Compassion, Men, and Me

I haven’t thought this through extensively. Normally I wouldn’t write about anything I haven’t thought through extensively, but I’ll explain that.

But I’ve read Scott Aaronson’s article and Laurie Penny’s article and Chana Messinger’s article and I’m still nowhere closer to having a conclusion about any of this. I do know this: pain is real no matter who feels it. I am a feminist and I sympathize with Aaronson. Does this make me that much of an anomaly? I doubt it, but who knows.

I also know this: the vast majority of the time that this particular shy nerdy guy pain has been shared with me, it has been shared in response to my attempts to discuss or advocate against sexual harassment and assault, or sexism in general. This makes it very difficult to continue being compassionate.

I don’t agree that “But I was sad because I could never get laid” necessarily always means “I am demanding that some woman sleep with me in order to make me feel better,” but I understand why many feminist women think that it does. We’re not sure what else we’re supposed to do with all this pain being handed to us. Aaronson may think he’s the only one, or one of the only ones, but many of us have been hearing this sort of thing for years. Some of us heard it from the guys we hopelessly crushed on in high school, who ignored us to fantasize about prettier, normal-er girls–because, guess what? Shy nerdy girls who can’t get laid exist, too.

We’re not sure what else we’re supposed to do with all this pain because all our lives we’ve been taught to soothe male pain and stroke male egos. A man telling me that he is sad because he cannot or could not get sex is typically asking for one thing only.

But that’s not really what I’m thinking about. I haven’t thought this through because I’m so tired. This is not the first time I have thought about this. I’ve been thinking about it in some way or other all along.

Since I was a child, I’ve been exhorted to take care of people’s feelings, especially men’s feelings. I was told to feel sorry for my father when he yelled at me without provocation. I was told to say yes to the boys who asked me out because otherwise they would be sad. I was told not to break up with the boyfriends I no longer liked because that would make them even more sad. I was told to be gentler in my articles so that men would not be upset–gentler, gentler, more and more caveats and concessions until there was little to no writing left. I am sure that one day I will be told to marry a man I do not love because otherwise he will be sad.

You may criticize me for my use of passive voice here, but I choose my words intentionally. I use passive voice because so many people have said these things to me–explicitly, although implicitly may have been just as effective–that it is both difficult and unfair to choose some arbitrary example to be the subject of my sentences.

Feminism, and the people I met who were feminists, was my first chance to prioritize something other than other people’s (especially men’s) feelings. I never wanted to disregard them per se–I dislike hurting people and try to do it only when absolutely necessary–but for the first time, I got to consider my own feelings first. Moreover, I got to consider other things–what needed to be done, what was important, what was practical, what was ethical, what maximized long-term gain, what was accurate. I stopped laughing at jokes I did not consider funny even though that might make the joke-teller sad. I started writing articles about sex and relationships and communication even though some people–even some people I cared about–would not like them. I held people responsible for the pain they caused me rather than excusing it.

I’ve made a lot of progress. I think a lot about finding the right balance between taking care of myself and taking care of others. I’m sure that I occasionally tip the scale too far in favor of myself, but that’s an assessment only I get to make. And for me personally, this sort of rhetoric–the Feminists Need To Be More Considerate Of Men’s Feelings rhetoric–threatens to undo a lot of that progress. It activates the little voice in my head, the little voice that I’m sure a lot of other women have, that says, “It’s okay, don’t worry about me.”

Sometimes that voice is a good thing, because it reminds us not to get too wrapped up in our own little hurts. Other times, it’s not such a good thing. That voice is the thing that allowed me to sit quietly while people took advantage of me–emotionally, physically.

I follow these discussions, the Feminists Need To Be More Considerate Of Men’s Feelings discussions, and I feel that, once again, men’s feelings are being handed to me to deal with. And I’m just not sure what I’m being asked to do with them. Do you want me to sympathize with you? That I can do. I’ve always done it, and I will always do it. If you recognized yourself in Aaronson’s post: I’m sorry you had such a shitty time. I wish it could have gone better.

But do you want me to sympathize with you, or do you want me to drop what I was carrying to hold your feelings instead?

That I will not do.

Every time I try to be more compassionate towards the men I criticize, I am told that I’m still not compassionate enough.

It’s almost as though they want me to just stop criticizing.

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Compassion, Men, and Me
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76 thoughts on “Compassion, Men, and Me

  1. 3

    Ha. A while ago I read this post which you may be familiar with: http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/08/31/radicalizing-the-romanceless/

    It’s a great example of what I thought was something that’s really really wrong but is so well put and reasonable-sounding that it has the potential power to mislead people. So it was on my mind and I was thinking of writing some long treatment of the topic. But after this blog post, I now won’t because it really does seem to be as clearcut as you’ve put.

    The loneliness and rejection is either used as a topic of conversation in itself or as a “yes, but”. And most of the time that I’ve seen it in the context of feminism, harassment etc it’s been the 2nd. Conundrum dissolved.

  2. 4

    ::applauds::

    This is an excellent post, and thank you very much for both being compassionate and for sharing your own feelings, perspective, and frustrations.

    That being said, I’m a compulsive nitpicker and I find myself compelled to do the same thing you’ve said you’re tired of. “But I was sad because I could never get laid” could be interpreted as a rather… uncharitable way of describing someone’s feelings. “I want to touch my genitals to this/some other person’s genitals” and “I want to have a romantic relationship with this/some other person” tend to go together, but they’re not quite the same thing, and one desire tends to be more respectable than the other. In context, it’s fairly clear that “But I was said because I could never get laid” includes things like “I was sad because I was alone on Valentine’s Day”, but it seems an odd way to express it.

    (Note to everyone else: It would be a very bad idea to make a complaint that amounts to “our host said that men are pigs that only care about sex”, because it’s clearly not what she meant.)

    Anyway, minor quibble aside, this and the other posts I looked at make it pretty clear that you’re one of the Good Guys; you’ve been making a point of trying to understand the relevant perspectives and are more interested in making things better than in bashing people. Keep up the good work!

  3. 5

    I haven’t thought about it that extensively, but I’m not particularly sympathetic to his pain. I empathise as I was also the shy nerdy boy at school, in my case I developed a massive aversion to asking anyone out. Totally fear of rejection. I also knew a lot about feminism as my Mum and Sister were feminists, my Mum studying it as part of her degree. Never once occurred to me that feminism had even the slightest effect on my fear of rejection, or the girls I was too scared to ask out. Unsurprisingly really as I doubt many boys or girls at my school had more than a vague idea what feminism was. Let alone them being some overwrought stereotype of the bra-burning “radical feminist” who “crys rape/sexual assault” when some “manpig” dares so much as ask her out.

    I’d find it more believable if Aaronson was one of the nerd MRAs who exist currently, they spread scary stories of feminists around the camp fire as if they were modern boogiemen. I know Chana in her post warns against marking him as “The Enemy”, but his professed respect for CH Sommers makes me think his motives are not so pure. Personally it feels like a post-hoc rationalisation of his painful adolescence, one many of us have, that fits into the “equity feminist” ideology. His comment

    Regarding the pay gap: unfortunately, one of the pillars propping up the whole rotten edifice of “privilege,” “patriarchy,” “rape-culture,” etc.—i.e., the stuff that makes many enlightened, liberal feminists no longer want to identify as “feminists”.. [blah blah Sommers]

    Sommers “solution” to his problem would be girls being more girly, boys being rough housing boys who take the lead, and the girls. Basically it’s a fantasy and rewrite of history that says early America/the western world was some gender paradise before “3rd wave feminism” spoiled everything. Scott would find himself still the awkward nerd, but one that gets the shit beaten out of him by the “boys will be boys” crew and still ignored by the girls who are taught they want a “real man”. Its a shame he decided to blame feminists|ism for his relationship problems, seems to have led him to some very bad conclusions about feminists|ism.

    Oops, long comment, but finally, something I definitely have not thought about other than a big *what!?* is this bit from Chana’s post.

    It is becoming empirically and ethically questionable to doubt that feminist messages make the lives of some men (and others attracted to women, and others period), specifically those in the nerd camp, harder, and not in a productive way.

    … I mean, what!? O_O [citation needed]

  4. 6

    I’m still nowhere closer to having a conclusion about any of this.


    Same here.

    For a start, I’m one of those who indeed “recognized themselves in Aaronson’s post” but with one significant exception: in my case feminism wasn’t a factor. (It just couldn’t be – see, it simply wasn’t there.) In effect I read Aaronson’s post with mixed feelings: recognition, yes, but also bewilderment. It’s really uncanny how the effects which are so similar can be produced in so different cultural settings.

    Oolon in #3 quotes Chana, who wrote

    It is becoming empirically and ethically questionable to doubt that feminist messages make the lives of some men (and others attracted to women, and others period), specifically those in the nerd camp, harder, and not in a productive way.


    Oolon’s reaction was a big “What? Citation needed!” And it is exactly at this point where I’m torn. Where are we with this, really? What sort of a citation would do the trick?

    What we have at the moment are stories – by Aaronson and other people. As a matter of fact, it was one of Aaronson’s points: he complained that the area is neglected by the academia – that there is no serious research, that no endeavors are made to understand and assess the phenomenon, that these people are left alone. So in reply to Oolon, one could cite stories only. But … it’s very easy to dismiss stories, isn’t it?

    For me at the moment it’s indeed an impasse of sorts. On the one hand, I find it hard to disbelieve Miri, when she writes:

    the vast majority of the time that this particular shy nerdy guy pain has been shared with me, it has been shared in response to my attempts to discuss or advocate against sexual harassment and assault, or sexism in general.


    On the other, some of these stories seem … well, they seem to express real suffering and in such cases I’m just not ready to dismiss them with “citation needed!”. Yes, I do recognize a possible political motivation behind such stories. But I recognize also the pain and I’m simply not ready to disregard it just because someone quotes Sommers.

    1. 6.1

      Talking about it on Twitter and I certainly thing feminisms goal would have helped me. I knew about feminism but as a teenage boy I hardly did any thinking, laughing at Solanas’s SCUM manifesto and thinking it in some ways accurate was about as deep as it got. A lot of my problems were associated with equating sex with women as part of my self worth. A thing to be attained and part of what I needed to do for my male identity. I didn’t have fantasies about what I have now – a stable marriage with kids and a good sex life. Whereas a lot of my female compatriots were socialised to see a stable long term relationship as their goal. When men are influenced to think no strings attached sex is the end goal and women that they should absolutely not be involved in that or their worth is reduced … Clearly that is toxic.

      All this is of course from my heteronormative point of view. Being queer and living in this melting pot of damaging stereotypes is beyond my ability to comprehend. Feminism aims to deconstruct cissexism, heteronormativity, or at least the feminism on this blog network and in the better part of Twitter etc does. I can only see this helping all awkward virgins, gay, straight, bi, cis or trans!

      What messages is feminism sending that undermine that goal? Are they really feminist messages, if they exist at all. As I’ve seen no evidence of them, just peoples reaction to what they think feminism is saying. Which so far look like straw feminists.

      1. Oolon:

        A lot of my problems were associated with equating sex with women as part of my self worth. A thing to be attained and part of what I needed to do for my male identity. I didn’t have fantasies about what I have now – a stable marriage with kids and a good sex life […] When men are influenced to think no strings attached sex is the end goal and women that they should absolutely not be involved in that or their worth is reduced … Clearly that is toxic.


        I agree that it’s toxic. As for the rest, that’s not how I remember my youth (which is *not* to say that you got it wrong – after all, you were describing your own experience, not mine!)

        From my point of view, the only really problematic fragment in Miri’s OP was the framing of the issue as “But I was sad because I could never get laid”. It’s very hard for me to see this as an adequate diagnosis. Whenever I see discussions about “shy nerdy boys”, reducing their issues to the problems with getting laid, I’m put off immediately.

        I admit that I may be overreacting and seeing things through the lenses of my own (not easily generalizable) experience. Be that as it may, here it goes: I remember myself as unable to have any sort of intimacy, with anyone. This included not just sex and dating, but also friendship (with men and women alike) and relations with my parents. It was an experience of social isolation, made worse by the feeling that whatever happens, it is somehow right in the great order of things and the isolation is exactly what I deserve.

        You had fantasies about no strings attached sex. My favorite fantasy was about having a girlfriend … but with skipping the initial, dangerous part. Skipping the romance and courtship. Alright, it wasn’t about a stable marriage with kids; it was rather something like: I have someone for real, we know each other, we are comfortable with each other, all the scary things are in the past and now at last we can do things together. (Not just sex; there were long imaginary dialogues as well.)

        Sometimes these fantasies concerned concrete girls. Were they objectified by me? To a significant degree, yes. You could say that I saw them as solutions, not as people with their own needs – and in saying this you would be quite right. I would reject however a description in terms of entitlement. I considered myself an unperson, with no rights. I seriously believed that any girl ready to have an affair with me would have to be completely out of her mind. I think of it now as of a vicious circle: to treat someone as a person, you need to recognize a person in yourself; to see yourself as a person, you need some external recognition; but in order to get an external recognition, you need to be able to see others as persons, not merely as threats or imaginary “solutions”. A circle. No way out.

        What messages is feminism sending that undermine that goal?


        As I said earlier, in my case feminism wasn’t a factor. But I can easily imagine myself twisting e.g. the Schroedinger rapist into “Oh, they are saying that I’m horrible, and of course I am!”. (Yes, I said *twisting*.) I’m also not surprised when it happens to others. See, Oolon, that’s how unpersons think and feel.

      2. A lot of my problems were associated with equating sex with women as part of my self worth. A thing to be attained and part of what I needed to do for my male identity.

        This right here is the root problem. The sex these men (I, too, was one of them once upon a time) want isn’t even about the sex itself, let alone the woman they’re having it with, it’s about the social status that’s strongly attached to a sense of masculine identity, especially during the teenage years when most people (in our culture, anyway) tend to be hyper-focused on their peer-group-relative social positions. We badly need to decouple sexuality from identity, for everyone (this same linking is what drives a lot of homophobia – being involved in any interaction or activity that is coded “gay” is experienced as an assault on one’s sense of identity.

        What I’ve never understood is that feminism is so obviously not the source of any of these issues, but the solution. This is a core way in which Patriarchy Hurts Men Too™, putting men in competition with each other for access to the objectified woman resource (becasue women aren’t agentic people in this patriarchal formulation) and furthering an identity model based on success in that competition. Even when I was kind of a geek-misogynist teenager in various ways, I always saw feminism’s challenge to gender, which necessarily includes a challenge to normative masculinity, as the solution, not the source of the problem.

  5. 7

    Re: article above, unto thee I say Hell Yes. Sometimes when I’ve talked about female socialization I’ve had people take the term to task, but I don’t have a better phrase for it at the moment. But I’ve been privy to the intimate thoughts and feelings of people subject to that, and it can be crippling to self-esteem and thought and function of any kind really. The effect of objectification is magnified by this concept: You exist to please other people, never for yourself.

    There’s a kernel of truth to the idea we should put other’s feelings first. It’s one of the cornerstones of social justice, of course. But having that come to the exclusion of one’s own well-being? Even before one’s own survival? Even if parents/teachers/peers that reinforce this pigeonhole for women wouldn’t want that, they think, but it’s the idea they give to small children that are perceived as girls.

    If you’re a person who has been damaged by female socialization (or whatever we call it), then dudefeels need an immobile and permanent 2nd place status to your own – just to counter the noise left inside your head by child abuse.

    Re: Sommers, any number of horrible things she’s said or done are reason enough to consider her fans hella suspect. But for me, it’s her advocacy of and living acceptance from the creephorde of gamer gate. She doesn’t give a shit about video games, but she will take practically any antifeminist cause up as her own – no matter how vicious, erratic, and bizarre. I’m not even going to read this ass’s article, on the basis of Oolon mentioning that alone.

  6. 9

    Read Scott Alexander’s supporting post on Slate Star Codex. He actually explains things even better than Aaronson, who endorsed his article. It’s long and perhaps a bit painful for feminists, but essential if you’re really going to understand the underlying issues, which Aaronson really didn’t explain very well. Aaronson conveyed the hurting quite well, but didn’t really dissect the matter much. Alexander does, in intricate detail. My initial reaction is that you’re kind of in the Laurie Penny camp, which (sorry if this is a bit blunt) “doesn’t get it” in some critical ways.

    1. 9.1

      To say “Penny … ‘doesn’t get it’ in some critical ways” is to vastly understate the problem. Her 2013 essay about sexism really lays out a case for a sort of feminist original sin in men. In her telling, even if an individual man is not a sexist, because he is a man, he is therefore guilty of receiving the stolen fruits of patriarchy and sexism, Q.E.D.. Penny is one of the most dogmatic, doctrinaire writers on feminism today. The consequences of her theology upon men, should her plans be enacted, or the views men might take of her frequent slanders, simply do not interest her. It does not occur to her that men might be necessary to the success of her schemes. She is an example, in my mind, of the self-limiting nature of this brand of feminism.

    2. 9.2

      I don’t really find Scott Alexander’s post too convincing. I mean he has a point about nerd-shaming being harmfully used instead of misogynist-shaming, but it’s pretty much missing the point of most critiques of Aaronson’s original comment: whatever your experience, however horrific, you can’t just erase your privileges in other areas, nor does it stop denying that privilege being entitlement. Similarly a poor black lesbian may still have able-bodied privilege and express entitlement when comparing the LGBTQ resource available during their adolescence to the accessibility resources.

      And even if taking all Scott’s “counter-points” at face value: that being a young nerdy man, the culture is likely to pressure us into self-loathing and potentially suicide, that doesn’t negate structural sexism, privilege and conversely the entitlement in the denial of these.

      To top that off there were some rather dubious statistics: men are supposedly so really horny they can’t stand it and its painful compared to women? This is proven because testosterone? And he was complaining about Penny’s article basically saying “we hurt too and more!” Sheesh.

      Yes, people don’t like being called entitled and people who have suffered in the past like it even less. That still doesn’t mean they aren’t being entitled little asses at that point, or didn’t have privilege (which is, by definition something we don’t experience, but rather the experiences of those who lack it).

    3. 9.3

      Interesting, some of his stuff is brilliant, that was a D- at best … Not understanding what feminists mean by “Nice guy” is the biggest issue. I would have thought he’d get that it doesn’t literally mean nice guys who are sad about being single, but that is how he presented it! Even in the terrible quotes from, I presume, “feminazi” blogs the clues are right there… Nice guys are those that ->

      [think / say] A woman who has had 14 sexual partners is a slut.

      …[are] saying things like “the bitch stuck me in the friend zone because she only likes assholes.”

      …tend to see possession of a woman as a prize or a right…

      … feels women are obligated to him, and the Nice Guy™ doesn’t actually respect or even like women

      Pretty clear what they mean and it is not Scotts massive strawman of men who are sad about being single… This is a phenomena, and yes #notallmen, that women report consistently. Men who think the “friendzone” is a real thing for example. People with awful views of women and they don’t even know it.

  7. 10

    Burried in the underbelly of Scott Aaronson’s post is the idea that being a shy nerdy pimpled sexless adolescent has something to do with maleness.

    Sorry it doesn’t. At least that would never have occurred to me: I’ve always noticed shy/quiet/(nerdy?)/introverted girls and assumed that they, like me, had problems fitting in because of those character traits, not their girliness. I don’t think it’s a specifically gendered thing that growing up will include a spectrum of people of both genders from the “serious, shy, introverted, concentrating on schoolwork” side to the “outgoing, funny, care-free, sexy, chatty” side, the latter which seem to live through their teens in awash in a glorious radiance of adventurous experiences (*cough*sexandalcohol*cough*), while the rest of us remember mostly all the books we read and that feeling of self-importance as we waited for adulthood to happen to us.

    1. 10.1

      What I find puzzling about such discussions is that inevitably, from the feminist side, potential biological explanations are never examined. And here, I mean autism, which strikes boys at seven times the rate of girls. And what do you know: the large feature of autism — and Asperger’s spectrum disorders more broadly — is a failure to pick up on the social relationship cues that neurotypicals take for granted. It’s axiomatic that this cluelessness attends people who, if they are not more extremely touched, often have a real gift for the sciences and technology, because their literalism enables them to see through complexities and focus in ways most people can’t. (Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, despite the difficulty of its prose, is a worthwhile book on the subject.) And moreover, per the study linked above, Aspy males are frequently high-functioning, where autistic women cluster at the catastrophic end of the spectrum. So, yes, there actually is a reason to believe that this is more often a male problem.

      1. AMM

        What I find puzzling about such discussions is that inevitably, from the feminist side, potential biological explanations are never examined.

        Because they’ve already been examined and shown to be bogus; to be rationalizations of privilege, in fact. Many, many times.

        Same with the “what about the aspeez?” excuse. A lot of actual ASD people are kind of resentful of being used as an excuse for neurotypicals’ bad behavior.

        You’re just serving up the same excuses that guys who can’t be bothered to see women as human have been serving up for decades. Small wonder that we can’t be bothered to give you the long-form refutation. Yeah, dealing with people is hard. Yeah, finding someone to be intimate with is hard. Especially if you’re not willing to look at yourself. Tell me about it. Men blaming feminism and women for it doesn’t help anybody, it just erects additional barriers.

        BTW, Asperger syndrom may be diagnosed in boys at 7 times the rate in girls, but that doesn’t mean that it’s actually so gender-disparate in the population. It’s more that doctors have this idea that only boys get ASDs, so they don’t recognize it in girls. Not to mention that, due to drastically different socialization, it presents somewhat differently in girls than in boys. The fact that “autistic women cluster at the catastrophic end of the spectrum” should in fact be a hint that there’s some selection bias going on. I know one girl who I was convinced was ASD when she was age 10 or so (my son had been diagnosed with Asperger a few years earlier, and she was a lot like him), but the shrinks all insisted it was something else (though they didn’t agree on what it was.) Finally, after something like a decade of escalating psychiatric abuse, somebody finally diagnosed Asperger Syndrom. In recent years, ASD women have been coming out of the woodwork.

      2. While there is some validity to the phenomenon you describe, those of us who actually have difficulty picking up on social cues tend to try to obsessively memorize the ‘correct’ ways to behave/respond/interact if we want to get along with people. We not blaming feminists, we’re asking feminist, “How do I do better?” Someone complaining about difficulty with normative social interaction as a reason for behavior perceived as sexist may well actually have that problem, but ze also has another problem – ze’s not owning the problem and working to do better and is instead simply blaming women.

        And ditto AMM on autism spectrum disorders being diagnosed at a higher rate among boys, but that not necessarily indicating a higher prevalence. For another example, depression is, or at least used to be, the opposite picture – diagnosed in women at much higher rates than men, but that is mostly to entirely a function of sexist cultural biases affecting diagnosis patterns.

  8. 11

    This discussion has been bothering me quite a lot lately, and I don’t have a solid conclusion yet. But I do think that sometimes something like this happens: even in nerd circles, the normal social gender training occurs, that women and girls are to manage feelings, particularly male feelings, and men are not taught to manage their own feelings well and if they are talking about feelings, it is not with another man but with a woman. They are used to having pretty much the only method of managing feelings be giving it to a woman or talking it through with a woman. (And may not have women/ girls available, in which case, all feelings they have that can’t be managed, are assumed to be because they don’t have that female presence in their lives, NOT because they haven’t been taught independent emotional skills)

    Then, adult life happens, and a woman starts explaining how, in adult geek / science / tech / nerd circles, sexism is still a real problem and has real negative effects on the women in that space.

    Men who hear that immediately think it is a feelings discussion, not a discussion of the adult world and ongoing opportunities, because they no longer are experiencing any problem in that realm but still have emotional aftershocks from their actual very shitty teen life, and so start talking about the feelings they still have from being shy nerdy teens.

    The woman is extremely confused, the topic was not childhood feelings, she has her own experiences there, and suddenly is thrown back on her own social training to manage other people’s, particularly mens’ feelings, and does not know what to do with this feelingsdump in her lap when she was asking for equality in adult opportunities. Reacting against the implicit and cultural assumption she needs to “fix” this for the man, she may react in ways he finds unkind, or at least, against the script he was expecting. (The reaction may be *legitimately unkind* which is not ok, but is at least as understandable as anything we are being asked to be understanding of from the men in this equation)

    Basically, one side is talking about ongoing problems, in adulthood, in power structures, etc, and the other is talking about the inability to manage teenage and transient feelings well, because legitimately that is not a tool the culture has given them. But then when I am told that the feminists “dont get it” and it feels like mainly that is said because we are trying to continue talking about *adult life* and not be derailed into talking about adolescence (and if we bring up that girls have bad teen age years too!) we are again told we “don’t get it.” Apparently we “don’t get it” until we shut up about ongoing adult power differentials, and pick up the socially imposed role to listen to and manage the feelingsdump we have been given.

    I admit I know nothing about what it might be like to be an adult who was never taught methods to deal with my own feelings, who was taught to see the other gender as the one to manage emotions and yet also because of nerdy interests and social expectations of my own gender, cut off from close contact with that gender… it must be hard and confusing. But the solution isn’t going to be just giving women the feelings in an assumption they will deal with them, particularly in the middle of a conversation about ongoing adult sexism in nerd / geek/ science / tech circles!

    And furthermore the solution certainly can’t be to simply continue insisting that any woman who doesn’t immediately dump the conversation she was having, in order to manage the feelings of an adult man from his childhood years, “doesn’t get it” and is using feminism as a weapon against men.

    1. 11.1

      You’re damn right. I’ve been the kind of asshole of which ye speak, and I got over myself. Now I can have a basis for seeing people of other genders as human beings instead of alien objects populating my world. It’s fantastic and I heartily recommend it to my fellow misogynist-from-hurt types.

  9. 13

    A few things about this piece generally. First off, it’s probably the first blog piece on this subject I’ve seen written from a feminist perspective that comes off as fairly balanced.

    Since I was a child, I’ve been exhorted to take care of people’s feelings, especially men’s feelings. I was told to feel sorry for my father when he yelled at me without provocation. I was told to say yes to the boys who asked me out because otherwise they would be sad. I was told not to break up with the boyfriends I no longer liked because that would make them even more sad. I was told to be gentler in my articles so that men would not be upset–gentler, gentler, more and more caveats and concessions until there was little to no writing left. I am sure that one day I will be told to marry a man I do not love because otherwise he will be sad.

    Of course you don’t owe any of those people anything; the ability to say “no” is the first step in autonomy, as any two-year-old could tell you. Girls get a lot of that socialized out of them, and I think it’s harder for them to maintain balance there.

    I follow these discussions, the Feminists Need To Be More Considerate Of Men’s Feelings discussions, and I feel that, once again, men’s feelings are being handed to me to deal with. And I’m just not sure what I’m being asked to do with them.

    In Aaronson’s case, it’s very obvious what he wanted: to stop having people decry him as a potential rapist or creeper before the fact. If, as I (and his girlfriend) suspect, he’s somewhere on the autism spectrum, we’re a bit on the horns of a dilemma, because

    1) such people truly do not understand social cues neurotypicals take for granted, and
    2) they are more simultaneously likely to have the kind of self-loathing overreaction Aaronson described.

    Note also that it’s not just men that have this kind of response to the everything-is-sexual-assault current in academia, as this post emphasizes; the difficulties of sexual desire and finding expression for it arise in all sexual orientations. Modern feminism is frequently anti-sex, and expressly rejects the messiness of human sexuality, in all its forms, but especially male sexuality. Amanda Marcotte manufactured a monster from Aaronson’s angst-ridden comment, which says a great deal more about who and what is really entitled than I ever could. It is, in fact, quite illustrative of the contempt for which a good deal of modern feminism has for men overall — and why such a feminism is doomed to failure.

      1. To make this remark is to confess ignorance of Aaronson’s now-famous “comment 171”. I will let him speak for himself here (I have stripped italics, bold, etc.):

        Here’s the thing: I spent my formative years—basically, from the age of 12 until my mid-20s—feeling not “entitled,” not “privileged,” but terrified. I was terrified that one of my female classmates would somehow find out that I sexually desired her, and that the instant she did, I would be scorned, laughed at, called a creep and a weirdo, maybe even expelled from school or sent to prison. And furthermore, that the people who did these things to me would somehow be morally right to do them—even if I couldn’t understand how.

        You can call that my personal psychological problem if you want, but it was strongly reinforced by everything I picked up from my environment: to take one example, the sexual-assault prevention workshops we had to attend regularly as undergrads, with their endless lists of all the forms of human interaction that “might be” sexual harassment or assault, and their refusal, ever, to specify anything that definitely wouldn’t be sexual harassment or assault. I left each of those workshops with enough fresh paranoia and self-hatred to last me through another year.

        And there you have it. His perfectly normal fear of rejection by women was thrown in a pressure cooker, intensified by EVERYTHING IS SEXUAL ASSAULT training that goes on in modern campuses.

        1. EVERYTHING IS SEXUAL ASSAULT

          Words mean things. “Everything” does really mean everything, including asking someone for directions to the dining hall. I suggest you keep your language precise if you would like to be taken seriously in a discussion here.

        2. No, this does not show that anything like that actually happened. It tells us what an extremely unreliable narrator wants us to believe about those things.
          There is no evidence, not even in his own writing that anybody actually ever called him a creep for daring to so much look at a woman.
          On the contrary, he tells us himself that he actually witnessed a lot of what he calls “ass-grabbery”* that resulted in relationships or at least hook-ups

          *again, unreliable narrator.

        3. Honestly, I don’t read that as “fear of rejection.” I read that “fear of women.”

          Also, he practically describes his own account as delusional. Why are you acting like that is somehow a rational or sensible reaction?

  10. 14

    I have trouble parsing all of this. I keep trying to extrapolate from my nerdy-girl problems to this thing and I can’t be sure. I’m really gender-queer, but had no idea what that meant in high-school and was perceived even by myself as female. Admittedly a female who often wished to be a gay man instead.

    For me, being a nerdy high school girl meant choosing between not having any friends at all or listening to the nerdy boys who I wanted to date dump their “I can’t get a date” woes on me without complaint. I had all the pain they experienced, plus their rejection, too. How can I have any sympathy at all when they were a huge source of hurt for me?

    I don’t have much room for caring for people I don’t know in any case, and it’s pretty much full of people who society dumps on for their whole lives (for example, black people, disabled people, mentally ill people), not people who are well enough and secure enough to get PhDs and become respected professors at MIT. I often feel like I’m going to implode under the weight of pain I carry already.

    Does not wanting to make room for the suffering of white males I don’t know make me an asshole? I don’t care.

    1. 14.1

      Does not wanting to make room for the suffering of white males I don’t know make me an asshole? I don’t care.

      It’s good you don’t care, because yes, it does.

  11. 15

    I’m afraid my experiences on this matter differ from Scott Aaronsons. I too was a nerdy boy – But for me, it wasn’t sex that I wanted so desperately, it was friendship. I was very lonely for my entire school career. I found other people to be disturbing and alien, ad I had no idea how to interact with them. Most of my fantasies simply involved closeness and affection. I remember a really common one would be when I was riding the bus home late in the evening from the local friday night magIc, I’d fantasize about a nice cute girl to cuddle up next to me and put her head on my shoulder. I’d have been delighted to be “friend-zoned”. Fact is, I think someone doesn’t appreciate how good he had it.

  12. 16

    I mean autism, which strikes is diagnosed in boys at seven times the rate of girls.

    FIFY

    ++++
    Yes, pain and suffering is real, but that doesn’t actually mean that the person suffering isn’t actually mainly wallowing in self-pity.
    Let’s use an obvious example: my kids feel really treated horribly unfairly because I make them clean up their own shit and withhold things they want until they do so. Does it suck? Sure it does. Are they sad and angry and hurting? Definetely!
    Are they justified in blaming me for their misery? Nope.
    And honestly, the “shy nerdy guys” who blame feminism sound a lot like my kids on cleaning day.
    Aaronson is a completely unreliable narrator. If he seriously believed he’d be shipped off to prison for talking to a girl, his perception is so much distorted that we shouldn’t take his word for anything and if he never actually believed it, well, then we shouldn’t take him at his word anyway.
    And where he completely lost whatever sympathy I generally have for lonely people* was when he fantasized about how he would have been “completely fine” if he’d been in an arranged marriage given a fucktoy with no right to say no to sex and his company. If you don’t have the minimal amount of empathy for other people to consider that what you’re wishing for would mean sexual slavery for them, you don’t get compassion.

    *duh, lonely women and girls exist, too. Quite often the lonely guys complained to us about how no girl* would look at them.
    *by “girl” they mean “conventionally hot girl”

    1. 16.1

      First, I note in passing your smirking substitution of “is diagnosed” for “strikes”, which suggests you didn’t read the article I posted. The underlying study shows that there is no underdiagnosis in girls, that autism is polygenetic, and as with so many genetic disorders, males are on the receiving end with much greater frequency than women.

      I was willing to cut you some slack earlier, but not after this attack, which is no better than Amanda Marcotte’s character assassination.

      If he seriously believed he’d be shipped off to prison for talking to a girl, his perception is so much distorted that we shouldn’t take his word for anything and if he never actually believed it, well, then we shouldn’t take him at his word anyway.

      But if he were reasonably adept at social situations, we would not be having this conversation. But this, especially, is what I find deeply objectionable and slanderous:

      And where he completely lost whatever sympathy I generally have for lonely people* was when he fantasized about how he would have been “completely fine” if he’d been in an arranged marriage given a fucktoy with no right to say no to sex and his company.

      Again, Aaronson:

      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.

      Yes, that totes sounds like he wants a compliant fuck toy.

      This strange belief that nebbish is indistinguishable from rapist or rapist wannabe is the worst kind of bad faith argument. It completely absolves the speaker from the requirement of empathy. Creating monsters out of thin air is despicable.

      1. Wait, we found the cause of autism? That’s news to me.

        But if he were reasonably adept at social situations, we would not be having this conversation.

        Maybe.
        So, tell me: was his fear that he would be imprisoned for “desiring a girl” reasonable and grounded in how the real world works?
        If no, what does that mean?
        If he seriously believed this, what does that tell us about the rest of his perception? Does it make his account credible?

        Yes, that totes sounds like he wants a compliant fuck toy.

        It sounds totally like somebody who has never actually bothered to find out how women and gay men and asexual people fare but only thought about his wants and his needs. It is again a tale of somebody whose perception is far removed from the actual reality we live in.
        And, just for the record, I completely don’t care what he thought such an arranged marriage would mean. Fact is that he didn’t bother to think it through. It would have been a handy solution for his personal problem.

      2. I can accept that the guy is socially inept. Maybe if you’re socially inept knowing that yes, certain behaviors are sexual harassment might make a socially inept guy a bit less likely to talk to women. But exactly what is the solution? Aaronson’s fears are pretty ridiculous in a world where most rapists won’t even be charged, let alone convicted. I can understand a call to help socially inept people (in whatever way they are inept) do better. but what, should we get rid of rape awareness and sexual harassment training because some particular person will be less extroverted towards women as a result? Or maybe it’s *that person’s job* to identify their problem and try to fix it.

        Aaronson’s fantasy of being a woman, gay man or asexual just shows he has no idea what life is like for any of those groups. If he thinks he’s lonely and heterosexual, try being gay. A woman? Imagine being a shy, socially inept woman who gets harassed on the street daily. O, i bet Aaronson didn’t think about that one. This guy’s supposed to be smart, he can use his brain a bit.

      3. First, I note in passing your smirking substitution of “is diagnosed” for “strikes”, which suggests you didn’t read the article I posted. The underlying study shows that there is no underdiagnosis in girls, that autism is polygenetic, and as with so many genetic disorders, males are on the receiving end with much greater frequency than women.

        Well, no, it doesn’t. What you linked to is a piece in USA Today, which doesn’t even give a full reference to the “underlying study”, just says it’s in American Journal of Human Genetics. The paper itself is available here. Here’s the summary:

        Increased male prevalence has been repeatedly reported in several neurodevelopmental disorders (NDs), leading to the concept of a “female protective model.” We investigated the molecular basis of this sex-based difference in liability and demonstrated an excess of deleterious autosomal copy-number variants (CNVs) in females compared to males (odds ratio [OR] = 1.46, p = 8 × 10−10) in a cohort of 15,585 probands ascertained for NDs. In an independent autism spectrum disorder (ASD) cohort of 762 families, we found a 3-fold increase in deleterious autosomal CNVs (p = 7 × 10−4) and an excess of private deleterious single-nucleotide variants (SNVs) in female compared to male probands (OR = 1.34, p = 0.03). We also showed that the deleteriousness of autosomal SNVs was significantly higher in female probands (p = 0.0006). A similar bias was observed in parents of probands ascertained for NDs. Deleterious CNVs (>400 kb) were maternally inherited more often (up to 64%, p = 10−15) than small CNVs < 400 kb (OR = 1.45, p = 0.0003). In the ASD cohort, increased maternal transmission was also observed for deleterious CNVs and SNVs. Although ASD females showed higher mutational burden and lower cognition, the excess mutational burden remained, even after adjustment for those cognitive differences. These results strongly suggest that females have an increased etiological burden unlinked to rare deleterious variants on the X chromosome. Carefully phenotyped and genotyped cohorts will be required for identifying the symptoms, which show gender-specific liability to mutational burden.

        Hmm, nothing in the summary about refuting the hypothesis of under-diagnosis of ASD in girls. Here’s all that is actually said about the hypothesis that different diagnostic criteria are responsible for the sex difference:

        In addition to investigating biological theories, including differences in genetic liability for NDs,
        researchers have investigated the ‘‘social bias’’ hypothesis related to gender stereotypes in the diagnosis of ND or ASD, e.g., for equal severity of autistic traits, boys were more likely to receive an ASD diagnosis than girls in the ALSPAC cohort. Although our study did not investigate this hypothesis, the excess of maternally inherited CNVs and SNVs speaks against it. This inheritance bias is again in favor of sex-differential liability to mutation, resulting in lower adaptive skills in males and thus leading to lower parenting and household-management skills.

        So, they didn’t investigate this hypothesis, but believe that the fact that more of the genetic variants they consider contribute to autism were inherited from mothers “speaks against it”. The thinking is that women with a given “burden” of these variants are more likely to have children than men with the same burden, because they have better interpersonal and parenting skills, and that this difference itself is due to biological differences. But whence comes this assumption? Boys and girls are socialised differently; and it may also be the case that men with specific ASD phenotypes are less likely to find a partner than women with similar phenotypes. Moreover, the fact that the sex difference in diagnosis is less for “severe” cases of autism surely “speaks” in the opposite direction. Why should this be, under the hypothesis that the difference has biological causes? If it is simply the case that girls can deal with more deleterious variants, why wouldn’t the same set of variants just cause “milder” forms of autism? The authors’ interpretation may be right, but one paper seldom settles such a complex issue. What’s clear is that you latched onto an article in the popular press that said what you wanted it to say, without looking any deeper.

  13. 17

    My experience is quite different than Aaronson’s, because I may be nerdy, but I’m certainly not shy. And many of my friends when I was younger were nerdy women.

    What I found striking about his post was a kind of fear of women. I don’t think it’s that common a thing, and not at all what the so-called ‘shy, nerdy’ stereotype generally refers to. Not that I think people should use a stereotype to start their conversation in the first place.

    However, either way, I think most people can easily understand that a fear of women is not healthy, sensible, or feminist in any way. And the way he describes it himself lends itself to a sort of pathology or delusion.

  14. 18

    Rob McMillin says:

    In Aaronson’s case, it’s very obvious what he wanted: to stop having people decry him as a potential rapist or creeper before the fact. If, as I (and his girlfriend) suspect, he’s somewhere on the autism spectrum, we’re a bit on the horns of a dilemma

    You’re quoting Alexander’s partner (I don’t think ‘girlfriend’ is a term they’d identify with as far as I know) to make a case about Aaronson. Set urself str8 m8. 😛

  15. 19

    I don’t agree that “But I was sad because I could never get laid” necessarily always means “I am demanding that some woman sleep with me in order to make me feel better,” but I understand why many feminist women think that it does. We’re not sure what else we’re supposed to do with all this pain being handed to us.

    If we’re gonna go that route (and we should), I have to say that I find Penny’s response suspect. Aaronson didn’t deny that women faced systemic oppression, only that he had internalized a self destructive message he attributes to feminism. Whether or not that message is actually found within feminism (the extent to which it is found is marginal, IMO) is one matter, but Penny’s response seems to be largely a non-sequitur at best (and a dismissal of Aaronson’s pain at worst).

    One thing I think is worth keeping in mind is that fact that “nerds” have been treated poorly for quite a while. It seems like they’re much more popular now, but I can’t tell to what extent that perception is caused by having changed social groups (from less nerdy to more nerdy), and I still remember the contempt and derision my classmates (and myself) held for the “nerd” group back in highschool (still a short time ago for me). When we set up new social mores, they’re going to be used against the disadvantaged groups the most, including men who are already facing derision from their peers. To a large extent I think blame is being passed onto to feminists for setting up another perceived minefield for these men to wade through; a minefield apparently (and perhaps actually) being employed selectively. Feminists get all the pain these guys feel thrown in their faces, when in reality much of it was already there.

    I am really sorry that people find it hard to navigate the new standard that is slowly being established; it’s different, and it’s scary since you don’t quite know what you’re doing. But I’m not convinced that it’s really that hard to follow, and I consider the new cultural standard to be a vast improvement over the old one.

  16. 20

    I’m a geek, a woman, a feminist and a mom. I love meta-discussion. (Sometimes to the point of making personal things too abstract.) If it won’t get me immediately kicked out of the union of women for being an underminer, I’d like to offer some free feelings management.

    I’ve got the idea that to many men reading the thread on S. Aaronson’s blog and elsewhere, the statement “No one is entitled to sex” sounds cruel. It sounds like “I don’t care how desperate you are,” with a bitter dash of “You deserve it.” (Even if it’s not what the person who wrote that in a comment was trying to say.)

    My reframing of the same principle is “People with pussies are under no obligation to dispense pussy-access in accordance with anyone else’s standard of ‘fairness.’ ” (One can read the rephrased principle and be very sad, but that’s the principle of bodily autonomy. If this seems terribly unfair to you, please take some time to consider. Maybe even walk a mile in somebody else’s pants.)

    1. 20.1

      It doesn’t sound cruel per se; just irrelevant, like something someone would say, who didn’t really try to read either of the Scotts’ posts charitably.

      I think the thing Aaronson wishes he’d heard more often from feminists was, “it’s okay to make social errors that make people uncomfortable, even about sex. Here are some specific detailed examples of forgivable mistakes, here are some other things that you will definitely want to avoid.”

      1. Benjamin: Unfortunately, that also has a negative externality. The more we say that it’s okay to make some mistakes, the more people who are intentionally trying to violate others’ boundaries will say, “But I was just making a mistake! Don’t ostracize me just because I made a mistake!”

        I don’t think saying “NO AMOUNT OF MISTAKE-MAKING IS OKAY EVER” is correct, either, but this is why women don’t want to go around saying that, hey, it’s okay to mess up! Don’t worry about it! Just do better next time!

        But anecdotally, almost all of the men I am close with have at one point said something inappropriate, slightly creepy, and/or sexist to me. I politely called them out on it. They improved. We’re still close. I’m sure I’m not the only one with many such stories.

        ETA: I have also kept all of the people who sexually assaulted me in my life as friends for MUCH longer than I should have because of these exact attitudes. They just made a mistake! I thought. They won’t do it again! Ha.

        1. The more we say that it’s okay to make some mistakes, the more people who are intentionally trying to violate others’ boundaries will say, “But I was just making a mistake! Don’t ostracize me just because I made a mistake!”

          My solution to that is to expect genuine and unmitigated admissions of guilt and intent to do better (i.e. “I am sorry I hurt you; I won’t do it again, and will be more careful in the future” vs “It was just a mistake; stop being mean to me); accept that, even with an apology, the hurt party is not required to simply forgive and forget; and to not accept repeated apologies for repeat offences, since repetition means that ignorance is no longer a reasonable excuse, leaving only negligence or malice. Its not an unabusable system, but I think it works well without falling into the “zero tolerance” trap.

          But, more importantly, the pragmatism of social policy regarding forgiveness isn’t something that often comes up in feminism, beyond criticisms of social policies that expect too much forgiveness from women. It’s not an issue frequently addressed, and it isn’t a uniquely feminist issue. Yet we have people who have taken a feminist position (e.g. “don’t sexually harass women”), applied a tangential issue that isn’t really addressed in feminism (how much transgression we should tolerate), and come to the conclusion that “don’t sexually harass women” means “no amount of sexual harassment will ever be tolerated and you should be treated like a rapist and a paedophile if you compliment her on her hair.” That’s not reasonable. Coming from an ideological opponent, I would conclude deliberate and malicious mis-attribution is at play. Coming from a paranoid teen like Aaronson, I conclude that he likely had his own problems already, and feminist issues happened to be a fixation (though I have’t ruled out bad faith).

  17. 21

    While there is some validity to the phenomenon you describe, those of us who actually have difficulty picking up on social cues tend to try to obsessively memorize the ‘correct’ ways to behave/respond/interact if we want to get along with people. We not blaming feminists, we’re asking feminist, “How do I do better?”

    Why are you asking feminists in particular?

    All a feminist is going to be able to tell you is, “You should interact with women using the same general techniques that you use to interact with men; e.g. shared interests and mutual respect.”

    Feminists don’t have any special insights about interacting with people-in-general; the best way to get that information is by paying attention to what other people are doing, or maybe by getting counseling from someone who specializes in those issues.

    Distinguishing friendships from romantic relationships is a bit trickier and relies on an ability to notice some sort of “spark” or “chemistry”; it’s unpredictable and hard to describe if you haven’t experienced it. Feminists don’t have any special insights there, either. Poets and songwriters can give you hints as to what to watch for. (Or you can hope that your potential partner will catch on first and point it out to you.)

      1. From what I can understand, that is largely a special case of the general problem of privilege – that people are less likely to notice issues that don’t affect themselves – and shares a solution: seek out information from women about things that harm them, and do your best to reduce how often those things happen.

        In this case, it seems like there’s a further problem: the men Scott Alexander is talking about don’t see a way to pursue their desires while following that rule. I’m guessing there’s a mixture of causes of this, but one that I have noticed in myself is philosophical: my feelings were confused because I was comparing my relationship with this person to the “girlfriend” package of interpersonal behaviors. The parts that we didn’t do were only connected to the parts we did because the “Act Like A Man Box” says they go together, not by any law of nature, and my wanting other parts of the “girlfriend” package has nothing to do with my wanting the parts that I have. (Or, more succinctly: complaining about the “friendzone” is bullshit because an intimate friendship is fucking awesome, whether or not you want a sexual partner.) I guess the point I’m making with my example is that part of the damage done by societal prejudices is instilling assumptions in us that aren’t true (e.g. “I have to act on every desire whose existence I acknowledge”), and a lot of the complaints like Scott Alexander’s fall apart when those assumptions are recognized.

        Come to think: Glickman’s posts – although, I confess, I’ve only read that one and the followup to it – might have a lot of details of the kind that Scott Alexander is asking about. I know for a fact that those two articles are worthwhile.

  18. 22

    Because they want to interact with women romantically in ways that don’t cause harm, and feminists often say that non-feminists are bad at noticing which things harm women.

    Again, feminists don’t have any special insights there. All they can do is point out that the general rules for not-harming women are the same as the general rules for not-harming men.

    Some non-feminists do have a lot of trouble grasping that. There’s a fallacy that goes, “If I’m not offended by something, then nobody else should be offended by it either. If I offend someone, then that’s a character flaw on their part.” Non-feminists can recognize that as a fallacy when they’re on a job interview, for example, but then they get confused when they’re trying to interact with women.

  19. 23

    What really annoys me about this is that this isn’t happening in a vacuum, of course. It happens in cultures where single women get treated as some kind of public health issue. Where in som places there exist rituals to shame women for being single over a certain age (and don’t you dare to complain, you’re against our culture and traditions!) Where we get articles after articles lamenting how we’re not popping out enough babies at age 25. Where our bosses are allowed to fire us if we’Re conventionally attractive because their wives are afraid we’d snatch away their husbands (’cause what else would a woman seek in the workplace if not a husband?).
    And as Miri said, these complaints are not new to us. We’ve been hearing them since we were 14 or so. And those weren’t the fistbumb-solidarity-complaints of one single person to another single person, let’s wallow in self-pity together for a while, no those were the give-me-comfort-and-sympathy-complaints of the kind Aaronson just wrote.
    And if we were lucky to have a social life and friends, we’d get your relationship complaints, too. You’d come to us to complain about your boyfriends/girlfriends and you didn’t once stop to ask “how are you?”. On the contrary, you told us “be glad you’re single!”, but funny enough you didn’t drop your partner to join us in singlehood.

  20. 24

    “It’s almost as though they want me to just stop criticizing.”

    BINGO!

    Stop thinking right there, or you’re overthinking it. It really is not any more complex than that. Criticism and compassion are antithetical. Eliminate the former, and the latter will routinely be assumed of you. Beyond that, you really do get only as good as you give, in the long run.

    Sure, some guys criticize women in this same sort of way, but not nearly so much. Hate to fall back on timeworn stereotypes, but where do these stereotypes come from in the first place?— totally imaginary? (I always think of Dagwood Bumstead’s boss’s wife. 🙂

    Nobody loves a critic. As a weak but valid generality, guys get this better than women do. After all, if it don’ further the ol’ testosterone driven biological imperative…

  21. 25

    Nobody loves a critic. As a weak but valid generality, guys get this better than women do. After all, if it don’ further the ol’ testosterone driven biological imperative…

    Did you happen to notice how much Scott Aaronson criticized feminists in his comment 171 and in his follow ups? I’m mad about that. And I’m mad about the complete lack of empathy he showed for the suffering of other school aged kids. (There aren’t enough curse words to express my opinion of his willingness to switch places with gay kids or kids of color. Really, does he think approaching young in his school or workplace, without gauging their level of interest in him, would be easier? Wouldn’t homophobia add an extra level of risk?)

    His belief, based on his anxieties, that whatever woman he approached was likely to reject him in the worst possible way AND try to get him fired or sent to prison is not only statistically skewed it expresses a very negative (fear-based) belief about how women behave. That’s quite insulting to people who are women. Maybe people who are not women glossed right over the insulting implication when reading Aaronson’s words.

  22. 26

    If Aaronson genuinely mistook anti-sexual assault messages to mean “never approach a woman or you’ll be branded a rapist” then I feel sorry for him. He was/is obviously very confused on the matter.

    I mean, sure, normally when guys say things like this its because they find the topic of consent boring, or silly, and don’t feel they should have to listen.
    But maybe this guy is genuine.

  23. 28

    Let me say for a start that I found this conversation very interesting and engaging. What follows below is my private selection of the most unhelpful things which were said here, together with some remarks which I found thought provoking.

    Giliell #15

    Aaronson is a completely unreliable narrator. If he seriously believed he’d be shipped off to prison for talking to a girl, his perception is so much distorted that we shouldn’t take his word for anything and if he never actually believed it, well, then we shouldn’t take him at his word anyway.


    No, it doesn’t make him an unreliable narrator. Giliell, do you really think that all first person descriptions of past depressive episodes (or at least of those episodes which involved serious cognitive distortions) are unreliable by default?

    Aaronson would be unreliable if he believed it *now*. However, this is not what we have here. He is telling a story about his past and all we can say is that his perception *in the past* was distorted. As a matter of fact, I don’t think he would protest against such a conclusion; I don’t think also that it has any bearing on the value of his *current* narrative.

    Yes, pain and suffering is real, but that doesn’t actually mean that the person suffering isn’t actually mainly wallowing in self-pity.


    This reminded me the following passage from Dr Nerdlove’s recent piece, linked by Oolon in #26 (by the way, I do not find it a great dissection of anything. On the contrary, I find the piece unhelpful and rather horrible.):

    blaming feminists for scaring you, bullies for bullying you or neanderthals for taking what you “deserve” isn’t progress, it’s whining. Stop blaming others for what, at the end of the day, are your choices. You and you alone are responsible for your life and to make it better.


    Telling people who are bullied that it’s not about the bullies but about their own choices – telling them that what they do is whining – is imo one of the worst reactions possible. Telling a deeply disturbed person (as Aaronson was) that s/he is wallowing in self-pity is also unhelpful and horrible. The only effect is digging for them even a deeper and darker hole, as if the original hole wasn’t deep and dark enough.

    Smhl #24

    His belief, based on his anxieties, that whatever woman he approached was likely to reject him in the worst possible way AND try to get him fired or sent to prison is not only statistically skewed it expresses a very negative (fear-based) belief about how women behave. That’s quite insulting to people who are women.


    Of course it is skewed. And of course it expresses a fear-based attitude. Fear for such people is an everyday experience; guilt and shame as well. Yes, let’s be mad at them, let’s shout together how insulting it is, let’s shame and scare them even more! Excellent solution. Well done, smhll!

    Two passages which gave me much food for thought.

    Doublereed #16:

    What I found striking about his post was a kind of fear of women. I don’t think it’s that common a thing, and not at all what the so-called ‘shy, nerdy’ stereotype generally refers to.


    I also saw it as something going far beyond a mere fear of rejection. But it is your second sentence that gave me a real pause. What in your opinion are the elements of the `shy, nerdy’ stereotype? Do you think Aaronson misdiagnosed the situation – that he made a mistake presenting himself as a representative (sort of) of the `shy and nerdy’? (These are for me not rethorical questions. I’m really not sure how to answer them.)

    Jacob Schmidt #18

    To a large extent I think blame is being passed onto to feminists for setting up another perceived minefield for these men to wade through; a minefield apparently (and perhaps actually) being employed selectively. Feminists get all the pain these guys feel thrown in their faces, when in reality much of it was already there.


    Absolutely, yes. My take on this: I think it’s quite plausible that in some cases feminist messages (usually distorted) made the plight of people like Aaronson even worse. Nevertheless, I still find it extremely hard to believe that feminism functioned as `the reason’ of their problems. To use your metaphor, feminists might indeed have planted an additional mine, but the vast minefield was already there. The fact that now they get all the pain is one of the strangest aspects of the whole discussion.

    1. 28.1

      No, it doesn’t make him an unreliable narrator. Giliell, do you really think that all first person descriptions of past depressive episodes (or at least of those episodes which involved serious cognitive distortions) are unreliable by default?

      No, I believe that somebody whose perception of the world is so completly at odds with how the world actually works is unreliable in telling me how the world works.
      If he looked at the world around him in which there must have been lots of consensual snogging, flirting, making out, hand holding and having SOs and on top of that lots of sexual harassment and assault that went by completely unremarked and then interpreted that as “I will be locked up if a girl finds out I’m attracted to her” then I will not believe this person that the anti-harassment training really taught that “whatever you do is harassment”.
      It’s pretty much for the same reason I don’t believe my father when he tells me what colour his socks are.
      Or that religious people have seen angels.
      It is completely irrelevant if that person is maliciously lying at that point or actually seriously lost in their own delusion. They are not credible.

      1. No, I believe that somebody whose perception of the world is so completly at odds with how the world actually works is unreliable in telling me how the world works.


        Ok, but once again: we are talking about somebody whose perception of the world *was* (obviously!) at odds with how the world actually works. You draw from this conclusions about his *present* narrative – and that’s the problem. Your conclusion simply doesn’t follow.

        I will not believe this person that the anti-harassment training really taught that “whatever you do is harassment”.


        Giliell, but I don’t believe this either!!! What I find believable is his description of personal experience. I believe him when he says “I reacted to the anti-harassment training in such-and-such a way”. (In my life I had my own share of seriously fucked up views and reactions, so yes, I do not find it particularly surprising.)

        As far as I can remember, in addition he said also that the message received at the training was purely negative: almost nothing about healthy relationships, an exclusive concentration on the traps and pitfalls. This is a factual statement, and here, just like you, I would be cautious: it’s quite possible indeed that his memory is coloured by what he felt and what he was like. Nevertheless, I can see no reason to reject his story as a description of his experience.

        Here is a side comment. Our perspectives may be different for one basic reason: I react rather strongly (and emotionally) to the whole package of the mental health issues. For me all of this is not so much about `shy nerds’, as about the disturbed people with serious mental problems. In effect I’m prone to read Aaronson as claiming that feminism throws such people under the bus. Even though I disbelieve him in the sense that I don’t perceive feminism as a real source of the trouble, that’s probably the reason why I’m far more sympathetic to Aaronson than you are.

      2. @Giliell

        I read Aaronson as describing himself as an unreliable narrator. Quoting him:

        You can call that my personal psychological problem if you want, but it was strongly reinforced by everything I picked up from my environment: to take one example, the sexual-assault prevention workshops we had to attend regularly as undergrads, with their endless lists of all the forms of human interaction that “might be” sexual harassment or assault, and their refusal, ever, to specify anything that definitely wouldn’t be sexual harassment or assault. I left each of those workshops with enough fresh paranoia and self-hatred to last me through another year.

        I don’t think Ariel or others on this page is arguing that he is a reliable narrator. On the contrary, he seems to be openly admitting that he isn’t.

        1. Doublereed:

          Indeed. The mistake was mine – I see now that I misinterpreted Giliell’s remarks about Aaronson as an unreliable narrator. Sorry.

    2. 28.2

      @27 Ariel

      I also saw it as something going far beyond a mere fear of rejection. But it is your second sentence that gave me a real pause. What in your opinion are the elements of the `shy, nerdy’ stereotype? Do you think Aaronson misdiagnosed the situation – that he made a mistake presenting himself as a representative (sort of) of the `shy and nerdy’? (These are for me not rethorical questions. I’m really not sure how to answer them.)

      Yes. This is one reason why stereotypes are so unhelpful in these conversations. People will say “I’m part of that stereotype and this doesn’t apply to me” or “Does this apply to me?” or even “This applies to me but I don’t fit that stereotype.” It’s completely vague and useless.

      Aaronson had his own version of the “shy and nerdy” stereotype that included his delusional fear of women. Is this part of the stereotype? I have no idea. Aaronson clearly thinks so. But is that what you and other people meant? It doesn’t seem to be present anywhere in the original conversation. You can’t really call Aaronson wrong as the stereotype is so ill-defined in the first place.

      Aaronson’s post is jarring for this reason. We thought we were talking about this thing, but apparently we’re also talking about that thing.

  24. 29

    Our perspectives may be different for one basic reason: I react rather strongly (and emotionally) to the whole package of the mental health issues. For me all of this is not so much about `shy nerds’, as about the disturbed people with serious mental problems. In effect I’m prone to read Aaronson as claiming that feminism throws such people under the bus. Even though I disbelieve him in the sense that I don’t perceive feminism as a real source of the trouble, that’s probably the reason why I’m far more sympathetic to Aaronson than you are.

    I pretty much agree with this. I don’t like to diagnose on the internet, but as someone with mild or moderate anxiety, I would peg S. Aaronson as having an anxiety disorder that is very severe.

    I’m not at all happy about his suggestion that feminist theory, even warped by bureaucracy into a training class, is what made his life miserable. Clearly there are other major sources of suffering. And is he saying that he would have found it easier to approach women if he didn’t have to consider whether or not they would want to talk to him? I don’t think a world where he focuses on himself and not so much on others he interacts with would be a better world.

    And if we want to start improving the world by improving the anti-harssment classes, his post inspires me to think that the phrase “unwanted sexual attention” is vague enough to be unhelpful.

  25. 30

    As I keep hearing more and more about this issue, the thing I keep wondering to myself is, “what could be done differently that would prevent these sorts of problems? How can we not just point out problems, but guide people towards better, healthier behavior?” I feel that the part about guiding people towards better behavior is important, particularly to the sort of people who express this sort of pain honestly (as opposed to as a derailing or manipulatively). To go back to Scott Aaronson’s comment, I got the impression of someone who really wanted to know the right thing to do, but was never given any acceptable behaviors, only ways to fail. I feel that a few workshops that said “This is bad; do that instead. Here are some things to watch out for, and try to be careful.” would help a lot of young people (and not-young people).
    The example of how this could be done that I come up with is actually your (Miri) workshop from Skepticon, where people walked away with some guidelines and scripts for interacting and even asking people out in a consent oriented way. I am of the opinion that if more people gave talks and workshops like this, it would go a long way towards taking care of this problem.
    So, as someone who is on the privileged side of almost every demographic, and also someone who identifies with aspects of Aaronson’s post: Thank you for sympathizing. Please don’t drop what you’re carrying, because it’s very important. I really do think that you wish it had gone better (which is an impressive accomplishment in the field of giving-a-shit for which you should be given a medal (that could read as sarcastic, I’m not being sarcastic)), and I think that if more people were like you, then it would have, at least a little bit.

    1. 30.1

      Thank you, Enkidatron. That means a lot.

      I think the reason that workshops like mine are rare is a broader cultural problem in which sex-negativity is the only appropriate frame for discussing sex, especially with teens and young adults. To give a workshop like mine to a college-age Aaronson would be to admit that it is okay for young people to have sex, including casual sex. People conflate feminism with sex-negativity because some feminisms are sex-negative, but more so because our culture itself is sex-negative.

  26. 31

    I don’t know about most men, but at least those intelligent feminist nerd men *possibly* (hopefully) just point out their own suffering as a “don’t entirely forget about this either though” rather than “how dare you don’t actively fight for nerds too.”

    Probably, the more sub-intelligent ones are picking up and throwing all those well-written articles at you with the added implication of the latter of the above.

    So you might want to simply remember a little about the few(?) genuinely innocent nerds and let that play a minor role in the way you express your ideas against patriarchal culture. Thus the picture you’re drawing is more complete, and there is no missing part which through its omission increases the suffering of those nerds.

    Then again, the sub-intelligent are in turn likely to pick up your articles, no matter how well you write them, and throw them at the nerds again…

    It’s a little like this: http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2939

    Except that instead of the sensible one of each side talking to the senseless ones of the other, it’s more so that the sensible ones of each side keep putting out amazing articles, then the senseless ones pick them up, make Molotov cocktails from them, and throw them to the other side.

    1. 31.1

      Taylan wrote:

      I don’t know about most men, but at least those intelligent feminist nerd men *possibly* (hopefully) just point out their own suffering as a “don’t entirely forget about this either though” rather than “how dare you don’t actively fight for nerds too.”

      I hope not! The former sounds more like a passive-aggressive version of the latter. And this is coming from a 31 year old male “virgin” who has been struggling with social anxiety and is a feminist!

      I hope most male feminists (and that all men) realize that we live in a patriarchal culture that bestows on men the privilege of having women being forced to attend and comfort men’s needs and emotions above women’s own. Thus, all male feminists would be wise to talk among themselves about issues such as this one, and accept how the patriarchy is a major factor instead of blaming women. This would relieve a huge burden on female feminists.

      1. I hope not! The former sounds more like a passive-aggressive version of the latter. And this is coming from a 31 year old male “virgin” who has been struggling with social anxiety and is a feminist!

        I can see why you’d say that (people like to sneak less defensible implications under more defensible language), but it needn’t be the case.

        1. @ Jacob Schmidt

          Just out of curiosity, what’s your view in regards to how women are forced into tending and caring for men’s feelings? What’s your stance in regards to Feminism prioritizing women’s interests first above men’s concerns?

          1. Just out of curiosity, what’s your view in regards to how women are forced into tending and caring for men’s feelings?[1] What’s your stance in regards to Feminism prioritizing women’s interests first above men’s concerns?[2]

            1 — That’s a very open ended question, and I’m not sure what you’re looking for. My suspicion is that it’s exacerbated by the idea that men aren’t supposed to be emotionally intimate. Since “masculinity” is performed, and since other men are the usual target audience, a large part of potentially available help is made unavailable. I also feel like our personal social structures tend to be segregated: we have more friends, and more close friends, of our own gender. For men, this means that not only do they less available emotional support from the get go, but our own closest friends end up being among the unavailable.

            This get’s toxic quickly when women aren’t in the mood to help us. Not only will men have little to nowhere else to go for help, but that woman who is supposed to be helping us (per her assigned gender role) doesn’t want to. Not only is she failing to live up to what’s expected of her, but she’s doing it in such a way that leaves us with no help at all. I think that explains much of the anger and resentment. I also think it warrants some compassion in our response, when we’ve the emotional fortitude for it. “Fuck you; I’m not your on-demand therapist,” is a defensible response. “I’m sorry you feel like you’ve nowhere else to go, but I don’t have the energy to deal with all your problems, and you really should be looking for help among your whole social group, not just the women,” is defensible and constructive.

            2 — Depends on the type of feminism. There are roughly 2 types: feminism that purports to support women specifically (type 1), and feminism that purports to fight against gender roles in and of themselves (type 2). The former, obviously, focuses on women. The latter focuses on the broader gender roles, by which men are also affected. For type 2 feminism, the identity of the concerned party should be less important, so long and we’re being consistent. Otherwise, it’s really just type 1 feminism, and we should be upfront about that.

            A common complaint from anti-feminists is that feminism is useless for men. In the case of feminism that explicitly focuses on women, this isn’t really true (deconstruction of women’s gender roles naturally enables the deconstruction of men’s, for instance), but men’s concerns are tangential, and we’re better off forming our own group to focus on us if we really want help for our own problems, while cooperating with feminists (again, the goals overlap). That’s all well and good, but the formation of our own group seems to be, to an extent, opposed. A statement to the effect of “Feminism doesn’t help men” elicits a response to the effect of “Feminism is the deconstruction of all gender roles; feminism is for everybody.” That is also all well and good… unless the feminist in question is really a type 1 feminist, who goes back to focusing almost exclusively on women.

            I don’t much care which type you pick: mostly it’s just a difference of scope, anyway. But I do think you should be upfront about your focus, and not chide men who feel left out when, to a large extent, they really are. I will, however, continue to have no patience for men who feel that a lack of focus on them and their problems invalidates feminism.

  27. 33

    Thank you. I appreciate this message enormously, and reading that you’ve run such a positive workshop even makes you a bit of a hero in my book.

    I grew up as an awkward nerd with a milder version of what Aaronson went through. For a picture of where I’m coming from, this comment from another man in one of the Aaronson threads gets very close to my own experience.

    I think there are several matters to be discussed here that are subtly distinct and easily conflated, and it’s very easy to go wrong in these arguments unless quite a bit of effort is put into being precise, by all participants. I’m grateful that you’ve done just that — I know it can be exhausting.

    As a man who’s followed women’s discussions on facing e.g. sexual harassment as well as more subtle problems such as repeated assumption of ignorance on various subjects in the workplace, university, etc., the impression I’ve gotten is that to publicly and supportively, acknowledge the very much non-negligible scale of such issues when a woman brings them up as their own experience, and to counter dismissive responses that some people make, is one of the most effective things I can do to help remedy the problem. And indeed I don’t feel it’s much to ask of me. I generally don’t bring those subjects up on my own initiative, and I wouldn’t start doing that even if I were asked to, because women themselves do it much more effectively.

    To the extent that a feminist does see problems in:

    a) outright dishonest putting-words-in-your-mouth ridicule of the Marcotte variety,
    b) lack of positive examples on how it’s probably ok to approach women in such-and-such appropriate situations if you’re ready to politely move on if not reciprocated,
    c) treatment of even moderate misgivings about things such as a) and b) as a license to assume and treat as fact that the complainer holds some harmful attitudes that he has not in fact expressed,

    then I can’t think of it as unreasonable to ask that he or she at least take concern in whether at least someone in the feminist community he or she may be part of is publicly acknowledging and addressing the issue.

    I won’t, indeed, ask everyone individually to go out of their way to remedy the concerns of boys and men like myself, but I do hope that people won’t let such a thing go dismissed altogether. Messages like yours and Penny’s (I do disagree with some of her points, but that’s of miniscule imporotance to me, in comparison) are incredibly important.

  28. 34

    And I will clarify that I won’t ask you to accept any of my a), b) or c) above as occurring in any significant extent, though my own perception is that they do. Feel free to treat them as hypotheticals. Nor do I ask you to agree with my characterization of Marcotte.

  29. 35

    And now I feel like I’ve spoken too timidly — the prevalence of these a), b) and c) is indeed central and relevant to the broader discussion, but on this particular question of what sort of effort can be expected from feminist women (or of any other group, for that matter) toward addressing other people’s concerns, it’s less so.

  30. 36

    I actually forgot to bring up the particular subtle-but-important distinction that had been central on my mind when I started writing the comment. I’m sorry for being so disjointed — I should take more effort to craft the messages to a proper state before I post.

    The distinction is between feminists 1) using mean language toward someone who does unambiguously express some harmful attitude and 2) making assumptions about harmful attitudes, and treating those as fact, based on something that has not been expressed.

    I think 1) is perfectly acceptable in general — I don’t necessarily think it’s always helpful, but it’s not my place to judge. I’m sorry to say, however that 2) often happens in spite of enormous care taken by the person in the receiving end to qualify their statements and demonstrate that they have a decent understanding on the issues which he then nevertheless gets attacked as entirely ignorant of.

    One common fault is that 2) is also often labeled a question about ‘tone arguments’ when the key issue is not mere tone but dishonest debate.

    I will acknowledge that being fair and accurate when it comes to 2) is difficult particularly in face of the very real existence of ‘concern trolling’ of various kinds. But the difference between an honest, careful opponent and a disingenuous one can probed with further questions, and that’s a necessary process for anyone engaging in civil discussion to be able to handle.

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