for “hurting you” does in fact blame the literature for not fixing you.

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magistra 02.16.15 at 7:42 am

Zora@168 is very interesting, because it’s implictly discussing the privilege aspect from the point of view of people who are otherwise the same (i.e. same background, same non-neurotypicality). But even if she probably has had it worse overall, it certainly sounds like schools ought to take physical bullying of boys a lot more seriously. I think British schools have at least made some adavances since I was young.

I suppose the question for Scott Aaronson is whether having traded away his male, straight white privilege for happiness while he was an adolescent (and I can quite believe that he would sincerely have done that, depression can make you prepared to do anything), he’d then have wanted to retrieve it when he was older. Because I somehow doubt many black lesbians get to be professors at MIT.

I’m not sure whether anyone has mentioned Laura Penny’s response to Aaronson (http://www.newstatesman.com/laurie-penny/on-nerd-entitlement-rebel-alliance-empire), which takes his mental health problems seriously (having had them herself as a teenager), but still objects to his sexual politics.

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Bruce Baugh 02.16.15 at 8:30 am

Part of the reason, by the way, that I find it easy to think of Aaronson’s specific problems as being mental illness is that I get that too. I have PTSD and am prone to bouts of severe depression, and while in them I have to cut off most of my regular reading and viewing and heavily monitor the rest, because my poor damaged, struggling brain then casts everything in the worst possible light. Everything becomes props for self-condemnation, nihilism, despair, and rage, which can all too easily catapult me right into the realm of suicidally dangerous self-neglected or worse.

People who are healthier in this regard get that too, of course. Anyone can despair, and when you do, the beast can feed itself on anything to hand right down to food labels. But as a recurring part of one’s life, this form of it is as distinct from the regular woes of mental life as, well, depression is from feeling very sad and discouraged at the moment.

I know exactly what it’s like to energetically, diligently pore over tomes in search of the relief I crave…only to realize later that I was doing so in an entirely self-sabotaging way that made it all useless. It’s not that I wanted to waste my time and passion, it’s that physical conditions in my brain were such that the plaintive cry “I need a break!” was doomed to go awry. It’s the same general kind of problem as trying to run a marathon without being aware that one of your legs is broken in three places and hasn’t been set – all the good will in the world won’t get you there right then. You have to start with identifying and treating the barriers before you can move past them.

Note that this is emphatically not a matter of reading (viewing, listening, etc.) dishonestly. At least it wasn’t in my case- and won’t be in the future, because I know I’m not shut of it – and I don’t see any reason to believe it of him. What it shows, rather, is that conscious desire is sometimes not worth the powder it would take to blow it up in terms of getting results. So yeah, I have no problem believing that he went to late ’90s feminist literature and came back with a reinforced sense of what an awful person he was. He would have gotten the same result for the same effort on military history, fashion reporting, pop music reviews, or simulations of biogenesis in the early earth’s mantle, because when you’re screwed up that way, it all becomes about the damage and the part of you that wishes you harm.

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Bruce Baugh 02.16.15 at 8:31 am

I’d just like to note that three of those examples in my last paragraph aren’t hypothetical, but actual things I focused on obsessively and harmfully in different periods of crisis.

Reflecting on those times was even less enjoyable than I thought it was going to be, so I hope it helps the conversation a bit. I’m gonna go punch digital dragons a while.

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Zora 02.16.15 at 8:45 am

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Mal 02.16.15 at 9:12 am

I grew up as a white nerd. I was bullied for years. I found solace in computers where people had seemingly let me down. Then I met other white nerds who had done the same and we banded together. After a few years of being white nerds together, we’d started getting normal social interaction experience under our belt, albeit through a white male nerd lens. We’d play D&D but through that get to know each other, ourselves and how to deal with social situations.

Eventually we ventured out and started going out. There were girls there. It took a while to get the courage together, but eventually we all started talking to them and started to make girl friends. Thoughts of ‘love’ creeped up sometimes but most of us didn’t really do much with it because we’d grown up believing we were weird and not accepted.

But with time we realized that if we were really that weird, why did we have quite a number of friends now, of both genders?

Multiple relationships, many more years and a lot of programming and D&D later, I am still a white nerd. I sometimes have a neckbeard (what, it happens).

And I’m perfectly content and feel that I have a fine grasp on human interaction. I managed to find my way out of the victim role and into the life I wanted and felt I could have instead.

I will readily admit I am privileged by race, gender, sexuality, economic situation and the country I was born in. I don’t feel that privilege makes me any better than anyone else, though. As a result, I obviously don’t feel that anyone not as privileged as me is worth any less. It’s our actions that define our worth to the world, not our randomized starting statistics.

I will also never agree that somehow we’re being worked against by girls or feminists.

I’m definitely younger than Aaronson and I never, not at any single point, had the feeling I wasn’t allowed to show an interest in girls. I wasn’t comfortable with doing so, but that was due to my own situation and resulting issues. I just felt I couldn’t show an interest in a girl eloquently enough. Once I got to the point where I had dealt with many of those issues, the rest followed.

It seems Aaronson hasn’t dealt with his issues enough. He should get on that instead of the blame-wagon. And I don’t mean this in a mean way, this isn’t meant as a cheap jab, I seriously feel that his frustrations run deeper and that he should look within himself for a solution rather than pointing outwards.

Gender equalization is an important goal to strive for and recently it’s become obvious there are a number of arenas where this is painfully necessary. Feminism as a term has gotten some negative connotations (i.e. ‘man-hating’), but I still don’t understand how anyone could ever be completely against a movement intent on having everyone being treated with a proper level of respect.

We’re in this together and we need to find a way to give everyone who wants it the same chance of having a safe, comfortable and rewarding life.

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Scott Martens 02.16.15 at 9:23 am

I dunno if this is going to help – I try not to comment in arguments like this these days because yelling at people on the Internet has a lost a lot of its fun for me in recent years. But it’s hard not to hang my head in nerd shame at a lot of men, men whose lives and experiences I can recognize as a lot like mine, opposing a strawman man-hating feminism (the kind you get from selectively quoting Dworkin and MacKinnon) to a very non-strawman structural and cultural problem that leads to very real rape. The inability to distinguish the things in your head from the things that really exist is something inward-facing, nerdy guys have a general problem with and has nothing to do with the specifics of rape culture.

The problems of sexuality that you see as a social, cultural and political struggle is something a lot of nerdy young men can only see as very personal, individual and immiserating. Yes, when you are the horny young man who just can’t seem to get anywhere with women and all you can feel is what’s wrong with me?!?! your needs feel a lot more pressing than a campus rape crisis center. Being a grown up means recognizing that other people’s problems may be more important than yours, but it’s far from some shocking act of misogyny to be young, horny and hard-pressed to make good judgments about the greater good.

And yes, there are some women in the commentariat who don’t see that very well, including some who probably should – I’m looking at you Marcotte – but whatever shortcomings their comments have are nothing compared to the point that the rape culture they complain about really exists and shy nerds play a part in it not really very different from the stereotyped entitled date rapist jock.

So instead I’m going relate the experience that stuck with me when I felt the temptation to see myself as some Nice Guy who lying, hypocritical women rejected in favor of assholes.

When I was 18, I was living in France and I was, one afternoon, on the bus from Strasbourg over the border to Kehl. There was a tall, pretty, blonde, roughly my age, on the bus, and it was crowded and standing room only. The bus jerked a lot as it stopped and started and I struggled to keep a handhold, and at some point, I found my hand pressed down against a bar set at the back of the bus by something I could not see, So I tugged and moved it around and finally – after 15 seconds or so – managed to free it, only to realize that it had been this young woman’s bottom that had been pinning it. I looked at her for a moment and then turned away, embarrassed. Later, I managed to find a seat, and I looked at her again. She saw me, and this look of fear and withdrawal came over her that I had simply never seen before, at least, never directed at me. She thought I had been groping her!

I was 18, my French wasn’t very good, my women skills were even worse, and an older and more mature me would have dealt with this very differently, apologizing terribly, working very hard to look embarrassed and ashamed and harmless (and maybe then tried to get her number – she was really very pretty and it never would have occurred to me in a million years to think of my sexual interests as somehow wrong, rather than frustrating, ego-crushing, or pitiful). But at the time, I did nothing but remain silent.

Up to that point in life it had never occurred to me, ever, that any woman, anywhere, would be scared of me. That any woman, ever, would see me as a potential perpetrator even of the very minor form of sexual assault she probably thought I was guilty of, much less as a potential rapist.

That experience informed a lot of my future efforts at, well, trying to pick up women – the realization that men are dangerous, even shy, nerdy men, and that seen from the perspective of young, sexually interesting women, the Nice Guys and the Rapist Assholes look a lot alike and there is no magic test to tell them apart. But when you don’t get that – when you are young, male, horny, and especially not very successful with women – it’s easy to interpret your personal, deeply felt unhappiness in terms of how either something is wrong with you, or something is wrong with women, or both, and reinterpret every bit of gender politics from feminist literature to calls for colleges to do a better job dealing with rape claims, in terms of your sexuality and problems.

179

Belle Waring 02.16.15 at 10:18 am

Scott, let me suggest that an even wiser older version of you, the amount older you will be by the time you have read to the end of this comment, would not have tried to get the girl’s motherfucking number.

180

Brett Bellmore 02.16.15 at 12:38 pm

“Gender equalization is an important goal to strive for and recently it’s become obvious there are a number of arenas where this is painfully necessary. “

Suicide rates, lifespans, things like that.

181

armando 02.16.15 at 12:44 pm

I’m reading the comments and find myself agreeing with lots of viewpoints, sometimes contradictory ones. I come at this from the perspective of someone who was an abused nerdy guy, who never had a problem with dates/getting sex or female friends. If anything, I had the opposite – being sufficiently fucked can make you seem unavailable and mysterious and therefore desirable. And I was aware from about the age of 9 that things would have been worse for me had I been a girl, so I completely accept the concept of privilege, even as it applies to someone going through shit.

Also, I agree that you really can’t blame feminism for bullying, or the patriarchal structures that oppress low status/nerdy men. And you can’t expect feminists to be your therapist. And more than that, masculinity is absolutely toxic, in a way that is simply not properly acknowledged.

The toxic nature of masculinity shames men for being vulnerable, for having emotions other than anger or lust; this is partly why the majority of emotional work falls to women, because as a culture we have pretty much decided that men aren’t fully emotional beings. And if you keep getting told stuff like that, you accept it (I don’t at all, and never have, because my survival depended on me processing some difficult stuff early on, and I simply had no one who was going to help me – but I can see it done to men, and I can see it being given to me even as I reject it).

And in this context, the very real fear that women have – of being afraid of men, in various situations, I’m thinking of “Schroedinger’s Rapist” and that kind of thing – inevitably gets received by men. For *most* men, who already think of themselves as aggressors, it might spark a bit of empathy. But if you are a sensitive, self aware sort of man, it reinforces certain aspects of toxic masculinity; it is hard to take on board someone else fear of you, without internalising the concept that you are a thing which causes fear. And a thing which causes fear is, in some sense, a monster. That isn’t inevitable, but it is a fairly predictable human response, in my view. Blame isn’t the point here, but a way to negotiate this stuff in a human, compassionate way that doesn’t dismiss anyone’s pain.

182

primedprimate 02.16.15 at 2:12 pm

I think more widespread use of sexual surrogacy in conjunction with counseling can greatly alleviate some of the mental health problems that appear to be widespread among certain social groups.

These mental health problems and their solutions are orthogonal to feminism in my view.

I think feminism gets unfairly blamed because sex deprived men think that the women who refused their advances are privileged in relation to them. I think when feminists say that men are privileged, it upsets these men who have found themselves at the bottom of the social/sexual attractiveness hierarchy/ladder from where they have been looking at women who appear to have stratospheric status.

I think most reasonable men would agree that society privileges men greatly and in most respects. But on this one issue a non-trivial percentage of men (nerds?) feel that they are underprivileged vis-a-vis women (and other men).

183

Pat 02.16.15 at 2:13 pm

Not directly relevant to Scott Alexander’s issue, but Meredith Patterson’s article “When nerds collide” fascinated me. I had never heard of ‘weird nerds,’ ‘brogrammers,’ etc.
I also related to her article on feminism as it relates to nerd girls.

DanS #163 GROOOAAN :)

184

Rich Puchalsky 02.16.15 at 2:20 pm

I mentioned working with a Rus Funk-organized group briefly before, and I guess I’m going to somewhat reluctantly link to his recent work. “Somewhat reluctantly” both because I’m not sure whether I agree with all of it — there are some points at which it’s more second-wave than I’d like — and because it tells people to consider context carefully and this isn’t its intended context. But here’s a link to something that might be useful.

The article contains “a list of beliefs that are useful when educating men about sexual and domestic violence.”

* Everyone has experienced various forms of violence and abuse.
* Everyone has the right to be free from violence, abuse and threats
* The problem of violence is both a social and a justice issue, as much as a personal one.
* Men are not the problem.
* There is more to those who perpetrate sexist violence than the violence they perpetrate (i.e. men are more than “rapists,” “batterers,” or “pornographers”).
* Men do care.
* Men, like women, have an unlimited and inherent capacity to feel empathy for others.
* There is nothing natural or innate about sexist, violent or abusive behaviors.
* Being violent or abusive is a choice.
* Men can change.
* There is much to benefit males by working to end violence and abuse, and by challenging sexism.
* Males can work effectively alongside women and become strong allies in the work to promote social justice and human rights.
* We can all handle being angry as well as any other emotions that arise.

The article does acknowledge that the kind of thing that happened with Aaronson is a general problem, though of course much more often to a lesser extent:

One of the first steps in engaging men is to define sexist violence as something that men could and should care about. Once defined as a men’s issue, a challenging balancing act follows: men must take sexist violence personally enough to be committed to act, but not so personally that they take blame for all sexist violence.

185

Fuzzy Dunlop 02.16.15 at 2:22 pm

Fuzzy Dunlop @?? That said, while accusing Aaronson of wanting feminism to have already addressed his own problems is a straw man, that doesn’t make the thing he actually did say–that certain aspects of feminism exacerbated his problems–actually right in the way that he said it was.

adam.smith @176 But beyond that–Fuzzy, he is clearly claiming to read academic feminism here. And this reading of academic feminism during the mid-1990s is, frankly, absurd.

I think we’re in agreement here. I think something recognizable as related to feminism outside the literature might have led to his confusion about the literature, but really, what went on in Scott Aaronson’s head in the mid-1990s isn’t very important to me, and anyway, what I understood him to be interested in in the present was not old print literature but how people talk on the internet.

What feminism looks like outside of edited books & articles is interesting in its own right, not in relation to Scott Aaronson (maybe, enough about him already?).

186

MPAVictoria 02.16.15 at 2:22 pm

Bruce just wanted to say those were really compelling comments at 178-179. Thank you.

187

primedprimate 02.16.15 at 2:31 pm

For a sex-starved male, his desperate ‘would you please go out with me?’ plea and its scorn and mockery-filled response by a woman sound a lot like a starving beggar pleading for a loaf of bread only to be laughed at by the wealthy man.

So these males erroneously wonder why the wealthy man is considered privileged in the latter case while they themselves are considered privileged in the former.

As I said before, sexual surrogacy and counseling for those with mental health issues could play the role that food banks and homeless shelters play for the indigent.

188

bob mcmanus 02.16.15 at 2:35 pm

My contribution to the winding-down thread, from R Taggert Murphy, Japan and the Shackles of the Past, 2014. Murphy is a professor resident in Japan for forty years, gay; all material below from the book, italics mine

The herbivore label suggests, however, that we are dealing with some-
thing beyond palpably relaxed mores. Again, neologisms provide a clue.
Like the sodai-gomi epithet applied to retired men, the flippant terms often
used for younger men can border on open contempt. Many young Japanese
women today refer to their boyfriends as Kīppu Kun. Kīppu is the English
“keep” while Kun is, as noted above, the suffix used instead of the usual
San (“Mr./Ms.”) when speaking to or about a boy. The implication is that
the boyfriend is kept around because he is useful in some material way to
the woman, not because she has any deep feelings for him. Thus Asshi Kun
(literally, “Young Master Legs”) can be relied upon to provide transporta-
tion because he has a car, Meisshi Kun (“Young Master Food”) will take
her out to fancy restaurants, and Mitsugu Kun (“Young Master Presents”)
provides her with expensive baubles.

This kind of table-turning in which women now feel free to use the
same kind of objectifying language about men that males traditionally
used about women is a phenomenon that, of course, can be seen elsewhere
in the developed world. But again, what is interesting here is the differ-
ence in the underlying assumptions about what has happened to men.

In the reflexive misandry that pervades American popular culture today, males—at
least straight males—are depicted as clueless losers; as insensitive, boorish
louts
.

In Japan, they are more likely to be depicted as weak, as passive—herbi-
vores at the mercy of nikushoku onna (literally, “carnivorous women”).

189

Kate 02.16.15 at 2:52 pm

Belle–you know you are the devil! So many things I should be doing today and I find myself yet again, reading very long threads and rallying at the universe that you don’t live in County Antrim and invite me over for drinks, music and musings about children!

But on the topic. I was(am?) that female nerd that played D&D and wanted a mindlinked teleporting dragon–that made you have sex! And my do I have/had a soft spot for intelligent men. The vast majority of which who could not/would not make a move even as I spent hours gazing at them listening to them talk about coding, Japanese weaponry or how their philosophy would make the world a better place.

And I want to thank feminism for giving me the intellectual framework to be in charge of my own damn romantic choices so that by my 20’s I was capable of making those first moves, which made life a whole lot less frustrating.

Stop violence against women (and those less powerful). Think of people as individuals. Don’t automatically give or take power. Respect the word no. Remember your privilege. All great dating and relationship advice.

190

Horatio 02.16.15 at 2:55 pm

Maybe it has to do with the difference between different forms of social space. The teenage Aaronson probably realizes that if he’s talking to a girl he’s met at a party or a bar and says “do you want to come by some time and see my etchings?”, even if he gets a scornful refusal it’s unlikely that he’ll be viewed by polite society as having done something akin to harassment. It’s a party. But nerds don’t get out much. They spend a lot of time at school or college. Which is a space with something of the air of the workplace, where women have the reasonable expectation of being able to go about their business without being hit on, because the official point of being there is to earn money or to learn, not to socialize. If teenage Aaronson’s stammering clammy-palmed attentions are unwelcome at a party, people might think he’s a loser, but he’s aware that they probably won’t think of him as infringing on her right to be treated with respect. Around class, he’s not so sure. In fact, he’s quite worried. And he’s worried not just about how an explicit pass would be viewed, but about what happens if the desires he’s anxiously trying to keep under wraps are recognized. This is neurotic but has a certain logic to it. And he sees feminism as having expanded the territory where the workplace moral regime operates, from the literal office and classroom into certain allied spaces, and as having intensified the taboos within that territory. He may even recognize the justice of it, but he sees himself as collateral damage. Just a theory.

191

Landru 02.16.15 at 3:00 pm

Scott Martens at 182: “seen from the perspective of young, sexually interesting women, the Nice Guys and the Rapist Assholes look a lot alike and there is no magic test to tell them apart.”

Sorry, but I’m calling this one: rancid bullshit.

It’s flagrant anti-male bigotry, and acutely misogynistic to boot — kind of a two-fer — to remove from women all ability to distinguish between two radically different personality types, and push all responsibility for that supposed lack of judgement [sic] onto men instead. Villain-ization and infant-ilization together in one neat package.

Yes, there is no formula, magical or otherwise, which will guarantee 100% success in detecting people’s true natures; who ever said there was? And, yes, when mistakes in judgement are made, tragic consequences can result; I absolutely don’t want to minimize anyone’s bad experiences and I absolutely don’t blame anyone for being as cautious as they feel they need to be. But to say, without qualification, as you have that there is no operationally discernible difference between the actual kind and generous person who would actually never hurt anyone, and the murderous sociopathic felon who certainly will, is an absurdity, insulting to all human beings. If we can’t tell these two apart, then why did God even give us eyes, FFS?

192

MPAVictoria 02.16.15 at 3:11 pm

“Sorry, but I’m calling this one: rancid bullshit.”

No it sadly isn’t. I wish it was but it isn’t.

193

primedprimate 02.16.15 at 3:16 pm

Kate @ 103: Thank you for that comment. How I wish my younger self from 20 years ago had received your advice on bravely making the first move in a mutually respectful manner. Instead as a teenager and a young man I either fearfully stayed silent about my romantic interests or fumbled about incoherently, awkwardly, and guiltily.

194

Anarcissie 02.16.15 at 3:23 pm

Landru 02.16.15 at 3:00 pm @ 194:
‘… But to say, without qualification, as you have that there is no operationally discernible difference between the actual kind and generous person who would actually never hurt anyone, and the murderous sociopathic felon who certainly will, is an absurdity, insulting to all human beings….’

It’s a spectrum, not a binary division. There are a lot of people in the middle. The nastier types learn to get along in the world by simulating niceness, and they also create cultures in which nasty qualities are valued, admired, and rewarded. The nastier they are, the harder they work at both projects.

Meanwhile, sexual attraction operates on an entirely different and more fundamental plane than moral and aesthetic judgements about people’s characters, often overpowering them. That’s why it’s called ‘chemistry’.

195

primedprimate 02.16.15 at 3:24 pm

I meant Kate @ 193, obviously.

196

hix 02.16.15 at 3:40 pm

What i can resonate with a lot here is that gender role expectations are also a major problem for guys. Emotional pain is no pain, pretend it does not exist is something i got told a lot by both my parents. Feminism was definitly not a topic back in school in any way and there never were girls involved in the more unpleasant parts of my school time.

Fast forward to me being a very old undergraduate student right now. I just cant feal any male priviledge in this environment. Its rather strange to hear all that women are so disadvantaged (because they got problems to get top management positions etc.) stuff – and just that, no deaper discussion of gender roles or anything- , when 85% of the students are female (and the dropouts were also far disproportional male, just like the female students grades are overall better). Other issues that might cause a disadvantage, class in particular are completly ignored or discussed in a way that is not framed in a disadvantage awareness frame. Im sorry, im from a background where graduating college is still a big thing. So while im completly aware there are more than enough situations where its far better to be male in my own or a younger age cohort, i do very much tink this is not always the case.

197

bob mcmanus 02.16.15 at 3:41 pm

For a more overtly personal note than the above:

I seem to have learned at a very early age that dogs and children are better trained, controlled, disciplined by: positive reinforcement, treats and rewards, praise, attention and physical affection, co-operation, nurturing and support. Foucault was partly wrong in overestimating censure and sanction and underestimating approval and permission as the primary means of creating the disciplinary social. One can decide for oneself the degree with which the above practices are gendered, and if gendered historical-role determined.

So I tend to be suspicious of safe spaces, supportive communities, and civility and prefer tendentious and disputatious environments.

198

lemmycaution 02.16.15 at 3:46 pm

I just saw the movie “horns”.

It was horrible, but illuminating on male nerd fantasies. Sexual desire is ridiculous and demeaning. Initiating sexual relationships is particularly bad. The protagonist straight up causes pain and destruction and it somehow isn’t his fault, but he never actually initiates sexual interactions. Coupling is possible if is initiated by the women for non-sexual purposes. Uncoupling is not acceptable.

If these are your fantasies, being attracted to the ideas of Andrea Dworkin isn’t really a stretch.

199

bianca steele 02.16.15 at 3:59 pm

Gender essentialism hurts men as much as women. There isn’t, and can’t be, some one single definition of what it is to be a man. (I don’t think there’s any finite number of ways to be a man (or a woman): like jock, geek, gay–either.) It isn’t helpful for non-nerds (men or women) to judge nerds for failing to live up to some supposed single ideal of manliness. It isn’t helpful, either, for people who feel they don’t live up to what they believe is an ideal, to pretend they do.

I also don’t think it mostly ever helps to guilt people to death. It’s like a kind of moral austerity: force them to hit bottom and they’ll have to change.

That said, IMHO Twitter sucks. It isn’t good for what we’re using it for. It’s easy to want to double down, or to say, well there must be rules that will make it all work well, and if I follow the rules, this will feel less horrible. Or, I know I’m following the rules, and if everyone else would too, we’ll get the right results. In real life, adult nerds (male and female) and journalists (male and female) would almost never meet, and wouldn’t annoy each other so much, and would go merrily along the rest of their lives without input from the other.

200

Luke 02.16.15 at 4:20 pm

Carrot and stick, bob. Can’t have one without the other. What meaning wealth without the spectre of penury? If the world is just an undifferentiated mass of possible utilities, we’re back in the realm of neoliberal ideology.

As for your @192, I’m having trouble parsing it. I’m going to assume you don’t think the ‘misandry’ part should be taken too literally, since the tropes of the boorish or henpecked man are as old as — what? Plautus? Aristophanes? If the popular culture of a civilisation in which women were routinely subject to physical violence and were (in the Greek case) not even allowed to *eat a meal* until the men of the house had finished could produce jokes about worthless men, then ‘misandry’ means something I don’t have a word for.

In the Japanese case, a culture in which men are (were? are things changing?) within their rights to strike their wives, in front of guests, for speaking out of turn at the dinner table (i.e. having an opinion, about anything), it’s not surprising that women might be (or be seen to be) distant and manipulative. And of course, we know that in both cases men *do* feel emasculted. Easier to admit to being frustrated by the alien sex than by other men, though.

201

Luke 02.16.15 at 4:23 pm

Bah. ‘Emasculated’. ‘Emasculted’ sounds unpleasant, though.

202

bianca steele 02.16.15 at 4:34 pm

lemmycaution @ 202

I think there is some thing in the culture that, if taken to an extreme, makes it look like Andrea Dworkin’s ideas are just plain true, and simultaneously makes it look like that kind of fantasy is just the way things are. I personally don’t know what to conclude from that fact. There’s probably something to the idea that people who “got out more” wouldn’t appreciate either Horns or Dworkin as much (that is, I tend to think Andrea Dworkin took ideas in her head too seriously, as much as people on this thread are accusing any “nerd” of doing). But that doesn’t mean we should ignore them or dismiss them (the books/film or the people).

203

Bruce Baugh 02.16.15 at 4:42 pm

Rich, that’s some fascinating reading. Thanks. Marked it for when I have more free brain to really study.

MPAV, thanks. I realized that the thread was converging on a dichotomy I don’t think actually applies.

204

bianca steele 02.16.15 at 4:42 pm

Also, by rules @203, I don’t mean men and male nerds, because we all know “rule following” is a euphemism for “autistic” (????). I mean women and left bloggers, too. You can bet Amanda Marcotte and Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig have their rules, and I’ll bet Belle does, and so do I.

205

Pete 02.16.15 at 4:53 pm

@Landru no. Consider the recent spate of historical rape allegations against aged UK celebrities. People who were popular, charismatic, and used those very properties as cover.

206

Tyrone Slothrop 02.16.15 at 5:06 pm

Luke @ 205:

I agree with your emendation assessment; indeed, I believe I shall commence using emasculted as a marker for the debilitating emotional/mental/spiritual states devolved from the influence of charismatics, such as provided the impetus for the baseball-backgrounded mass marriages performed under the auspices of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon…

207

bob mcmanus 02.16.15 at 5:12 pm

I’m going to assume you don’t think the ‘misandry’ part should be taken too literally …Let me check some sitcoms, wait I don’t watch those anymore.

Always useful to see how people independent of the culture, like Murphy, see us. And to view other cultures and places to gain some perspective on our own. It was a quote.

In the Japanese case, a culture in which men are (were? are things changing?)…

Changed, and changing radically. The paragraphs preceding that quote are about young independent unmarried working women, which is becoming an important demographic in Japan.

More Murphy:

But the emergence of what in another era would have been called “attitude*” among younger lower–class Japanese girls while their upper–class sisters refuse to play the dutiful wife and self-sacrificial mother roles long carved out for them suggests something fundamental to Japanese culture is indeed shifting

Japan could conceivably be left with what the enemies of feminism have
long warned would be the consequences of a society-wide displacement of
males: enervated, emasculated upper-class males together with feral male
loutishness at the lower levels

*Some of the more extreme rebellious fashions and trends, goth or intense tans or Victoriana, yaoi and fujoshi and doujinshi, are class markers. Is slash fan-fiction in America an Ivy League phenomenon?

208

Random Lurker 02.16.15 at 6:09 pm

As I understand it, Scott Aaronson’s point is not that feminism is to blame for the fact that ‘shy male nerds’ have a tough time in school and college. Instead, his point (compressed severely, so lacking nuance) is the following: Feminism is associated with one specific problem that aggravates the difficulties faced by these nerds. Sexual harassment seminars and related events (associated, for good or ill, with feminism) are a good thing, in that they presumably have the direct positive impact of reducing sexual harassment of all kinds, and in particular of reducing sexual assault / rape. However, for a certain group of shy males (‘nerds’), they can have the negative effect of making them feel like they are Bad People ™ for having sexual desires and that they would be Evil ™ if they made unwelcome advances to women who then felt uncomfortable / threatened.

Aaronson feels that these seminars and other events (even in their current form) and of course, the existence of feminism more broadly, are a huge positive, because the tradeoff is worth it: The societal good outweighs the possibly minor harm to a small group of people, many of whom will probably get over it (as he did himself). On the other hand, he claims that we don’t really acknowledge the existence of a tradeoff; no attention is paid to the harm suffered by the shy male (or female!) nerds. Therefore, we are unaware of the extent of the problem (How many people feel this way? How severe are the consequences?), and are missing out on opportunities to mitigate this harm. For example, perhaps the seminars could include more examples of positive romantic interactions? Perhaps the existing centers could have a staff member who specializes in counseling students who feel this self-doubt (or extreme self-loathing in the severe cases, such as Aaronson’s)? Of course, we can dismiss it and say that the group of affected students is small, and hence not worth attention. If we don’t do anything to help people in this group, though, then many of them are going to end up (unjustly) blaming feminism as the message-bearer, even if / when they eventually grow out of their problems. That’s because the feminists are the ones telling them that they are bad people (not really, but that’s how it’s perceived), and who likes to hear that? He wrote: “That I managed to climb out of the pit with my feminist beliefs mostly intact, you might call a triumph of abstract reason over experience.”

If one hasn’t read the entire context, of course, this may not come across as being his main point. (Life is short, and who has time to read multiple threads with hundreds of comments each? And from his perspective, as a couple of earlier commenters here alluded to, why provide additional context when writing deep in a comment thread?) But, for instance, he explicitly mentions a couple of times that his problem was not that he was only attracted to “hot” women; instead the girls he found attractive were the shy female nerds. While he said that he felt his personality was optimized for the ‘shtetl’ era, he also said that he does not yearn for this era, and regards the fact society now believes that “no one has the right to anyone else’s sexual affections [as] one of the triumphs of modern civilization.” In fact, this was a large part of the reason for his self-loathing: He believed he was a person suited for a system he regarded as oppressive, and that this made him an evil monster.

209

Scott Aaronson 02.16.15 at 7:03 pm

Dear Belle,

I really appreciate your honesty in this post about your thought processes. If you’ll let me riff a little, the process seems to go something like: “I really want to feel empathy for people like Scott Aaronson, because rationally I know that empathy is not only morally superior to Amanda-Marcotte-style cruel mockery, but also more productive. But it’s just so hard to empathize with something so nutty and alien! Mockery and dismissal is such a tempting alternative! Like, feeling suicidal because your culture has drilled into you since adolescence that the main things to know about girls are DON’T BE A CREEP, and YES THAT MEANS YOU, and if you have to ask what ‘creep’ means, that’s likely because you already are one, and if you ask what you should be doing, the only answers you need are ‘stop being so entitled’ and ‘stop making everything about your own feelings’ and ‘no one owes you anything’? I mean, that’s just WEIRD! Everyone knows how not to be a creep: you just need to read the subtle nonverbal or subverbal signals that we’re all instinctively born with, and which tell you when to attempt something—say, taking a girl’s hand, or leaning in for a kiss—that you’ve never before attempted in your life, and that indeed you must NEVER, EVER attempt if the signals are wrong. And look, if you can’t read these signals like the rest of us can, how do you even function or succeed in any other areas of life? Everything in life depends on the ability to read these signals—besides, like, y’know, math. And programming. And intellectual debate. And forming friendships with other male and female nerds. And giving entertaining lectures. And everything else that’s been the substance of your life. But anyhow, it’s not feminism that sends the scary ‘DON’T BE A CREEP’ message, it’s patriarchy. Or rather, feminism does send it, but only because feminism is right to send it, because so many guys like you really are creeps. I’m really sorry, but.”

How much did I get wrong here? :-) I actually feel like the above is a fine starting point for discussion: infinitely better than the position that doesn’t even try for empathy, doesn’t even recognize empathy as possible or desirable. In fact, the reason I wanted to have this discussion—albeit, so I thought at the time, with just a few readers of my blog!!—was precisely to help along the people I was talking to with the process of broadening their circle of empathy. Yes, I acknowledge, it might be hard for a “normal” person to understand how someone could react to the “DON’T BE A CREEP” message the way I and thousands of other shy male nerds did, just like it might be hard for me to understand what life is like for women, or gays, or socially adept non-nerds, or anyone else who I’m not. But I firmly believe it’s incumbent on all of us to try, that every attempt makes us better people.

One other thing: commenters here are absolutely right that, by the time I actually read Dworkin (at, I dunno, age 18? 19?), I had already been thoroughly messed up by cruder messages that had filtered down to me from innumerable sources, and which boiled down to “DON’T BE A CREEP” and “the more you avoid flirting with girls, the more of a potential creep that makes you, ergo the more you must, morally, avoid flirting, and so on forever” and “the guys who succeed at this are not only your social superiors, but your moral superiors as well.”

Now, one could ask: were these “feminist” messages I was picking up, or “patriarchal” messages? I don’t know. All I can say is that, if this is patriarchy, then it’s a form of patriarchy that was zealously, gleefully offered up by Amanda Marcotte and hundreds of other Internet feminists and social-justice activists in response to my comment 171—demonstrating, in an irony probably lost on them, that my teenage fears were not entirely delusional. And as far as I can remember, everyone who reacted this way was a self-identified feminist: the few anti-feminist men who attacked me tended toward saying, not that the younger Scott was an immoral creep, but rather that he was simply biologically inferior. (And then, I guess, once I started succeeding at life and doing well at dating, I stopped being biologically inferior?)

So my preference is to say: nerd-shaming is a malignant form of patriarchy that’s invaded parts of feminism itself, repurposed them for its own ends, like a virus in a cell. It’s not “true” feminism (or not any kind I subscribe to), but that makes it all the more important for “true” feminism to stand up to it where it occurs. (Indeed, when it felt like half the Internet was denouncing me last month, the thing that helped the most was the overwhelmingly supportive emails I got from female STEM nerds, including friends, colleagues, former students, and strangers. Their feminism is my feminism!)

I strongly believe, as many others have said, that male nerds and feminist women are natural allies, that they share an interest in tearing down oppressive gender roles. And I hope I’ll live to see that alliance happen.

Thanks for reading.

210

Luke 02.16.15 at 7:07 pm

@Tyrone
Indeed. That, or some sort of ritual transvestitism. Pentheus in the Bacchae, even.

@bob
“Japan could conceivably be left with what the enemies of feminism have
long warned would be the consequences of a society-wide displacement of
males: enervated, emasculated upper-class males together with feral male
loutishness at the lower levels”

This sets off alarm bells, because, as your source says, it’s exactly what conservatives have been angsting over since the 19th century at least, and yet the threat never materialised. And Murphy is most definately not independent of US or Anglophone culture. See also: responses to industrialisation and working women in the US, scholarly work on Tudor-era gender roles, early Westerns and a lot of right-wing science fiction. For that matter, consider A Clockwork Orange or even Burke’s Reflections from the perspective of gender politics.

I think there are two themes here. One is more extensive proletarianisation and its social effects. The ‘tiny feudalism’ of the home collapsing once again under the weight of wage labour now that the interregnum of the post-war compromise has ended, etc.

The other is whatever the hell capitalism means for gender and the body. I wouldn’t assume the answer is female empowerment: there’s a bit of work (e.g. some articles by Stallybrass, Federici’s Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, which I have on my desk but haven’t really delved into) looking at enclosure and compartmentalisation as themes of (esp. female) body politics.

211

Landru 02.16.15 at 7:10 pm

While fully respecting Shatterface’s testimony at 3, I would like to take issue with the “extreme male brain” terminology in discussing ASD’s (Autistic Spectrum Disorders). As I expect even its coiners will tell you, the “extreme male brain” metaphor has quite limited utility; and, when pushed beyond that, as unfortunately happens a lot these days, its use does a disservice to typical boys, typical girls, and ASD folks alike. So I would very much recommend steering away from casual use of the term; most people will gain more than they lose by simply eschewing it altogether.

I will explain why I feel this way, for those who might be interested. Note that what I’m saying here really focuses on ASD’s in children; teens, late-diagnosed adults, and un-diagnosed adults are a whole separate (and equally important) story.

First, I think over-use of the term feeds the mistaken impression that autism is a “boy’s disorder”. Girl autistics are a minority among diagnosed children, but definitely not a vanishingly small minority — and I have known a handful of them personally, so I’m sensitive on this point. Structures to recognize, accommodate and help these people should not be set up with an expectation that the typical child is male, as the condition is a deep human subject and not crudely sex-linked. Also, similar to what Belle mentions at 52, stereotyping ASD’s as a male condition makes us less prepared to receive and sympathize with an autistic girl, who could well be treated harshly because it is less acceptable for female people to be missing the skills for face-to-face interaction. (I think another commenter also described this? sorry I couldn’t attribute it correctly.)

Even before considering these “knock-on” kind of effects, though, the “extreme male brain” characterization has only limited validity on its own terms, and so will lead you into folly very quickly if you try to wield it as a general rule. Remember, the statement certain ASD traits are found more among typical boys than among typical girls is decidedly _not_ the same statement as traits more common in typical boys than in typical girls are likely to be found in ASD people. The first has some basis, as Shatterface describes; but it is the second which is conjured by the phrase “extreme male brain” and this is where things go wrong.

Lay people can start with a simple idea, say “boys (meaning, boys among typical children) are more likely to be interested in things rather than in people, compared to girls”, and then move on to “look, autistic kids do that too, so it makes sense to think of them as exaggerated/extreme versions of boys”. This has an immediate problem of indulging in an unfair stereotyping of the typical children, unkindly erasing or marginalizing introverted girls. But it is also just faulty reasoning about ASD’s themselves, and works against understanding their causes and incarnations.

To see this, consider another common stereotype about typical boys and girls, which is that boys are more enthusiastic about “immediate one-up-manship”, ie challenging each other to publicly visible, explicitly defined, and quickly decided contests, and then enjoying the status from winning (if only briefly, until the next round). If this is the “male brain”, then the “extreme” version of it is nowhere to be found in ASD children. Rather, just the opposite: ASD kids are notable for being extremely non-competitive, and not seeking or valuing status among peers by winning at games.

Once you have experience with ASD folks in real life, you can go down a checklist of “male brain” stereotypes and see that, in fact, some are recognizable in them but many or most are not. So, this is why I would recommend steering clear of the “extreme male brain” metaphor: it’s misleading about what people are actually like, it doesn’t help you understand the condition, and it encourages traffic in stereotypes that hurt everyone.

OK, this was long but I hope it was somewhat helpful and illuminating.

212

The Temporary Name 02.16.15 at 7:19 pm

Thanks Landru.

213

Emma in Sydney 02.16.15 at 7:45 pm

Kate @193 Exactly!

214

William Berry 02.16.15 at 7:51 pm

Luke @205: “sounds unpleasant, though.”

No. To be emasculted is to be apotheosized into the realm of the high-brow!

It’s a good thing. Really.

215

engels 02.16.15 at 8:45 pm

There is something a bit absurd about reading Laura Penny (Brighton College, Wadham College, Graun, Harvard, …) instructing Aaronson to ‘check his privilege’ (not that I want to defend him).

216

magistra 02.16.15 at 9:00 pm

There is something a bit absurd about reading Laura Penny (Brighton College, Wadham College, Graun, Harvard, …) instructing Aaronson to ‘check his privilege’ .

Did I miss the bit where Aaronson was brought up on a shtetl or is the son of Appalachian farmers? I don’t know enough about the US class system to know the details, but his background sounds fairly prosperous, like Laura Penny’s. And she’s always been honest enough that she’s benefited from her parents being well-off (e.g. by them paying for her treatment for eating disorders). Aaronson mentions the ‘privilege’ of being white, male and straight, but does he have anything to say about class?

217

engels 02.16.15 at 9:27 pm

‘Privileged’ seems like a fairly mild term for her background and when she has written about this I didn’t find it convincing (iirc it was about how she isn’t ‘really’ posh because she had to interview for jobs whereas friends just got them through connections…) Happy to assume Aaronson’s is similar and of course she has every right to educate him about gender as per your response to Brett. I just find the fact that these media debates tend to be carried out nowadays almost entirely by public schoolboys and girls incredibly depressing and ridiculous (cf James Blunt v Chris Bryant & Guardian journos for another recent example).

218

Scott Aaronson 02.16.15 at 9:30 pm

Horatio #194: Thank you; that’s one of the most perceptive things anyone has written about my situation. I’d go further and say that, when I was growing up, there was nowhere—no place whatsoever—where I could interact with girls my age and where what you call the “workplace moral regime” wasn’t basically in force. There were parties, of course, but they were either nerdy or academic gatherings of various kinds (“come, have a good time, just be sure to continue obeying the workplace moral regime!”), or else they were affairs that I could “attend” only as an anthropologist attends a hunter-gatherer ritual. I.e., I could show up, but only as an observer—at best, an observer who a few of the natives knew and respected for intellectual reasons. If I danced, it was an amusing novelty, like the anthropologist putting on the natives’ headdress for kicks, but then the novelty would wear off.

In my much-vilified comment about the shtetl, I simply meant that in earlier eras, there were other socially-sanctioned escapes available from the workplace moral regime: the people you grew up around (and still saw), the people your parents arranged for you to meet, etc. Today, the best replacement we have for those is online dating, but at least when I was growing up (which was before Tinder…), that wasn’t a realistic option for a straight male until he was in his mid-20s.

So, yes: the creeping expansion of the “modern workplace moral regime” into literally everywhere that a shy nerdy male feels comfortable being himself—an expansion that clearly has something to do with feminism, though it also has other causes—is an excellent way to understand the problem I was talking about.

Incidentally, I just saw all the comments above speculating about whether I tried therapy. Of course I did. Maybe I just didn’t find the right therapists, but in my experience, it’s profoundly unhelpful for this sort of problem. The best you can hope for is that, very occasionally, the therapist will break out of therapist mode and show some human sympathy. But to the extent they act as therapists, the most they can do is check that you’re not at imminent risk of suicide, check that you’re not going to harm anyone else, and check if there’s some generalized anxiety disorder. They constantly want to steer the conversation away from expressing romantic interest; the idea that a crippling anxiety could be specific to that one issue, that one could be extremely functional otherwise (if anything, TOO sane and rational :-) ), isn’t one that they seem to like at all. Many are also much more interested in coping with the situation, in reconciling oneself to it internally, than in solving it in the external world.

One final thing: I vehemently agree with everyone who pointed out that my teenage anxieties are not the world’s most pressing issue! For godsakes, I brought them up in one blog comment (!), which was part of a much longer thread that had already veered into all sorts of gender issues, mostly as a way to get Amy and my other interlocutors to understand where I was coming from. But if even two months later, this is still something others want to blab about … well, I guess I’m one source of relevant information on the topic. And I’m nothing if not open. :-)

219

engels 02.16.15 at 9:31 pm

This is the thing on privilege I didn’t like:

http://pennyred.blogspot.co.uk/2010/02/penny-for-your-privilege.html?m=1

220

Ronan(rf) 02.16.15 at 9:52 pm

I actually quite like that post. It succintly captures everything I dislike about ‘PRIVILEGE!!’ as ad hominen conversation stopper. I agree with her that her articles should be judged on their content, not her class background.
Having said that, I havent paticularly liked many of her articles that I’ve read.

221

Ronan(rf) 02.16.15 at 9:53 pm

ad homineM

222

Rich Puchalsky 02.16.15 at 9:54 pm

Oh look, it’s positional social goods again. Yes, if you are competing for one of the few top-level jobs in global media, then it makes a real difference if you’re in the top .00001%, the top .001%, or merely the top 1%. Someone in the top .1% can look at the top .001%’ers above them and cry out “Look at the personal connections you have to have to get one of these jobs! Just skill, wealth, and education won’t do it!” Which is true. But this is no longer a privilege conversation in any sense that most of us recognize.

223

Ronan(rf) 02.16.15 at 10:00 pm

I do think 23 (when she started?) and 28 (now) is too young to have an opinion piece though.

224

Val 02.16.15 at 10:02 pm

Engels @ 227 and following
In my experience of reading your comments, you seem to be one of those people who regularly suggest that class is more important than gender as an explanatory theory. As I’ve explained previously, I don’t think they are alternative theories, I think they interact. However I have noticed that in discussions of gender and patriarchy (like this one) you quite often seem to bring in issues of class, with the implicit suggestion that class is more important than the gender issue being discussed (as you have above in relation to gender).

In #219 you say that you are depressed by seeing debates about media carried out “almost entirely by public schoolboys and girls”, but my impression is you usually bring the issue of class up when people are trying to talk about gender privilege. I am not sure if you think that gender is important, or whether you think patriarchy is real or important? It would be interesting to know, because sometimes it seems as if you are trying to derail discussions of gender, or suggest that it’s not important.

Laura Penny says in the piece you linked to, that she comes from a working class background but is now relatively privileged. In world terms of course, she is very privileged, as am I, and no doubt you. I don’t know about Aaronson’s original background, but certainly he too would now be privileged.

I have gone to the trouble of finding some evidence on gender privilege in both academia and the media:

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/features/global-gender-index-2013/2003517.fullarticle

http://www.iwmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/IWMF-Global-Report-Summary.pdf

I am wondering whether you will care to admit that it does exist? Also, do you believe that patriarchy exists, is unfair, and should be opposed?

225

Ronan(rf) 02.16.15 at 10:21 pm

I always liked this post

https://slaveofthepassions.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/intersectionality-and-identity-politics/

and would be interested for other people to weigh in.

226

drlemur 02.16.15 at 10:50 pm

My reaction to Aaronson was (a) vague familiarity with the concept he described and (b) immediate certainty that his personal response indicates a deeper, probably psychiatric issue. Everybody is socially anxious — only those with a more significant challenge wish for chemical castration. I hope he gets therapeutic assistance to help work through the issues. A lot of people have different, individual challenges (ASD or are asexual/sex-negative) and their opinions are both valuable and not representative of the majority of the population.

As for Belle’s question about how is feminism learned before encountering a sex-positive issue — that’s pretty much definitional for pre-teens. Pushback on gender stereotypes starts happening way, way before sex-ed (Sesame Street, etc). And most sex-ed is not exactly sex positive. Especially for kids. So you know you are supposed to treat women “right” for some definition of right, long before you have any idea what it would remotely feel like to want to treat a women “wrong” (for definitions of wrong related to being sex-negative).

But the answer is exactly to the point that you/we need more interactions across gender, especially in adolescence. As a very nerdy type, it was easy for me to find myself not having a lot of interactions with women. Women didn’t hang out in the computer lab or ask to play Dungeons and Dragons with the nerds. Probably the interested ones were afraid of our reactions, because they hadn’t interacted with us either. By late high school and into college, as I had more chances to just hang out and talk with women, everything started to make a lot more sense. It wasn’t that hard to understand normal human desire (and nervousness) and the difference between that an neanderthal ass-grabbing. As soon as I had female friends, it was immediately obvious that they were also somewhat socially anxious, had desires and wants — but there were important differences too. Women have some built in social pressures towards marriage/stable partners that are different than men, especially in college where it is really too early to be worrying about that.

The “Nice Guys” who resonate to/champion Aaronson are mostly just assholes wrapping excuses for their assholery in MRA claptrap. However, the awkward feminist line of argument probably sweeps up a few young men who are basically really feminist, socially anxious and have not yet grown out of the adolescent hormonal fear thing. The solution is to talk to more women, ideally in contexts based on some other shared interest so you can get to know people without the immediate overhead of possible dating. Then those young men who briefly think they might be Nice Guys can grow out of it as quickly as possible.

Practically, my opinion is we need even more forceful rules against sex segregation in schools. No more Boy or Girl Scouts and no clubs can be one gender only (Chess club is canceled unless you can get some girls to play). By college, all dorms need to be co-ed by room, not even floor. Both my college age kids have co-ed by floor dorms and I think it really restricted their interactions. You can guess how I feel about Fraternities and Sororities (outlaw or require mixed gender houses). My hunch is that this would reduce misogyny in male-majority fields like videogame, increase female participation in STEM fields, and everybody gets a pony, too.

227

Rich Puchalsky 02.16.15 at 11:08 pm

“But the answer is exactly to the point that you/we need more interactions across gender, especially in adolescence. “

More quotation from the piece I linked to above:

There are additional barriers to engaging men. Space does not allow for a full discussion of these barriers, but perhaps the biggest barrier is how men have been trained away from being allies for women. Research increasingly suggests that being friends with women is one of the one of the leading causes of male youth being bullied (Epstein and Johnson, 1998; Mac an Ghaill, M, 1994; Martino, 1999; Nayak and Kehily, 1996; Pheonix et al, 2003). Engaging men means asking men to be advocates for and friends with women, which runs counter to the lived experience of being bullied or witnessing bullying (often severely) for the very same thing.

228

Phil 02.16.15 at 11:12 pm

I vaguely sympathise with Laurie Penny – I’m well aware that the recipe for getting a start in high-profile journalism is

a) move to London
b) pitch
c) get invites to parties
d) make contacts
e) get lucky

where steps b)-d) can go on more or less indefinitely (and not all the parties have free bars, let me tell you). Some people have steps b)-e) more or less in the bag before they even arrive in London, and some have to work much harder at it. And I’ve read enough of Laurie’s blog to know that she’s been seriously hard up along the way.

But still… how in hell do you get to start at the bottom of the ladder “with an Oxford degree and some savings“, quote? I mean, when I finished my (Cambridge) degree I had money in the bank, but I think it was about £26.

Here’s a story I told here once before, down at the bottom of a moribund thread.

At a friend’s wedding, soon after leaving college, I listened politely as an acquaintance told me he was thinking about going into journalism, quietly thinking to myself I don’t seem to remember you writing regularly for Stop Press for almost a whole year – and considering that I’ve sent my c.v. and cuttings to all the main places and had no replies, well, jolly good luck with that…

And that was the last time I saw Anatol Lieven.

229

soru 02.16.15 at 11:39 pm

I actually quite like that post. It succintly captures everything I dislike about ‘PRIVILEGE!!’ as ad hominen conversation stopper.

The thing to remember about the UK is that the 7% of the population who go to public schools hold between 35% and 71% and of the elite jobs[1].

Coming from that background, I think you kind of have to pick a stance; either ‘privilege doesn’t matter’ or ‘privilege invalidates your argument’.

If you switch between both views[2],[3] depending on whether the relevant prefix is ‘my’ or ‘your’, you would need a truly remarkable amount of privilege to get away without being called on it…

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/aug/28/elitism-in-britain-breakdown-by-profession

[2]http://www.newstatesman.com/laurie-penny/on-nerd-entitlement-rebel-alliance-empire

[3] http://pennyred.blogspot.co.uk/2010/02/penny-for-your-privilege.html?m=1

230

engels 02.16.15 at 11:51 pm

Val, while I’m flattered to be object of an ongoing personal critique your comments on my behavioural patterns seem rather odd

1 I didn’t bring up class, Brett and Magistra did
2 I’ve already said clearly I think patriarchy exists and that it’s oppressive
3 the only time I’ve ever interacted to my knowledge with you was on Holbo’s affirmative consent, where I didn’t mention class iirc

231

Brett Bellmore 02.16.15 at 11:52 pm

“No more Boy or Girl Scouts and no clubs can be one gender only (Chess club is canceled unless you can get some girls to play)”

Oh, that’s just brilliant. If the girls don’t want to do something, the boys aren’t allowed to do it? Way to demonstrate why so many people purely loathe feminists.

232

Ronan(rf) 02.16.15 at 11:53 pm

“Coming from that background, I think you kind of have to pick a stance; either ‘privilege doesn’t matter’ or ‘privilege invalidates your argument’. “

I don’t see why these ar ethe only two options.

233

Phil 02.16.15 at 11:54 pm

I hate to pile on to a slap-down, in this of all threads, so I’ll try to be gentle… but I think Scott’s speculation that a “more mature” version of his younger self might have apologised, cleared everything up and then tried to get the woman’s number is really symptomatic. And this is where abstractions like The Patriarchy or Sexist Values are – or should be – useful, because I don’t want to attack Scott, or even criticise him as an individual (particularly since I’ve no reason to suppose present-day Scott still thinks or would act that way).

This is just to flag up a way that, I believe, we as men learn to think: that we’re basically the good guy, that we deserve to get what we want, and that if we push things a bit, well, where’s the harm? “I’m not trying to pick you up, you’re perfectly safe around me – oh, by the way, are you free tonight?” A backflip that can be executed with style and wit, but it’s still basically a negation of responsibility. As if (we believe) the sexual predator within can never be entirely banished, only repressed – and the repressed returns so quickly it’s like playing Whack-a-Mole.

What does this irrepressible cheeky-chappie stuff have to do with my (and others’) miserable memories of the dry years? In my case at least, more than you’d think. At my shyest (and most miserable) I never thought I owed women anything: I might beat myself up, but I wasn’t going to put myself out. If this girl was uncomfortable because she thought I was acting like a stalker, that was crazy and ridiculous – the idea that I could pose any danger to her! – but it didn’t make me feel I should act differently. If someone seemed to catch my eye at a party, then waited for me to say something, it wasn’t up to me to make her feel any less lonely – if we both went home alone, then at least she’d have some idea how it felt.

Looking back, I was very stuck and very angry – but the way my anger was expressed followed the same self-indulgent, irresponsible pattern as the aggression of the sexual predator. As in, “OK, I ought to care about this other person’s feelings… but I’d much ratehr do this, which will make me feel better”. Let’s just get this one quick hit, then I’ll play nicely. Next time.

234

Phil 02.17.15 at 12:03 am

I suppose a kind of wallowing in our own feelings towards other people – prioritised a hundredfold over the effects we’re having on those people, or the demands we’re making of them – is the pattern I’m trying to name. (Porn probably doesn’t help here, for obvious reasons.)

That and genuinely, sincerely denying it all when called on it – then doing it again and not really feeling guilty (until the next time we’re called on it).

235

SamChevre 02.17.15 at 1:29 am

This conversation seems to be one of those that never starts at (what I think is) the right place–so you end up with one of those “If I wanted to go there, I wouldn’t start here” conversations.

Let me talk about myself, and try to articulate where I think is the right place to start.

I really hate being put in awkward situations. I hate it; I don’t want to do it to someone else.

I also have the typical ASD difficulty reading social clues. Think of it like color-blindness; some things that are obvious to most people are just not visible to me. Even now–40, professional job, married, a heck of a lot saner than I was 20 years ago–I can almost never figure out whether three people who are talking would welcome me joining the conversation, unless I’m explicitly invited.

A very strong component of the feminist message as it makes it into the public consciousness is “unwelcome sexual advances are wrong.”

Put the three things above together, though, and you get a real, nasty trap for people like me. I can’t read people well enough to make a reasonably good judgment as to “would this person find being asked for a date unwelcome?” I certainly don’t want to put someone in an awkward position.

Once you start feeling that “these people might be sex-positive in theory, but there’s no way to get from here to there without taking huge risks of doing something wrong”–then you are at the point where reading Dworkin will be illuminating, but in a completely unhelpful way.

A world with more formalized dating rituals–one where unwelcome advances can be rejected, but are not wrong–would make it much easier for people like me. (And in college, I had as many female friends as male friends; it wasn’t friendship that was the issue.)

That is where I think Aronson’s comments make sense; it’s where I see the male nerd issues starting. I don’t see any particular reason from for feminists to reject formalized forms of courtship; they help everyone, male and female, who’s social skills aren’t superb–but feminism is very strongly associated with rejection of formalized courtship rituals; this hugely advantages the exemplary feminists like Hugo Schwyzer, who tend to be high-status and have awesome social skills. I’m not sure “let’s advantage high-status people with awesome social manipulations kills” is a great plan.

236

Ordinal 02.17.15 at 2:23 am

Why should Aaronson necessarily have been suffering from some psychiatric trouble? He may have been alarmed that he might somehow offend others, despite his innate sense of justice. His reward for bearing his soul is an unfalsifiable criticism, which looks like a decomposition theorem from communication theory: any and all messages Aaronson received from the environment about his sexuality can be decomposed into two components: a Feminist signal, and noise. The noise is due entirely to the Patriarchy.

237

T 02.17.15 at 3:10 am

Val @225

I think if SA were a high school grad working as a convenience store clerk rather than a PhD scientist working as tenured prof at MIT, then the current discussion of his blog comment would be very different. I don’t think this is inconsistent with your comments on patriarchy relating to the SA post and in general.

On a completely different point, I want to second Rich’s comment on another thread. Several commentators ascribe opinions, particularly ones they disagree with or don’t understand, to mental illness. They either call the poster mentally ill or dismiss their opinion as a result of their illness. I don’t find those posts particularly convincing. I’ll leave it at that.

238

Val 02.17.15 at 3:11 am

Engels @ 231

“Val, while I’m flattered to be object of an ongoing personal critique your comments on my behavioural patterns seem rather odd”
– you’re not the subject of an ongoing personal critique, I just asked you a question about an issue I’m interested in. My impression that you have previously introduced class as a counter to arguments about gender may be wrong, but you did seem to be doing so on this occasion.

“1 I didn’t bring up class, Brett and Magistra did”
– Brett Bellmore raised the subject of class @ 15. Magista responded, politely presenting an alternative viewpoint at 38. That was a long way back. You raised it in regard to Laurie Penny which was a new issue. Brett is a well-known contrarian on this as on many issues, I don’t think referring to what Brett said so far back as some kind of justification for what you said really adds much to the discussion.

“2 I’ve already said clearly I think patriarchy exists and that it’s oppressive”
– I’m glad you think that, but it wasn’t clear to me, that’s why I asked.

“3 the only time I’ve ever interacted to my knowledge with you was on Holbo’s affirmative consent, where I didn’t mention class iirc”
– I don’t actually see what this has to do with my question. Perhaps you could explain?

Overall I have to say that your comment about Laurie Penny, and your reply to me, both sound a bit, to me, like ‘you feminists are wrong and should be quiet’, which is really unfortunate anywhere, but particularly on this thread.

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Bruce Baugh 02.17.15 at 3:22 am

Ordinal, as I said up above, it’s like the difference between clinical depression and having a bout of grief and melancholy: there are thresholds of qualitatively different feeling. Furthermore, the particular kind of overwhelming experience he describes having is a very familiar one to some of us, because one of the qualities of mental illness is how stereotypical and anti-individual many of its manifestations are.

I don’t know if you’ve ever broken a bone. If you have, you know that it has a particular kind of sensation that is altogether different from, say, a really nasty muscle cramp, and cannot be treated simply with some good massage and pain-killer. Aaronson was on the “not just the usual thing, felt strongly” side of the line with his catastrophic fear and, among other things, the particular way turning to scholarly literature reinforced his condition.

Patriarchy is to blame for many aspects of his situation, as it is for all of us. But it didn’t cause the biochemical foundations of what there’s good reason to believe was his illness; it flavored and channeled their expression in his thoughts, feelings, and actions.

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Ordinal 02.17.15 at 3:46 am

How do you prove that Patriarchy is solely to blame for these messages? It seems to be taken uncritically. Not unlike Aaronson, as a boy I received the impression that I was destined, on account of my sex, to grow up to become an oppressor, despite my interests, inclinations and abilities. I could not imagine a more tedious occupation. This was before I had any understanding of sex. A formative experience. How do you know, a priori that the message was solely my perverse interpretation of external influences that could only be as pure as the driven snow?

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magistra 02.17.15 at 6:33 am

SamChevre@236

Formal dating rituals might make the initial approach slightly easier for people with low levels of social competence (I’d include myself in that, though I wouldn’t regard myself as having ASD). But I don’t think they’d solve the main issue of differing social/sexual desireability. If there’s a formal system by which I, as a plain fat girl, could go up to an attractive young man and ask him for a dance or a date, and be politely refused, that’s one thing. But that doesn’t stop him and his friends afterwards sniggering about what a loser I am. (See Jane Austen for the reverse of this).

And one of the biggest problems that attractive young women have is that too many young men think that if they’re got the approach to them ‘right’, they are therefore entitled to a positive answer. Or if they haven’t got the approach right this time, the situation can be reset and their past conduct forgotten, and they can try again repeatedly, until they do get the right answer. A formal opportunity for a woman to say ‘no’ would help young men who have ASD and who would respect that decision. But an awful lot of what gets labelled as unwanted sexual behaviour is where someone (usually a man) hasn’t respected signals that they have recognised, but have ploughed on anyhow, because what they want is more important that what the woman wants. (Oh, you may think I’m a groper, but if you just talk to me for long enough, you’ll change your mind: Phil@234 and 235 is enlightening on common young male mindsets).

On in other words, if my husband says to me: ‘Would you like sex tonight?’ and I say, ‘No, I’m too tired’, that would be technically unwanted advances. But if he were the kind of man (which he isn’t), who then keeps on pestering me to change my mind or throws a mighty sulk until I do, that would really count as unwanted sexual behaviour.

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Doug K 02.17.15 at 6:46 am

in my CS class in the 80s, shy nerds of all racial stripes and sexual proclivities got along perfectly well, for shy nerd values of ‘well’. Sometime after PC gaming and internet pr0n and guys making coding fortunes, that changed.. I really miss the days when a nerd was someone who liked math and reading, and we had women in CS. I never managed to date any of them, but they were good company (never managed to date any other women either, which is a different though related issue).

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magistra 02.17.15 at 6:50 am

engels@219

On the previous Safe Space thread I said that I reckoned that class often trumped gender (although you may have missed seeing that comment, since it’s a long thread), but that if you compared people from the same social class, you could still see male advantage. That’s the same position I’m working from here in Aaronson versus Penny. I think there is a genuine problem that more and more it’s only the public-schooled educated who get positions in the media, but I don’t see that the fact that Eric Blair went to Eton invalidates George Orwell’s criticism of the class system.

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lurker 02.17.15 at 7:19 am

There should be a left that (among other things) tries to create a society that provides people with help when they need it, and such a left can only be profeminist. But feminism can’t be about everything. Certainly not my mental problems.
I read separatist feminists in the early 90’s, and what I remember as having shocked me was the signs of what I now know as oppression olympics — you people are facing an immensely powerful and ruthless enemy and you waste time on this?

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passer-by 02.17.15 at 7:30 am

Ok, as usual, long-time lurker, followed the conversations with extreme interest. As a young woman from continental Western Europe, I am fascinated by the descriptions and discussions of feminist campus activism, rape centers, prevention talks and nerd culture, none of which exist in continental Western Europe.

But I did want to express my puzzlement about this “man-hating feminism” strawman. I’m really quite ignorant of the theory (no gender studies departments where I come from), so I’d just like to offer my experience. As far as I can see, in Western societies where feminism has, in many different ways, permeated social practices and popular discourse, shifting expectations about gender roles and relations are somewhat puzzling for young people, but in my experience, that has led to young people actively, even if sometimes awkwardly, trying to and largely succeeding in building mutually satisfying, respectful relationships with people from the other gender. Young women are sometimes resentful and frustrated by the behaviors of some men and may sometimes, though rarely, ridicule, shame or attack men in general for it. Young men are sometimes resentful and frustrated by this behavior, by the shifts in the expectations toward them, etc. Mostly, in real life, it works out well. Nerds do end up having sex, even getting married. I have never encountered real “man-hate” among Western women, although it may exist.
I have, however, spent several years in Russia as an adult. Here, women have (and have had, for quite a while) equal rights on paper. But feminism only exists as an extremely marginal phenomenon and has been rejected as foreign for decades. Gender roles, expectations, both actual practices and popular discourse on gender are very traditional. Sexism is alive and well, and not a matter of public discussion. Discussions about sexual / domestic violence, let alone harassment or unwanted advances, are non-existent. THAT’s where I first – and massively – encountered the “man-hate” that opponents of feminism ascribe to it. It does not exist in public discourse, which is, again, extremely traditional. There’s no pop culture stereotype of the man as loser. But get into all-female spaces, talk with female friends, and you get it everywhere. Non-feminist women routinely view men as violent, clueless, dangerous, and discuss them through a purely utilitarian lens – the high-status “winners” who may bring in money and protection, and the overwhelming majority of useless, alcoholic, wife-beating losers. I know several sociologists working on gender who have confirmed this impression: in one interview after the other, women express extremely high levels of resentment, fear and hostility toward men, from actual men in their lives (husbands, brothers) to men in general, even if those feelings get no public expression and do not challenge or threaten male domination. I won’t even get into the very high cost to men of extreme pressure to conform to rigid, exacting standards of masculinity.

So for the Western men who are unsettled because they sometimes get the impression that they are unfairly labeled as potential rapists by feminist women, the problem is not feminism. Without feminism, they would be able to remain oblivious to the fact that many (most?) non-feminist women in traditional societies do view men as actual threats. By discussing and explaining the dynamics of male-female relations in patriarchal societies, feminism has, in my experience, opened a huge space where both gender are actually free to build safe, respectful interactions. I’m not a man, but it seems to me that most of these Western men would not trade the perceived awkwardness that comes from their often ultimately succesful attempts at building mutually satisfying, respectful relations with women, for the traditional male priviledge of being oblivious to the fear, resentment and outright loathing men elicit in many women stuck in pre-feminist patriarchal structures.

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adam.smith 02.17.15 at 7:42 am

I think there’s a jump that I often find odd in these discussions from:

A very strong component of the feminist message as it makes it into the public consciousness is “unwelcome sexual advances are wrong.”

to:

I can’t read people well enough to make a reasonably good judgment as to “would this person find being asked for a date unwelcome?”

Asking a girl or woman (who doesn’t work for you) if she would like to have coffee with you is normally just not a problem, provided you can graciously accept a no. And I dare you to find me any feminist pamphlet or anti-sexual harassment training manual that can in any way be read to suggests otherwise.

And once you have established some type of relationship with a woman that you think may go in a romantic direction, feminism actually does give you a set of rules, clearer than anything non-feminist dating would provide you with: affirmative consent. Go slowly and ask at every step. If the woman tells you she doesn’t want you to hold her hand, she’s very clearly not interested and you respect that. If you’re smart/lucky enough to date a feminist woman, she’ll recognize what you’re doing and in all likelihood appreciate it.

What I often read as the subtext of accounts by people who say they’re bad at reading social cues and so they can’t have a sex life is that they can’t hook up with girls they’ve just met (or pick up girls if you want to use a more loaded phrase). And there, I’ve gotta say: sorry dude. If you’re not good at reading social cues, that’s just not something you should be trying to do if you don’t want to be a creep. If it’s any comfort, a lot of us guys who are perfectly fine with social cues don’t do it, either.

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armando 02.17.15 at 10:25 am

Ugh. Affirmative consent is a really, really terrible concept. As you’ve described, it is entirely one-sided (the woman maybe consents, the man presses toward his only goal – sex) and some versions of it are simply unworkable (admittedly, different people describe inconsistent versions of it, so it can be hard to critique from that point of view). I don’t think it leads to false accusations or anything – it just undermines the idea that consent deserves to be taken very seriously, by distorting it beyond all recognition to the point where any reasonable person would ignore it. This is the kind of thing that really fucks up the SAs of this world.

I mean, you do want ongoing consent. And if someone withdraws consent, you absolutely stop. But formalising this as ‘the man constantly seeks verbal consent’ is just awful.

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armando 02.17.15 at 10:31 am

Just to add: there has been some skepticism that men actually do receive messages that communicate that they are violating monsters. Its hard for me to see ‘affirmative consent’ as anything other than this, to be honest.

As I said above, part of toxic masculinity is that men have no emotions other than anger and lust. Their consent is always assumed, they are always the aggressors. Surely that comes across very clearly with this construction of ‘affirmative consent’?

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Val 02.17.15 at 11:01 am

Armando @ 248
Oh armando, I’m getting a bit exhausted by this thread, and feel it’s time for me to walk away, but I have to respond to this, cos it’s so kind of sad and wrong.

A few years ago I was at a party given by a guy I knew, and we were standing next to each other on the verandah, and someone I think said something funny, and I laughed and put my arm through this guy’s (the host’s) arm.

He looked down and said something like “what’s this about?” And I withdrew my arm and said “sorry, just being friendly”. Now I think that was actually true, but it’s possible that there was a tiny possibility of something more, somewhere in the back of my consciousness. Anyway, clearly, whatever, he wasn’t interested.

That’s what ‘affirmative consent’ is about really. It doesn’t have anything to do with “toxic masculinity”. It’s just, one person is interested, or possibly could be, and the other’s not.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to say that I was in my fifties, I was divorced after a long marriage, and I have three children whom I adore, so being rejected sexually probably didn’t have (well I’d pretty certainly say didn’t have) the force for me that it might have had for someone younger. But a) women get rejected too, and b) it’s got nothing to do with your sexuality being “toxic”.

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armando 02.17.15 at 11:30 am

Val: Ive appreciated your comments throughout this thread, and agree with pretty much everything you say. Of course women get rejected too, that’s clear. But, without wanting to be patronising, do read adam.smith’s comment. It frames consent as something a woman gives a man. My point is that this framing is wrong headed; I take consent very, very seriously, and I worry that some versions of consent being proposed actually undermine the very thing they claim to support.

Like I said, different people mean different things, but I certainly agree that ongoing consent is important and withdrawn consent is to be absolutely respected. I have no problem with any of that. Do you really not agree that this is often framed in a one-sided way that assumes a particular gender dynamic? Because to me that seems apparent.

(As I’ve said before, I practice consent in kink spaces, where probably people assume that I am the top, because I am male – nothing could be further from the truth. So when I say that this form of consent is unworkable, I mean that pretty literally, as someone whose safety depends on it.)

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magistra 02.17.15 at 12:27 pm

armando@250,

Is the problem you’re talking about that affirmative consent gets grafted onto a pre-existing patriarchal framework that sees men as the only pursuers and women as only resisting/surrendering? I think feminists do need to think harder about what happens when women are being sexually assertive in ways that men may not want (I’ve read BSDM practitioners pointing out that some Cosmo sex tips are definitely encouraging non-consensual sexual assaults).

I don’t know enough about consent workshops (I was never taught anything about consent at school or college) to know whether their versions of affirmative consent are still using that patriarchal framework or are trying to mix and match gender/sexuality when giving examples. But I also doubt whether it’s possible to readjust an entire culture’s expectation of who does what in making sexual advances within the space of a few classes.

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engels 02.17.15 at 12:33 pm

I’d be interested to know what people think of Orwell as I assume he could justifiably criticised from a feminist perspective but I think he does write well about sexual repression (1984), the aggressive aspects of male sexual desire (op. cit.) and the ‘nerd experience’ (Keep the Aspidistra Flying).

Val, I don’t think Laura Penny is wrong and should be quiet. I agree with her about a lot of things but there is something about her ‘I’m not privileged because I smoked roll-ups and lived in a terrace on Cowley Road too’ vibe which really rubs me up the wrong way.

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armando 02.17.15 at 12:35 pm

migistra: Yes, precisely. My point is *not* that affirmative consent leaves me feeling rejected. My point is that *I’d* like to feel safe too. And the fact that it is so difficult to even have this acknowledged as something that might be desirable is indicative of a big problem somewhere (which is not to be blamed on feminists at all, except insofar as they have internalised patriarchal values like everyone else).

Granted, men will not talk about this and you won’t get many guys claiming a need to feel safe. But I am *sure* that I am not alone, and that it is partly our conceptions of masculinity that blind us to this as a possibility, and silence/shame men who might bring it up.

Like you say, magistra, its not something you can change in a few classes. But – and perhaps this is a product of my personal history – it seems like it something that is deeply desirable to change.

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Anderson 02.17.15 at 12:37 pm

Just to add to the data pool: I could probably write an Aaronson-like account of myself, if I were a whingy guy with zero self-awareness. (Also: going to college at 15 didn’t contribute to his problem? What bullshit. How could it not?)

The truth however is that I have a morbid fear of rejection, which I blame on my own psyche, not on Andrea Dworkin. So I wait to be hit on the head with a rolled-up newspaper before feeling confident that, yes, this woman really is attracted to me.

I don’t know how typical such a fear is (and as noted, it’s hardly a guy thing), but I don’t see WTF it could have to do with feminism. I suppose some people have got to blame anything other than their own weird selves.

255

reason 02.17.15 at 12:45 pm

I’ve been silent here, not really my sort of topic, but I think Anderson @254 raised a potentially interesting point that is a bit OT. I think males have a bigger fear of rejection, because they are not quite sure they want to be making advances in the first place. Not all men think they are going into a one night stand (and the less experience you have the less likely you are to think you are), so there is also a bit of a fear of acceptance leading to complications they don’t want to have. So having overcome and made some sort of advance, a rejection is a big deal. If a female routinely gets come ons that she can routinely knock back and know most aren’t serious, she is going to see that from another point of view.

And my guess is, that that has more to do with a patriarchal society being the norm, than it has to do with feminism.

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engels 02.17.15 at 12:49 pm

‘I don’t see WTF it has to do with feminism’

Imo: because feminism should be in charge of sexual politics, if this problem is a widespread source of female and male misery (as this thread makes clear it is) then feminism should own it. The forms I support do.

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novakant 02.17.15 at 12:59 pm

RE Penny etc.

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Anderson 02.17.15 at 1:30 pm

256: your comment makes no sense to me, but I havent had my coffee yet.

255: idk, but the males I’ve known seemed to have no such problem. And as noted upthread, women have their own rejection issues. 20 years ago, counseling might’ve been useful for me. At 45, divorced, & single-dadding, I’ve turned to more plausible forms of self-realization. Like, Twitter. And snarky legal briefs.

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engels 02.17.15 at 1:55 pm

Anderson, I’ll try again: the problem of sexual repression under capitalism has _everything_ to do with feminism which isn’t to sex feminism is to blame. It isn’t: by and large it’s been a positive force for reasons like those given by Kate (way back). Imo liberal feminism _does_ have sexually repressive aspects, not because it is feminist but because it is liberal.

Still incomprehensible?

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engels 02.17.15 at 2:04 pm

Fuck. My comment vanished.

Anderson, I’ll try again. Sexual repression under capitalism has everything to do with feminism, which isn’t to say feminism is to blame. It isn’t and it’s generally been a positive force (Kate gave examples above). Imnsho liberal feminism does have sexually repressive aspects, not because it’s feminist but because it’s liberal.

¿Comprende?

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Anderson 02.17.15 at 2:12 pm

Engels, I will take your word for it. You can take my word that I am not sexually repressed, and that my emotional insecurities have no connection to late capitalism. Probably more a nature + (lack of) nurture thing. My mom grew up in a children’s home, & I was in my 20s before I realized just how nutty that had made (helped?) her be.

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reason 02.17.15 at 2:17 pm

Anderson @258
255 but the males I’ve known seemed to have no such problem.

That might say more about you than it does about the issue. When I was younger, I know it was an issue for me. I didn’t want to be in the position of chasing something I decided I didn’t want and hurting someone in the process. That problem only got solved by somebody else chasing me.

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reason 02.17.15 at 2:18 pm

P.S. That may be a cultural issue (I’m not American – American dating was known to be very different and to sometimes cause international misunderstandings.)

264

reason 02.17.15 at 2:19 pm

So my take is that fear of rejection is really fear of acceptance (if it wasn’t you would just chase everybody).

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engels 02.17.15 at 2:22 pm

Anderson, no need for you to take my word for it and I needn’t take your word there’s no connection between capitalism, the bourgeois family and conditions for parentless children. They’re both opinions which could be argued over at length but I suspect this is not the place for it…

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MPAVictoria 02.17.15 at 2:52 pm

” Sexual repression under capitalism has everything to do with feminism”

I disagree with this. Religion, right wing cultural beliefs and patriarchal social structures have WAY WAY WAY more to do with sexual repression than feminism.

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MPAVictoria 02.17.15 at 2:53 pm

” Imnsho liberal feminism does have sexually repressive aspects, not because it’s feminist but because it’s liberal.”

I disagree with this as well!

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magistra 02.17.15 at 3:07 pm

engels@259: Are you talking about existing capitalist societies as having no sexual repression except coming from feminism (certainly not true for e.g. US)? Or do you mean that a purely capitalist/libertarian society would have no sexual repression, on the grounds that any form of sexual desire for which there is a market would be OK? I can imagine some forms of unrestricted capitalism in which if you were so poor that you had to sell yourself permanently as a sex slave to any willing bidder that would be OK: ‘look, you made a contract with your own freewill’. And I’m sure liberal feminists would be against that.

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adam.smith 02.17.15 at 3:18 pm

As you’ve described, it is entirely one-sided (the woman maybe consents, the man presses toward his only goal – sex) and some versions of it are simply unworkable (admittedly, different people describe inconsistent versions of it, so it can be hard to critique from that point of view).

well, no. I’ve described affirmative consent as a tool in a situation were I’m explicitly addressing the concerns of males who are bad at social cues, so, sure, I’ve written to the perspective of the hetero male because the topic of the thread is the relationship of the hetero male nerd to feminism.
I’m actually torn on affirmative consent as a policy question. But as a tool in any situation with any hint of uncertainty about consent (be it situational or be it because one of the participants has a hard time reading social cues) and for everyone who wants a set of rules to be sure, I’m 100% sold on it. Regardless of the gender and sexual orientation of those involved.

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Patrick 02.17.15 at 3:21 pm

The conversation between Val and Armando exemplifies why feminism can’t be let 100% off the hook here.

Armando feels that the overly rigorous requirements of affirmative consent include some very hostile messages about male sexuality. Val tells him that affirmative consent is just about things like not intimately touching women you don’t know well, and adds some frustration and contempt to her tone. Val is objectively wrong- affirmative consent goes much further than she’s acknowledging (obvious example- claiming that explicit consent is required before all forms of sexual contact including kissing, saying that relationship status and past consent don’t change this, saying that you don’t have to have verbal consent, but if you’re not sure about the non verbal signals you’re receiving you should get verbal consent, and suggesting that you better be really sure because if you think you have non verbal consent and you’re wrong you’ve committed sexual assault… I could go on here).

This is a recipe for paralysis. And yeah, of course it makes young men who accept it feel like their sexual desires are dangerous things that they need to hide away from the world.

This is exactly the sort of messaging that becomes infuriating for a young man who wants to be a good person, and also wants to participate fully in romantic life. The rules are clear, but no one will own them, meaning that the real rules are secret. But what are they? The only way to figure them out is trial and error. But trial and error is really scarey when error puts you at risk of being viewed as a sex offender. This is particularly true when you combine it with a culture where young men who ignore feminism can be successful in romance with no negative social consequences for behaving in ways that feminist messaging condemns.

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magistra 02.17.15 at 3:40 pm

The Californian law on consent states (https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140SB967):

(1) An affirmative consent standard in the determination of whether consent was given by both parties to sexual activity. “Affirmative consent” means affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. It is the responsibility of each person involved in the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the affirmative consent of the other or others to engage in the sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent.

That doesn’t make exactly the statements that Patrick is claiming, so is the issue with the law or with the way that over-zealous enthusiasts interpret the law? It’s not saying, for example, that relationship status is irrelevant: it’s saying that you can’t say that because your boyfriend agreed to try being handcuffed once, therefore you can chain him up while he’s asleep and that’s fine. And the law also isn’t saying anything about verbal consent.

Yes, the law is inevitably subject to interpretation, but every law is.

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Fuzzy Dunlop 02.17.15 at 3:44 pm

Patrick @269 The rules are clear, but no one will own them, meaning that the real rules are secret. But what are they?

I think you have a good point–or rather, there is a concept of affirmative consent that many of us believe in, which nobody is actually keeping secret, but that is still different from the way some people have put affirmative consent into writing, and those written standards are really out there and need to be taken into account if we’re going to talk about “affirmative consent”. Or maybe those standards are a myth/hugely exaggerated and people should stop bringing them up? But if that’s not the case…

People tend to say sexual harassment = unwelcome sexual advances, but Val and magistra have both described situations where unwanted sexual advances/attention were absolutely not sexual harassment. What we all clearly mean by actual sexual harassment is repeated or otherwise egregious sexual advances, which means we do demand some ‘reading of the situation’ from would-be bestowers of sexual attention. IME lots of people defending ideas like affirmative consent have acknowledged this, even shouted it from the rooftops–that some ‘reading of the situation’ is not an unreasonable thing to expect of people (I certainly don’t think it’s unreasonable). But then we should all be very clear that this is what we demand, and that it’s what we ought to demand.

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bianca steele 02.17.15 at 3:45 pm

It’s interesting how closely the “people who cause horrific offense by trying to enter into conversations where they’re unwanted” thing tracks, not only supposed women/feminists who supposedly get horrifically offended (can we have a real example, please?) when a man they think is undesirable approaches them, but the whole “fake geek girl” idea that’s directed at keeping women out of all-male gaming and SF etc. spaces, in real life and on the Internet. Just throwing that out there.

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Anderson 02.17.15 at 3:55 pm

MPA at 265 is patently correct.

My hunch is that when women feel rejected they blame themselves, & when men feel rejected they blame women.

Get intersectional, Engels! ;)

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Patrick 02.17.15 at 4:01 pm

Fuzzy Dunlop- everything I have to say about the “rules as written” form of affirmative consent is based on my own alma mater’s written description of affirmative consent.

I’m on mobile so I can’t easily go check again. But the university is Ohio Stare, and the material was online the last time this issue came up on Crooked Timber. I quoted it directly at the time.

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magistra 02.17.15 at 4:08 pm

Fuzzy Dunlop@271 I think you’re right about the ‘repeated or otherwise egregious sexual advances’; the problem is how legally you deal with the ‘egregious’ ones. The dilemma is that for the mental well-being of nervous young men/women, you need some leeway for a single mildly sexual advance that is refused and then stopped without it being sexual assault. But if you explicitly have that leeway, then certain jerks are going to claim that it’s OK to stick their tongue down someone’s throat or grab someone’s arse out of the blue and then say: ‘but I stopped as soon as they said no’, so how can it be harassment’? I don’t see an easy solution to that one.

bianca@272: Brett Bellmore talked about what happened to him on the Safe Space thread and it was precisely that kind of horrendous and violent over-reaction by a girl. (I hope it’s OK to refer back to that thread, when it’s not to attack anyone’s opinion in that, just refer to people’s experiences).

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engels 02.17.15 at 4:10 pm

MPAVictoria I fear I have caused misunderstanding by my provocative phrasing. I do _not_ think mainstream feminism is to blame for sexual repression (I have said this above) in balance it has been a liberating force for women and men. I _do_ think sexual repression is a issue any serious feminism must address.

Magistra I think we’re talking past each other as well. I think capitalist societies cause and are sustained by sexual repression (I’m pretty sure Orwell thought this too, since you mentioned him) and I don’t think liberalism is innocent either. Any argument made in the space of a blog comment will be shallow but crudely liberalism makes the right to exclude others the fundamental human interest and it emphasises the need for protection from other humans over the need for intercourse with them. Some forms of liberal feminism accordingly tend to emphasise the need for women (and men) to be protected from abusive (sexual) relationships from their interest in engaging in positive (sexual) relationships. It seems to me.

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adam.smith 02.17.15 at 4:11 pm

279

MPAVictoria 02.17.15 at 4:12 pm

“I _do_ think sexual repression is a issue any serious feminism must address.”

In which case I withdraw my remark and sign on to your letter to the editor. :-)

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bianca steele 02.17.15 at 4:15 pm

magistra, I’m not sure what you’re saying.

Are you referring to what Brett said happened to him in grade school (or high school, I don’t know why I assumed the kids were under fourteen at the time), where he was beaten up? That was horrible.

But men seem right now to be complaining that, as adults, they are being told either that it is sexual harassment to approach an adult woman who doesn’t want to be spoken to by them, or that if they had “normal” ability to follow social cues, they would be able to unerringly figure out which women don’t want to talk to them. This seems pretty unbelievable. I don’t think you mean to suggest that they’re projecting from their childhood experience onto things that they’re simply imagining.

I don’t think this was what you were saying, was it?

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engels 02.17.15 at 4:16 pm

To be clear, I AGREE with 265 (apart from the bitl about me not agreeing with it…)

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engels 02.17.15 at 4:18 pm

#278 Thanks

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Patrick 02.17.15 at 4:24 pm

Adam.smith- thanks. That has changed since I last visited, but seems the same in substance. There used to be about three pages on the subject including an FAQ. I think they’ve consolidated a bit.

Magistra- if I recall correctly, the California law isn’t an affirmative consent law. It is an instruction to universities to develop an affirmative consent policy including those minimum features. Presumably any such policy will be more fleshed out. Possibly they will do a better job than existing policies with which I am familiar.

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armando 02.17.15 at 4:32 pm

Lets not add too much heat here: at no point did I feel that Val was expressing contempt.

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Fuzzy Dunlop 02.17.15 at 4:35 pm

magistra @275 But if you explicitly have that leeway, then certain jerks… I don’t see an easy solution to that one.

I think being explicit about our expectations that people be able read situations is actually a pretty good solution to this. Yes, it’s going to pose more of a challenge for people that feel they have particular difficulty reading social cues, but not an insurmountable challenge, and certain easily-accessible voices (I keep talking up Dan Savage…) have written helpful things for people who are confused or want help.

re Brett’s story from before, I wasn’t there and he may want to disagree, but I’d suggest that the problem there wasn’t that he misread a social situation and got an over-the-top reaction, but that he was subject to a social hierarchy where a trivial misreading of a social cue was widely seen as a legitimate pretext for violence (Cf. “he whistled at her…”). If the girl in question had brought this complaint to the teacher, the reaction probably would not have been so outrageous, much less violent.

…which is why I thought bullying is something feminism should take more seriously, and not only when it’s directed against well-defined minority groups.

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Patrick 02.17.15 at 4:35 pm

Yeah, that’s my gloss, not Armando’s. I’m willing to own it. Any heat in response should go my way.

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The Raven 02.17.15 at 4:36 pm

In harassment, the choice of victims has little to do with sexual attractiveness and everything to do with vulnerability. Harassment and rape are expressions of power, not sexual desire. This is one of the signs of the gulf between feminism and “pop” feminism. Another insight that has not made it out of the corral: most men are losers in patriarchal games; it is only a tiny minority who have much good out of patriarchy. This is knowledge that young male nerds in the USA could use: it is high-status men (and some women who connect themselves with those men) who are their enemies; feminists did not make US anti-intellectualism, or design high schools as nasty little hierarchic societies.

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MPAVictoria 02.17.15 at 4:43 pm

Thank you Raven at 286. 100%, 0% wrong.
:-)

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Fuzzy Dunlop 02.17.15 at 4:56 pm

bianca @ 279 But men seem right now to be complaining that, as adults, they are being told either that it is sexual harassment to approach an adult woman who doesn’t want to be spoken to by them…

Yikes, who is saying that? I mean, if the standard is simply “unwanted sexual attention”, then those words equal that thing you said, but if the standard explicitly calls for judgment, e.g. “egregious or repeated unwanted sexual attention” (FTR, this is the standard I assume most if not all institutions in modern society operate on) then no, right? And if we’re going to promote affirmative consent as a standard, we really need to acknowledge that this is not how most people, including probably the vast majority of living, breathing feminists and pro-feminists, operate, or expect others to operate (I’ve made slightly risky moves (i.e. without asking first) to escalate sexual encounters in the past, some were accepted, some were not, I’m quite sure nobody thought I was violating them–& probably most people can say they’ve done the same).

I mean, I certainly don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for a guy who thinks it’s not a terrible idea to ask a woman who thought you just groped her for her phone number (and hopefully Scott Martens above doesn’t actually think this…)…

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adam.smith 02.17.15 at 5:13 pm

I’d like to throw in here that “affirmative consent” is not an anti-sexual-harassment policy but an anti-sexual-assault policy.

Affirmative consent doesn’t apply to asking people out on dates at all. It doesn’t even apply to much of sexual harassment, even the type that (almost?) everyone here would agree is wrong (e.g. sexist comments at the workplace). It’s about sexual activity:

The act of knowingly, actively and voluntarily agreeing explicitly to engage in sexual activity.

(that’s from OSU about consent).

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Fuzzy Dunlop 02.17.15 at 5:23 pm

The Raven @286 Another insight that has not made it out of the corral: most men are losers in patriarchal games; it is only a tiny minority who have much good out of patriarchy. This is knowledge that young male nerds in the USA could use: it is high-status men (and some women who connect themselves with those men) who are their enemies

As nice as this sounds from a solidarity standpoint, I don’t think it describes bullying very well. My experience with that (happening to me and to other people) was that it was a 90% beating up a 10% sort of thing. And obviously, male-female relations & difficulties in ‘approaching’ members of the interesting sex is the tip of the iceberg for these kinds of hierarchies.

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Brett Bellmore 02.17.15 at 5:43 pm

“re Brett’s story from before, I wasn’t there and he may want to disagree, but I’d suggest that the problem there wasn’t that he misread a social situation and got an over-the-top reaction, but that he was subject to a social hierarchy where a trivial misreading of a social cue was widely seen as a legitimate pretext for violence (Cf. “he whistled at her…”). If the girl in question had brought this complaint to the teacher, the reaction probably would not have been so outrageous, much less violent.”

What was the girl supposed to complain about, that I maliciously said “Hi!” to her? I didn’t make an unwanted sexual advance, I was young enough I wouldn’t have known what a sexual advance even was, let alone been inclined to attempt one. The problem had everything to do with social hierarchy. I was at the bottom, she was at the top, I didn’t know this, and didn’t know that people at the bottom weren’t allowed to initiate conversations with people at the top.

That I was a guy, and she was a girl, might have had something to do with it on her end, but not on mine. I was barely starting to think girls didn’t really have “cooties”, whatever they were.

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Brett Bellmore 02.17.15 at 5:47 pm

“My experience with that (happening to me and to other people) was that it was a 90% beating up a 10% sort of thing.”

My experience was that it was more of a 1-2% beating up 5-10% thing, with most of the school population involved on neither end, except perhaps tangentially. Though the 90% certainly weren’t lifting a finger to stop it.

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ragweed 02.17.15 at 5:49 pm

I think that we need to be clear about what affirmative consent is and when the more literal forms are needed. The whole point of affirmative consent is to insure that there is clear communication by both parties on what is acceptable. With a long-term relationship, you can establish an understanding of acceptable behavior – my partner knows she can come behind me and run her hand over my but, and that will be welcomed. There is no need to ask every time, though if I ever said to stop, it should be respected.

But with someone you don’t know well, or with whom you are initiating any sort of sexual advance for the first time, you absolutely need to ask, and verbally check in, at every step of the way. Whether there may be a problem of over-reach where some people want to require clear verbal consent of every action even for long established couples, that really isn’t an issue if you are approaching someone for the first time or initiating the next step in a sexual encounter. If you haven’t been together for a while,

(in the case of the kink space, I would assume that there are a set of rules for the space that address safe words and what not, that would be a substitute for affirmative consent. At least, according to the sex radicals a few years back, BDSM circles were even more attentive to consent than others, precisely because of the potential risks. The language used may not be the same, but it was embedded in the role-playing.)

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Rich Puchalsky 02.17.15 at 5:55 pm

Val, I do have a sense that there is some kind of meta-argumentative difference going on that doesn’t reduce to people who have class as their primary explanatory theory thinking that feminists should shut up.

As Stephenson-quoter kun writes @80, the variety of feminism that I’m used to “is premised on some strong ideas about the subjectivity of experience”. This means that no one can say that your experience “is wrong”, you’re being “too emotional”, or whatever. It does mean though that your experience can’t be seen as contradicting someone else’s experience. (See e.g. Ronan(rf)’s link at #226).

However this doesn’t say anything about your conclusions. Something like a general conclusion can’t really be a product of your direct experience. If you want to hold to something like the idea that patriarchy is what we’ve been living under for thousands of years, and that this is the major explanatory factor for certain kinds of events now, then of course people can say you’re wrong. And it’s really not unusual that people would do so here, despite your expertise and academic study. Certainly posters with names like “John”, “Henry”, “Corey” etc. are regularly and vociferously disagreed with about matters of economics, history, sociology and so on despite their expertise.

Maybe this kind of disagreement is itself a product of patriarchy, of men creating a culture within academic discussions of combative jostling. (Within actual academic discussions too, rather than merely blog discussions — I remember the beat-downs over the value of the Hubble Constant, an astrophysical quantity with no apparent cultural relevance at all.) But in that case the problem isn’t specifically threads about feminism, it’s pretty much the entire site and the entire posting and commenting community and maybe all of academia itself. This analysis leads fairly directly to the idea that the problem is, again, that we live under patriarchy, and that this necessarily affects everything in society.

So then the question is: how can people legitimately disagree with you? If only on the basis of equal expertise, you’re running into a different kind of power relations that itself could be equally well assigned to patriarchy.

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engels 02.17.15 at 5:57 pm

I remember reading somewhere that female bullying tends to be majoritarian and male bullying minoritarian because of girls’ and women’s greater solidarity orientation but perhaps that is contested.

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SamChevre 02.17.15 at 5:57 pm

Fuzzy Dunlop @ 288

I would note that legally (and reasonably, from the woman’s point of view) “repeated sexual advances” don’t have to be repeated by the same person. Having to deal with an endless stream of advances is wearing, even if they come from different people.

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bianca steele 02.17.15 at 6:05 pm

I’d add to Raven’s list above of things feminism isn’t responsible for: progressive education. I’ve been wondering, reading these threads, about relative age and national origin of posters, and how many are, like me, second-generation productions of progressive education (that is, raised by a mother who attended this same kind of school).

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js. 02.17.15 at 6:28 pm

Re affirmative consent, see here. What the discussion lacks in concision, it makes up for in… repetition?

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Fuzzy Dunlop 02.17.15 at 6:39 pm

@296 If you know that someone is being approached repeatedly, this is straightforward, but if not, doesn’t that move into the territory of ‘you should have known she was too hot for you’? I mean, actually, personally, I would try to make that call when deciding whether to approach somebody flirtatiously, but hopefully people can see how affirming the need for this type of consideration also affirms that sexual advances are judged according to a separate social hierarchy, and that this is something (pro-)feminists should be sensitive to?

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Landru 02.17.15 at 6:46 pm

OT, but irresistible; consider this a short, non-commercial rest break.

I remember the beat-downs over the value of the Hubble Constant

Was this on CT? Links! though I think the Hubble constant was straightened out well in advance of the founding of CT.

an astrophysical quantity with no apparent cultural relevance at all.

Hmm, not so fast. In the old days, now ~25+ years ago, things like disagreements between methods in determining the Hubble constant, or that fact that certain values for the constant made the universe appear to be younger than some stars, cast some serious doubt over the validity of the big bang + expanding universe cosmological model. The appearance of popular books with titles like “The Big Bang Never Happened” (1991) amplified this doubt in the public mind at the time; which in turn assisted creationists, for example, in saying things like “Yeah, these scientists talk about the universe being billions of years old, but they can’t get their own story straight.”

So I wouldn’t say that brawls over the Hubble constant, in particular, were entirely without cultural valence. But I agree with the general point about combative disputation as a business model in academics.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled disputes.

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Rich Puchalsky 02.17.15 at 7:25 pm

“Was this on CT? Links! though I think the Hubble constant was straightened out well in advance of the founding of CT.”

No, sorry, although that would have been awesome. I was remembering back from when I was a grad student in the 1980s.

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Phil 02.17.15 at 8:22 pm

At least, according to the sex radicals a few years back, BDSM circles were even more attentive to consent than others, precisely because of the potential risks.

A story that sticks in my mind from the Spanner case. One of the participants was asked (on the radio, anonymously) how, as a masochist, he could tell his partner when he’d really had enough – did they have some special code word? He said, “When I’m enjoying it I might say ‘please, no more, master!’, and then my partner would know I wanted him to carry on. But if I did want it to stop I’d say ‘please, no more, Brian‘.”

(I’m assuming the name of the guy in question was Brian, not that this was an elegantly-conveyed safeword.)

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Val 02.17.15 at 8:50 pm

So difficult being in such a different time zone to most commenters! You go to sleep at night, having written a late night comment, and wake up in the morning to find 50 more. So hard to keep up.

Patrick @ 274
I wasn’t in the least expressing contempt for Armando’s views. I thought it was genuinely sad that he should (even theoretically) feel that affirmative consent treats male sexuality as “toxic”. I feel that there’s a whole world of meaning lurking in your misunderstanding, although I shouldn’t read too much in it I guess – but don’t you think it could be an example of the way people “read in” hatred and contempt to feminism ?

Rich @ 299
Two aspects to my position on class and patriarchy: one is I don’t think they’re alternative explanations, I think they are interconnected, but following Gerda Lerner, I think patriarchy is the ‘ur-form’ of oppression, that precedes others. I’m interested in hearing other views on this, even though I already have an established view, partly because I have to write a convincing thesis eventually.

The other aspect is that I think bringing up class is sometimes used as a derailing tactic in discussions of feminism, which is what I suspected Engels was doing re Laurie Penny. I think it is used sometimes by people who are antagonistic to feminism, or aspects of feminism, but don’t want to say so directly. (I won’t get into the dispute between me and Engels again because I’ve said enough on that already).

I just want to add, there are so many interesting viewpoints here. I loved that info about Russia, so fascinating. And it seems when I scan back through the thread that new and interesting ones have been released, including one from Scott Arronson, which I hadn’t seen, and was certainly interesting although I still don’t agree with a lot of it. But appreciated! As are all the different viewpoints.

The question you (Rich) raise re expertise is interesting – certainly people shouldn’t be excluded because they haven’t formally studied a topic, because they would just be hierarchies and privilege again. But many people – not here so much, but in other parts of the Internet – do treat feminism as if it’s just a lot of rubbish that silly women made up, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that if someone has spent years studying feminism, that should be respected in discussion, just as it would with other topics.

Armando thanks for your comments, I understand your position better now. I think again there can be a “mishmash” in people’s minds (I love that expression, thank you Tiny Tim @ 99) of feminism (affirmative consent) superimposed on patriarchal attitudes (men have to do the chasing). But I didn’t think adam.smith was doing that – I thought (as he later said) he was writing from the starting point of the thread, nerdy heterosexual males.

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Fuzzy Dunlop 02.17.15 at 8:53 pm

Scott Aaronson actually showed up to comment a while ago, it looks like those comments that just came out of moderation–Belle, you may wish to update the OP noting this (& sorry to pester you if you were already in the middle of doing that).

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Fuzzy Dunlop 02.17.15 at 9:11 pm

Scott Aaronson @213 Thank you for writing this, because these thoughts are actually very familiar; they were never a severe problem for me to the point of causing crippling anxiety, but were real enough to have been detrimental to my ways of interacting with people, and probably contributed to reservations I had many years ago about fully sympathizing with feminism:

…the main things to know about girls are DON’T BE A CREEP, and YES THAT MEANS YOU, and if you have to ask what ‘creep’ means, that’s likely because you already are one… Everyone knows how not to be a creep: you just need to read the subtle nonverbal or subverbal signals that we’re all instinctively born with, and which tell you when to attempt something—say, taking a girl’s hand, or leaning in for a kiss—that you’ve never before attempted in your life, and that indeed you must NEVER, EVER attempt if the signals are wrong.

…which boiled down to “DON’T BE A CREEP” and “the more you avoid flirting with girls, the more of a potential creep that makes you, ergo the more you must, morally, avoid flirting, and so on forever” and “the guys who succeed at this are not only your social superiors, but your moral superiors as well.”

To clarify my own suggestions up-thread about what this means for feminism, and in what ways bullying should be a feminist issue, I think men ought to be proactive in having these discussions and creating spaces for them (Belle has done so very graciously here), and that we can reasonably call these discussions/spaces a part of feminism. In other words, part of feminism, but not something that anyone should demand other feminists devote time to, beyond just basic consideration/acknowledgement.

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armando 02.17.15 at 9:51 pm

FTR, I don’t think of feminism as generating contempt for male sexuality, I think patriarchy does that. But I do think that feminism is, at times, uncritical of this aspect of patriarchy, essentially as it concerns the feelings and safety of the privileged.

I also don’t mean to suggest that affirmative consent is totally wrong, or always framed as consent for women, but it happens often enough to be disturbing.

I had this very discussion a few months back with a good friend of mine who would be fairly described as an ardent feminist, who couldn’t understand why I would object to affirmative consent (because I really do take consent very seriously). So, she is into kink also, and I pointed out that constant active verbal consent (this is how she framed it) would be entirely out of place, even though women generally feel safer in kink spaces (a point she makes frequently). Then I asked her if she would be practicing ongoing verbal consent herself, and she looked at me like I was crazy. Of course not. It’s for men to do, not women, she argued. Even though she has a model of functioning consent which doesn’t work like that at all. It’s much the same as the don’t have sex with people who are drunk. Those people are always women.

Ok, so that’s just one example, you might say. *Shrug* Most examples of the concept only ever talk about female consent. You might think that is most appropriate, that it’s most germane, that the problem with consent is that men don’t obtain it. And there are good arguments for that position. But that makes it gendered. If you don’t think of consent as a gendered thing, then you’d expect descriptions of ideal consent to be far more mutual.

Or, if you like, let me describe two people dancing…..the man moves his feet and body in rhythmic patterns to the music.

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magistra 02.17.15 at 10:00 pm

One of the things that occurs to me from reading Scott Aaronson@213 (and some other posters), is that some people feel far more unhappy with ambiguity than others: they want really strict, precise rules about what is right and what is wrong. And I wonder whether that kind of personality it connected with a strong mathematical/scientific bent: when I was young and doing a degree in maths, I certainly wanted to be sure I got the right answer for a lot of RL situations as well. And for people who are unhappy with this kind of ambiguity, then the ordinary rules of thumb about how you behave towards the opposite sex aren’t satisfactory.

The problem is that it’s impossible to give more than rules of thumb, because there is no absolute objective standard for what is creepy behaviour. It depends at least partly on the person who is or is not being creeped out. Just as there isn’t 1 specific blood alcohol level at which someone is too drunk to consent and it would be unrealistic to try and claim there is. You have to make judgement calls, but that it difficult if you’re lacking in self-confidence in your own judgement.

I also wonder if maybe what attracted Scott to reading Dworkin and the rad-fems etc was a search for black and white colours and certainty on the topic of sex: a lot of radical/extreme moral thought is marked by that clarity, whether it’s fundamentalist religion or left-wing politics.

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hix 02.17.15 at 10:14 pm

The ambiguity and personality thing. It is not wrong up to a point. And indead, being bad with ambiguity can make one move in a rather ugly direction. But there is another aspect too. One just starts to despise unclear rules when one notices that whenever there is ambiguity about rules, that ambiguity is sytematically used to favour certain types of people and disadvantage others.

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bianca steele 02.17.15 at 10:19 pm

passer-by @ 249

Interesting comments. I’ve heard the phrase “war between the sexes” or “war of the sexes” and it often seems as if this is considered to be the fault of feminism. I remember hearing an interview with Doris Lessing where she remembered being criticized for taking part in the “war of the sexes” and she said she tried hard not to. But I don’t know why it would be assumed it didn’t exist until feminism did. (There used to be at least one Usenet troll who kept blaming quite traditional, if not especially classy, behavior on “feminism,” in a way that was pretty odd, but kept at least one feminist biting.)

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engels 02.17.15 at 10:25 pm

I’d have thought the problem with concept of ‘creepiness’ isn’t ambiguity but that it is tied to concept of ‘being a creep’, which is a fixed social role bestowed by a group on the low-status or internalised by them. To me it also suggests timidity, which could become self-perpetuating for obvious reasons.

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engels 02.17.15 at 10:26 pm

As I said up top though this all sounds very USian to me

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Scott Aaronson 02.17.15 at 10:46 pm

magistra #312 and hix #313: Yes and yes!

bianca steele #314: When a revolutionary movement succeeds in overthrowing the government, it discovers that it’s no longer enough to pursue its historic agenda—people now expect it to repair roads and bridges and carry out all sorts of other “normal” functions of government that had nothing to do with the original revolutionary mission. In much the same way, I’d say it’s a reflection of the fact that feminism has WON—that at least within the academic world, it’s now the ONLY intellectual framework in town for talking about gender relations—that people turn to it even for aspects of gender relations that have nothing to do with feminism’s original goals (for example, the problems of shy nerdy males). In any case, surely the feminists would rather the shy nerdy males went to them (i.e., to the “legitimate government”) than to the MRAs or the pickup artists??

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magistra 02.17.15 at 10:52 pm

hix@313,

If you have the same kind of scientific mind, you’d also be carefully trying to assess your cognitive biases, to see whether you are noticing unfair treament of your in-group, but not favourable treament of your in-group.

scott@314,

Wasn’t your original comment in a discussion about the lack of women in STEM subjects? That hardly suggests that feminism has WON.

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bianca steele 02.17.15 at 11:04 pm

Prof. Aaronson @ 317: That’s extremely interesting. I never thought about it that way.

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Doug K 02.17.15 at 11:38 pm

Scott @ 213, “Everyone knows how not to be a creep: you just need to read the subtle nonverbal or subverbal signals that we’re all instinctively born with, and which tell you when to attempt something.”
Then on the twitterstream,
http://adequateman.deadspin.com/how-to-talk-to-girls-on-twitter-without-coming-off-like-1685707661
which basically is saying exactly that.

Some decades ago I settled upon a guiding principle of not talking to girls except to respond to questions, because anything else would usually lead to feeling like a creep. It was the effort to avoid that unpleasant set of emotions which put a stop to my attempts at dating. It wasn’t feminism made me feel that way, rather it was the same set of things that feminism reacts against. As Jagiello observes in one of the O’Brian novels, “Women are the Jews of the world – spat upon, reviled and persecuted for centuries, until it is hardly possible for a friendship to form between a man and a woman.”

Soundtrack:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3euYclhRmw

I’m glad I’m not young anymore.

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bianca steele 02.17.15 at 11:55 pm

@320

Interestingly, I settled on the same policy w/r/t responding to rhetoric I associate with Anonymous or with 4chan wannabes, and to people who attribute to me other people’s words.

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Bill Benzon 02.18.15 at 12:11 am

bianca steele @314 Yes, “war between the sexes” certainly predates 1960s+ era feminism. Here’s an Ngram query showing it to creep into the language a decade prior to 1900, but with significant post 1960 rise (also graphed “war of the sexes”):

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=war+between+the+sexes%2Cwar+of+the+sexes&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=2&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cwar%20between%20the%20sexes%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cwar%20of%20the%20sexes%3B%2Cc0

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The Temporary Name 02.18.15 at 12:19 am

Some decades ago I settled upon a guiding principle of not talking to girls except to respond to questions, because anything else would usually lead to feeling like a creep.

Does this remain your current policy or are you referring to the past? If it’s current, how do you get along in day-to-day business?

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Charles R 02.18.15 at 12:35 am

Val, a ways back in the thread, you mentioned in response to several of us your particular take on the history of patriarchy. I agree with you that patriarchies have been dominant in various cultural contexts throughout the world.

My question is, “In what way do these patriarchies evolve?”

Because if we accept, as you said, that patriarchy has been the “dominant social order for the last few thousand years,” and we also accept that patriarchy comes in “variants” of particular political/economic arrangements, such as “capitalism, socialism, liberalism, neo-liberalism, etc,” then we also need to recognize in what ways any of these variants are either innovations from outside patriarchy that came to vary it or evolved clades from within the patriarchy that’s dominant over the last few thousand years.

If patriarchy has so thoroughly captured all of human cultural progress that any contemporary -ism traces itself back to it, then there’s not really much hope for anyone to find something outside or untainted by the particular conceptual frameworks and nonconceptual realities patriarchy, as a variant-unifying theme across -isms and global cultures, has locked us into. How can we separate ourselves from it, if any of the significant “social orders” we summarize with an -ism in our contemporary lives are variants of it?

I am not sure the patriarchy diagnosed today is actually the same as the patriarchy we diagnose in a culture several thousands of miles and years away, or even several hundred in either of those. I tend to find it more fruitful to ask about a local patriarchy, how it works and moves and values in particular geographical settings, places with their own histories and graves and old traditions. I do think there are ‘family resemblances’ among the patriarchies, and maybe tracing backwards across the variants the historical patterns through which the various -isms became variants of the patriarchy will produce a convincing and persuasive story of what that patriarchy was—sort of the way we can trace the idea of gravity over the cultures as though it was always ever the same thing just understood differently. But it’s the sort of maybe that makes me think the term ‘patriarchy’, much like any of the terms ‘liberalism’ or ‘Marxism’ or ‘capitalism’ or ‘fascism’, has less to do with definitions and concepts and understandings, and more to do with one’s own immersion in a local geography, where today such geographies not only include social media networks but all the extended institutional networks the Internet provides for people to communicate so much faster than word-of-mouth oral practices of shaming and gossip allowed.

By coming at the Big Picture from seeing the patchwork of rivers, creeks, oceans and various other dividing and inscribed lines separating one moral system from another moral system, I think we’re in a much better position to start divesting ourselves of our own moral authority of declaring definitively that this action or that action is patriarchal, capitalistic, socialistic, assholish, or whatever, as though this authority had something more for it than where we were born, where we grew up, where we go into debt, where we find safety from the world. This isn’t to say we stop using shame or the usual sorts of corrections people make when they publicly declare this behavior or that behavior is odd, creepy, uncomfortable, or awkward, weird, bizarre.

It is to say we stop thinking any one of us holds a better and clearer edge than the other as to what’s the best way to see the behaviors of another. These are all evolved and evolving ideas, and the selection process isn’t driven by True Morality or Divine Foresight.

The selections occur without any of our expectations, as they have naturally, ‘natural’ in the sense Nietzsche criticized the Stoics for thinking their own Nature was what they were submitting to: it’s all a part of life, whether we want to admit this or not, because we were born long after the fuckup already happened. All actions, especially those in the past, have consequences.

To shorten the rambling:

Cultures evolve. Is patriarchy something like four legs for animals—a series of evolutionary paths taken from which no alternative is possible without deliberately engineering the genetic code? Or is patriarchy something more like flight—a design feature several evolving cultures stumbled into because it happens to redirect their moving parts in ways reproducing themselves much faster than other cultures can compete? Or is patriarchy something more like spots—a design itself a variation on a theme of pigmentation? If it’s the first: then either we swallow one morality while instituting another and begin engineering cultures at their ‘genetic’ levels (something I argue the CIA did through MK-ULTRA or COINTELPRO, and what the DOD, various other state militaries, and public relations and human resources departments of firms and large corporate organizations do) or we swallow a different morality while instituting another and begin taking ourselves completely out of those cultures doomed to being patriarchal; if the second: then either we perform deeper analysis on the metaphorics and nonconceptual underpinnings of all the various designs patriarchies stumble into in order to better understand what are the cultural transformations these designs require or, similarly with the first, we take ourselves completely out of those cultures whose reproduction depends upon patriarchal designs; if the third: then either we alter the ordinary cultural selection procedures to remove these particular spots or to promote other spots.

Either way from any of these ways, making these choices means operating from the kind of moral standpoint and assurance about how evolution has altered the courses of human histories that got so many of us locked into these cultures of horrific genocide and destruction.

That is, if we think patriarchy is something we are all evolutionarily bound to, as something so pervasive and invasive that any one of our mistakes can be attributed to it—a kind of new ‘original sin’ already corrupting us before we began to make moral decisions as members of social communities. If, instead, it is something we can evolve out of—the truth growing from the lie, so to speak—then I do think it is appropriate to ask by what mechanisms we’ll do it. For a lot of folks, that’s something that looks like legislation, or like public education, or the right kind of discourse. I think, if we take very seriously the idea that patriarchy is that old and that rotten within us all, that if we took it to be something made up of parts, patterns, logics, and conceptual movements, cobbled together from all too human encounters, then we’re going to have to be prepared for a struggle that will never end, won’t be solved through talking or sharing alone, and will result in the unintended consequences of disrupting fragile mechanisms people use to survive within it, especially the deeper and more towards the core we go to excise from ourselves such a cancer.

Meanwhile, those who are already going beyond good and evil have already been mixing and matching the pieces and parts of cultural ideologies in order to create the new -isms that won’t make sense from our older, more traditional approaches to thinking of our isms as collections of doctrines and propositional ideas. Having no clear idea what patriarchy is, placing those new, engineered -isms into it will be a costly mistake —assuming we don’t like or want either those or patriarchy. Inaction also has consequences.

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hix 02.18.15 at 12:52 am

Being a bit unfair (the usual attribute success to ones personal qualities and blame failure on outside forces) should be alright. Dont think im overdoing it. Really, what can you do, the human mind just seems to need a certain degree of self serfing delusions.

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Rich Puchalsky 02.18.15 at 1:38 am

I’m starting to think that maybe I should just repeat bob mcmanus’ recommendation that people should watch WataMote. It’s only 12 episodes and should be available on the Web at various places. What I think that bob mcmanus left out of his recommendation is that the protagonist is 15 and that a whole lot of her awkwardness is about sexuality. It may be good to get a fictional look at this without the baggage of the character being male: the character is also refreshingly nasty, which may help to dispel some of the victimhood.

Note: for guys who want clear rules, responding with “She’s a girl, it’s unpossible that she’d be troubled by this!” is not the response that people are really wanting to hear back.

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Fuzzy Dunlop 02.18.15 at 1:39 am

Feminism has ‘won’ in the sense that the Democrats won the 2008 election–as much as people resist it, there’s no other set of beliefs that has comparable moral legitimacy, so the way people attack it is to say ‘feminists are the REAL sexists’. Sort of like people criticizing atheism by saying it’s like a religion.

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Landru 02.18.15 at 4:48 am

Magistra at 312: some people feel far more unhappy with ambiguity than others: they want really strict, precise rules about what is right and what is wrong.

I don’t think this is at all an unreasonable standard, if the consequences for “wrong” are vilification, imprisonment, or worse. So I’m a bit dismayed by your exaggerated rhetoric and negative tone here, as though people who don’t want punishments to be arbitrary are somehow lesser beings, to be pitied or looked down upon.

I’ll tell you my own standard — which is probably already covered in Rawls or something, it’s hardly likely I’ve come up with anything original here — which is very simple: If someone is going to impose rules for behavior that they think can and should be punished (and we’re talking much more generally than just state legal codes), then those rules should be sufficiently clear and well-defined to where anyone performing an act can tell if it’s a crime at the time they’re doing it. Is this the same as what you were saying? I can’t see this as unreasonable in the least, it seems like basic, cellular-level justice to me.

If anything, I would expect that people interested in social justice — and, who among us is opposed to social justice? show of hands? — would generally be very much in favor of having rules for punishments in society spelled out more explicitly. Having open, explicit rules can be a huge help to out-groups and put-upon minorities: they work against the kind of arbitrary, subjective decision-making by which the in-power groups promote their own members, or they force the slanted decision-making of those groups to be laid out publicly for examination. So it sounds funny to me, to hear people of a supposedly progressive persuasion disdaining a desire for clearer rules.

there is no absolute objective standard for what is creepy behaviour. It depends at least partly on the person who is or is not being creeped out.

Yes, this is true by abundant observation. But, what might it be telling us? that an experience which is so meaningful to so many people, e.g. being “creeped out”, still can’t be defined at all non-subjectively, even for a single individual. Perhaps it’s because the term functions as a code or unconscious euphemism for some other perception that goes unnamed?

Consider the famous “halo effect”, for example, whereby people who are attractive to a viewer, ie sexually or just aesthetically appealing, tend to be judged by that viewer as being more competent, intelligent, trustworthy and moral, independent of any actual facts. Presumably, then, there’s also a flip side, that people who are significantly less attractive than average, sexually or aesthetically, will tend to be perceived as untrustworthy, malevolent, threatening, etc. Or, in short, “creepy”, which to me always has an overtone of being threatening or dangerous.

Now, this is not to say that people don’t have a “right to feel creeped out” if that’s their subjective experience. But perhaps it does hint, that that subjective feeling shouldn’t be such a strong basis for vilifying someone; hey?

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magistra 02.18.15 at 5:45 am

Charles R@324

I’m at the very preliminary stages (i.e. contemplating a possible research project) of thinking about the evolution and persistence of patriarchy in premodern Western Europe, i.e. from the Roman period through to around 1700, so here are my tentative ideas on the history and significance of patriarchy.

I’m taking patriarchy to mean societies where men overall have more power than otherwise similar women: e.g. husbands have more power than their wives, brothers have more power than their sisters, wise old men have more power than wise old women etc. This gets round the fact that many societies have social stratifications in which e.g. a noblewoman has overall more power than a common man. Then you can very roughly rank societies by the extent of this male-female power differential, e.g. say that Victorian Britain was a more patriarchal society than modern Britain, the US is more patriarchal than Denmark etc. Again, none of this excludes some women having exceptional power in very patriarchal societies, e.g. Elizabethan England or a Chinese empress. But we’re talking averages here.

If we look at societies like that, then patriarchy is not inevitable: there are some small-scale societies which are predominantly egalitarian. And it is not inevitably an evolutionary advantage for societies to be patriarchal: Saudi Arabia is more patriarchal than the US; few people would say it was a more successful society. So I don’t think it’s either like legs or flight, to use your evolutionary metaphors.

But I think there are long-term path dependencies which can affect outcomes for centuries to come. For example, although UK universities generally have more female undergraduates than male (http://www.theguardian.com/education/datablog/2013/jan/29/how-many-men-and-women-are-studying-at-my-university) (the overall ratio is 55:45), Oxford and Cambridge have more male than female (54: 46 in Oxford’s case). That probably reflects the fact that until 40 years ago, all Oxford colleges were single-sex and there were substantially more male than female colleges. Why was that? Because female colleges were an add-on to an originally all-male institution. Why was it all- male? Because it began in the Middle Ages as a places for clerics to study and clerics were all male. Why were clerics all male? Because the early Christian church decided that only men could be clerics.

None of those steps from the early centuries AD to Oxford University in 2015 are inevitable, but they’re all easier options for societies/institutions to take, in the sense of less change required (and, in particular, less change by powerful men required). I suspect that there are many other such path-dependencies, but I don’t yet know. Gerda Lerner’s ‘Creation of Patriarchy’ looks at how the very early structures of patriarchy developed (some of which, such as the Jewish idea of all-male priesthood, turned out by chance to be very influential on western developments).

As to how patriarchal structures change and become less patriarchal, the Oxford example shows that it can be done via women’s lib: you can go from 0% women to 46% women. What I’m interested in is looking at how patriarchal structures change in a time between women’s movements. Do things get better for women overall and if so why is that? Alternatively, does patriarchy persist across many other social changes? 100-1700 AD gives several major changes in the dominant religious ideology in Western Europe, the early rise of capitalism and the start of the Scientific Revolution, but at the end of it men are still dominant. I don’t have any clear answers yet as to why that dominance persists (and I’m not sure if it’s possible to do enough research to be sure). But one possibility is the flexibility of many of the patriarchal structures in practice. For example, married women weren’t allowed to trade on their own account, except they did, but it was all technically illegal and therefore they were not as secure in their property rights as male traders etc.

None of this is directly relevant to how we might or might not change patriarchy today, because I’m not an expert on modern history and I don’t know enough about modern capitalism to give more than a laywoman’s comments on that. Sylvia Walby’s ‘Theorizing Patriarchy’ might be a way to find out how things looked 25 years ago (published in 1990); I don’t know if there are more recent works that look in the same sort of structured way. But if I can start getting some more definite ideas about changes in the past that at least is some data that can inform our arguments.

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The Temporary Name 02.18.15 at 5:48 am

Perhaps it’s because the term functions as a code or unconscious euphemism for some other perception that goes unnamed?

Or maybe it doesn’t.

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magistra 02.18.15 at 6:11 am

Landru@328,

What specifically about the regulations by which anyone is being punished for sexual assault is ambiguous? Show me some regulations that are substantially more ambiguous than, say those that define murder (from http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/h_to_k/homicide_murder_and_manslaughter/#murder):

Subject to three exceptions (see Voluntary Manslaughter below) the crime of murder is committed, where a person:

of sound mind and discretion (i.e. sane);
unlawfully kills (i.e. not self-defence or other justified killing);
any reasonable creature (human being);
in being (born alive and breathing through its own lungs – Rance v Mid-Downs Health Authority (1991) 1 All ER 801 and AG Ref No 3 of 1994 (1997) 3 All ER 936;
under the Queen’s Peace;
with intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm (GBH).

I’m sure you can point our ambiguities there (e.g. what counts as self-defence?) so does that mean that therefore the legal definition is unfair?

The complaint some people seem to be making is not that the regulations themselves are ambiguous, but that the guidance given as to how to intepret the regulations is ambiguous. Or alternatively that the guidance isn’t ambiguous (e.g. explict verbal consent is always required, to be on the safe side) but that it’s too hard, and some other men aren’t sticking to it, so it’s not fair on them to have to do so.

It may not be how men intend it, but many of them complaining about changes to consent laws are coming across as less, ‘there’s a new standard, how do I know how to interpret it?’ than ‘I want to know exactly how far I can go and still get away with unethical behaviour’. The pattern of: ‘Q: How do I know if women are too drunk to consent?’ ‘A: if you’re really worried that you can’t tell, then don’t sleep with drunk women.’ ‘Q: But how will I ever get laid then?’

As for the debate about ‘creepy’, I’m British so I don’t know if the US has the same implications. But in the specific context of sexual approaches, then I think a woman or man should be able to turn down any other individual for arbitrary reasons. If a man doesn’t like the fact that a woman isn’t wearing high heels (or that she is), he can turn her down. If a woman thinks a particular man is self-centred, she is not obliged to be friendly to him, because he doesn’t think he’s self-centred (or even because he has taken some test which proves he is ‘objectively’ not self-centred).

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The Temporary Name 02.18.15 at 6:34 am

I think a woman or man should be able to turn down any other individual for arbitrary reasons.

Indeed, and therefore sensitive man and sensitive woman both will have a worse time of it than others when preferences emerge. Yet sensitive woman has a much greater chance of sexual assault.

I’m hoping and thinking Landru is talking less about law and more about the area of the OP, the supposed norm of fear the sensitive nerd has as a result of feminism (which I do not buy) and the rules of engagement that condemn some men to wear the scarlet C of creepiness.

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adam.smith 02.18.15 at 6:40 am

I don’t think this is at all an unreasonable standard, if the consequences for “wrong” are vilification, imprisonment, or worse.

this, of course, is BS. Anything that has legal consequences should be as clearly defined as possible. If you read about affirmative consent, ruling out any ambiguity about what constitutes sexual assault its one of its primary purposes. This is one of the reasons why I’m so skeptical about the “shy nerds who can’t read social cues suffer from ambiguity” argument about feminism. They should be at the forefront of the movement. I’m not sure if affirmative consent is going to do much to prevent or better prosecute sexual assault. But if there actually _are_ people concerned about committing assault because of ambiguity, they should be super excited about this. So, Scott A.–why aren’t you celebrating the most prominent feminist in the US telling you on the OpEd pages of the NYTimes that following those very simple rules is sexy?

As for the the “creep” part (for which “vilification” is as bad as it gets in terms of consequences), sure, if you don’t want to make people uncomfortable but can’t tell when you’re making people uncomfortable that’s harder. So yes, you will have to be more careful and put more work into it than other people (hey, they probably have to work harder at some of the stuff you find easy). And feminists do write about this with very specific advice a fair amount:
http://www.doctornerdlove.com/2014/03/how-to-not-be-creepy/
http://jezebel.com/5981581/how-to-talk-to-a-woman-without-being-a-creep
etc. etc.
But note how the tone of these pieces is very much not alarmist. They very much don’t convey the notion that every guy who talks to a woman is a creep. On the contrary: they (and they were the two first feminist pieces I found when I googled how not to be a creep) tell you that, as long as you’re respectful, you’re going to be just fine. Which is, I take it, what young Scott Aaronson would have liked to be told by feminists. Voila: Internet feminism delivereth.

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magistra 02.18.15 at 7:20 am

To add to adam.smith@333, it’s be interesting to hear from any of the commentators who have ASD whether it would help them if explicitly asking before making a sexual advance became a more common or acceptable practice (even if it wasn’t universal)? I’ve certainly heard some non-neurotypical people saying that they already take an explicit ‘no’ far more seriously than many neurotypical people, because they’re not likely to pick up (or believe they pick up) ambiguous body language.

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Moz in Oz 02.18.15 at 8:13 am

magistra@334: not so much, but I’m at the gentle end of the spectrum and already ask. It’s kind of amazing how well that works. But I have to caveat that by saying that I apparently come across as very non-threatening and in my 20’s at least had a reputation for asking personal questions in a way that people felt quite comfortable answering.

One approach that I find helpful is the idea that we’re a social species. We got that way and stay that way because there’s a selection pressure towards sociability, otherwise known as “social skills”. The whole “confusing social rules about mating” is exactly that selection pressure. It’s a sorting process, “by design” so to speak, and how it works is by constantly changing so that it’s obvious where potential mates rank on the social skills index. Any attempt to “fix it” is doomed.

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Moz in Oz 02.18.15 at 8:14 am

adam.smith @282

(OSU’s “consent” page is at http://swc.osu.edu/sexual-violence-education-support-sves/consent/ )

You have got to be fucking kidding me. Right there in black and white: “disabled people cannot ever be allowed to have sex. The end”. I can’t say anything polite about that, so I will refrain.

Circumstances in which a person CANNOT legally give consent: … The person is physically or developmentally disabled

I am also curious about 13 being the age of consent – that seems young to me.

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passer-by 02.18.15 at 8:25 am

@Bianca Steele
It seems to me that that’s a very classic trope, whereby those who give an oppressed minority the tools to publicly express their discontent are blamed for creating that discontent in the first place. I’m not sure why it has not already been pointed out wrt feminism. Socialism, abolitionism, feminism – they don’t create the war, they voice it and offer solutions (more or less succesful ones).
There may be Blacks who hate Whites (the reverse racism trope), but would anyone in his right mind assume that that hate would be a product of abolitionism / civil rights movements, rather than a much attenuated remnant of the past and its legacy? “Reverse racism” may sometimes exist, but is it not natural to assume that the place you’re most likely to find it would be on a slave plantation?

Ok, real life discussion with two Russian female friends, both highly educated and professionnally successful. The first, now age 31, wanted a child (very strong cultural expectation of motherhood) at age 28 (considered really old around here), so she went out of her way to have a short affair with a member of the military diplomatic corps, so she could be sure that he would not be around once she got the desired child, whose existence she never disclosed to the father, because she did not want to have to put up with a man. She leaves the room, and the other Russian friend, a 33 yo mother of one and young widow, starts telling me that she regretted having only one child, because she felt bad that her child had no siblings, but a second child would have stretched her financial and time resources too much. Naively, I pointed out that the father of the second child could have helped with that (knowing that she had apparently had a good enough relationship with her late husband). She actually burst out laughing and looked at me as if I came from Mars. And then proceeded to explain to me that although the supplementary income could be nice, the extra burden of having a totally useless man in the house would be much worse than adding a child. My attempts at trying to explain to her the (not perfect, but) great partnership I had with my husband were met with disbelief. Something like a fairy tale – she envied me for it, although she couldn’t quite believe that those things actually happen (and she pointed out that, even if they did happen, they did not happen here).
Now, those women face blatant sexism and sexual harassment on a daily basis, which they shrug off as “men will be men, it’s nature, nothing we can do about it”. No man around here runs the risk of being “called out”, let alone sued, for any of that; they are free to hit on any woman around and behave any way they want, provided they do not physically attack a woman they are not married to. It’s depressing to see how many male Western expats are thrilled with “not having to put up with feminism” around here. But it’s not man-hating Western women against man-loving non-feminists. It’s Western women who will call out a creep or a jerk because they expect better, against non feminists who won’t because they do actually assume that all men are creeps and jerks and see no point in saying so (well it’s not that they don’t see the point, it’s that in many situations, it would be a dangerous thing to do).

A lot has been written on the (to us completely ridiculous) extreme masculinity on which Putin constructs his public image. Part of that was, a few years ago, a (very, very bad) popular hit by a girl band, saying that they were tired of their boyfriends and wanted “one like Putin, who would not drink, would not beat me, would not hurt me, would not run away”. That’s how the women actually see the men. How many feminist women actually consider that alcoholic wife-beaters are the norm in the male population?

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Moz in Oz 02.18.15 at 8:44 am

My attempts at trying to explain to her the (not perfect, but) great partnership I had with my husband were met with disbelief

In Australia at least that’s a transition that I see some immigrant communities going through. I presume a lot of them do. And not evenly – there are the second-generation men who discover “loose” local women, and ditto women who discover men who are not useless, violent alcoholics. And, naturally, members of the community who object to those discoveries. I benefit from this, although we do have it backwards – I’m a white immigrant and she’s a “made in Australia” asian.

But on topic, that’s a case where I “picked up a hot chick”{cough} by being non-threatening and friendly until she hit on me so blatantly that I actually noticed. ASD is quite annoying sometimes, but being conventionally attractive enough has saved me from complete frustration.

I wonder if there’s a nerd parallel to the (probably former) “lesbian sheep dance” that really does/did happen to new lesbians – they do passive flirting and frustration at each other, neither realising that someone actually has to do something or they’re both going home alone. Ditto the nerdy kids – possibly a lot of them sit there waiting for the quiet nerdy object of their affections to make the first move, while the object of their admiration does the same in their own nerdy way.

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Patrick 02.18.15 at 8:51 am

Moz in Oz- Did you catch where the “elderly” can never give consent? No definition. Just, “elderly.”

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passer-by 02.18.15 at 9:05 am

@Moz: Yes, I do completely get that it may be difficult for socially awkward men who don’t want to be jerks to navigate the Western dating scene. But it should be obvious that there is no alternate reality where socially awkward young nerds get to have a satisfying romantic / sexual life without working a bit on their social and emotional skills. Feminism gives them the tools for doing so – being friendly, respectful, non-threatening, encouraging open communication, and empowering the women to express their desires and expectations. Does not work every time, but it does seem to work out often enough. Without feminism, the socially awkward young nerd is stuck with:
a) conforming to the much more brutal expectations of traditional masculinity,
b) trying to find a way, all on their own, to build a non-conventional, respectful, trusting, emotionnally satisfying relationship with a woman who first has to be convinced that such a thing is even possible. This requires social skills and sensitivity waaaay beyond what whatever feminist standards expect.

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magistra 02.18.15 at 9:27 am

Moz in oz@336, Patrick@339,

It sounds like such blunders about the disabled (plus some odd ideas about ‘seniors’) are commonplace in consent statements
(see http://www.safercampus.org/blog/2011/03/critics-pick-consenting-with-disabilities/). Though this does mention one or two policies which are at least trying to appreciate the complexities of e.g. two people with cognitive difficulties having sex with one another, where they may have problems in appreciating the consent of the other.

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Moz in Oz 02.18.15 at 9:42 am

passer-by@340: I think we agree. By “One approach that I find helpful” I meant that that explanation seems to explain *why* the problem exists, which I like to know. It’s unlikely to be the whole truth, but I think it helps (surely I can’t be the only ASD person to whom social-science type postmodernism seems like a statement of the blindingly obvious). For me feminism as academic discipline was also very helpful in explaining some of the literal nonsense that I’d been told.

But in social terms, I kinda had to accept that I learned social skills more slowly than most people and try not to get stressed by that. I mean, I learned that arguing with my first girlfriend that I thought she made the first move made her unhappy. But I learned that by doing it, not by looking at her and going “conservative hypochristian family” and realising that she’d probably be like that. Repeat for 10 years until I ground enough rough edges off to keep a girlfriend for more than a year or so… not that that makes me unique, I realise.

I also benefited greatly from finding a social circle of accepting, geeky types. That not coincidentally was fairly matriarchal and very consent-focused. Viz, people practicing feminism. That helped a lot. But I am not sure how to create such a group, let alone generalise their system out to wider society. Observation suggests that neither are the people who did those things. It’s hard to scale from tribal to state level.

Again, personally I get on best with people who are different, and consciously so. For them/us the idea that you have to ask is natural, since otherwise how would we know what the other person wants? For people who see themselves as normal, it’s obvious that you just know what other people want because everyone wants what normal people want. That’s the golden rule… do unto others as you would be done unto. That’s just intuitively obvious (to cross with Quiggen’s property thread, it’s “natural law”, innate an unquestioned)

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passer-by 02.18.15 at 10:37 am

Moz: yes, I do definitely agree with you and most other commenters here.
I’d like to point out that most “normal” people who would try to have successful romantic and sexual relationships with other “normal” persons based on the assumption that the other person naturally wants the same as they do are going to fail spectacularly most of the time. I am “normal” and have not had a single relationship that did not entail openly negotiating gender roles (even if it was not explicitly about gender) and discussing the occasional real or perceived blunder. I have not known a single “normal” man who did not have insecurities and questions about relationships with women (and that includes the “macho” men in patriarchal societies, because the clear rules that govern gender relations in those societies create a lot of pressure and discontent for the men as well).

Open-ended, ongoing discussion seems to me to be the only solution, not rules. And I have the impression that feminism, for all its shortcomings, has done a spectacular job of it.
I really have no opinion on the affirmative consent debate. I’m French; the way feminism has played out in France is very different from what I see debated here, and I’m pretty sure that anyone suggesting the policies discussed here in France would be laughed out of the room, for better or worse. There is still a lot of sexism in France, and the French have been much less open about theorizing and formalizing non-sexist standards of behavior. But living in a non-Western, non-feminist society, it is just completely obvious that feminism has had a tremendous impact on all Western societies, has definitely benefitted both genders and has, indeed, led to much less, not more, acrimonious relations between both genders. Acknowledging the conflicts, problems, misperceptions between the genders does not create acrimony; it is the only way to resolve it, and there is no painfree, “natural” way of doing that.

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sanbikinoraion 02.18.15 at 11:38 am

I know I’m late to the party here, but can everyone at a minimum get LAURIE Penny’s name right, please?

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Brett Bellmore 02.18.15 at 11:41 am

“Patriarchy” this, “Patriarchy” that. It’s like there’s no such thing as “matriarchy”, which, while somewhat different in nature from patriarchy, can also be oppressive. In a double-standard sort of way, where if two drunk people have sex, the guy is the aggressor? In a mind-blowingly stupid, “Women don’t lie about rape” kind of way?

Maybe it’s just that, when you’re trying to institute it, actually acknowledging that it exists is counter-productive?

A bit up thread, Mal #181, said, “Gender equalization is an important goal to strive for and recently it’s become obvious there are a number of arenas where this is painfully necessary. “

I replied that yeah, it’s painfully necessary to strive for some gender equalization in the areas of longevity, suicide rates, and so forth. Look, half of all suicides in the US are men who just got divorced. HALF of them.

Do you imagine for an instant that, if half of all suicides were recently divorced women, that we wouldn’t be doing something about it? Asking if there were something unfair about divorce law that caused men such despair? Mandated psychiatric exams in cases of divorce? Some funky colored ribbons on cars?

No, half of all suicides are recently divorced men, and none of that. Crickets.

Feminism isn’t about gender equality. It’s about gender advantage for women, matriarchy. Getting rid of all the disadvantages women used to have, and keeping the advantages.

At #230, drlemur suggested that, if the girls didn’t feel like joining the chess club, the boys shouldn’t be permitted to have one.

Does that sound like abolishing patriarchy to you? No, that’s instituting matriarchy. The boys don’t get to do anything the girls don’t enjoy.

And, did anybody besides me take exception to that suggestion? Maybe I just missed the outraged comments?

According to polls, only 23% of women consider themselves feminists, and only 16% of men, though 82% agreed that “men and women should be social, political, and economic equals,”

Guess what: Most people don’t connect feminism with the idea that men and women should be social, political, and economic equals. Maybe you should wonder why that is?

I think it’s because most people have feminists accurately pegged, and want nothing to do with them.

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Moz in Oz 02.18.15 at 11:51 am

passer-by:

I’d like to point out that most “normal” people…

Yes, definitely. There’s enough of that for everyone to have a bit :) My experience is that some people will just refuse to discuss or negotiate, saying something like “can’t you just be normal” or “why aren’t you like everyone else”. I think I’m generalising that response into “normal people don’t explicitly negotiate much in intimate relationships”. Also that I read and see a lot of queer/ feminist/ activist material that says “we must change. Negotiating consent should be normal” which makes me think it’s not common (enough) now. Although I suspect that as you point out, there’s more negotiating than it might appear, it just doesn’t take the form of two people sitting on opposite sides of the kitchen table in daylight talking about it.

magistra: again, yes, definitely. Even if you’re a “simple” vanilla, heterosexual person with a disability getting your sexuality acknowledged can be a huge issue. Variants… even more difficult. Being defined out of the discussion before it begins is distressingly common.

I am reminded of Scalzi’s “lowest difficulty setting” essay again. And the cliche black lesbian in a wheelchair…

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magistra 02.18.15 at 12:01 pm

Brett@345

Do you imagine for an instant that, if half of all suicides were recently divorced women, that we wouldn’t be doing something about it?

To turn the question around, what are you doing about it? I get that you have health problems that may limit your options, but if you have time for blog comments, you probably have time to write to your senator etc, lobbying them that they ought to make male suicide a priority. Or if you don’t believe that government is the solution to any problem, then find voluntary orgainisations that are helping and see what you could do to assist them by campaigning. I know about the Campaign Against Living Miserably in the UK (https://www.thecalmzone.net/) which is aimed at preventing male suicide and I presume there are US equivalents.

That is how people get things changed politically, by organising themselves personally with like-minded people to gain changes that they wanted. Not by simply telling other organisations with different aims that they ought to change their priorities to what you say they should be and calling them bigots if they don’t.

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Anderson 02.18.15 at 12:59 pm

Do the women reject BB before or after he talks politics?

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engels 02.18.15 at 1:30 pm

To be fair on Brett I don’t think ‘get[ting] things changed politically’ is on his to-do list; getting negative attention from strangers seems like more his thing.

That said, if only 20% of USian women consider themselves feminists but 80% believe in female equality that is quite interesting (I’d like to see a reference…)

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engels 02.18.15 at 2:02 pm

Moz in Oz, thanks for bringing to our attention the concept of the ‘lesbian sheep dance’. However, I think your direct analogy to nerd-on-nerd mating somewhat obscures the possibility of non-nerd intervention, which has the potential to be quite incendiary (eg as in the film ‘Cruel Intentions’)

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Brett Bellmore 02.18.15 at 2:10 pm

What, you want me to become one of the despised “MRA”s? (Despised, why? Because males have no rights women are bound to respect? Seems like that.) Got better things to do with my time than that.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t point out that, yes, there are glaring gender inequalities to be adressed, and not all of them cut against women. Some of the biggest cut the other way.

“Do the women reject BB before or after he talks politics?”

Happily married now, to a woman who doesn’t mind my politics. My problem with women was never my politics, just that I was phobic. Once I got over that, no problem.

In fact, why would you think that, in a country where most women reject feminism, not being a feminist would cause a guy any problem with finding a wife? It’s BEING a feminist that causes a guy problems with women. Women generally want to marry men, not pseudo-women.

Why do you think of feminists as the natural representatives of women, when most women are rejecting feminism? Serious question here. Is it something to do with “false consciousness”, or the like?

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engels 02.18.15 at 2:38 pm

‘as long as you’re respectful you’ll be fine [ie not creepy]’ (adam smith)

I think I disagree: it’s possible to be _extremely_ creepy by being inappropriately respectful to someone.

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novakant 02.18.15 at 2:50 pm

From the OSU guidelines :

“Circumstances in which a person CANNOT legally give consent:
(No matter what he or she might verbalize):
(…)
The person is physically or developmentally disabled
(…)
The victim is under the age 13 or is elderly”

This is totally insane: a guy in a wheelchair or a 60 year old mature student cannot possibly give consent, whatever they say, and are effectively robbed of their right to self-determination, but it’s apparently OK to approach 13 year olds with the intention of having sexual intercourse…

Do they leave this stuff to the interns? It seems a bit too important for that. I hope this is not in any way typical …

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afeman 02.18.15 at 2:52 pm

magistra @341: Your link about disabilities includes part of a detailed consent definition at Reed College which seems to recognize nuances of responsibility better than many of the standards that I’ve seen defended here (if applied more broadly). It’s also out of date: the post is from 2011 and the link there to Reed now has conventional boilerplate about sexual assault.

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Brett Bellmore 02.18.15 at 3:10 pm

“This is totally insane: “

Yeah, that should be “13 or younger”, not “younger than 13”, taking a quick look at age of consent law in Ohio. And even for 13-17, it’s statutory rape unless both participants are under 18.

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engels 02.18.15 at 3:26 pm

Magistra, I think it is true that the definition of murder has been made clearer over time and this has reduced injustices. One example: the obsolete defence of ‘provocation’ (now ‘temporary loss of self-control’) which while. unclear favoured men in its application (iirc). I also think the law of assault _is_ unclear (more than murder) and it’s abused by the police.

331 Of course everyone has the right to reject anyone they wish for any reason but I think most people would think one can still act unethically by exercising this right in a prejudiced way, eg one can be shallow, or racist or prejudiced in other ways. And when the effects of prejudice are combined with many individuals making similar decisions serious injustices result. I’ve seen the argument made the ‘nerdiness’ overlaps with racial categories.

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Rich Puchalsky 02.18.15 at 3:45 pm

“Do they leave this stuff to the interns? It seems a bit too important for that. I hope this is not in any way typical …”

If you look at the “About US” page, “History” section of the OSU student center, it’s a long series of responses to governmental initiatives — it’s not activism gone wild. They write about starting with AIDS education in 1982, which if it’s not a typo is extremely early and which I can only imagine must have been from something like the $5 million that Waxman got for CDC for surveillance. The rest is largely about things like alcohol and diet. In short, it’s a center with a basically paternalistic orientation, focussing on things that the government is willing to fund the university to do, and the three paid staff mentioned do not exactly have reassuring areas of expertise for this. The “Staff for Sex & Relationships” link leads directly to, literally, “a fourth year undergraduate from Columbus”. So, yes. Don’t be too hard on the poor undergraduates.

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Anarcissie 02.18.15 at 3:54 pm

novakant 02.18.15 at 2:50 pm @ 353 —
It seems that certain kinds of people (besides children) are simply not supposed to be sexual, among them the disabled, the elderly, and those with non-standard bodies, at least according to the squares, the Straight World. There is really an enormous body of prejudice out there, still, about who can have sex with who, and some of it is bound to creep into the laws and regulations. The disabled can’t consent because their lord protectors don’t want them to.

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Horatio 02.18.15 at 4:13 pm

Thank you to Prof. Aaronson for 213. I was hoping that someone would pick up on the social spaces idea but I didn’t expect it to be the man himself!

I wonder whether the idea might help clarify some things upthread. Take the issue about rules and ambiguity in social interaction. I’m sure most nerd-complaints aren’t motivated so high-mindedly, but maybe it’s sometimes like this:-

Even if your judgement about signals is good, you can get it wrong, as Val found out @ 253. But the consequences of getting it wrong differ between one social space and another. In the social space where Val got it wrong, no biggie, maybe a bit of embarrassment. You haven’t acted badly, just stupidly. And no-one expects clear rules for not ending up looking like a doofus.

But in the wrong social space – say, an academic art history conference – asking someone out for coffee after an interesting conversation about Vermeer or whatever can be a morally problematic thing to do, because it can come across as indicating that what is really interesting about this person is not what they have to say about Vermeer, but something quite different. It’s objectifying, in other words. This can be deflating and hurtful, and in sufficient quantities from various men can deter women from sticking around in that discipline. It can be a real impediment to the full participation of women. Knowingly contributing to such an atmosphere is immoral. So it’s not straightforwardly true that

Asking a girl or woman (who doesn’t work for you) if she would like to have coffee with you is normally just not a problem, provided you can graciously accept a no. And I dare you to find me any feminist pamphlet or anti-sexual harassment training manual that can in any way be read to suggests otherwise.

It’s normally not a problem, as long as you’re in an appropriate social space. But try asking this at four in the morning in an elevator at a skeptics’ conference. Of course, that would be poor judgement – it’s obviously not the time or place, because it could easily be threatening. But even if you pick a context where it’s obviously not threatening, it can be morally problematic, as in the Vermeer example.

And asking for clear rules is arguably reasonable when the question is “how do I avoid acting immorally?” The problem then for the young and very scrupulous pro-feminist nerd is that many spaces are neither clearly fish nor clearly fowl. What about the non-academic skeptics conference in the middle of the afternoon? Etc. etc. He doesn’t want to reduce all human interaction to an algorithm. What he wants is a clear social signposting of the spaces where the workplace moral regime holds. And, I guess, for those spaces to not encompass the whole of his social existence. He’s fine with being thought a doofus, in spaces where that regime doesn’t hold, if things don’t pan out. He’s not fine with being thought evil if things don’t pan out – he’s not fine with the idea that at virtually any point someone might surprise him with the claim that the regime was in place. He wants the speed-limit posted, where one exists. You’d get a society with an explicit code of formality in many contexts, which you break at your own moral risk, and relative moral safety otherwise. Which is maybe still naïve, but less so than wanting an algorithm for love.

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Fuzzy Dunlop 02.18.15 at 4:18 pm

adam.smith @333 This is one of the reasons why I’m so skeptical about the “shy nerds who can’t read social cues suffer from ambiguity” argument about feminism. They should be at the forefront of the movement. I’m not sure if affirmative consent is going to do much to prevent or better prosecute sexual assault. But if there actually _are_ people concerned about committing assault because of ambiguity, they should be super excited about this.

It was actually things like this that helped turn me on to feminism long ago–this is I think years before affirmative consent was a thing, but similar issues were in play. I guess I’m one of those feared “social justice warriors” or “white knights” or something.

Writing like the stuff you linked (re how to talk to women w/o being a creep) is part of the reason I said earlier that I rarely find anything wrong with things feminists write–like, people who are thoughtful about what they put into writing–and I wish things like this had been around many, many years ago when it would have helped me understand certain things sooner (specifically, what things are actually considered non-creepy; obviously anyone who pulls off a strange woman’s headphones on the subway should be smacked…).

Brett @345 At #230, drlemur suggested that, if the girls didn’t feel like joining the chess club, the boys shouldn’t be permitted to have one. Does that sound like abolishing patriarchy to you? No, that’s instituting matriarchy. The boys don’t get to do anything the girls don’t enjoy. And, did anybody besides me take exception to that suggestion? Maybe I just missed the outraged comments?

I thought it was dumb, saw somebody else shoot it down, and since nobody came back to defend it, didn’t think it was worth bringing up again. I don’t think that amounts to implicitly condoning it.

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Fuzzy Dunlop 02.18.15 at 4:22 pm

Just to be abundantly clear, I was never worried about accidentally committing assault because of ambiguity, but more generally wanted to live in a social environment where sex wasn’t this transgressive thing that you “get away with” because of your wiles/social status, partly because I didn’t want to have to rely on those things so much.

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Orejon 02.18.15 at 4:58 pm

I think we all forget the fact that we are all slightly less hairy apes. A certain degree of our hangups about physical and sexual fitness are hardwired into mate selection. And a certain amount of it is media and society-driven nonsense that an intelligent person should have the ability to see beyond. And guys, let’s remember, it goes both ways. If a nerdy guy isn’t looking for a nerdy girl to engage in relations with, what makes him think a beautiful woman is going to look for him?

As a nerdy guy, I agonized over this stuff endlessly as a teenager in the 80s. I went to gifted schools and hated the ridicule that earned me in the neighborhood. I even went as far as joining a middle-class pseudo-gang to participate in the male group socialization, learn the strategic use of violence and to gain access to females, which seemed back then to be the primary vocation of “manhood”. And it worked. Women miraculously became willing to get physical with me because of my group association, but you know what? It wasn’t real. They weren’t interested in me, but only in a mate who enjoyed some sort of peer-group status (however tenuously it was enjoyed). But it makes sense. They’re primates also and, because we share the same species, are subject to the same instinctual urges and socially-developed neuroses that we are. But I also engaged in way too many fights, got beat up a couple of times, tried my hand at selling drugs, got arrested and nearly flunked out of college over it. If I had my druthers, I would rather have continued playing D&D, Gamma World and Traveler and found someone as homely as me to get involved with.

Trying to measure up to a group that was fundamentally ‘not-me’ caused me a whole lot of headache and heartache along the way. About the only value I got out of it was that it helped abate my fear of other guys and getting beaten up. You get hit, you bleed, you heal. No big deal. And sometimes, you may even win a fight or two. So guys, instead of agonizing over limited access to women, either develop the attributes they find attractive (whether Neanderthal or rock star or whatever) or learn to be attracted to someone like yourself, with whom you will probably have a more fulfilling relationship anyway. One of the few good things about being homo sapiens is that we have the ability to use our brains to think differently.

Feminism is NOT the source of anyone’s problems and any intelligent male should see it as key to women’s empowerment. It is needed in a society where they are subjected to systematic subjugation, whether by threat of the use of violence or socialization into groups that have internalized this status and propagate it as “culture”. More feminism is the answer, not less.

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bianca steele 02.18.15 at 5:38 pm

This is going to be my last comment on this thread. It was going to be a brief comment, but as it happened there were too many parentheticals.

Bill B.: I look at that graph, and (except for the spike before 1800) I think, maybe there’s something to that backlash thing after all!

But on the “war of the sexes,” people on the other thread posted quotes from ancient Greek literature on men complaining about women. Virginia Woolf, in an important book (of a pretty non-intersectional feminism, unless writers and poets are an oppressed class), notes that she found dozens if not hundreds of books on “woman” and very few on “man” the sex. Then there are the many informal rules like “no men in the kitchen,” or “no officers in the enlisted men’s hangouts,” which could be seen as quasi-formalizing a kind of hostility. But this isn’t the same thing.

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engels 02.18.15 at 5:40 pm

‘wanted to live in a social environment where sex wasn’t this transgressive thing’

More and more this thread is making me feel like Lemmy Caution

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Fuzzy Dunlop 02.18.15 at 5:43 pm

And maybe if you could read entire sentences…

362

dr ngo 02.18.15 at 6:17 pm

Moz in Oz- Did you catch where the “elderly” can never give consent? No definition. Just, “elderly.”

Thank heavens my wife is too old to read this. And me? Just call me Rebel Without A Clue.

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Norwegian Guy 02.18.15 at 9:40 pm

As engels, Ronan(rf) and passer-by have already said, there is something quintessentially American about this debate. Both this discussion and other discussions that have taken place here recently, seam to be related to some features of the US (higher) education system, and the culture surrounding it. I spent years in Scandinavian colleges and universities, without experiencing any of the policies and practices mentioned in this thread. And this in a part of the world that American conservatives usually consider a feminist hellhole! This doesn’t necessarily mean that some of them couldn’t be useful here as well.

364

The Temporary Name 02.18.15 at 9:50 pm

As engels, Ronan(rf) and passer-by have already said, there is something quintessentially American about this debate.

It’s not that it’s Manichean, but you have to take all the Manicheans into account.

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js. 02.18.15 at 10:02 pm

It also probably has something to do with the intersection of feminism and identity politics, e.g. in the ’90s, particularly on college campuses in the US. My sense is that there was really nothing comparable to US-style identity politics in Europe, and that probably colors the way feminism did or not take on certain concerns, etc.

(This is half-way speculative, so happy to be corrected.)

366

Val 02.18.15 at 10:11 pm

Charles @ 324
Hi Charles sorry it took me a while to read your comment properly because I’ve been quite busy, but I think maybe you didn’t see some of my earlier comments. By no means do think I think patriarchy is some kind of inevitable evolutionary thing or anything like that, I think its social and quite short lived in historical terms. Hunter gatherer type societies have been around for 60,000 years or so, patriarchy maybe about 3-5000, I think.

I think there’s always been alternatives and resistances, and I agree with you there are patriarchies – probably the most well known alternative being fraternal patriarchies (Patemen) which brings in the idea that all men are equal as ‘heads of households”. Really in its full form that only lasted from between the time all men got the vote till women got the vote, and it was never fully realised as there were always subordinate males even within that time, eg Indigenous people and slaves or non-whites.

However Gerda Lerner argues that patriatchy is the original form of oppression in which men learnt they could treat someone as other and inferior on the grounds of particular qualities and get them (the oppressed class) to accept it. Having done that with women, powerful or victorious men were then also able to apply it to other groups – slaves, non-whites, indigenous peoples, conquered people in general. You should read Lerner because I’m probably not doing her justice. Also what Magistra is doing sounds great and I hope she will keep us informed.
Class in the sense of industrial capitalism is a much later phenomenon but still occurs ‘within’ patriarchal systems (or states).

There’s always been resistance to patriarchy and I think particularly since women got the vote, it’s being steadily dismantled but it’s a slow and frustrating process. I’m particularly interested at present because in my research it’s become apparent to me that a lot of the professional tensions and challenges the people I’m studying face is due to operating in two discourses: one, their professional one, being collaborative, inclusive and concerned with equity; the other, most of their workplaces and funding arrangements, being hierarchical and I equal in terms of pay and power to make and enforce decisions.

That’s enough for now I think.

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Val 02.18.15 at 10:13 pm

I mean “unequal”, not I equal – sorry, writing too fast

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Anarcissie 02.18.15 at 10:40 pm

Val 02.18.15 at 10:11 pm @ 368:
‘… However Gerda Lerner argues that patriatchy is the original form of oppression in which men learnt they could treat someone as other and inferior on the grounds of particular qualities and get them (the oppressed class) to accept it….’

I would think the original form of domination, if not oppression, would be the parent-child relation. A female may be smaller, weaker, and slower than a male, but if the male is too oppressive she can kill him when he falls asleep, or run away. A small child, however, has no such powers, and given the long time which humans require to mature, can be thoroughly trained to be a slave.

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Laura 02.18.15 at 11:16 pm

I am curious about an issue that came up in the comments above. I have read a few articles about suicide rates (and causal theories about suicide), and I know that males in the U.S. are more likely to commit suicide than females. However, I don’t know what source indicates that recently divorced men constitute half of all the suicides. An article by Stack and Scourfield on this issue suggests that the increase in likelihood of suicide after a divorce is greater in the first year (and in the first week after becoming widowed, though it levels off quickly after that). This study points to another interesting factor that predicts a much greater risk of suicide: a recent demotion at work. Finally, adult children whose parents divorced are more likely to commit suicide than those whose parents remained married, and this effect is slightly larger for women than men (even after controlling for factors like depression – see Lizardi, 2009). These gender differences are interesting and might be important for theorizing about why suicides occur and how to prevent them. I don’t know that feminist researchers have ignored these things; have they? I thought this was precisely the sort of thing likely to interest people who study gender. By the way, the highest risk for both men and women is between the ages of 40-55. Anyway, if someone can help me find this information about the total proportion of suicides that are divorced males, that would be helpful.

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Moz in Oz 02.18.15 at 11:25 pm

sorry, magistra@341, I meant to say: good article. It’s very polite about the problems.

I would love to see that addressed by explicitly accepting the complaints of people like Aaronson and saying “yes, you’re right, that is a problem, we will classify you as disabled. In fact, shyness is a disability. And MRA’s, don’t feel left out, we’re going to count ‘being unable to pick up chicks’ as a disability too”. Problem solved, we’ve defined them as being incapable of consent so sex is not an issue any more. (not sure whether my giggles are the demented sort or evil cackling).

Anarcissie: anarchist parenting is amazing to watch and challenges a whole set of ideas about children and power relationships. Just saying “children can consent, and their consent is important” shakes things up. But it also reveals that even the most “you must obey” parent negotiates with their children a lot more than they might think they do.

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Anarcissie 02.18.15 at 11:52 pm

Moz in Oz 02.18.15 at 11:25 pm @ 371 —
I wasn’t thinking about nice people, though, I was thinking about the origins of slavery, out in the trackless primordial forests or wherever it was invented, where some people were nice and others were not, to say the least. It has arisen in different, apparently unconnected places, and seems among the mammals, anyway, to be a human specialty. Humans are peculiar in the great length and high cost of their rearing, and in their great dependence, especially when young, on society and culture. Small children, born dependent and dominable by nature in advance, seem like almost irresistible targets for an enslaving mentality.

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Val 02.19.15 at 1:12 am

Arnacissie I’m trying to remember what Belle’s formula for politely disagreeing was – something like ‘oh do you really think that? well I’m afraid I strongly disagree’.

Actually I don’t disagree that children were, and sadly still are, enslaved. Probably one of the worst things I’ve read about lately is Ana Isla writing about the sex trade in poor women and children in Costa Rica (and just for the record, she acknowledges there is a trade in young men for tourist women, though it’s much smaller).

But the process of having and caring for a baby – who is as you say totally dependent – is experienced by many women as the most physically and mentally exhausting thing they have ever done. Caring for a totally vulnerable being who is dependent on you 24 hours a day is extraordinarily hard, especially since they are adjusting to life outside the womb which means they have many discomforts which cause them to cry and be hard to comfort at all hours of the night and day. This is of course particularly hard in individualistic societies where young women are trying to cope alone much of the time, but I don’t think it’s ever easy.

I’m sure if you asked new mothers who is the “enslaved” one in that relationship, they wouldn’t say the baby! But of course it isn’t actually like being a slave (though it may feel like it sometimes) because the ‘everyday miracle’ of bringing a new person into the world makes all the hard work worthwhile. Anyway you might like to add this in to theory and see how it changes it.

Also I agree many people do treat their children in an authoritarian way which is really unpleasant. But I think you can explain that better through patriarchy than through parenting as such.

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Val 02.19.15 at 1:21 am

Also Arnacissie @ 370 – although the theory of individual men dominating individual women because they are bigger and stronger is popular, it is not what Lerner is talking about. She is talking about socially organised (and hierarchical) systems of dominance in which men sought to control women’s reproductive capacity.

The popular argument ‘of course men dominated women because they’re bigger and stronger’ is actually tautological and assumes that all human relationships are fundamentally about dominance and competition. You can see that that’s not correct, first by simply observing the way much of life works, but secondly by being aware that human beings lived much longer in communal and largely egalitarian societies (in terms at least of resource distribution) than we have in patriarchal and systemically unequal ones.

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Anarcissie 02.19.15 at 2:06 am

Val 02.19.15 at 1:12 am @ (373&374) —
I write in blogs like CT precisely to get disagreement and opposition; to get someone to hit the ball back over the Net. You don’t even have to be polite.

I have wondered for some time how one could get militarism and slavery started, in other words, the state, beginning with a largely egalitarian population who would see no benefit in it. Part of the problem is that it arose in more than one place, which suggests strongly that it is an unfortunate but likely consequence of human nature, of the way people are. One suggestion is that some men could beat up women (and other men) and make themselves slavemasters. But people who have not been raised to be slaves and who are not surrounded by slave culture resist slavery very strongly. Sooner or later they will run away or kill their masters — this is one of the reasons Europeans, coming to the Americas, had to import slaves from Africa; the indigenous people would not generally submit to slavery. I mentioned the physical differences between men and women, but I have read that it is much less marked in sex-egalitarian cultures, that is, where women are not bred and trained to be weak and unaggressive. It would be no easier to overpower one of them than to overpower the average grown male.

I am aware of Engels’s and Eisler’s work on these question, but the turning point remains mysterious to me, and I think it’s of considerable importance to figure out what happened so that it can be avoided in the future, should we ever succeed in reestablishing a noncoercive social order.

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Val 02.19.15 at 2:48 am

I haven’t read Eisler ( I have read Engels, he is discussed also by Lerner). I think it is worth reading Lerner (The Creation of Patriarchy) if you are interested in this subject. Magistra @ 329 also recommended Walby’s ‘Theorizing Patriarchy’. Hopefully Magistra may keep us informed if she goes ahead with her project on patriarchy in pre-modern western Europe. I am putting together a bibliography on patriarchy and will probably do a lit review at some point but it’s early days yet (not early in my thesis which I hope to complete next year but early in my theoretical analysis using an ecofeminist approach).

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Robespierre 02.19.15 at 2:52 am

Allow me to hit the ball back; I seem to wildly disagree with most of your latest statements. Firstly, why do we assume that early human societies were egalitarian? Most social animals are not; far from it. Secondly, slavery does not make much sense without economic specialisation, a large enough surplus to have a leisurely ruling class, and possibly war as a source of slaves. Lastly, I can’t begin to understand your point wrt male-female physical differences being a product of culture. Individuals may vary, but men are, in fact, larger, stronger and yes, more aggressive. Again, comparison with other close animals really should leave little room for doubt on this matter. Perhaps crucially, also, men do not go through 9+ months at a time when they are extremely vulnerable each time they have a child (and in a primitive society, that would have to be several times). Culture may change attitude, but little else.

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Anarcissie 02.19.15 at 4:18 am

Robespierre 02.19.15 at 2:52 am @ 377 —
Egalitarian may not be the right word. Most of my ideas about pre-civil culture come from reading about American Indians, who are usually reported (in my reading) to have had pecking orders or precedence, but not a class system. One of the causes of conflict between some Europeans and Indians was that when a treaty had been made with a chief, it was not held by the other people in his group to be particularly binding on them. (Hence the exchange of religious objects thought to have spiritual or magical powers, when agreements were made between groups of Indians, whose influence might persuade compliance.)

I don’t think slavery requires a great deal of specialization to be rewarding for slavemasters. A master can get sex and more slaves from women, and practically any sort of person can be compelled to do housework and primitive agricultural jobs. There would be also the immediate gratification of domination, of working one’s will at the expense of another, which appeals greatly to some people. There need not be a leisurely ruling class; the initial ruling class would be military and might work hard at fighting, killing, maiming, torturing, enslaving, robbing, and raping. There were some American Indians in the Northwest who practiced slavery under quite rude conditions.

It seems likely to me that if in a mostly closed breeding population, women were considered more desirable as mates if they were smaller, slower, weaker, and more deferential, and this selection continued over several generations, one would begin to observe a tendency towards smallness, slowness, weakness, and docility in women, which would then be held to be ‘natural’. I admit I got the idea from one of those crazy 1970s feminists (Ti-Grace?) but it seems completely reasonable to me.

One of my friends who is currently pregnant continues to do heavy physical labor, as she has done for several years. She says it makes her feel good. She is planning to cut back a bit in the last few months, but she certainly hasn’t become any weaker as far as I can tell. Non-human mammals also seem to mostly go about their normal business most of the time while pregnant, so I don’t think it is quite the disability you think it is.

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Julie 02.19.15 at 4:21 am

Robespierre @ 377

I don’t assume that early human societies were egalitarian; but it seems pretty clear that women were not the property of men in these societies. The key fact that would seem to me to undermine this assumption is that women were economically independent of men; it was the women who brought in most of the day to day protein, at least in traditional Australian Aboriginal societies.

There is the idea of alloparenting in which women (and perhaps some men for whatever reason) cooperated to care for pregnant and lactating women and their children so that neither these women nor their child was dependent on any one man for survival during this period.

It is thought that it may have been the evolution of long lived females in pre-human primates who were responsible for this cooperative way of behaving, as they were motivated to help their daughters raise their grandchildren.

I think you can see that traditionally they accepted and expected violence from both men and women, in the way that Indigenous women will not report the violence but will ‘get even’ in other ways – like maybe a delayed physical assault and this is approved behaviour and men do not retaliate further if the violence by the woman is seen to be ‘lawful’.

Although, there is not much of the real traditional laws remaining and the men in particular just make it up now, so the domestic violence situation is pretty bad in their communities. Without proper laws the undeniable propensity for violence and aggression that men have – and it is this rather than their size that could be the important factor predisposing the development of patriarchal societies – does win out now.

In the traditional cultural practices of the Australian Aborigines although the men are the showy ones and the ones who dress up their hair paint their bodies and dance and fight, they defer to women as the bringers of life. The men acknowledge this in all ceremonies.

The myths refer to sisters who made the country and one narrative that explains the position of men and women with respect to power is that the women were in charge in the beginning but either they didn’t want to be the bosses or the men took the responsibility from them.

Also the bogey man of the well-documented initiation ceremonies – see W.E.H. Stanner work – is actually an All-Mother figure and female monsters like the Snake woman are used to inculcate the ‘right’ attitude toward women through out their lives.

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Anarcissie 02.19.15 at 4:23 am

Val 02.19.15 at 2:48 am @ 376 —
Eisler was much dumped upon back in the day, so I assume she was onto something.

380

Val 02.19.15 at 5:08 am

I haven’t read Eisler ‘The Chalice and the Blade’ yet (I will) but I just read a short article from Futures 1989 ‘The partnership society: social vision’, in which she talks about the alternative to patriarchy/hierarchy as being “the partnership model, where, beginning with the most fundamental difference in our species between male and female, diversity is not equated with either inferiority or superiority and the primarily [sic, should be primary] principle of social organization is linking rather than ranking”. I really like “linking rather than ranking”, very good.
Thanks for the recommendation Arnacissie.

Robespierre @ 377
“Firstly, why do we assume that early human societies were egalitarian?”
Because a lot of historians and archaeologists who have looked at the evidence are telling us this.

381

magistra 02.19.15 at 7:12 am

One newish book I haven’t yet read but which looks very relevant to this is Heide Goettner-Abendroth, Matriarchal Societies: Studies on Indigenous Cultures Across the Globe (Peter Lang, 2012), although oddly she defines matriarchal societies as gender-egalitarian ones.

It’s a long time since I read Lerner, so my memories of her explanations may be out of date, but I think her argument was that because it was men doing the hunting they developed the teamwork for co-ordinated collective violence in a way that female gatherers didn’t. Marital exchanges between tribes to build alliances therefore normally involved women being handed over because a ‘foreigner’ who was a potential threat to the tribe they entered was less dangerous if they had lessened skills either to escape or to attack the tribe they’d married into. This created a class of outsiders who could morally and practically be dominated. I think that Lerner then sees agriculture as allowing the accumulation of surplus and thus improved opportunities for groups of male warriors to dominate both their own society and slaves (especially captured women and children) gained from elsewhere. And its then in these more complex societies that you start getting sexist laws and religious theories as well entrenching the domination of (some) men.

I should also add that I don’t know how all this stands up in the light of more recent archaeological/anthropological research: I think there are now suggestions than some women took more part in hunting than’s been realised.

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Charles R 02.19.15 at 4:30 pm

Val & magistra, thank you both very very much! I love new books and new avenues and new recommendations for ideas.

You have both given me a lot of things to mull, and I hope my thinking wasn’t too muddled or confusing, but sensible enough to gauge what I’m attempting to say. A good mull is important on cold days like these.

I’m also going to say that Anarcissie in #381 an Julie in #382 are saying things I’d like to say if I wrote more clearly and less networked/hypertextual. Good models to have.

383

Doug K 02.19.15 at 11:54 pm

@323,
Does this remain your current policy or are you referring to the past? If it’s current, how do you get along in day-to-day business?

Current. Obviously it does constrain social relationships to a certain extent but not as much as you might expect. Silence is acceptable in most situations, stepping back with a smile and apology work otherwise. At work the conversations are entirely about work so it is neutral ground. Certainly this is a poor coping strategy, but it has to suffice.

From the doctornerdlove article mentioned in a post below,
“If you’re having problems with reading emotions, then it’s on you to learn how to correct the problem.”
From the Jezebel article,
“If women keep responding to you like you’re some weirdo creeper, then chances are that you’re acting like a weirdo creeper. “
I didn’t want to be that guy, had no success over some years of trying to behave in ways that did not get the weirdo creeper response, so quit trying. Clearly there was something profoundly wrong. I hadn’t thought about this in years, but after Scott’s post and subsequent fracas, it has became a sort of curious puzzle. Even now and after reading tens of thousands of novels, thousands of poems, I still don’t know what was going wrong around here ;-)

384

engels 02.20.15 at 12:15 am

The other aspect is that I think bringing up class is sometimes used as a derailing tactic in discussions of feminism, which is what I suspected Engels was doing re Laurie Penny. I think it is used sometimes by people who are antagonistic to feminism, or aspects of feminism, but don’t want to say so directly.

As I said, I feel the fact that it wasn’t actually me that brought up class might count for something… It isn’t a ‘discussion of feminism’ but of ‘male nerds and feminism’. Penny’s piece attacks Aaronson for failing to confront his male privilege; I observed briefly that it seems to me that Penny fails to confront her own, class privilege. Are you saying it is illegitimate to make such a point in a feminism discussion? Or that it would only be legitimate if it could be made out exclusively in terms of gender? And as smears go ‘antagonistic to X but unwilling to say so directly’ is a great one to use, because if your target denies it – well that’s exactly what you’d expect them to say!

Repeating defamatory personal comments in a measured, academic tone (while being scrupulously polite to others) doesn’t make them less defamatory, or this kind of boundary-policing more respectable.

385

Kiwanda 02.20.15 at 2:45 am

The discussion of derailing tactics is a derailing tactic.

These are interesting (if not really related to the OP) posts about feelings journalism; the main complaint is about writing at length about the feelings that you impute to other people. The latter link has the bonus of a discussion of a twitter pile-on, AKA “viral shaming”, in reaction.

Speaking of the possibility of talking a lot about things that you can’t really know (cf. evolutionary psychology or Marija Gimbutas), I see from a review that Gerda Lerner discusses “The Creation of Patriarchy” in Mesopotamia; there must be at least some historical record to rely on there.

386

Val 02.20.15 at 9:42 am

Engels @ 388
I shouldn’t have said my impression of you was that you try to shift discussions of gender to discussions of class, because that’s all it was – an impression. I don’t have any evidence, and I’m not, at the moment anyway, going to go trawling back through past threads looking for any. I apologise for saying it.

Beyond that though, I just don’t see what you are trying to prove in your discussion of Laurie Penny and Scott Aaronson. A Guardian journalist critiques a piece by a professor, and you say she should check her class privilege. Why? You haven’t produced any evidence that she is any more privileged in class terms than he is, as far as I’m aware. Absent that, the argument is irrelevant.

387

Val 02.20.15 at 10:09 am

And just to be clear – because I think there is a lot of potential for misunderstanding here – I am not in any way suggesting we should not talk about the intersection of class and gender. I think it’s really important to do that. Not to boast, but just trying to establish my credentials here, I started researching and writing about the intersection of gender, class, racism and colonialism in Australia more than twenty years ago.

I’m just saying it’s not relevant to bring in class to discredit a British Guardian journalist when she is critiquing a U.S. professor, unless you can actually provide some evidence that she is more privileged in class terms than he is. It’s not relevant in the context in which you tried to introduce it, so I don’t see why you did it.

388

engels 02.20.15 at 2:58 pm

I’m just saying it’s not relevant to bring in class to discredit a British Guardian journalist when she is critiquing a U.S. professor, unless you can actually provide some evidence that she is more privileged in class terms than he is..

I don’t agree with this law and I ‘d like to know who legislated it.

I’m not ‘discrediting’ LP’s criticisms of Aaronson. I believe I’m broadly in the same camp she is politically, (pro-) feminist socialism (although I have a lot less time for US-style identity politics than she does, among other differences).

She accused Aaronson of writing about his experiences of social injury without seriously reflecting on his own privileged structural position — when the subject is class, she just does exactly that herself. Imo this is rather ridiculous.

389

engels 02.20.15 at 3:21 pm

Also, this probably would take us off-topic, but I’m very dubious of usefulness of ‘privilege’ anway: it seems to me to assume the correct response to a basically competitive individualistic view of life is to demand certain groups of individuals get handicaps (‘being a straight, white male is playing the game with difficulty level one’ whoever said that up above…) as well as usually being silent about class in practice.

390

engels 02.20.15 at 8:21 pm

Incidentally, I just saw all the comments above speculating about whether I tried therapy. Of course I did. Maybe I just didn’t find the right therapists, but in my experience, it’s profoundly unhelpful for this sort of problem. The best you can hope for is that, very occasionally, the therapist will break out of therapist mode and show some human sympathy. But to the extent they act as therapists, the most they can do is check that you’re not at imminent risk of suicide, check that you’re not going to harm anyone else, and check if there’s some generalized anxiety disorder. They constantly want to steer the conversation away from expressing romantic interest; the idea that a crippling anxiety could be specific to that one issue, that one could be extremely functional otherwise (if anything, TOO sane and rational :-) ), isn’t one that they seem to like at all. Many are also much more interested in coping with the situation, in reconciling oneself to it internally, than in solving it in the external world.

It sounds to me you were very badly served by the therapists you had. Thanks a lot for commenting.

391

Ellie Kesselman 02.20.15 at 9:21 pm

I’m late and trying to squeeze in before comments are closed. Word search found 5 counts of “shtetl” including comments. Scott Aaronson’s blog is named Shtetl-Optimized for self-referential reasons, just in case anyone were curious.

In the past, I read Scott’s blog and commented periodically. I was usually the only commenter with a female name. Scott was not hostile but he was distant and perfunctory. I would only comment on posts about which I had a clue, so I don’t think my comments were (too?) vapid. Other readers engaged with me in the comments; also a good sign.

Initially, when I read Scott’s post about feminism-driven castration urges, I was kind of shocked. I know plenty of men who are nonplussed with aspects of feminism, and occasionally complain about it. Most are math, electrical engineering, computer or applied science academicians, or advanced degree holders working in industry. I know a lot of these sort of men because I seek them out. I like them! (I like them despite the feminism complaints, because the complaints are often about language, or form over function). I spend time on Stack Overflow and such. Scott Aaronson’s unhappiness seems to be on the extreme end of the alienated nerd spectrum as a non-clinical, amateur and empirically-based assessment. His much earlier post on vagina dentata even struck his regular readers and computational complexity fans as odd.

As a Russian Jewess like Belle or bianca steele or both, I am eager for approval and solidarity. Perhaps that is a source of bias against Professor Aaronson on my part, I don’t know.

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Collin Street 02.20.15 at 9:40 pm

> It sounds to me you were very badly served by the therapists you had.

Enh.

People only deal with their own therapist, by-and-large. This means that a person’s experience with therapists is shaped by:
+ what therapists in general do
+ the specific distinctivenesses of the therapists they see
+ their own personal challenges.
Only your own challenges; you don’t get to see how therapists treat people who aren’t you and who have different challenges.

Now. “the idea that a crippling anxiety could be specific to that one issue, that one could be extremely functional otherwise (if anything, TOO sane and rational :-) ), isn’t one that they seem to like at all.” is… look. This is clearly a therapist’s response to a specific patient. It might be a correct response, it might be an incorrect response — more on that later — but whatever it is it’s clearly responsive to and shaped by the individual patient’s problems.

But, no, it’s a universal tendency. Nothing to do with the patient at all.

TLDR: most likely^W^W almost certainly the therapist had the right of it. If multiple therapists — for some reason my instincts say “probably not”, which would make use of “they” indicative of problems — say it, then even more so.

[“TOO sane and rational :smiley:”. Yeah, no.]

393

Scott Aaronson 02.21.15 at 1:21 am

Ellie #395: I’m sorry if I ever came across to you as “distant and perfunctory.” I spend a huge amount of my free time trying to answer everyone who comes to my blog, but I don’t always get to do so the way I’d like.

Since I wanted to understand what happened, I just searched the entire archives of my blog for comments with your name. However, I found only one comment from you, on the post “The Alternative to Resentment.” (Of course, you might have had other comments under pseudonyms; I don’t know about that.) And yes, I’m sorry, I answered your question in that comment about which “Andrew” I was referring to, but didn’t address the other points in the comment.

I don’t know how I can assure you that this has nothing to do with male/female, but how about this … since I have male friends named Eli, “Ellie” doesn’t even come across to me as clearly a female name. In any case, I do try my hardest to be helpful to everyone (even if, as in the thread with Amy, it means spilling my guts! :-) ). And if you ever feel like commenting on my blog again, I’ll make a special effort to give your comment 100% of my attention.

394

Scott Aaronson 02.21.15 at 2:19 am

Collin #396: It’s impressive that you’re able to diagnose how insane and irrational I am (or was)—and moreover, how insane and irrational in areas of life other than those discussed in comment 171—without once having met me. (And that “for some reason” your instincts let you know that I’m “probably” lying about the straightforward facts of my life.) But there two things I’ve kept asking myself in this affair. First, do my critics ever wonder how well their neuroses and problems could withstand the withering attacks of hundreds of strangers on the Internet, were they as open as I’ve tried to be in answering people’s questions? And second, do the critics at least admit that there’s a puzzle about how, if I’m such an insane, irrational nut, then I managed to become (to all appearances) a harmless and functional nut, with wife and daughter and friends and career doing what I love and off-the-charts teaching evaluations and other good stuff?

395

Ronan(rf) 02.21.15 at 2:28 am

I wouldn’t take it personally, this is Collin Street’s schtick. He must have diagnosed between 10 -20% of the commenters here with some form of developmental disorder at one stage, on the basis of their comments alone. I assume he’s a freelance psychiatrist doing good around around the the internet.

396

Landru 02.21.15 at 4:56 am

Rationing posting, but finally able to address the subject of the OP! before the closing bell, I hope.

Belle at 11, waaay above:

But I really kind of don’t get the massive fire-hose of information spraying directly on young men that heterosexual desire is a Bad Thing full stop. Who is telling them this?

Wow; just wow, as they say. It’s utterly flabbergasting to me that any human familiar with the internets can write such a thing with a straight keyboard. It’s almost as though … there’s oppression going on that’s invisible to you, because it’s happening to people who are not like you. Hmm, I wonder where I’ve heard of a dynamic like this described before?

Too good not to mention: I can recall seeing recently a quickie blogthread exchange between two feminist young ladies, which read approximately thus:

A: These men, they think they they can just, like, come up and talk to us! Who told them they could do that?
B: Yeah someone’s going to have to straighten them out about that.

I didn’t keep a link (sorry) so I never did find out what solution they eventually settled on.

Seriously, this stuff is everywhere, and if you aren’t seeing it then it’s like not seeing the air. Or, it’s more like the ocean: you can scoop out as much as you like to examine, and there’s still an infinite amount remaining. Here’s a passage from an earlier Scott Alexander post from 2013:

…the sort of men who are exposed to feminist articles like the one above (exactly the sort of men who are in the best position to help women!) have to take in quite a bit of information. For example, this morning when I checked Facebook I was helpfully suggested links to the “all men should be taken off the streets” article above, a blog called “Creepy White Guys”, an OKCupid app that claimed to be able to tag people you looked at as “likely rapists” based on a sketchy machine learning claim about their profiles, and a link to an article called “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Level There Is”. My RSS reader then directed me to my favorite blog, which had suspended its usual discussion of abstruse philosophy to host an article called “Submissions on Misogyny”, which included bits like where someone talked about her boyfriend raping and physically assaulting her and then claimed “You might think my ex was a sociopath, but no — he’s a normal male”.

This was, more or less, a typical day for a somewhat liberal guy on the Internet. So this idea that men never have to hear anyone speaking against them and these sorts of “all men are dangerous and defective” articles are just an unexpected breath of fresh air no longer track reality, if they ever did.

Really, as much as you want to look at, and then infinitely more. His full post is here, btw http://www.donotlink.com/dsm1 ;since Belle seems not to favor S. Alexander I’ll hide it in a “do not link”; do note the trigger warnings, etc. It has just the sort of pedantic reasoning by analogy that seems beloved by so many at CT, plus an admirably civil comment section.

One could say he’s exaggerating, or getting a slanted view, and then lecture him at length about how Not All Feminists Are Like That, etc., etc., etc. But, then, that would constitute discounting the lived experience of someone not like you, and overriding them with explanations about how they are wrong about their own experience. Now, where have I heard that dynamic described before? Let me think….

Meanwhile, back to Belle:

I am like a bantam-weight semi-professional teller of shit about feminism on the Internet and I have never said anything remotely like that to anyone. I don’t know who did.

**Applause** Epic, artful, truly majestic self-trolling.

Unless … eerm .. you’re serious here? Nah, couldn’t be. But you really had me going there for a moment; so for the sake of kabuki I’ll play along. *wink*

Detailing in how many ways, and in how many places, the bog-standard language of late 20th-century feminism directly vilifies male heterosexual desire would be the work of many years, and would yield a groaning shelf full of masters’ theses — if it were ever allowed to be discussed in polite academic company, which I’m personally not waiting up for. But just to take the easiest example off the top, do you remember the great War on Objectification, that grinds on to this day? Of course you do. If what you say about yourself is even half-true, then I would bet every dollar I have in the bank that you have spat the word “Objectification!” more times than, well, I have dollars in the bank (admittedly not that high a bar).

Looking at how the word is used — as a pseudononymous commenter I can of course cite the Wikipedia definition on “Sexual Objectification” as a modal example — what it boils down to operationally is: (1) A man committing the mortal sin of “Objectification” is BAD, BAD, BAD, EVIL, BAD, and a stinking example of Everything That’s Wrong With the World; while (2) a man is committing “Objectification” any time he so much as walks across a room to talk to a physically attractive woman, before knowing anything about her personality, when he wouldn’t have done so for a non-attractive woman. Or, if he just looks at her. In short, basic, elemental hetero male behavior. Which is a sin, full stop.

Do I sense that you think I exaggerate? Story time!

In the mid-1990’s I worked at a large company, of a type that may be familiar to many here. Vaguely technological, well-oiled with doughy slogans and “mission statements” (that was a thing back then), organized on no particular ideology other than to maintain its food supply of contracts from the federal government. One thing such companies have to do to stay in the fed’s good graces, and by extension that of polite society, is mandate ethics training for all employees. These are the usual stations of the cross; don’t take bribes, don’t use drugs, don’t steal money, protect your computer, as well as sexual harassment [awareness/prevention] training (I have to add the bracketed modifier, which was awkwardly not in the original).

Sexual harassment awareness/prevention training included a somewhat-professional video presentation, to help illustrate and make clear what would constitute serious and fireable offenses under this heading. In one illustrative example, the offender (they are always male) commits the following act against the offendee (they are always female): he turns his head to look at her as they pass each other in the hallway. Yes, that was it; that was enough, in principle, to get you fired. We’re not talking about some greasy quid-pro-quo, we’re not talking about cornering someone in a broom closet, we’re not even talking about lingering too long by someone’s desk. We’re talking about turning your head to look at someone as you walk past them in the hallway. A fireable offense. A fireable offense.

So, sorry; but, no. I’m not going to listen to any talk about how anti-hetero-male-sexuality rhetoric isn’t really present in society, and isn’t pushed directly in front of people in everyday life. This is, really, a philosophical system gone utterly mad, having cut its last mooring line and drifted off from the mainland of reality. Crack the hatch on the echo chamber, breath some fresh air, and you’ll see what’s really going on.

397

Ellie Kesselman 02.21.15 at 10:19 am

Oh wow, Scott Aaronson is here! All my efforts at female solidarity evaporate in a whoosh of fandom and attention-gratification excitement. Sigh… I am pathetic :`o

Scott, I commented at length on the wonderful post where you were feted and honored in Washington D.C. at an award ceremony with the president in 2013 or so. I told you how proud your parents would have been. I think you won a medal. I don’t think you published my comment. There were lovely photographs of the event in your blog post. You wrote about it modestly, no preening. You seem to have more ego now, but that can be forgiven. Your daughter looks like an angel.

Landru #400
You are correct in so many ways. Oddly enough, the greater the emphasis on equality and (sorry) politically correct speech, the fewer women there are in so-called STEM fields. At Swarthmore College and Stanford University, well, I wrote about it a little here. Skip the Cathedral and Bazaar and NRx portion. I still don’t understand how that fits together!

398

Brett Bellmore 02.21.15 at 11:33 am

” the fewer women there are in so-called STEM fields. “

Probably not going to change, short of Harrison Bergeron level efforts at ‘remediation’. It’s a basic fact of human biology that males have more variance than women, probably because of those X chromosome genes we guys only have one copy of, and women have two of. In terms of intelligence, this means that a larger proportion of men are both morons and geniuses than women, and fewer men are of normal intelligence.

If you’ve got a field where people of normal intelligence can’t compete, men will tend to be over-represented. That’s as true of prison as it is of STEM. It’s just a consequence of the fact that, while men and women are equal, they aren’t the same.

Now, I followed your link, and this struck me: “Now, Swarthmore’s alumni magazine graduate data shows the majority of women studying sociology, women’s studies and art history. There are fewer women graduates in math, physics and chemistry than ever. What happened? Why is it worse?”

Maybe it’s worse because bright women who could have succeeded in STEM are being somehow encouraged to go into “women’s studies”? (Were there even women’s studies to go into, 20 years ago?) Anyway, if somebody is doing that, I’m pretty sure that they’re not men.

399

Anarcissie 02.21.15 at 1:51 pm

Brett Bellmore 02.21.15 at 11:33 am @ 402 —
You don’t have to be a genius to be a computer programmer, though. When I first got into the field, in the 1960s, in the offices and computer rooms I worked in then, more than half of the programmers were women. That was because, when there was a sudden upsurge in the need for programmers in the 1960s, businesses found them by giving any old people they had around tests and tryouts, office nerds, janitors, secretaries, typists. Some of them could do it and they were put to work. In those days, there was much less infrastructure and culture around, so one had to make stuff up as one went along, meaning the women were not only competent but ‘creative’. As a talent for programming computers became scarce and valuable, the rewards for the work shot up, and academic institutions began to take notice — they wanted to get in on the money, at least. So they tried to figure out how to make computer programmers, and they decided computer programmers were ‘engineers’, although computer programming is not much like mechanical or civil or electrical engineering at all. Now, we all know what an engineer looked like in 1970. Businesses naturally were interested in programmers stamped Grade A, so they tended to hire these certified ‘engineers’, and the proportion of women working in the field dropped precipitously. By the 1980s, the dearth of women in the field, and the low status of those who remained, had become a Problem in the view of ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) — precisely one which they, or their peers, had created. So for the low estate of women in the STEM fields today, I would look at culture, not the genes, specifically the profound conservatism of academic institutions. I’m not talking about overt discrimination, though. It’s probably as with persons of African ancestry — no one says they can’t do the work, most of them just mysteriously disappear from the scene.

400

Scott Aaronson 02.21.15 at 2:00 pm

Ellie #401: That sounds like a lovely comment—thank you! I can’t find it in WordPress, and the only explanation I can think of is that my spam filter might have caught it: it happens sometimes, even to totally innocuous comments. If it ever happens again, just shoot me an email. Meantime, if you’re ever in the Boston area, let me buy you a coffee to apologize for coming across as “distant and perfunctory” (even if by mistake). I’ll try to keep my ego under control. :)

401

Brett Bellmore 02.21.15 at 2:46 pm

You don’t have to be a genius to be a computer programmer, yes, that’s true. But you do have to have a certain combination of mental traits to be a good one. (The same is true of many fields.) And there’s no a priori reason to suppose that combination is equally common among men and women. When a field requires atypical intellectual and personality traits for somebody to be good at it, and one gender has greater variance in these traits than the other, you’re going to expect more of that gender to end up in that field. See Average IQ of students by college major and gender ratio Success in STEM requires high mathematical aptitude, and this is just the element of IQ that has the highest difference in variance between men and women.

But my point really was more about that “woman’s studies”. If an evil cabal were determined to divert as many women as possible from well paying careers into a dead end, they might have invented “woman’s studies”.

402

Anarcissie 02.21.15 at 3:12 pm

Brett Bellmore 02.21.15 at 2:46 pm @ 405 —
Actually, mathematical thinking and knowledge are quite different from computer programming, although they have been forced together by fiat. My personal experience has been that whatever talents enable the latter, they are pretty evenly divided between the sexes. Plus, women seemed to be steadier and less egotistical about work and less likely to roam mentally or physically. But this is all very anecdotal and intuitive; I don’t know if anyone has done an objective examination of the situation.

Possibly, category X Studies are a way of shunting smart, ambitious category X people out of mainstream academic work, where they might make trouble. It may be related to a practice used in business and the military: you gradually transfer all the problematical people to a special department or unit, and then shut the department down or ship it off somewhere.

403

Anarcissie 02.21.15 at 3:21 pm

Landru 02.21.15 at 4:56 am @ 400:
‘… We’re talking about turning your head to look at someone as you walk past them in the hallway. A fireable offense. …’

Making a point of staring at someone is fairly aggressive behavior in a business office.

404

engels 02.21.15 at 3:34 pm

I’m struggling to fill in the chain of reasoning that would get you from:

Success in STEM requires high mathematical aptitude, and this is just the element of IQ that has the highest difference in variance between men and women.

to

[representation of women in American STEM fields as of 2014 is] Probably not going to change, short of Harrison Bergeron level efforts at ‘remediation’

(not that I’m endorsing the first statement)

405

afeman 02.21.15 at 4:12 pm

406

Barry 02.21.15 at 4:32 pm

The opening graph on that NPR article gives the lie to Brett.

407

Bryan 02.21.15 at 8:25 pm

“Except he was all about radfems and Andrea Dworkin…”

Well I was pretty nerdy and a voracious reader when growing up so I actually did happen to get some feminist theory in, although I didn’t much care about it, I suppose if I had cared a lot instead of caring about Ursula K. LeGuin’s advice on the proper approach to writing fantastic literature I might have had his worries, also I have to think that maybe he worries about things from his perspective and what it was like growing up for him because many people don’t seem to be aware that things have changed since the time they were a teenager and those changes actually mean today’s teenagers have their own special versions of the classical teenage problems – in this case maybe not so classical.

on another note:
“Russell Brand, the epitome of the alpha male in popular culture” he became what how to whom?!?!?
anyway – the link I think of in relation to him and sexually harassed women:

408

William Berry 02.22.15 at 1:35 am

Barry@ 410: Yes. Everything we know about acculturation– esp. the inculcation of gender roles– gives the lie to Brett.

First comes the stocking of little Nell . . . there is a dolly that laughs and cries . . .

Next comes the stocking of little Will . . . there is a hammer and lots of tacks, also a ball and a whip that cracks.

Not to mention that almost no regular reader/ commenter on CT believes in the mythology of “intelligence” testing– except for BB and a handful of other reactionaries who troll here.

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Fuzzy Dunlop 02.22.15 at 1:44 am

Landru: This is why it’s sometimes useful to distinguish between feminism in theory and in practice. You mention objectification–objectification is not just any sexual attraction, or behavior motivated by it. Behavior is objectifying when it’s expressed in a way that’s insensitive to the person’s reaction or feelings–to give an example that was told to me by an acquaintance many years ago: a strange guy stared at her on-and-off during most of a long train ride without making eye contact or trying to interact in any (other?) way. Or, as they say, “looking at somebody like a piece of meat”. That’s a pretty specific kind of gaze, not just ‘that guy I’m not attracted to is paying attention to me’.

Feminist writers IME tend to be pretty clear about this distinction–e.g. Amanda Marcotte (mentioned above for attacking Scott Aaronson’s (in)famous blog comment) recently defended what you might think is meant by “objectifying” scenes of female nudity in Game of Thrones, on the grounds that it’s good if people’s erotic imagination has sources of input other than porn. But probably in most cases when people use words like “objectify”, they’re talking about male behavior motivated by sexual desire, so it’s not surprising that one would come away thinking that the term refers to any case of a man taking interest in a woman primarily for her sex appeal. But that’s not what it’s actually supposed to mean.

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engels 02.22.15 at 5:27 pm

Behavior is objectifying when it’s expressed in a way that’s insensitive to the person’s reaction or feelings

Frank, we’re no good together. You only lived for police work.
– You lived for the N-zone layer!
– Ozone layer!You never did understand.
– How can you say that,when I bought acres of Brazilian jungle, then had it slashed and burned to build our dream-house?
– You’re so insensitive!
– Insensitive?! You think it’s easy displacing an entire tribe? You try!

(PS. Bad though this is, I don’t it’s what objectification means.)

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