Feminist Bloggers Cannot Be Your Therapists

[Content note: mentions of sexual assault and suicide]

I’ve been thinking more about Scott Aaronson. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about what he struggled with during adolescence, and about the (in my opinion, misguided) notion that feminism could have possibly been of any help to him.

The battle cry I’ve heard from men since Aaronson’s now-infamous Comment 171 was published is that feminist writers and activists need to be more mindful of situations like Aaronson’s when we choose our language and strategies. There seems to be a collective yearning for acknowledgement that the usual feminist rhetoric is not only unhelpful for people in the teenage Aaronson’s frame of mind, but actively harmful to them. There is one piece of this that I fully agree with, that I will get to later. But for the most part, I continue to feel a sort of frustration and exhaustion, and I think I’ve finally figured out why.

I wrote in my previous post on the subject that I feel that we (women) are being given all these male traumas and struggles and feelings to soothe and fix, as we always are. But now I understand why exactly I feel like we’re such an inadequate receptacle for these things.

Let’s look at some of the most salient parts of Comment 171:

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.

[…] Of course, I was smart enough to realize that maybe this was silly, maybe I was overanalyzing things. So I scoured the feminist literature for any statement to the effect that my fearswere 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.

Because of my fears—my fears of being “outed” as a nerdy heterosexual male, and therefore as a potential creep or sex criminal—I had constant suicidal thoughts. As Bertrand Russell wrote of his own adolescence: “I was put off from suicide only by the desire to learn more mathematics.”

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. The psychiatrist refused to prescribe them, but he also couldn’t suggest any alternative: my case genuinely stumped him. As well it might—for in some sense, there was nothing “wrong” with me.

[…]And no, I’m not even suggesting to equate the ~15 years of crippling, life-destroying anxiety I went through with the trauma of a sexual assault victim. The two are incomparable; they’re horrible in different ways. But let me draw your attention to one difference: the number of academics who study problems like the one I had is approximately zero. There are no task forces devoted to it, no campus rallies in support of the sufferers, no therapists or activists to tell you that you’re not alone or it isn’t your fault. There are only therapists and activists to deliver the opposite message: that you are alone and it is your privileged, entitled, male fault.

It’s worth reading the entire thing, and reading it carefully. (Aaronson’s defenders are correct that some people have been making accusations of Aaronson that are directly refuted by things that he said in the very same comment. Let’s not do that.)

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.

I will not speculate about what mental illness Aaronson could have theoretically been diagnosed with in his adolescence; I oppose such speculation and it’s actually irrelevant. I don’t need to diagnose him to say that he had serious issues and could have really benefited from treatment. (However, I may reference some diagnoses in what follows, not to suggest that Aaronson had them but to show how mental illness can interact with other life circumstances.)

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.

Lots of helpful things can harm a small subset of people because of that subset’s individual traits. For instance, there are a lot of PSAs about washing your hands to prevent the spread of disease and things like that. But some people have OCD and wash their hands compulsively, to the point that they’re hurting themselves physically and having trouble accomplishing daily life tasks because they have to wash their hands so much. I can imagine these PSAs being extraordinarily unhelpful to them.

We also often hear about the importance of donating to charity. Most people could probably donate more to charity if they wanted to. However, some people compulsively donate so much to charity that they harm themselves or their families. I can imagine this being exacerbated by someone telling them how important it is to donate to charity. Perhaps they feel they are never good enough.

I can see how feminist literature might have functioned in a similar way for Aaronson. The truth is that most men are about as far away from his mindset as you can get. Some are even the opposite extreme. Most men spend very little time thinking about how their behavior impacts women. Most men need to spend more time thinking about it. But how could he have known that these feminist books were not for him? If they were to put on the cover, “If you’re a great guy who does not hurt women, you don’t need to read this,” well, no man would ever read it. They all think they’re great guys who do not hurt women, even though some of them rape women.

Neurodiversity is an axis of privilege/oppression. People who suffer from mental illness or whose brains are set up differently from what is considered the “norm” (such as people with autism) lack privilege along this axis. They have difficulties because our society is not made to accommodate them. However, if these people are white, or male, or straight, or cisgender, or so on, they still benefit from the privileges afforded to people in those categories.

For instance, despite all his other fears and anxieties, Aaronson did not have to live in constant fear of being sexually assaulted, because he is male. He did not have to live with a significant risk of being harassed or brutalized by the police, because he is white. He did not have to deal with having people constantly refuse to identify him as the gender he identifies as, because he is cisgender. He did not have to struggle to physically access places he needs or wants to go, because he is able-bodied. Of course, he still faces some risk (in some cases fairly negligible) of all of these things, because having privilege doesn’t shield you from everything.

However, as a person who was (apparently) neuroatypical, Aaronson did have to live with “crippling, life-destroying anxiety.” He did not appear to have access (even if it’s just because he didn’t know to ask for it) to mental healthcare that could have helped him. He was forced to spend years feeling horrible. If he told people how they felt, they may have blamed him for it, because victim-blaming is a key component of our society’s oppression of neuroatypical people. Had he lacked some of the other privileges that he had, such as race and class, he may not have been able to access the apparently-useless psychiatrist that he did access.

Aaronson claims that he did not have “male privilege” because he did not feel that he had it. I’ve addressed arguments like these before. He presumably did not feel privileged because on one very salient and relevant axis, he certainly was not.

But otherwise, having or not having privilege isn’t actually dependent at all on how you feel. You have it or not. Men on the street hurl sexual obscenities at you or they do not. Cops stop you and slam you to the ground for no reason or they do not. You are allowed to marry someone of the gender(s) you’re attracted to or you are not.

Aaronson might be interested (or not) to know that many feminists are busy fighting to ensure access to mental healthcare for everyone, and an end to the stigma that prevents people from seeking help. But maybe that’s irrelevant now.

As I mentioned earlier, I am taking one piece of Aaronson’s (and the many others who have echoed him) criticism to heart. Namely, feminist materials need to be better at specifying what to do rather than just what not to do. Now is a good time for a reminder that I offer a workshop on this exactly, with a light-hearted tone and lots of audience participation and definitely no yelling at men that they are horrible awful creeps no matter what they do. I am far from the only person who offers such materials, but it would be cool if there were more. That said, anyone claiming that feminism does not offer this at all has quite clearly not done their research. Andrea Dworkin and some random shitty college sexual harassment training are not the only resources feminism has to offer.

(Some things that I have read along these lines [“these lines” meaning, roughly, “affirmative resources that help men and others conduct their sexual/romantic lives ethically without shaming them]: Charlie Glickman, Doctor Nerdlove, Yes Means Yes (the book and the associated blog by Thomas Macaulay Millar), Pervocracy, Franklin Veaux. If you don’t like any of these, create your own!)

But even then, your average casual feminist blogger or columnist cannot take responsibility for fixing the problems of someone who apparently sincerely believes that speaking to a woman will get him sent to prison. Or someone who is literally unable to talk to a woman because they have so much social anxiety. These are issues for professionals to deal with. Professionals can affirm. They are there to hold your feelings and make you feel comfortable and supported. They can teach social skills. They can help you examine maladaptive and irrational thoughts. They can help you learn how to cope with anxiety. That is what therapists are for. They are imperfect, but they are trained for this. I worry about placing this responsibility on every feminist with a blog.

Aaronson claims in his comment that “there are only therapists and activists to deliver the opposite message: that you are alone and it is your privileged, entitled, male fault.” I’m not sure if this comes from experience or is purely the creation of his mind with the biases that it had at the time. If Aaronson went to see a therapist and that therapist shamed him, then that therapist is wrong and does not deserve the title. (I’m not trying to do a No True Therapist fallacy here; I’m just pointing out that shaming people is against our ethics and if you cannot not shame people then you should not be a therapist.)

If Aaronson did not see a therapist, perhaps because he was afraid that they would shame him, then that’s unfortunate. And I don’t blame him. But I still think that we should be encouraging people with such pronounced irrational beliefs to seek therapy, not feminist literature.

No wonder I was so frustrated when I wrote that earlier post. I felt like feminist writers are being asked to do the job of a mental healthcare professional.

~~~

A few relevant points that I did not have time to expand on here, but may in the future:

  • Part of the reason that a lot of what Aaronson read/watched was so shaming towards men was probably because it was shaming towards sex and sexuality in general. Especially those college sexual harassment trainings, some of which are woefully retrograde. It’s important to remember that stigma/shaming around sex is something that is so entrenched in our culture that it’s bound to show up all over the place, even, yes, in feminist literature.
  • Aaronson claims that all the feminist literature he read confirmed his belief that straight men are awful and violent. While this may be so–I haven’t read Dworkin and don’t intend to–I have also personally watched men respond to materials that were not at all whatsoever shaming of men by claiming that they were being shamed by those materials. This seems to be a very common bias. They expect to be shamed by feminist materials, so they feel shamed by them.
  • I have seen dreadfully few discussions about how everyone–especially non-/anti-feminist men and women–perpetuate toxic ideals about masculinity. It’s usually not feminist teenage girls slamming shy nerdy boys into lockers and publicly humiliating them, is it? We should talk more about that. Unfortunately, most men dislike talking about toxic masculinity, because they think that “masculinity” is synonymous with “men,” and perhaps also because they have bought extensively into this ideal and appreciate the privileges it affords them.
  • There needs to be a space where we can say, “Wow, that is really awful, I’m sorry you felt that way and had to live with that, but I need to point out that your interpretation of things was inaccurate.” Because right now, it’s looking to me like anyone who includes the latter part of that sentence is accused of hating men or lacking compassion. If I read a Richard Dawkins book, came away with the idea that Dawkins believes that all religious people should be put to death, and therefore started to fear for the lives of my religious relatives, I would want someone to try to explain to me that I had misinterpreted the book. It would not be compassionate at all to allow me to continue believing that Dawkins was calling for my relatives’ deaths. It is not compassionate to allow Aaronson to believe that feminists want him to never, ever so much as kiss a girl. (A moot point now, but it wouldn’t have been earlier.)
  • It is also entirely possible that all the feminist literature that Aaronson read was woefully inadequate. (I disagree, and wish he had picked up bell hooks, but let’s grant it.) Feminism is, like every other field of study, constantly advancing and finding new ways to analyze and advocate. The feminist literature of the past decade or so focuses a lot more on helping men than the feminist literature of the 1970s and 80s. But feminist activism still consists mostly of women, and when men join in, they often try to speak to us about our own issues than to other men about men’s issues. And women, naturally, will focus first on issues we primarily face, some of which are life-threatening. Men, please, don’t stand around and lament the fact that feminists are not addressing your problems. Familiarize yourself with feminist principles and join in.
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Feminist Bloggers Cannot Be Your Therapists

119 thoughts on “Feminist Bloggers Cannot Be Your Therapists

  1. 2

    This is a really good post, Miri, and I hope that Aaronson will see it.

    I especially appreciated you noting that there are so “few discussions about how everyone — especially non-/anti-feminist men and women — perpetuate toxic ideals about masculinity.” When reading Aaronson’s post and comment 171, that’s one thing that I noticed, and I’m glad I wasn’t the only one.

    Laurie Penny hinted at the same observation — but much too briefly — when she wrote, “Men are shamed for not having sex…. Men are … made to resent … women for having denied them … the intimacy they’re not allowed to get elsewhere.” (Emphasis added.) Maybe she should have expanded on that.

    I wonder if this misdirection is a common element to the various forms of oppression. Do the perpetrators usually convince the target to blame themselves and to blame innocent third parties who might actually be able to help the target challenge the system that is hurting them?

    1. 2.1

      Do the perpetrators usually convince the target to blame themselves and to blame innocent third parties who might actually be able to help the target challenge the system that is hurting them?

      I wouldn’t be surprised. If you look at where the nastiest, meanest, most violent anti-feminist rhetoric has been coming from for the last 25 years (or really, the last forever, probably), it’s been straight white cis Christian conventionally masculine men. Hmmmmmm.

      Anyway, this strategy crops up all over the place. For instance, rich white politicians convincing their poor white constituents that people of color and immigrants are to blame for all their economic woes.

      1. If you look at where the nastiest, meanest, most violent anti-feminist rhetoric has been coming from for the last 25 years (or really, the last forever, probably), it’s been straight white cis Christian conventionally masculine men. Hmmmmmm.

        I don’t know if I agree. I think it might seem that way, because those are generally the loudest voices in American society (especially if you add “old” and “wealthy” to the laundry list.)

        But if there’s one thing that “gamergate” has taught me, it’s that nerd culture has a virulent strain of awful misogyny mixed with bitterness, a really nasty cocktail that frankly goes way beyond anything I’ve ever seen from doofy “make me a sandwich” jockish types. And of course, there’s a prominent tradition of antifeminism in the black civli rights movement (if you read Malcolm X’s autobiography, there are points at which he sounds like a card-carrying MRA. It’s actually kind of alarming.)

    2. m
      2.2

      “Do the perpetrators usually convince the target to blame themselves and to blame innocent third parties who might actually be able to help the target challenge the system that is hurting them?”

      Without question. Think about how Faux News et al convince whites in poverty to vote against their own interests by convincing them “those d*mned women and illegal immigrants and blacks are taking their jobs”, misdirecting their attention away from the real culprits, which look much more like, just to point to one example, Supreme Court decisions granting corporations personhood.

  2. 3

    Aaronson claims that all the feminist literature he read confirmed his belief that straight men are awful and violent. While this may be so–I haven’t read Dworkin and don’t intend to–I have also personally watched men respond to materials that were not at all whatsoever shaming of men by claiming that they were being shamed by those materials.

    Something about this rubbed me the wrong way when he said it. He says he did a thorough survey of feminism, went to seminars, etc – but the one feminist he name-checks is Dworkin, the favorite bogeywoman of MRA types everywhere? There’s no one else he can reference, no arguments of theirs that he can elaborate without caricature?

    1. 3.1

      brett: Yeah. I can see why he’d choose her to name-check, since everybody already thinks she’s awful, but wouldn’t the better argument be, “See, even these supposedly Good Feminists still made me hate myself!”? I’m curious what else he read. Despite everything, he lists a Dworkin book as his “favorite.” I’m confused.

    2. 3.2

      In a later comment on that thread Aaronson also links to a Christina Hoff Sommers article to support his argument… Yikes. (To be fair, he doesn’t seem to know who she is).

    1. 4.1

      robertbaden: I’m not sure. I certainly disagree with most of his conclusions, but I’m not sure he’s comparable to MRAs of the Reddit sort. Granted, I haven’t read the actual books. (Life’s too damn short.)

      ETA: Most of what Farrell seems to say has been said better by bell hooks.

  3. 5

    It’s easy to be distracted by the content of distorted thinking from the problem, which is the distortion itself. For example, delusions experienced in psychotic disorders (eg, schizophrenia) are influenced by culture: in the past, people’s delusions of thought control may be something like “the aliens abducted me and put a chip in my brain” where now it might be more like “someone is using the computer to control my brain via wifi”. During the Cold War people’s persecution delusions involved communists, now I see people with similar delusions involving muslims. The point is, getting too focused on analyzing the content of distorted thoughts is not helpful unless you’re the person with the thoughts and you’re going through CBT or similar therapy. The same goes for most mental illness: the problem is the disconnect with reality, not with reality itself.

    I do however see some merit in the criticism of the concept of privilege. See this way: if you’re a teacher and half your class just is NOT getting what you’re explaining, maybe it’s time to try a different method/language/explanation. I also see merit in the criticism of shaming practices of feminists, I think shaming is ineffective and frequently backfires (abstinence-only sex education anyone? D.A.R.E….) I think it is somehow more satisfying to the shame-er to shame than to use other tactics for changing behavior.

  4. 6

    The problem is that Mr. Aaronson probably only managed to find some sexual success (and reproductive success) by being a topmost authority in his field at a very prestigious university. Now imagine this same man, with these same anxieties, just being a normal bloke, only working as middling job earning 40k. Mr. Aaronson’s condition stemmed significantly in part from the reality that in today’s Sexual Marketplace, women have absolute freedom, and men do not. Men who can’t get laid are prohibited by law from seeking the services of a prostitute. Suppose a shy male, at age 20, is despondent over not having a girlfriend and continues to be mystefied by the opposite sex. Having sex with prostitutes could very well help him gain more confidence and make him become more comfortable with his own sexuality, yet feminists by and large want to keep this option prohibited as they know that legalized prostitution is beneficial to men overall at the expense of female sexual power.

    1. 6.2

      He actually says himself that he gained success when he actually started speaking to women and asking them out. It wasn’t that he couldn’t get laid because of the action of women. It was that he was so anxious that he could not go out and have normal interactions with women.

  5. 7

    Ya know, you got me thinking about some things that are maybe a little more meta, in terms of political strategy (which is my own bias).

    You speak of the feminism of the 70s and 80s and note that feminism has changed, and I don’t disagree on that point. But speaking as a guy raised by people with 100 years of experience in social justice activism, primarily from a socialist perspective — well, I say welcome to my world. What do I mean? I don’t think, Miri — correct me if I am wrong — you are quite old enough to remember much of an extant USSR. But I spend more time than I care to think about having to explain that socialism is not equivalent to thinking Stalin was great. Stalin has been dead for a long while, and the USSR disappeared 22 years ago, but I still have to “own” that, and have to work around people’s perceptions.

    In terms of the “sell” for feminism — and if you want to win political battles you need one — you’re just going to have to deal with the fact that 99.99% of the population hasn’t read the latest feminist scholarship any more than they read the latest thoughts from the Monthly Review or the CGT. Most people’s image of social activism is really rooted in stuff that happened a generation before me and I am likely old enough to be your parent. There’s a lot of reasons for this, and I wish it was different, but that’s the political reality we live in so we kind of have to work with that.

    As to name-checking Dworkin, she might have been the worst example, maybe he read MacKinnon too for all I know. But neither of them IMO managed to frame feminism in a way that was a “sell” for anyone who wasn’t already in agreement, leaving aside the deep, deep problems I think Dworkin has. (Short version: she explicitly said that heterosexual sex was inherently violent, so if you take as read that rape is violence then all men are rapists by definition. Problem two is trying to adapt the language of national liberation to feminist issues and I really don’t think the tool fits — like trying to nail nails with a screwdriver. Can you do it? Yes. Does it make sense? No.)

    This gets me to an issue of toxic masculinity. Which is, if I were to suggest it, maybe a better point of attack. I say this in light of another post you wrote about people mishearing the message you are trying to send. Again, remember that we aren’t talking rational here. But I always felt that if people are mishearing the message and you have to keep on telling them what you said then maybe the problem is with the message.

    To give another (more political) example: If I say that we should have single payer health care I can say “We’re going to get rid of the insurance companies” or “Everyone should have access to care and single payer will do that.” The second message is going to get me a lot more votes than the first, and I hope you can sort of see why– the first message sounds like I am taking something away from you. The political right makes hay with that and I lose. It isn’t logical in the slightest, but that kind of thing helped to sink the idea in the US. (As did the words “Socialized medicine.”) Again, illogical, but I feel that winning political battles is in part learning to master reaching people on an illogical basis. (I also firmly believe that the only good political battles are ones you win).

    In the case of someone like Aaronson, I think what’s happening is that a lot of the time the mis-heard message is the thing that even I hear when I read this stuff. There’s a part of me that, as a nerdy, and un-dateable guy in high school — and adolescence is where a lot of this shit gets forged, like it or not — is that I deserved all the pain and suffering I went through. I know, in the frontal lobes, that that isn’t what you are saying. But let’s face it — as humans a good chunk of the processing isn’t there.

    This happens in discussions of, for example, bullying. It’s about as close as I can get to feeling “triggered” — that is, a lot of pain and anxiety comes rushing back and there’s a kind of anger that rises — it isn’t a fun experience. But I know that it isn’t rational, that the way my 10-year-old self had to react to his world isn’t what I can or should do now.

    So, what I am saying is that if some of these discussions (at least in terms of selling feminism to former nerdy guys is to work) might want to start with the toxic masculinity — the things that made me, for instance, have to ignore everything my parents told me about violence and get a reputation for unpredictable (and sometimes outright dangerous and bloody stupid) behavior. The thing that told me that I shouldn’t go near or be attracted to the “wrong” person in high school, the thing that made me more concerned with trying to be a cool guy as opposed to doing cool things. This also relates to what I think Aaronson touched on and (I haven’t gone through the whole of the threads) which is that too often the social rewards in that chimpanzee pit known as the American High School bore little relation to the things that progressive parents especially might try to instill — see above about violence. And fundamentally we all want social rewards (well, most do), we’re primates after all.

    From there, I think it might be an easier leap to getting someone like Aaronson to separate the issues of, for instance, the individual experiences he had from the concept of male privilege generally. Because you are acknowledging their reality.

    I am not saying pity the poor feelings of Aaronson. I was just thinking of ways to make a better sell, as it were. And I thought of it in terms of the kinds of political battles my antecedents had to fight in an environment where words like “communist” and “socialist” were pretty loaded and were guaranteed to throw any rational discussion out the window. So take this as more of a mulling over of strategies for individual campaigns or people, as opposed to a general principle. And yes, I think this would happen completely separately from a discussion of harassment and such.

    And I was also thinking, it would be great if a lot of nerdy dudes could say, “YES I didn’t want to be a macho guy, and it was a feminist who told me I didn’t have to be, that those gender norms were screwing up the way I was forced to deal with the opposite sex.”

    I will say also that I am thinking in terms of another meta-issue, which is that too often we frame our politics in terms of being against rather than for. If you have something to tell nerdy dudes that they can be for, that they can say supports the in the areas where they do not have privilege, well, politically I think the dividends will be larger. Any political movement has to answer the question “what do you get?” at some point or other. Saying the world will be nicer isn’t much of a sell for a lot of people. (Again, think of a real world example: the GOP when they pull out the racist anti immigrant stuff has a very clear answer for “what do you get” — they tell people that they will keep jobs they’d otherwise lose.)

    Maybe you think this is dumb– by all means tell me. But I was trying to think of what might work in terms of convincing people — on a non-rational or a-rational basis, which is (as you probably know from god knows how many psych studies ) how a lot of us decide things anyway.

  6. 8

    It’s not irrelevant — Scott Aaronson’s whole post stemmed about the plight of his existence as a man of low sexual market value (SMV) in a feminist country where women have absolute freedom and prostitution is prohibited. Scott Aaronson’s plight is, in part, the result of the feminist direction society has moved in. If feminists oppose the criminilization of prostitution, why don’t they speak out when police do stuff like this?

    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/61-arrested-florida-prostitution-sting-article-1.2037953

    But no, feminists are always…ALWAYS…silent when police do stuff like this, because they *tacitly* (and not so tacitly) support the prohibition of prostitution and the advantage this gives to women in the sexual marketplace.

    Maybe if Scott Aaronson could have just paid for it freely without guilt at age 18 we wouldn’t be here in the first place.

  7. 9

    jesse, you say…

    “Any political movement has to answer the question “what do you get?” at some point or other. Saying the world will be nicer isn’t much of a sell for a lot of people. (Again, think of a real world example: the GOP when they pull out the racist anti immigrant stuff has a very clear answer for “what do you get” — they tell people that they will keep jobs they’d otherwise lose.)”

    Feminism as a movement offers absolutely NOTHING to regular men, and in fact takes away a lot from them and even more so from men who are low in sex appeal. Modern feminism is mainly about giving ABSOLUTE sexual power to women while denigrating and shaming the sexual needs of men who aren’t the top 20% of males that women tend to instinctively want to have sex with. Scott Aaronson bothers feminists because he just reminded them that men who look him have sexual needs and kind of expect them to get met. That EXPECTATION freaks out feminists, perhaps because it’s an expectation that’s supposed to be met as part of some social compact. What happens when more and more Scott Aaoronsons loudly complain and decide feminists are the enemy?

    This is why it would be smart for feminists to champion sexual freedom for males by allowing legal prostitution all over the country.

    1. 9.1

      @Gurney —

      The whole “sexual market value” schtick assumes that everyone’s attractiveness is objective and linear. It doesn’t match, at all, the variability of desire that I hear expressed by my friends — who, yes, are mostly feminist. What is attractive in a man from the perspective of those of my feminist friends who are attracted to men is rarely a matter of the qualities that the misogynist/MRA movement would imply — and I don’t think this can be separated from feminism. The mainstream of sex-positive feminism tends to make a point of letting women consider their individual desires and attractions. Even from a purely self-interested perspective, this should be seen as a benefit to straight and bisexual men who are “low” on the linear “SMV” scale — it means that men who would be left out by the patriarchal, capitalism-as-a-model-for-everything “market” of attraction may well turn out to have exactly what appeals to some set of women. Of course, for this to work the men in question would also have to take the time to unpack the specific details and idiosyncrasies of their own desires in place of the collective patriarchal gestalt — but wouldn’t that still be a net gain in happiness? I mean, I’m not a straight man, but I know my life has been improved by focusing on what specific details attract me to a partner rather than going by an external rubric for “attractiveness.”

  8. 10

    This comment thread went sour fast.

    It’s not irrelevant — Scott Aaronson’s whole post stemmed about the plight of his existence as a man of low sexual market value (SMV) in a feminist country where women have absolute freedom and prostitution is prohibited. S

    No, his plight came from being (probably) depressed and anxious growing up. As soon as he got mildly over that while in college and started going out on dates, things improved.

    But no, feminists are always…ALWAYS…silent when police do stuff like this, because they *tacitly* (and not so tacitly) support the prohibition of prostitution and the advantage this gives to women in the sexual marketplace.

    Oh please. Feminists are never silent on prostitution, either in favor or against it. It may not be the most important issue they’re personally thinking about or working on at the time, but when the issue comes up it’s always discussed and debated.

    Feminism as a movement offers absolutely NOTHING to regular men, and in fact takes away a lot from them and even more so from men who are low in sex appeal.

    Feminism is a godsend for regular men, and even better for men who don’t fit traditionally masculine stereotypes. It offers freedom from the bondage of imprisoning stereotypes and shame about non-conventional sexual choices (particularly bisexuality and homosexuality), freedom from masculinity-policing, and so forth. Not that I would really expect you to understand that, since you still buy into MRA ideas like this:

    Modern feminism is mainly about giving ABSOLUTE sexual power to women while denigrating and shaming the sexual needs of men who aren’t the top 20% of males that women tend to instinctively want to have sex with.

    Again, 75% of Americans eventually get married, and an even larger fraction of them have relationships. You can take your mythical “hypergamy” nonsense and shove it. Take it with this, too-

    Scott Aaronson bothers feminists because he just reminded them that men who look him have sexual needs and kind of expect them to get met.

    The voice of entitlement itself. Nobody’s stopping you from convincing women (and increasingly) men to sleep with you, and the barriers to hiring someone to have sex with you aren’t even that high – most escort services have a “wink-wink” attitude towards it even if you don’t go somewhere where it’s explicitly legal.

  9. 12

    Miri @ 8:25pm:

    I’ve been following this stuff for a few years. Feminist rhetoric about decriminilized prostitution NEVER touches on the question of whether or not men should have the option of legally seeking the services of a sex worker. This is why you NEVER see American feminists condemn prostitution stings that are meant to bust MEN, eg, my previous link to the bust in Florida that led to the arrest of 60 men. Feminists are mainly down with this. When feminists talk about decriminilization, what they really mean (and what they ONLY mean) is decriminilizing the PROSTITUTE. They think it’s an injustice that female sex workers are arrested too. To feminists, it’s not a problem that the customer is arrested, but it’s a problem that the prostitute herself is arrested. The thing is that, by and large, your series of links are (with some exeptions) mainly in line with the ideology of the “Nordic model” of letting the prostitute go free and offering her services and arresting the men.

    I repeat, I have NEVER seen a prominent feminist argue for the position that men should have the legal option of engaging in consensual transaction with a sex worker as a matter of fairness and equality between the genders. Feminists know that this is on the whole would be a net benefit for men at the expense of women’s sexual power, but so what? Men have had to make adjustments in the last few decades that worked against their interests (say, in family law) to the benefit of women, why can;t women/feminists return the favor on this issue? Scott Aaronson would NOT be complaining if he could have just went out and banged two hookers a week (without the guilt/shame that prohibition instills.)

    Women have an innate privilege over men when it comes to sex in that female sexuality is more valuable, so there really aren’t many women who are the equivalent of Scott Aaronson — really, such a woman would have to be very horribly obese or disfigured to be Scott’s equivalent — and even then she’s likely to get offers. Feminists, if they really care about men’s issues like they so often say, should work to make men’s lives easier as well by increasing their options in the sexual marketplace. This should be more of a priority than, say, what type of shirt some scientist wore at a conference.

    1. 12.1

      Oh, okay, so you don’t actually care about sex workers’ rights, you care about men having access to sex at all times. The reason feminists don’t argue that “men should have the legal option of engaging in consensual transaction with a sex worker as a matter of fairness and equality between the genders” is because legalized sex work is not about men having any sort of “right” to sex. It’s about people (of all genders) having the right to do what they please with their own bodies, including have sex for money.

      If you keep spouting men’s rights crap without backing up any of your claims, I’m going to ban you. Not because I can’t handle your silly views, but because I like to have intelligent discussions in my comments section.

  10. 13

    No, his plight came from being (probably) depressed and anxious growing up. As soon as he got mildly over that while in college and started going out on dates, things improved.”

    His plight stems from being a low status male when it came to his Sexual Market Value. He got over it by being a topmost authority in a lucrative field at a very prestigious university, which gave him some confidence (and likely made him more of a good catch, all things considered.) Suppose though Scott Aaronson looked the same way and DIDN’T win the genetic lottery in intelligence, such that he ended up being a working class guy. What would have been Scott’s options then? I predict that he would have been out in the cold even longer. And feminists by and large don’t care and seem to resent that men like Scott feel angry/resentful about not having so fundamental a need met.

    The modern sexual marketplace inflates a young woman’s value. A typical 22 year old woman is competed for not just by her peers, but also by men considerably older as well. Serial monogamy is de jour today, and serial monogamy IS a form of polygamy, a form of polygamy that ultimately comes at the expense of men like Scott Aaronson. IMO this the dynamic I believe is behind much rhetorical pushback against feminism, because feminists by and large are absolutely down with this inequality and men who look like Scott Aaronson never managing to have sexual relations.

    Oh please. Feminists are never silent on prostitution, either in favor or against it. It may not be the most important issue they’re personally thinking about or working on at the time, but when the issue comes up it’s always discussed and debated.

    They are almost always silent on the issue that matters the most — the way men are habitually arrested, charged, and publicly shamed for soliciting the services of prostitutes. This silence either stems from agreement with this policy or contempt and lack of sympathy for the sort of men who these types of nets by and large capture — men with low sexual marketplace value.

    Feminism is a godsend for regular men, and even better for men who don’t fit traditionally masculine stereotypes. It offers freedom from the bondage of imprisoning stereotypes and shame about non-conventional sexual choices (particularly bisexuality and homosexuality), freedom from masculinity-policing, and so forth. Not that I would really expect you to understand that, since you still buy into MRA ideas like this:

    The traditionalist believes that a man should be a slave/provider to his wife, whereas feminists believe — and champion for — the collective resources created by men to be transferred to women (eg Obamacare, wellfare, much of family law, affirmative action, and so on.) Feminism is nothing but a continuation of the basic gynocentric bent of our species that says “the female is more valuable” and feminists have been absolutely ruthless in exploiting this dynamic. The ONLY option that feminists give men with low sexual marketplace value is for those men to drop their heterosexual desires, give up finding a satisfying sex life, and interpret their giving up as some sort of middle finger to a mythical patriarchy, when the reality is that its feminists themselves that in part contribute to his condition with their tacit approval of the inflation of female sexual marketplace value through the prohibition of prostitution.

    Again, 75% of Americans eventually get married, and an even larger fraction of them have relationships. You can take your mythical “hypergamy” nonsense and shove it. Take it with this, too-

    Serial monogamy is de jour these days. Serial monogamy is a form of polygamy that comes at the expense of men as it limits the available of pool of date-able (in terms of age) women. That most people EVENTUALLY get married or have relationships does not tell us much about what happened prior, i.e, whether a great deal of men were out in the cold due to the scarcity created by a sanctioned form of polygamy, and this really matters in an era where first marriages are ever creeping up to late 20s and beyond.

    The voice of entitlement itself. Nobody’s stopping you from convincing women (and increasingly) men to sleep with you, and the barriers to hiring someone to have sex with you aren’t even that high – most escort services have a “wink-wink” attitude towards it even if you don’t go somewhere where it’s explicitly legal.

    You don’t get it. Prostitution is fought against on two fronts. On the one hand, there’s the legal prohibition itself as a matter of providing penalties for engaging in the activity. On the other hand, there’s the use of that legal prohibition to create shame and stigma around the activity. Decriminilizing prostitution won’t just remove the penalties, but it will also, in part, remove some of the stigma and shame attached to seeking such services, the same stigma and shame that makes the public okay with having the faces of arrested Johns shown on newspapers/websites, the same shame and stigma that makes feminists reluctant to defend such men.

    It’s harder for men to convince women to have sex with them than it is for women to convince men to have sex with them. This is a form of female privilege which the legalization of prostitution would, in part, compensate men for.

    1. 13.1

      Is it bad form around here to crunch into a commenter who’s been banned? I’ll assume it is, to be safe, and simply laugh at redundancy of the (repeated) phrase “du jour these days.”

      Actually, the empirical claim “This silence either stems from agreement with this policy or contempt and lack of sympathy for the sort of men who these types of nets by and large capture — men with low sexual marketplace value.” made me realize that there was probably some data on this somewhere. Specifically, what sort of men are seeking prostitutes?

      Source:

      The most common reason why men said they bought sex was to satisfy immediate sexual urge; 21 percent of time men wanted to select women with certain physical racial and sexual stereotypes such as being submissive; 20 percent went to prostitutes because they were unsatisfied with their current relationship; and 15 percent went to prostitutes because there was no emotional connection or commitment.

      It would seem that immediacy, specificity of current desire, and dissatisfaction with their partner are much greater factors than low SMV.

      Source:

      The researchers also found that men who actively seek out prostitutes do not possess any “peculiar” qualities that would differentiate them from men in the normal population. In fact, arrested customers are only slightly less likely to be married, slightly more likely to be working full-time, slightly more sexually liberal, and slightly less likely to be White than men who have not been clients of prostitutes.

      A small group of highly active customers, such as those who were never arrested and who sought out sex workers listed on a prostitute review website, were found to differ substantially from men who do not pay for sex. A substantial portion of these married White men earn over 120K annually, have graduate degrees, and are more sexually liberal than any of the other groups in the study. Additionally, they do not exhibit any mental impairment.

      Not only do johns in general match the general population, but the most frequent johns are doing very, very well for themselves.

      That’s not to say that lonely men aren’t seeking prostitutes; they are. But given that few men actually seek out prostitutes; and given that loneliness doesn’t seem to be a major factor in why men seek out prostitutes, the criminalization of prostitution isn’t a major issue for lonely men.

    2. 13.2

      This is a form of female privilege which the legalization of prostitution would, in part, compensate men for.

      Woman with actual experience as an escort here! Read this carefully: the entitlement that saturates your posts would be a HUGE red flag warning for me to not take you as a client were you to reply to my ad, no matter what price you might offer. It’s practically screaming that you’d be the type to try argue my rate down and to try to get me to not require that you wear a condom. I can assure you that non-sex workers don’t find such an attitude attractive, either. The cause of your frustration isn’t because we have unattainable standards or because of “female privilege” or whatever. The sooner you realize that you aren’t owed sex, the sooner you might actually get some.

  11. 14

    Yes, Gurney, everybody all over the world should drop what they’re doing and try to figure out why you’re not getting all the vagina you “deserve”, when you want, where you want, and from whom you want, on demand. Women are–all three billion of them–part of a global conspiracy specifically designed to prevent you from having sex, and that’s the real pressing issue of the day.

    You lost all credibility when you began hurling slurs around when asked that you keep comments on-topic rather than moaning about how you feminists aren’t taking enough steps to supply you with the sex you “deserve”. Jesus…

  12. 15

    Thank you. Thank you for writing this.

    One of my biggest problems with this general discussion, and just about every other social justice discussion where issues of mental health and disabilities are involved, is the absolutely abysmal way those issues are handled (if handled at all). I’m incredibly happy to see them handled well for once.

  13. 16

    This is sort of an aside, but one thing to keep in mind might be that Aaronson is an academic. In a completely different field than feminist theory, but he moves in those circles – and it is true that feminist academia is mostly still dominated by ’70s-era Second Wavers, amongst which Dworkin is a very influential and reasonably representative figure.

    I was a little taken aback when he started going on about the demonization of male sexuality, because – while there are criticisms to be made of modern feminism – I don’t really think that’s accurate, at least not to the extent that he claims. (I think a lot of feminists don’t understand the unique difficulties inherent in young male sexuality, but that’s a somewhat different issue.) So while Aaronson’s fears are clearly irrational and likely stem from some sort of underlying anxiety disorder, his conclusions make somewhat more sense if we realize that he is operating in an entirely different context than the people who get their feminism from the Internet and popular authors like Jessica Valenti.

    1. 16.1

      Parts of feminist academia, maybe — but my experiences in academia (in both literatre and feminist studies) seemed to be filled with third- and fourth-wave, intersectonalist, internationalist, sex-positive sorts of feminism. Maybe it varies; I was at two University of California campuses, hardly a representative sample of US, let alone international, academia.

      1. Fair enough; I shouldn’t have universalized like that. Still, I think it’s undeniably true that academia serves as a sort of last holdout for second wave feminists; they often exert an influence that they no longer really enjoy anywhere else.

  14. 17

    I think this post crystallized something that bothered me about the Scott Aaronson comment, and the many responses in the media. He made it out like this is the experience of every socially awkward male nerd. It went viral under the same pretense. And then even many of the feminist responses (see Laurie Penny, Arthur Chu) said, yes, we truly feel for you, the representative male nerd. But I’m looking at it and I don’t relate at all.

    I don’t think I have anything meaningful to say to Scott Aaronson, because instead I just get caught up in my own feelings. Like: Maybe it’s just me, because I’m not attracted to women? Maybe heterosexual men really feel that way and I’m being unfair? Or maybe they don’t feel that way, and the fact that everyone simply accepted the narrative as universal is because of nerd stereotyping? And then I’m reminded of all the ways which said nerd stereotyping hurt me–the assumption that male nerds are intensely interested in women, but just conceal it. Ugh.

    Anyway, I’m glad for this post which acknowledges Aaronson’s experiences without universalizing them.

  15. 18

    This idea of women having “absolute freedom” in some sort of sexual marketplace doesn’t actually look at what women might want: if someone models the search for sexual partners as a “marketplace,” they should take into account that approximately half the customers are female. “Absolute freedom” would at minimum mean that it would be physically, socially, and economically safe for me as a woman to proposition any woman I’m interested in. That’s not the world I live in, not the world I think any of us live in.

    Of course, the giveaway there is the reference to “dateable” women–if women had that kind of power, then by definition we could all get the dates we wanted–and then the definition of “dateable” in terms of age. Men like that don’t react well to being propositioned by hairy women in our 50s who don’t even own makeup. (That’s fine with me–I have the partners I want, and would rather be alone than with someone like him–but the point stands.)

  16. 19

    One bit of context Scott Aaronson totally fails to mention anywhere I’ve seen (though there’s been lots of discussion and I won’t claim to have read it all): he started college several years earlier than the norm (getting his bachelor’s degree, as far as I can make out, just after his 19th birthday). Naturally he wasn’t exactly surrounded by women who wanted to go out with him. Most radically accelerated students do have difficulty that way (though they may be better able to make friends at college than in a high school setting).

  17. 20

    Miri, lots of thanks! It’s one of the best pieces I’ve ever read on this topic (and I’ve read quite a few of them. Somehow this whole Aaronson thing got under my skin.)

    Just a few remarks.

    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? […] your average casual feminist blogger or columnist cannot take responsibility for fixing the problems of someone who apparently sincerely believes that speaking to a woman will get him sent to prison.

    People who claim that feminist writers’ compassion and consideration will function as a magical cure are plainly wrong – I can see no room for debate here. Feminist bloggers and columnists can’t take such a responsibility – that’s also beyond question. Nevertheless, there is some responsibility involved.

    Firstly, it’s the one you mentioned yourself: “feminist materials need to be better at specifying what to do rather than just what not to do.” You recognized this immediately and I don’t have anything to add.

    What I want to emphasize is the second type of responsibility, concerning all of us, feminists or not, bloggers, commenters, twitterers, just everybody. I think that we are indeed responsible for what we do to someone, who – like Aaronson – decides to come out and to reveal the torment, fear, and vulnerability. This becomes particularly poignant when it is our cherished worldview or activism that is presented as a factor. When we read a description of “how feminist literature might have functioned”, what do we do?

    Do we recognize – like Miri – that neurodiversity is also “an axis of privilege/oppression”? Or do we attack him instead? Are we going to treat him like a jerk whose only worry is “how to get someone to touch my cock without making me work at it” (Amanda Marcotte)? Do we compare him to Elliot Rodgers? Do we shout that women should stop attending his classes (forcing some of his female students to come out in his defence)? Are we going to say, as some twitterers did: “My reaction to Aaronson was to want to punch the whiny entitled jackass in the face” or “Be a man and stop fucking whining”?

    Aaronson received such reactions. In return he wrote:

    Does anyone still not understand the sort of paralyzing fear that I endured as a teenager, that millions of other nerds endure, and that I tried to explain in the comment—the fear that civilized people will condemn you as soon as they find out who you really are (even if the truth seems far from uncommonly bad), that your only escape is to hide or lie?

    A tremendous responsibility lies here. For me, one of the most maddening things was how many people failed badly in this respect.

    He was forced to spend years feeling horrible. If he told people how they felt, they may have blamed him for it, because victim-blaming is a key component of our society’s oppression of neuroatypical people.


    Being a feminist is *not* a remedy against this sort of victim blaming and privilege blindness; it is also *not* a universal remedy against a mindless cruelty. This is perhaps the most bitter moral to be drawn. It doesn’t mean that feminists fare worse here than other groups (after all, there are people like Miri or like Amy – this wonderful feminist commenter from Aaronson’s blog). However, it strongly suggests that they are not particularly better either.

    for the most part, I continue to feel a sort of frustration and exhaustion


    Me too, and I should probably stop commenting on this topic.

  18. 21

    I think one pink elephant standing in the room here (no, that’s not a fat shame) nobody is mentioning is Amanda Marcotte’s rant (article) and general confirmation of all of Aaronson’s fears. He actually noted this in one of his blog comments. One commenter offered the hope that she was an outside case and Aaronson said no, she isn’t, and that’s the problem. Or something to that effect. I think this cuts to the chase, not dismissing all the other good arguments here. Marcotte’s is not an outside feminist’s opinion. Reading other comments on other posts on this blog network confirms that many think in a similar vein, and probably this counts for more in the general atmosphere young male nerds endure than anything academic feminism affects. Therefore, “this is not what feminism is saying” doesn’t really cut it. In my opinion, feminism has an image problem, has had it for a while, and has it fostered by self-identifying feminists who they think that’s what feminism “has to be.” If feminism isn’t pissing people off, then it’s not really doing its job.

    One quick note about “privilege” in all this. In this context, and others like it, I’m never sure what the purpose is of doing the privilege calculus. I think Aaronson himself would readily admit to any points made about his other advantages. If it’s somehow relevant to the discussion that Aaronson was not subject to “stop and frisk” etc., I’d like to know what that relevance is. Here was a problem that was severe enough that he contemplated suicide. It only takes one bullet to kill you, and the bullet doesn’t care if you’re cis, male or able. Think of the times when we are truly in the throes of misery. That’s not the time to be talking of advantage, or even particularly of any bad things that you might have done. As “the other Scott” (Alexander) put it: telling a person like Aaronson that he was privileged, while in the depths of his misery, was like telling an anorexic that she’s a little fat. There are times when feminism really needs to grow a heart.

    1. 21.1

      @hunt

      In this context, and others like it, I’m never sure what the purpose is of doing the privilege calculus. I think Aaronson himself would readily admit to any points made about his other advantages. If it’s somehow relevant to the discussion that Aaronson was not subject to “stop and frisk” etc., I’d like to know what that relevance is. Here was a problem that was severe enough that he contemplated suicide. It only takes one bullet to kill you, and the bullet doesn’t care if you’re cis, male or able. Think of the times when we are truly in the throes of misery. That’s not the time to be talking of advantage, or even particularly of any bad things that you might have done.

      Speaking personally, I wouldn’t have brought up privilege if Aaronson hadn’t brought it up first. He claimed that because he suffered so much, the mere idea of “male privilege” seems ridiculous to him and that’s where he parts ways with feminism. I’m responding to that claim and showing why I think it’s inaccurate.

      Certainly, if a male friend came up to me and started telling me about being suicidal, that would not be the time for a discussion of privilege. But Aaronson is an academic writing a public blog post for (presumably) an audience, so I think it’s legitimate to respectfully disagree with some claim that he made.

      I didn’t tell Aaronson he was privileged while he was “in the depths of his misery”; I’m telling him now, and he’s himself stated that those issues are over for him now. Now is an appropriate time to disagree with a claim that he made, not about his own life but about the nature of privilege itself.

    2. 21.2

      “while in the depths of his misery”

      no, he was in the depths of his misery / struggling with suicidality years ago, now he’s relating what it felt like at the time. he states in the comment that he currently happily married with a child, and does not appear to be currently suicidal.

      and, as Miri writes very eloquently, feminist bloggers are not therapists and should not be expected to undertake that work. as adults, we are each responsible for our own mental health care; when we are unable to care for ourselves, we must rely on the people in our lives who care about us to help us care for ourselves. it’s unreasonable to expect that care from strangers on the internet, and it seems like thinly veiled misogyny to me to argue that female feminists in particular have that responsibility.

      1. Reading comment 171 again, Aaronson seems to switch between privilege then and now, as if he considers all his privilege as negated by his horrible experience. In that case, I agree more with the objects raised here. If he specifically means privilege as it relates to him then, then I file this under my prime object to “privilege” as a concept applied to individuals and not groups. You can have all the advantages in the world, yet that one damn thing can still bury you. To have pedants still insist that you’re profiting from intangible privilege verges on the ludicrous. But since Aaronson never makes clear what time frame he’s talking about, I’ll make a concession to the idea that he doesn’t seem to fully appreciate his position now.

        1. You can have all the advantages in the world, yet that one damn thing can still bury you. To have pedants still insist that you’re profiting from intangible privilege verges on the ludicrous.

          this is absolutely true. at any given point, any person can be buried by one damn thing.

          however, the amount of privilege someone has in the world is not erased by personal emotional/mental experiences. he still had white male privilege even while he was personally enduring a difficult time – they are not mutually exclusive. he could still walk down a street with his hood up and his hands in his pockets without fear of having an encounter with the police or getting shot. he could still walk down the street in short shorts and not fear being catcalled or groped by members of the other sex. he was still benefiting from his privilege, regardless of his internal emotional experience.

          the kind of privilege we’re talking about is not “individual privilege” – it is inferred upon groups of people based on particular attributes like skin color or sex. the attribute that provides the privilege is (most often) not a personal choice, so how can it be seen as “individual privilege”? individuals experience the benefits of privilege, but privilege in the way we’re talking about it is not “individual privilege”. that may seem like a semantic difference, but I don’t think it is.

          let’s take a person who has privilege on fewer axes than Aaronson (i.e. is less privileged), but is dealing with the exact same mental anguish that Aaronson displayed during that time in his life… PLUS this less-privileged person still deals with discrimination/micro-aggressions/etc in addition to their personal mental anguish, sometimes from other people who are also suffering mental anguish (just like Aaronson)! I could not reasonably tell the less-privileged person that the extra shittiness they feel due to discrimination/etc doesn’t matter because because they already feel shitty due to reasons unrelated to privilege. so why do you feel that Aaronson’s privilege can be erased from the story without losing any meaning or nuance?

          1. Absofuckinglutely
            Been there, done that.
            The fact that I did actually contemplate “would it really be so bad if I drove straight on into this wall instead of taking the bend” does not mean that I was not still very privileged in many ways.
            I had health insurance, I had access to mental health care, I had the economic stability to take one and a half years to basically get my life into order.
            That doesn’t mean I wasn’t desperate and at times contemplating suicide. My suffering was real. But I wasn’t suffering from additional troubles like not being able to get help, having to bring home money to pay the rent, being at a high risk of attack in the streets…

    3. m
      21.3

      “One quick note about “privilege” in all this. In this context, and others like it, I’m never sure what the purpose is of doing the privilege calculus.”

      I’ll give you one, specific to this context.

      Did you notice at all that that comment of his was derived from a discussion that originated concerning one of his senior colleagues at MIT who had been found to be harassing his female students?

      I’ll bet you didn’t.

      And what happened is that Aaronson privileged the expression of his pain in his teenage past over the problems of harassment and abridgement of educational opportunity of the female students in his institution in the present.

      He effectively derailed that discussion and made it all about his pain. And obviously, by dint of all the attention he paid to it in the midst of a professional discussion, he privileged his personal pain as more important. He used his position to make himself and his personal concerns more important than his students.

      That’s why it’s relevant.

      1. He made comment 171 in response to another commenters claims about the prevalence of nerd “ass-grabbery.” I’m not sure, are you saying he shouldn’t have responded?, on his own blog? to his own volunteered post about Lewin’s harassment? Yes, I did notice the context, since I was originally reading the post due to a link to it about Walter Lewin. According to you, once the discussion, created by Aaronson himself, strays to another subject, it means Lewin’s victims are somehow being shortchanged their due. Not following the logic.
        The critical point is not Aaronson’s privileged status now, apart from his former suffering. All Aaronson’s mentions of privilege are specifically related to how privilege applied to him during his ordeal. That’s how Scott Alexander’s commentary relates to it as well.
        By the way, Aaronson has now annotated comment 171 with some extra bolded material.

  19. 23

    “Amanda Marcotte’s rant (article) and general confirmation of all of Aaronson’s fears”

    As far as I know, nobody has accused him of rape and hauled him off to jail…so that’s at least one fear that wasn’t “confirmed”.

  20. 25

    @Miri I deeply apologize if I was condescending to you. What I was trying to get across is that a) a lot of the time we aren’t aware of history in politics and b) just trying to emphasize that it’s easy, when you’re in it, to forget that a great big honking chunk of the populace isn’t “in the know” and stuff you take as read might not be so obvious. Also, to say that the issue of dealing with with stuff you see as dead and gone is just the way things are sometimes and it’s a long standing problem, not new to your field (feminism in this case) or anyone else’s.

    Either way, I don’t disagree with what you have above, really, I was just trying to think through ways to get to people like Aaronson.

  21. 27

    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?

    The takeaway from the comment, I think, is less that feminism ought to be curing this — although since a lot of it is caused by general patriarchal attitudes in theory feminist, if we take its own claims seriously, OUGHT to be the movement fixing at least that part of it — but more that feminism at least ought not be making it WORSE, and that’s what happened for him. Presuming that shy men are at least afraid of screwing up an approach, adding extra social and institutional consequences for screwing up is not exactly going to help. And reacting to comments that this is causing a problem for them because the behaviours that they are trying not to do often seem to be the ones that would actually get them dates — because those are what people who are successful do — with Marcotte’s and Dr. Nerdlove’s lines about consent and essentially how the men who did that did that because the women really wanted them to do that only feed back into the established notion that the cool and popular people can get away with things that the nerds can’t … which isn’t going to help either.

    I don’t see the feminist lines as being invalid, per se, but I think the big point even with discussions of being compassionate is not so much about demanding that you fix these mental issues but that you do consider when posting what you say in order to make certain that you don’t make them worse. And while I don’t think it’s intentional, a lot of the responses come across as finding even THAT unreasonable … despite the fact that most of those making the comments think that it should be done for any other mental problem.

    Neurodiversity is an axis of privilege/oppression. People who suffer from mental illness or whose brains are set up differently from what is considered the “norm” (such as people with autism) lack privilege along this axis. They have difficulties because our society is not made to accommodate them. However, if these people are white, or male, or straight, or cisgender, or so on, they still benefit from the privileges afforded to people in those categories.

    The problem here is that attribute that is supposedly giving them privilege is actually making their issues WORSE in this context. It is harder to be a shy man because the old patriarchal ideal of masculinity insists that they ought to be the ones to approach, and that they also ought to have those traits. It also makes virginity a strong detriment for men, leaving them in a situation where the longer they go without overcoming the problem the WORSE it gets for them. This isn’t really the case for women. Yes, they have their own issues, but it is certainly reasonable for shy men to think that the very attribute that makes them “privileged” is contributing a great deal to their suffering, and more so than not having that attribute would. And often it seems that any attempts to address that are dismissed with the notion of privilege, the idea that all things being equal, being a man or white or whatever is still better. That doesn’t seem to hold in a number of cases.

    I think that this occurs because once we get into discussions of privilege it is often implied that you don’t need to consider the impact or the perspective of the purportedly privileged in the discussion. Feminism often seems built around this. Let me take a more reasonable — I think — position on the discussion of prostitution. While shy men may not be the common clients of prostitutes, it is a common lament among shy men that they think that they ought to use one to get sexual experience. Many of them don’t because, ironically, they’re afraid of going to prison or getting charged or publicly shamed over that. Feminism never talks about how legalizing prostitution might help some those sorts of issues, too, or how it might make using a prostitute safer and more trustworthy for the johns. Given feminist theory, I can see why they wouldn’t want to focus on that, but the risk is that they both lose an argument that might gain support for what they want to see AND that their solutions might instead make this problem worse, unintentionally.

    The harassment policies and the like are similar in that they put more consequences on approaching, and are often artificial. Men who want to follow them for whatever reason end up worse off, which includes these shy men, and it’s a detriment that doesn’t come from simply removing a benefit that they already had. That doesn’t seem a valid use of “privilege”.

  22. 28

    I think the better analogy for Aaronson’s experience would be that of a gay person raised around religion. If you were a gay boy raised in a Catholic community, would it be reasonable to say that Catholic positions on homosexuality affected your willingness to interact with other boys, particularly boys you found attractive?

    The author stated she witnessed men respond to feminist materials she claims contained no male shaming only to have those men claim they felt shamed. She argues that this is a bias on men’s part. I think this bias applies in the reverse as well. I have witnessed feminists state blatantly shaming things, things they would abhor if told to women, and yet find no issue with those comments when directed at men. Feminists accept the doctrine, so of course they do not see their positions as harmful. Similarly, if you were a Catholic who accepted the doctrine, would you agree with the boy’s assertion that your beliefs and tenets are harmful?

    I do not think the best response to someone stating they were made to feel ashamed of themselves due to a biased ideology is to accuse them of mental instability. Yet even if they do suffer from an instability, should we not consider that it resulted from the impact of the ideology?

    On a related note, it was mentioned that Aaronson should have read bell hooks. I have. I was forced to read her books repeatedly as a child (I can still quote parts of Ain’t I a Woman? and Feminist Theory off the top of my head). Those books made me feel as ashamed as the other Feminist Theory book by Josephine Donovan.

    1. 28.1

      You seem to be responding to Miri’s assertion that men perceive shame from non-shaming materials with the counterargument that, no, they aren’t non-shaming materials, because you perceived same from them.

      That is not a good counterargument.

      I wonder, however, if you have a different understanding of what shaming and non-shaming materials are. Like, a writer who says “men often do Bad Thing, not because they’re bad people, but because society is constructed in such a way that men are not typically well-equipped to understand why Thing is Bad, or even to recognize that they are poorly equipped to see the problem” would probably be classed as non-shaming by a lot of people — by me, certainly — but other people would say the “men often do Bad Thing” part makes it shaming regardless of what comes after, and indeed may not even remember the rest of it.

      When you say “I have witnessed feminists state blatantly shaming things, things they would abhor if told to women, and yet find no issue with those comments when directed at men,” what do you have in mind? I don’t need names, dates, exact quotes, I mostly just want to understand where you’re coming from*. That sort of assertion, in the absence of details, is difficult to distinguish from a view informed largely by stereotypes and preconceptions, with the actual events filtered through those.

      *I see you mentioned Schrödinger’s Rapist, but I note that you made it fit by adding elements that weren’t in the post.

  23. AMM
    29

    Frankly, the whole Scott Aaronson thing reminds me a lot of MRA rhetoric. Yes, I can believe Scott Aaronson had problems while growing up (so did I, and mine were a lot like his.) Yes, many men get a raw deal in our society.
     
    But who do they dump on? The (male) bullies who beat them up? The gender policing — mostly managed and enforced by men and especially the minority of men who run things? The sexist and classist attitudes of the male-dominated courts, police, media, corporations? Exploitation by the (male-dominated) barons of industry? A (male-dominated) society that prefers to stomp with hob-nailed boots on people who don’t fit in?
     
    No, they decide that Teh Feministz are to blame. Who are all-powerful, despite the fact that that all-powerful Feminizt cabal somehow has a lot of trouble getting even the simplest of their goals realized, like: freedom of abortion, prosecution of rape and sexual assault, equal pay for equal work, etc. Something like 1/3 to 1/2 the comments in this thread are from people claiming that Teh Feminizm has traumatized them or their buddies. Well, if a few feminist writers can do that much damage, think how much more damage corporate policies, sexist media, families, social structures, and their (male) buddies can do, given that many of those have real power over them and are in much more frequent contact with them.
     
    But to see that, these guys would have to question their loyalty to dudedom. They’d have to see that all that male pride that the Patriarchy is feeding to them is really a drug to blind them to how the male-dominated powers-that-be are the ones who are really screwing them over. That the Patriarchy is encouraging them to see women as the enemy so they won’t look at who is really using and abusing them on a daily basis.
     
    It’s like the situation of poor whites in the South. The powerful whites have inculcated them in the mystique that their whiteness and the superiority over any black person is the most important thing in the world, so instead of opposing the upper-class whites who actually run things and exploit them, they abuse and blame things on the black people, who have even less power to help or harm the poor whites. (It also makes the black people even more dependent on the protection from their high-class white “friends.” A win-win — if you’re an upper-class Southern white person.)
     
    I think it’s a waste of time for feminists to try to tailor their rhetoric or their content to soothe the egos and the boo-boos of men like that. No matter what you say or do, they’ll find some way to make it feminists’ fault. As long as they keep drinking Patriarchy’s koolaid, they’ll be stuck ignoring the real source of their pain.

    1. 29.1

      AMM, I think part of the problem here is that feminists, like religious people, value their ideology. That makes it difficult to see the ideology as harmful. It fulfilled you, therefore it must be wholly good. How could it possibly be otherwise?

      A simple analogy is to think of ideologies as no different than people: they can be different things to different people. Look at someone like Michael Jackson. The people of the world thinks he is one of the greatest entertainers ever. Yet, the boys he allegedly abused may think him a monster. I do not support child abuse, yet even if the accusations are true, I could not dislike Jackson because his music helped me survive my experiences. In this way, he is different things to different people.

      The same thing applies with ideology. Feminism may have brought you solace. It may have bolstered your self-esteem. For men like Aaronson, it did the opposite. That is likely because the ideology works from an “us versus them” dichotomy, and Aaronson has the misfortune of being one of “them.”

      My own experiences were drastically different and far more violent and destructive, which is why I wholly reject the ideology. Yet the logic is the same. My female cousin grew up in the same home, but did not experience the same violence. So for her, feminism is a good thing. For me, it is not.

      It is not a matter of blame; it is a matter of causality.

      1. AMM

        “Ideology”?? The only “ideology” I see feminists pushing with any consistency is the (still!) revolutionary concept that women are human. That maybe women deserve something like the same consideration that Aaronson and his ilk are loudly demanding for themselves. Or at least the sort of consideration that Aaronson & Co. don’t even have to think about, because they get it automatically for being white and male and, in Aaronson’s case, a big shot at a top-tier university. Obnoxious as his posting is, I seriously doubt that he’s going to have to face years of daily death and rape threats for it, the way many, maybe even most women who speak their mind in public get.

        I don’t see Aaronson even being aware of that. The stuff feminists are concerned with doesn’t even exist for him. The ways in which he and people like him make women’s life miserable don’t exist for him. All that matters is that _he_ is unhappy. That what feminists say hurt his feelings. One can’t even talk about feminists meeting him halfway, because the only point in his universe is himself.

        And if someone is going to be that self-centered, why should we waste our time trying to cater to him? If he thinks it’s unfair that feminists say mean things about “men”, which he chooses to take personally (and who knows? maybe he _should_), I think it’s unfair that we should have to turn our criticisms into soothing lullabies in order to make him comfortable.

        My own experiences were drastically different and far more violent and destructive, which is why I wholly reject the ideology.

        Are you saying that feminists were violent and destructive towards you? That feminist institutions abused you? If so, can you be more specific? If you _aren’t_ talking about feminists or feminist institutions, then you’re engaging in the sort of blanket blaming that you accuse feminists of.

        1. AMM, feminism is more than a single argument and it is problematic is ignore that.

          We do not know what threats, if any, Aaronson has received. My experience with such situations suggests he likely has received a great deal of hate mail, possibly threats, and attempts to get him fired.

          I think it is unfair to dismiss what Aaronson states. He seems keenly aware of what feminists think women experience. Also, Aaronson revealed his experiences after a long exchange with a commenter in an effort to illustrate his point. It failed because it appears feminists are unwilling to listen to him.

          As for your first two questions, the answer is yes. Regarding the third, I can be more specific, however, I will not because I do not discuss the details of my experiences with feminists. This is to avoid unnecessary conflict, particularly the propensity for people to use my experiences to dismiss and attack other male survivors. I will not have that. And to clarify, I am not opposed to feminists knowing what happened to me. I share my experiences with non-feminists in feminists’ presence. I simply will not share them with feminists directly.

    2. 29.2

      You’re imposing a double standard here. Sure men should blame the “patriarchy” (quoting it a vein as does Aaronson; patriarchy is the Satan, the cause of our troubles, whatever it may be). But then feminists should blame the patriarchy as well, as they do, sometimes, other times, they take a shortcut and just blame Men In General. Going to the root of the matter always sounds good in theory, frequently seems unsatisfying in practice.

    1. 30.1

      I think a good example is Phaedra Starling’s Schrödinger’s Rapist article. Imagine if Starling simply added the adjective “black” in front of “men.” Would anyone think her article reasonable? Would anyone be surprised that black men found her article hateful and shaming? Another example is the article featured in the trackback below. How is it productive to tell someone who was bullied that he is essentially playing the victim and does not realize how good he has it? Another example would be India feminists blocking efforts to make India’s rape law gender neutral. They succeeded, and currently Indian law does not allow women to be charged with rape, including instances of child rape.

      1. No. Because white people are NOT objectively at a great risk of being mugged by black people while women objectively ARE at a great risk of being assaulted by men.
        Do you also think that Schrödingers ATM fraudster shames harmless people who want to make a cash withdrawl?
        Do you think that Schrödingers dog unfairly stereotypes all dogs as vicious beasts?
        The opposition against Schrödingers rapist stems in my opinion from the deep seated refusal to accept that in this place and time many women experience horrible things at the hands of men.

        1. I disagree. I think the opposition comes from Starling’s argument, i.e. that all males are potential threats to females because they are male. Bad things happen to every group. Sometimes certain acts are more likely to happen to specific groups. However, to take what a handful of a total population does and use that to hold the entire population responsible is unfair, unethical, and biased.

          I think most people who support Starling’s argument realize the latter. However, because it fits with their narrative, they accept it as reasonable when it clearly is not.

    2. 30.2

      Well, I actually did give some examples in my comment, so let me make them more explicit. First, though, let me point out that I’m not talking about shaming per se, nor am I claiming that the “making worse” is intentional.

      So, let’s start with the harassing behaviours. Feminists do indeed push for policies that list behaviours as being problematic. They also push for men who do those behaviours to not be considered merely socially awkward, but to be at least not respecting women or treating them as more than sexual objects if they do them. Fine. Socially awkward men then try to avoid doing them, and try to do the things that the strict definition of the rules says are okay. But those are artificial; no one actually does them. So doing that makes them seem odd, weird, and creepy. On the other hand, people who do the things that you are not supposed to do tend to get good receptions. When this is pointed out, many feminists — Marcotte and Dr. Nerdlove are prime examples — say that the difference is that they have CONSENT, which boils down to the idea that the women really want THOSE men to do those things to them, which then simply supports the idea that you can get away with these “disrespectful” and “sexist” actions if you’re cool, popular, or attractive … and when THAT’s brought up, the response is usually that those men are just jealous.

      Which is added to by the common response that men who are in this situation aren’t men who deserve to get a relationship anyway; they aren’t really trying to respect women even if they actually are.

      Also, policies themselves. Since socially awkward men have problems reading signals, giving an explicit list of things that are generally okay and generally problematic is a godsend for them. Except that because they are artificial, no one will actually do them. For example, there were discussions over not hugging anyone without permission, but then people protested that no one will actually ask “Can I hug you?” in general, and about how awkward that would be, and so there was a response that, no, that wasn’t what was meant, but that you could make a more passive approach and read the signals to see a hug was acceptable. Affirmative consent pretty much worked its way back to that as well. Which means, then, that despite having policies that reduce the need to read signals … they still have to read signals. Except that as noted above now if they read them wrong they’ll be held to be sexist for the action itself, intent be damned. So, either get it right or be treated as more than someone who is a little odd or creepy, but as someone who is sexist and objectifying and just a bad person because of it.

      Also, how privilege is typically used means that we don’t examine how being part of that “privileged” grouping can negatively impact their lives. At best this is acknowledged and it is argued that the detriments aren’t as bad as those of others, and at worst it is ignored completely. But as I said for shy men being male and the patriarchal expectations are a big part of what causes their issues, and the way we look at privilege means that we often don’t consider that when positing solutions, and assume and argue that people who point out the impact of the policies on their lives that they just want to “preserve their privilege”, meaning that they want to maintain an advantage … when many of them are more concerned about either losing an advantage that offset a major disadvantage, or about the fact that they didn’t have that advantage and so aren’t losing anything, but are instead just being pushed further down in at least that area.

      The main one is that feminism tends to look at things from the female perspective, when assessing problems and proposing solutions. Feminism often assumes that the patriarchal system properly represents the needs and desires and perspective of men, so that then that perspective doesn’t need to be investigated; instead, we need to highlight the suppressed perspective of women (and minorities in general). Except that for many/most men — and shy men in particular — those attitudes are not what they need and want, but want patriarchal society SAYS they need and want. It in no way reflects their perspective. As such, by assuming that they know the perspectives of men and/or that they need to focus on the perspectives of women, they often assess problems and try to solve them in a way that assumes what the perspective of men is and gets it particularly wrong, and often attempts to demonstrate that are dismissed by “What about the mens?” type arguments.

      The problem with all of this is that there are indeed times when all of these feminist ideas that make things harder are right and reasonable. Sometimes an argument of “What about the mens?” really IS just a derailment. So I’m not saying that it’s totally unreasonable, just that it gets over-applied and there doesn’t seem to be too many ways to hash out real, reasonable debates on these issues, which ends up, as I said, making a lot of these problems worse.

      1. —-Which means, then, that despite having policies that reduce the need to read signals … they still have to read signals.—

        Oh teh noes! How dare we expect those poor little dears to put forth a little effort!

        —Since socially awkward men have problems reading signals, giving an explicit list of things that are generally okay and generally problematic is a godsend for them. Except that because they are artificial, no one will actually do them.—

        Except for all the folks who do. One of my dear friends is not just ‘socially awkward’ (aka – doesn’t want to learn social skills) but on the spectrum (has actual trouble learning social skills) and guess what? He still learned social skills. It took more conscious effort and he made a few mistakes along the way, but he learned. It’s possible. You just have to actually put forth effort instead of sitting around whining because nubile maidens aren’t bringing to you on a silver platter.

        1. Oh teh noes! How dare we expect those poor little dears to put forth a little effort!

          Since the point was about making things HARDER for them, putting things in place that seem to make things easier for them but that actually don’t do that while adding stronger consequences for screwing up seems to do that in my view. How about yours?

          Except for all the folks who do. One of my dear friends is not just ‘socially awkward’ (aka – doesn’t want to learn social skills) but on the spectrum (has actual trouble learning social skills) and guess what? He still learned social skills. It took more conscious effort and he made a few mistakes along the way, but he learned. It’s possible. You just have to actually put forth effort instead of sitting around whining because nubile maidens aren’t bringing to you on a silver platter.

          Except the folks who do what? Follow the rules? Normal social interactions don’t. And again you miss the point that the rules make making mistakes LESS FORGIVABLE, which does indeed make it HARDER to learn by making mistakes. And I never said that they couldn’t or ought not learn, just that often the policies make that harder … which, I note, is something you didn’t address at all in your response.

          1. One of my dear friends is not just ‘socially awkward’ (aka – doesn’t want to learn social skills) but on the spectrum (has actual trouble learning social skills)

            Also, people with Social Anxiety Disorder would not be on the Autistic Spectrum (which is what I’m presuming you’re referring to here) and yet would have difficulty learning social skills if for no other reason than they limit their social interactions, making them harder to learn by practice. Claiming that those just wouldn’t want to learn social skills is problematic, don’t you think?

            The whole thrust here is that while we do need to recognize that, to use an analogy, these people do need to learn to swim, it might be nice if people — like you, it seems — would stop dunking them every time they try.

          2. You know, there’s a problem here with learning by mistakes. Those “mistakes” necessarily include violating the boundaries of other people, causing them harm. That’s why the rules are there, they want to make sure people can have a good time without having to fear that particular kind of harm. It’s unfair to expect that somebody should say “wow, they just made me completely uncomfortable and I’m actually a little shaken and would like to withdraw from the event for a while now, but it’s OK, I’m glad I provided a learning opportunity.”
            People are not your training ground.

          3. Sure, but WithinThisMind explicitly said that their friend learned at least while making mistakes. If we don’t allow for mistakes, then that’s not an option for people in that situation to learn social skills. So if we want to have a world where we address the harms you mention AND ensure that people who don’t learn social skills just naturally have a way to learn social skills, how do we go about that?

            I don’t have an answer, but do think that we need to discuss that, and not dismiss the concerns with trite statements like “People are not your training ground”.

          4. —-Except the folks who do what? Follow the rules? Normal social interactions don’t. —

            Yes, actually, they do. Which is why my friend was able to learn these ‘rules’. And if you were actually paying attention, you’ll find a lot of feminists have actually gone out of their way to explain some of these rules.

            Here is a short list –

            When a person steps back from you, don’t step forward to close the distance.
            If a person turns away or responds with short, closed answers, that is a sign they aren’t interested in the conversation and you should politely excuse yourself and go find someone who might be interested
            Don’t interrupt, whether it a conversation or activity.
            If the other person declines to make eye contact, they are probably not interested in talking with you

            And here is the big one you need to learn. Ready?

            Your desire to get laid does not trump my desire to be left alone, my safety concerns, my need to get through the day’s tasks, or my personal boundaries.

            — Claiming that those just wouldn’t want to learn social skills is problematic, don’t you think?—

            You may consider it problematic, but it is also true. For some people, learning to juggle comes easily and they can keep a dozen balls in the air. For some folks, it’s a lot more difficult and requires they put in a lot more effort.

            —The whole thrust here is that while we do need to recognize that, to use an analogy, these people do need to learn to swim, it might be nice if people — like you, it seems — would stop dunking them every time they try.—

            That’s a shitty analogy, and you know it.

            If you want to use ‘learning to swim’ as an analogy, what you are actually saying is this:

            Some people need to learn how to swim, you should be willing to let them use you as a flotation device no matter how much they flail about or even endanger you in the water.

            —-So if we want to have a world where we address the harms you mention AND ensure that people who don’t learn social skills just naturally have a way to learn social skills, how do we go about that?—

            You could try the method my friend used. It consisted of two steps. Ready?

            Shut up.
            Listen.

          5. When a person steps back from you, don’t step forward to close the distance.
            If a person turns away or responds with short, closed answers, that is a sign they aren’t interested in the conversation and you should politely excuse yourself and go find someone who might be interested
            Don’t interrupt, whether it a conversation or activity.
            If the other person declines to make eye contact, they are probably not interested in talking with you

            While some are potentially debatable (most conversations rely on interruptions, and entering a conversation arguably does, and people who are shy don’t make eye contact despite being interested), these are good. What do they have to do with harassment, or anything that we’d want to enforce through such policies, or sexism in general?

            Your desire to get laid does not trump my desire to be left alone, my safety concerns, my need to get through the day’s tasks, or my personal boundaries.

            I’ve already learned that. So have people like Aaronson. So this seems to be a lesson that we don’t need to learn … and thus insisting that we need to learn it seem to be more of an ideological statement than a practical one.

            You may consider it problematic, but it is also true. For some people, learning to juggle comes easily and they can keep a dozen balls in the air. For some folks, it’s a lot more difficult and requires they put in a lot more effort.

            So let’s not get them juggling live hand grenades or else they can’t try juggling at all.

            That’s a shitty analogy, and you know it.

            No, it’s a perfectly valid analogy from the perspective of the shy guys who are intimidated by social conditions in the first place, are called losers for not approaching and losers when they do and fail, and now have to face hostile reactions for innocent mistakes.

            Some people need to learn how to swim, you should be willing to let them use you as a flotation device no matter how much they flail about or even endanger you in the water.

            No, these people will only use you as a flotation device to keep from drowning. Give them a flotation device, and they won’t use you.

            And some of them will choose to drown rather THAN use you … and the only reaction for many people is to sneer at them for not learning to swim before they drowned.

            You could try the method my friend used. It consisted of two steps. Ready?
            Shut up.
            Listen.

            I do. But listening does not require that I not point out things that you might be missing.

            And you might want to think seriously about how well you are shutting up and listening to the concerns of shy men as presented by people like Aaronson, myself, and others. It is not legitimate to demand that people listen to you if you are not willing to listen to them.

          6. —-What do they have to do with harassment, or anything that we’d want to enforce through such policies, or sexism in general?—

            That is not an honest question. Don’t JAQoff.

            —-I’ve already learned that.—

            No, clearly from your posts, you haven’t.

            —-So let’s not get them juggling live hand grenades or else they can’t try juggling at all.—

            Yes, because women will like, totally kill you if you fumble a little bit. Them bitches be crazy, imirite?

            —-No, it’s a perfectly valid analogy from the perspective of the shy guys who are intimidated by social conditions in the first place, are called losers for not approaching and losers when they do and fail, and now have to face hostile reactions for innocent mistakes.—

            Bullshit.

            Especially this part:

            —- now have to face hostile reactions for innocent mistakes.—

            It’s not ‘innocent mistakes’. That’s bullshit. Rather than retype all the reasons it’s bullshit, I’m just going to link you here – https://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/mythcommunication-its-not-that-they-dont-understand-they-just-dont-like-the-answer/

            —-No, these people will only use you as a flotation device to keep from drowning. Give them a flotation device, and they won’t use you.—

            And here is the other reason it’s a shitty analogy – nobody, in the entire whole of creation, has ever died from not getting laid.

            —-And you might want to think seriously about how well you are shutting up and listening to the concerns of shy men as presented by people like Aaronson, myself, and others. It is not legitimate to demand that people listen to you if you are not willing to listen to them.—

            As soon as you have a legitimate concern that does not violate this rule:

            Your desire to get laid does not trump my desire to be left alone, my safety concerns, my need to get through the day’s tasks, or my personal boundaries.

            I’ll happily listen to it.

            I’m waiting….

        2. Running out of replies…

          So if we want to have a world where we address the harms you mention AND ensure that people who don’t learn social skills just naturally have a way to learn social skills, how do we go about that?

          Therapeutic teaching.
          We have therapy for people who don’t pick up pronounciation like able bodied people do, so why not have “social interaction therapy*” for people who don’t pick up social skills? Why should our reaction to one set of disabilities be totally different than our reaction to other sets of disabilities?
          *Ehm, actually, this already exists, though it’s not wide spread enough.

          1. Sure, but this still runs into an issue. Taking your pronunciation therapy example, people who are in it or who have even completed it might still have issues with learning pronunciation, and with pronouncing things wrong. It won’t help them if when they do make mistakes with pronunciation people generally laugh at them over that, so what we’d want to do in general is encourage people to gently correct them instead. In short, to at least as a default treat them as making a simple mistake, But this can be done because a) it usually is, b) there’s no reason for anyone to hide behind that to allow them to continue deliberately mispronouncing words and c) no one is generally hurt by mispronouncing a word. Also, there is generally a small range of acceptable pronunciations that don’t usually change depending on who you’re talking to.

            So with social skills we have the double whammy that mistakes might cause more harm to the other person, but also that it’s harder to determine what might cause that harm before you do it, which even makes therapy a lot harder. This is probably a start, but it will only get off the ground if we stop treating people who aren’t great at social skills as loser and instead as people that we need to help, and do try to look at things from their perspective as well … even and especially those who don’t have those issues themselves, which right now society in general doesn’t seem to be doing.

      2. Also, there was this one woman. Rebecca Watson. She, as part of a longer video, offered a piece of advice to young men on a particular tactic that is ineffective.

        Do you recall what happened to her because of that?

        1. I was actually avoiding bringing that up, because while the advice was reasonable, she didn’t JUST do that; she accused the person of sexualizing her from the start, and the whole thing didn’t explode until she responded to Stef McGraw and the conversation pretty much exploded from there to strong accusations of sexism and harassment in general.

          So it wasn’t just about simple advice from the start. But there’s a lot of baggage on all sides over that, making it a bad example because, as I said, it’s not as simple as it sounds.

          1. She had no reason to think that he actually sexualized her … and even then, by mixing in that notion it takes it from a simple case of good advice into a whole different realm of politics and feminist philosophy. Thus, she didn’t just give advice. She made a philosophical/political statement that most people now seem to insist really was just advice.

        2. No. No reason at all. He only ignored everything she said, decided to try getting her alone, and giving her what was clearly a sexual invitation. Why ever could she possible think he was sexualizing her?

          —- Thus, she didn’t just give advice. —-

          Bullshit.

      3. On the other hand, people who do the things that you are not supposed to do tend to get good receptions. When this is pointed out, many feminists — Marcotte and Dr. Nerdlove are prime examples — say that the difference is that they have CONSENT, which boils down to the idea that the women really want THOSE men to do those things to them, which then simply supports the idea that you can get away with these “disrespectful” and “sexist” actions if you’re cool, popular, or attractive … and when THAT’s brought up, the response is usually that those men are just jealous.

        You know, this is a gross mischaracterization of consent. Real consent needs to be established before the action. Everything else lies in that area in which somebody might* be ok with something, but where you might equally well end up with harassing or even assaulting them.
        *Let’s say it: Women ARE taught to define themselves via male attention. So when some guy who is seen as “cool”, somebody whose attention means validation does something, many women will react in a positive way. No matter if she actually likes it or not.
        And no matter who the guy is, whether he’s “desirable” or not, many women will still react nicely and pleasantly.
        First of all, have you ever had your ass or your tits groped in public by a perfect stranger? No?
        I have. While you’d think the first reaction would be yelling “you sexist pig keep your hands to yourself and stop sexually assaulting women”, that’s not what women typically do.
        First of all, there’s shock. Somebody just violated all the rules of social engagement, all the rules on which we run our lives. Somebody has just violated YOU. Until your brain registers all this, time has passed.
        Second, we’re trained to be non-confrontational. Appease people. Your brain is still dealing with the violation, so your auto-pilot kicks in.
        Thirdly, if we make a fuss, we’re the baddies. Probably even Brad Pitt* would scream “you wouldn’t have minded if I were George Clooney”. And being turned into the sex-negative grumpy spoilsport evil feminist is the best case scenario. Women get regularly beaten and even killed for such things. Yep, Schrödingers violent guy. We have no way to know if he’ll just leave us alone, start making a big deal or beat us to crap until we react. Are men who react with even more violence to our objections a rare extreme? Sure, but until the day some neon sign appears over their heads to tell us who they are #yesallmen benefit from their violence and allows them to get away with such behaviour. Maybe the she nerds are seen as less dangerous, maybe that’s why women are more comfortable in turning them down.

        *Just to use two guys we’re typically told we’d be ok with doing all kinds of stuff to us.

        1. You know, this is a gross mischaracterization of consent. Real consent needs to be established before the action.

          Actually, no, since it’s not a characterization of consent at all. I’m not criticizing the notion of consent. I’m criticizing the response that fires that off having no idea what the situation is or if that consent was even there. It’s a blanket response, not a thought out one. It isn’t even usually an example of “Maybe they knew each other well or had been flirting before and so he knew that that was okay”, but just a “He did it with consent” … even if they have no reason to think that he did.

          I do, BTW, at least semi-understand the problems that you describe in the latter part. I definitely think we need to fix that as well. But we need to have solutions that take all perspectives into account. Since you concede that women might indeed not be reacting to strong violations because of those factors, you also should be able to concede that to someone not privy to her thoughts it may well look like acceptance … and then you add in the point that some women do indeed accept for bad reasons and you can see that the impression of “The behaviours you tell me not to do succeed” is not inaccurate. Just not good, on all sides.

  24. 31

    Trying reading Phaedra Starling’s Schrödinger’s Rapist article as if you are a woman. The article is not saying that all men are rapists. The problem is, what does a rapist look like? A rapist can look like anyone, so, if you don’t know someone, you take more precautions.
    If you read an article by a African American about racism, do you feel shame? If you don’t feel shame, then why are feminist articles different?
    In terms of Aaronson, writers are not blaming him for being a victim but for lacking empathy for other victims. It is about talking about your own struggles but also acknowledging the advantages you have. It is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes sometimes. No one who is reasonable is telling Aaronson to stop complaining about his own struggles

    1. 31.1

      Karmacat, I read Starling’s article as a man and a male survivor of abuse by both sexes. You are correct that the article do not state that all men are rapists; it states all males, regardless of age, are potential rapists until proven otherwise. To use my prior point: imagine if Starling stated that all black men are potential rapists until proven otherwise. Rather, let us make it more current: imagine Starling stated that all black males are potentially violent until proven otherwise. Imagine that she argued that she knew most black males were not violent and knew her argument was logically unsound, but because a handful of the black male population commits violence, it is reasonable for people to assume all black males are potentially violent. Is this argument reasonable?

      Of course it is not. One could make it more current and replace “men” with “Muslims” and it would still be unreasonable and bigoted. Simply because one fears something does not mean the fear is justified.

      As for your question, if someone claimed that due to my race I am inherently dangerous and untrustworthy, I would consider that unreasonable and bigoted as well.

      I agree that no one who is reasonable is telling Aaronson to stop complaining about his own struggles. That response appears to come solely from one particular group who unreasonably thinks Aaronson has an obligation to downplay his own experiences on the presumption that another group has it “worse.” I think that is at best dismissive.

  25. 32

    Something more to the general question of what to do.
    Miri, you mention shaming around sexuality in general and I want to add to that (yes, I just read about it…)
    Stories make up a huge part of how we understand the world. Teens look for guidance, for how the world works in stories and Lydia Kokkola makes the point that in current YA literature sexuality is hardly ever portrayed in realistic, positive ways. It’s usually used as an element of a problem novel. Even when you leave out those books that deal with sexual assault, there is lots of myth and fear. The first penetrative intercourse gets turned into a life-changing event.
    Hands up if you can clearly divide your life into a before and an after (assuming consent). Sex is always seen as dangerous. It will add to the heartbreak if the relationship ends, there’s STIs, there’s unwanted pregnancy, abortion, teenage motherhood. Together with not helpful advice to “wait until you’re ready!” without any indicators what “ready” might mean. (But moooooom, I’m horny now!)
    So yes, we need to change the discussion about sex and sexuality. We need to stop making it The Thing and portray it as what it is for most people: a fun activity in which they engage. Just like driving a car here’s some saftey rules. No loud screams after 10pm.

  26. 33

    And again you miss the point that the rules make making mistakes LESS FORGIVABLE, which does indeed make it HARDER to learn by making mistakes.

    Do they? To what extent? “Don’t grope people without consent” doesn’t necessitate that we take people out back and shoot them for it. Indeed, as a rule, it doesn’t necessitate anything. We can look at the intent, ignorance, or whatever other mitigating factor you feel should be taken into account and come to our own conclusion on how to respond.

    These rules do eliminate being able to do anything with impunity. So sure, it’s harder to learn because it means we can’t treat people like toys. We need to actually consider their feelings first. What’s the alternative? So no, I will not simply “allow mistakes.”

    1. 33.1

      By saying that you won’t “allow mistakes”, you pretty much say that if someone does make a genuine mistake it won’t be tolerated, whatever punishment or consequences you want to apply. Also note that looking at intent and ignorance is what people OPPOSING the policies often want, because the policies often don’t cover that. Heck, the idea that intent is not magic immediately trumps the idea that intent should be considered here.

      Let’s get down to brass tacks here. I don’t care for your example because groping without consent is something that we pretty much already know the intent for — ie it has to be a problem — unless there are cultural differences, so it’s taking a very extreme example. What about, say, a hug without making it explicit first? How do you want to handle that, taking it into account? Or a touch on the arm? If these bother someone and make them uncomfortable, how are you going to handle taking intent and ignorance into account while still insisting that you are not going to “allow mistakes”?

      Look, I don’t think that people should be able to do anything with impunity. I do think that we can have rules. I do think that we can judge whether the rules are broken on the basis of intent and ignorance as well. And I think that we should ideally have to enforce official rules rarely, and the list of absolutely prohibited things should be rather short and pretty obvious. In general, we probably agree, but adding on stronger consequences and not allowing or tolerating mistakes makes the problem worse. You seem to want to do both, or else you want to retreat to allowing or tolerating mistakes while insisting that you aren’t. Which is it?

      1. —-you pretty much say that if someone does make a genuine mistake it won’t be tolerated, whatever punishment or consequences you want to apply.—

        Should I tolerate someone’s hand on my breast, even if it ‘slipped’ or they ‘misread the signal’?

        —- What about, say, a hug without making it explicit first? —

        What is the difference between ‘hugging’ and ‘grabbing someone in a hold around their midsection’ other than perception?

        — If these bother someone and make them uncomfortable, how are you going to handle taking intent and ignorance into account while still insisting that you are not going to “allow mistakes”? —

        http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/apology?s=t

        If they do not intend to make me uncomfortable and were simply ignorant, they would have no problem apologizing without trying to pin the blame on me. And yet, that so rarely happens.

        1. There seems to be a false dichotomy in place here: either we hold a zero tolerance policy where we don’t allow for mistakes or anything and deal with everything severely, or else we can’t in any way oppose harassment. That’s not the case. We can easily, for example, put in an absolute prohibition against groping without putting in absolute prohibitions against someone asking someone out for coffee, or flirting, or hugging.

          If they do not intend to make me uncomfortable and were simply ignorant, they would have no problem apologizing without trying to pin the blame on me. And yet, that so rarely happens.

          The guys I’m talking about are the ones who WOULD apologize, as long as you don’t accuse them of being sexist, misogynistic, objectifying, sexualizing perverts when you point out that they made you uncomfortable. For whatever reason, they’re often afraid to even APPROACH for fear of making someone uncomfortable. One of my main thrusts is to not let fighting those who are legitimately assholes colour how we treat people who are not assholes.

          1. The guys I’m talking about are the ones who WOULD apologize, as long as you don’t accuse them of being sexist, misogynistic, objectifying, sexualizing perverts when you point out that they made you uncomfortable

            if someone has acted/spoken in a sexist/misogynistic/objectifying way, what is so wrong with telling them that? your argument seems to imply that calling someone misogynistic is just as negative as being misogynistic. I understand that Aaronson may perceive it that way, but as Miri says, ”compassion or consideration could not [have] magically fixed such a deeply layered set of deeply irrational beliefs.”

            clearly there is a difference between “you are a misogynist” vs “your statement is misogynistic” – but with strangers on the internet, how should I know/care which is more accurate? where is the personal responsibility of the person making the statements and then taking umbrage at how it was criticized? if they are upset about it, they can talk to their friends, therapist, etc – they do not need to process their own hurt feelings with the person they made uncomfortable. someone who chooses to focus on their own hurt feelings re: the way (valid) criticism was delivered OVER the fact that their comments/actions made another person feel unsafe strikes me as someone who’s a shitty ally.

      2. —-There seems to be a false dichotomy in place here: either we hold a zero tolerance policy where we don’t allow for mistakes or anything and deal with everything severely, or else we can’t in any way oppose harassment. —

        Only if you are trying as hard as you can to be intellectually dishonest.

        —-The guys I’m talking about are the ones who WOULD apologize, as long as you don’t accuse them of being sexist, misogynistic, objectifying, sexualizing perverts when you point out that they made you uncomfortable. —

        ::::rolls eyes:::: No, how dare we point out that misogynistic behavior is misogynistic. We might hurt the feelings of the poor little dears. How dare we point out that we are being objectified and it’s annoying. Don’t we know that calling someone racist is WORSE than being a racist?

        Hint – The reason the behavior makes us uncomfortable is that it is sexist, misogynistic, objectifying, sexualizing, and on occasion full on perverted.

        —-For whatever reason, they’re often afraid to even APPROACH for fear of making someone uncomfortable. —

        You know what? All your blathering has done is convince me this is a GOOD thing. I’d rather they be afraid to approach me than have to worry about their poor widdle feelings being hurt by my failing to respond by falling over and spreading my legs for them.

        I’d rather they be afraid to approach me than have to spend hours explaining to the willfully ignorant why I don’t like being cat-called when I’ve got shit to do.

  27. 34

    Regarding the comment 29 discussion: Argh, this debate again. It keeps happening, never helps, and mostly just leaves a ton of cringeworthy posts lying around.

    Can setting up new social norms and increasing the effective penalty for coming off terribly harm those who have disabilities that interfere with socializing? Yes. Is it reasonable to dismiss concerns about this with stuff about having an autistic friend who manages to cope? Not really. Shockingly enough, the spectrum is a spectrum. Is depending on social interaction therapy a good strategy? It can help, but there has been far too much in the way of social skill-focused therapy that has left people in worse shape for me to feel fully comfortable using it as the overall solution.

    But does the collateral damage outweigh the good the social norm adjustment and increased penalization does? It doesn’t even come close, and that’s the key point. What’s being pushed for isn’t perfect, but it’s the best of a set of flawed choices. Maybe a better idea will come eventually, but for now, let’s go with the best we have. I can handle the damage it deals to me.

    1. 34.1

      —- Is it reasonable to dismiss concerns about this with stuff about having an autistic friend who manages to cope? Not really. —-

      Is it reasonable to expect that I go through life tolerating cat calls, being stalked, being groped, being repeatedly hit on despite making it clear I am uninterested, etc… just because some people claim they are incapable of learning social skills? FUCK NO.

  28. 35

    By saying that you won’t “allow mistakes”, you pretty much say that if someone does make a genuine mistake it won’t be tolerated, whatever punishment or consequences you want to apply.

    Define “tolerated.” I expect that one takes responsibility for their actions, mistake or not. I expect that one works to make sure such a mistake doesn’t happen again. One does not get off scot free. If that is your definition of “not tolerated” than yes, I do not tolerate mistakes.

    In general, we probably agree, but adding on stronger consequences and not allowing or tolerating mistakes makes the problem worse.

    Yes in a very trivial “you can’t use people as playthings” way. If that is sufficient to keep you from interacting at all, I suggest that learning in situ is a bad idea. Otherwise, all it means is that your mistakes are accounted for, and not simply brushed off. Which, quite frankly, is identical to nearly every single system of judgement. The cops might let you off if you just made a driving mistake, but you don’t get “Oh, it was a mistake, carry on then.” If you forget to pay at the store, they’ll probably let you come back in and pay for it. They don’t just say, “Oh, you just made a mistake. Go on ahead.” Those mistakes are addressed and corrected. They are not simply allowed to happen without consequence. And what’s more is that those mistakes can count against you in the future. Someone with a habit of forgetting to pay may well be given less leeway. Someone with a record of driving mistakes, innocent or not, is liable to get the book thrown at them.

    Mistakes, innocent or not, should carry potential consequences. Otherwise they are just an excuse to hide behind with impunity.

    1. 35.1

      Define “tolerated.” I expect that one takes responsibility for their actions, mistake or not. I expect that one works to make sure such a mistake doesn’t happen again. One does not get off scot free. If that is your definition of “not tolerated” than yes, I do not tolerate mistakes.

      Well, I kinda meant it as a slightly weaker form of “don’t allow”, the term you’re using, so probably the better question to ask is what you mean when you say that you “don’t allow” mistakes. But let me give you a bit of an idea just as a starting point: To me, tolerating mistakes means that when you at least have good reason to think that someone is making an honest mistake you don’t add on any sort of punitive consequences to them. So, you don’t take actions to “teach them a lesson”, and you don’t lump them in in any way with people who know aren’t making honest mistakes. You point out their mistake, and you allow the natural consequences of their actions, sure, but you don’t in any way punish them for honestly screwing up. I’d take that further and argue that you don’t do those things unless you have good reason to think that they aren’t just making an honest mistake … and one good reason is that they keep doing that action even though they have been corrected on it.

      Essentially, my view is that you allow people to make mistakes without punishment, and you work to help them learn how to avoid making mistakes in the future.

      Which, then, is a good point to look at your examples. Even in the traffic case, if someone did make an honest mistake you might indeed — and likely ought — to avoid punishment in the form of a ticket for it. If the person clearly knows what they did wrong and just made a legitimate error, and you believe that they are willing to or have already corrected the mistake, there’s nothing more that needs to be done . No admonishment. No shaming. No punishment.

      Taking the store example, I would expect the person to politely remind them that they hadn’t paid yet, and then the person will come back and pay, and then everything will work out. Someone who at the start yells “Hey, thief! Your’e trying to get that without paying, you freeloading thief!” is NOT going to get a good reception, even though the person likely will pay. They will rightly and angrily protest that they weren’t trying to steal anything and just made a mistake, and that there was no call for that kind of reaction. While the storekeeper may have enough people trying to steal from them to make that reaction not unexpected, it’s over the top … and not one that should be encouraged.

      So, what consequences do you want people who make mistakes in socializing to suffer, in the name of not allowing mistakes?

  29. 36

    I like your posts on this.
    .
    I had experiences similar to Aaronsons, not as bad, though. This comment is very self-centered. No one has to soothe my feelings or “understand” me emotionally and I’m not trying to minimize privilege. Some commenters here and elsewhere don’t seem to think experiences like that are possible. The purpose is to give an example.
    .

    I had no meaningful connections with anyone. The problem wasn’t feminism, but toxic masculinity growing up. The culture (of boys) in my school was not democratic. I’d say values were fascist. You cannot tell someone their comment really hurt. Hurting is the point. It is dangerous to show weakness or be vulnerable. At the time I thought pupils in school were like inmates in prison. I wasn’t insane and I still had enormous trouble in contact with girls.
    .

    In school there were shy people and introverts. There were those more in the middle, then extroverts. Then there were aggressive sociopaths that thrived on conflict, that would put their face up right next to yours and scream abuse. Popular, high status people could do just about anything. Low ranking people was always wrong, trapped in double binds. Anything they did or didn’t do was construed as proof they were lame and disgusting. I wished to find rules of behaviour that could get me out of the negative feedback. Today I think there were no such rules.
    .

    There were shy girls. Maybe for some of them, school was a living nightmare. There were also girls that were not the least shy. Some had boyfriends several years older and a wide social net. Some enjoyed provoking me, asking if I’d go to bed with them, only to ridicule me the next moment. Some asked about my genitals and discussed their gyno appointments. This didn’t feel good.
    .

    Some commenter gave the suggestion to interact with girls just as with the boys. That would have been punching them in the arm, insulting them while discussing sports. I wouldn’t have wanted that. There were no good models to follow. I didn’t see good, healthy relationships or interactions around me. What would I look for? I didn’t see

    consensual snogging, flirting, making out, hand holding and having SOs

    as someone commented. When someone tried to be nice to me it felt like a trap. All human interaction looked abusive. I wanted as little part in it as possible and I was desperate for sex.
    .

    Interaction with women would have been easier, had I been less horny. I really couldn’t stand it, had a TMI just by sitting next to a girl in class. Any girl would do, all women are sexy. I was convinced all of them found me boring, creepy and dangerous. I wasn’t afraid of sex. Social interaction, especially those surrounding sex, was highly unpleasant. I wanted no strings attached sex for sex’s sake, not for status, not to be hurtful. When I avoided others, I saw myself as compassionate, as I wasn’t inflicting my awful presence on them. I didn’t want anyone to know things about me. I wanted to be anonymous. It was worse than fear of rejection. I was definitely concerned that a girl could accuse me of something, spread rumours about me. I still think that was a nonzero risk. One just has to take it.
    .

    It wasn’t just isolated bad events. It was a constant pressure. I could never relax, feel happy, energetic and at ease. I didn’t need girls to manage my emotions as I didn’t think emotions existed. They were like tropes in fiction, a thing you were supposed to fake to be polite around adults. A hostile unhealthy environment can manifest itself as mental health problems in more sensitive people. It isn’t enough just to fix that one person that carries the symptom. The whole culture is sick.
    .

    Feminism has for example helped me see patterns in my life and in society. I can understand if Aaronson appreciates not only radical feminism, but even Dworkin, the so called end boss of feminism. To me as a teen, human interaction felt more or less like abuse. From there it’s not a big step to see male/female sexual interaction as inherently abusive. IBTP is thought-provoking and easy to like. The language is awesome and she linked your blog, right?
    .

    Like Aaronson, I don’t want to be hurtful or abusive in contact with women, so that’s one reason I read feminist texts. Sometimes it isn’t good for my self image. Sometimes, it’s a mystery. For example: Am I objectifying if I’m attracted to a woman? It’s not that easy to tell. I could interpret “objectify” as something unescapable I always do or as something I have never done. It is her body that attracts me. Am I always oppressive? Do I feel entitled to sex just because I want sex? Yes of course “women are people”, but that is so self evident to me that I start to doubt myself. Such texts aren’t intended to be guides for shy men.

  30. 37

    Sorry for coming in two days late, but this whole thing with Scott Aaronson has been bugging me. I can only speak from my own experience, but I was sort of similar to Scott in some ways, at least through grade school. That crippling social fear that he outlined is something I still deal with, really.

    When it came to feminism, though, I just don’t understand where he got that. Maybe it’s because of the people who put me on the path to feminism, but I have honestly never gotten the impression that feminism has somehow ever shamed any man for being a man. I can even see the point in what Dworkin was saying about the intersection of patriarchy and violence and heterosexuality (I don’t think she was calling all men rapists, but it’s possible I haven’t read enough of her to know). Even when it comes to cases like witchwind (PZ highlighted her a while back), I can honestly say that, while I certainly don’t feel welcome at her blog, and would probably avoid engaging with her, I’m much quicker to assume trauma in her past then simple outright “misandry”.

    I didn’t read Marcotte’s piece on Aaronson. I find that I disagree with her sometimes, and really enjoy what she has to say at other times. But that’s really all I can say about that.

    When I first read Aaronson’s comment, my immediate reaction was to ask him what he thought of the Men’s Rights Movement, because I’ve seen similar complaints before highlighted at We Hunted the Mammoth (I never commented on Aaronson’s blog or site, so no, I did not ask him). That sense of entitlement (that the douchebag Gurney up above encapsulated so fucking well) seemed to be swimming just underneath Aaronson’s comments.

    So I have to wonder where it comes from. For me, feminism comes in line with my ability to be a bit more social, although I will grant that it’s at least partly because it’s a good feeling when you find yourself surrounded by people who actually want to talk about the things you want to talk about, and I tend to enjoy socio-political discussions, and I find a lot of that amongst… well… feminists (or, to be more specific, I found a lot of that at the Women in Secularism conferences, so it really could be that specifically). But I can honestly say I’ve never read anything that made me feel shame for being a man.

    I have often felt sorry, yes. I have often cried seeing, in real time, how my privilege as a man can hurt people who are not men (hashtags like #YesAllWomen, for example). But never ashamed. I’ve never felt bad for being a male. So when I read a comment like Aaronson’s, I can honestly say that I just don’t get it.

    And this gets to that whole “feminism has an image problem” thing: really? Where? How? Since when did people like Rush Limbaugh and Paul Elam get to dictate what the image of feminism is, and why are we letting them? Because I don’t see this image problem coming from feminists. I see it as people willing to take Rush Limbaugh’s word as to what feminism is over someone like, say, you, Miri, or Greta Christina, or Zinnia Jones, or bell hooks, or Maryam Namazie. Hell, if anything, the sudden growth of celebrities willing to claim feminism for themselves (Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Emma Watson, etc) should be making feminism more popular (we could get into the nuances of each of them and other celebrities calling themselves feminists, but that’d be even more off-topic).

    So… yeah… I guess what I’m trying to say is that, coming from the same place of social anxiety and bullying and outcast status that Aaronson came from (being called ugly, to my face, more times than I have ever cared to count, being beaten up, shoved in lockers and trash cans, having kids directly and obviously laugh at me when I walk into a room for no other reason than because I walked into that room), I honestly don’t see what he sees. I don’t get where he’s coming from. And I’m not sure where the disconnect is, either. I want to sympathize with him. And I do, to a point, because I know what it’s like to be bullied, to feel unwanted, to feel like everyone hates you and the world is against you. I know what that did to my mind, and my emotions, and my self-esteem and self-respect, and my ability to just exist. And I also know what it’s like to never get any help for that, and sometimes wonder if, now, at my age (and at his… I don’t know his age, but I’m guessing he’s older… I could be wrong, though), it’s too late. So I sympathize to that point with him so much.

    It’s the part where he blames at least some of it on feminism that I have to stop and say… “what? I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.” But again, that may simply be my experience with feminists and feminism. It has not been negative. It has not been in a negative light. In fact, by the time I had stumbled on to the ideas of feminism, I had already been slapped upside the head and forced to confront myself and my views. I didn’t have a name for my actions or thoughts before then (Nice Guy(TM)/MRA), and by the time I did have the names for it, I was already learning why I was wrong. So maybe my views are colored by my path down this road, which diverged with his somewhere along the way.

    I need to keep reading, both him and the responses to him, because my thoughts are so (obviously) jumbled on this…

  31. 38

    I’m really sorry. I know this is off-topic, and I know this is a debate so beaten the bones are dust, but there’s a lie up above that bothers the living hell out of me because of how blatantly dishonest it is. I can’t let it go… even if I wanted to.

    I won’t respond to any responses, though, in order to not contribute to this further. But I jut can’t let it go.

    Verbose…

    He wasn’t sexualizing her?

    Okay, fine. Coffee.

    At 4am.

    In his private hotel room.

    After she said she was tired and wanted to go to bed.

    After he didn’t say a fucking thing the entire fucking time at the fucking bar.

    Anyone who says he meant “just coffee” is a liar. I’m not going to say “stupid” because I can’t believe there’s a human being old enough to get the nuances of human sexual interaction who saw that video and wasn’t fully aware what was going on, there. So “liar” is all there is.

    I’m sorry, again. But I can’t let that go. I’m so fucking sick of that lie it’s ridiculous. I won’t respond or participate in taking this any further.

    1. 38.1

      I’ll just say this: the Watson situation is complicated, which is why I didn’t want to talk about it in the first place and only did because someone else insisted that it was some clear example. It isn’t.

      The best case Watson has for sexualization or objectification is not that he wanted sex. Wanting sex or even wanting only sex is not cause to conclude sexualization per se. Her best case is that if he had actually found her words interesting he would have heard her say that she doesn’t care to be “hit on” or approached at conferences, and so should have known to move on to someone else. That’s a fair argument, but probably not enough to justify the strong reaction that came after … but, then, it wasn’t really that that spawned it either, except indirectly. But it is cited as the justification, oftentimes.

      However, the reasonable “Guys don’t do that” follows from the idea that you shouldn’t make a sexual or even sexual seeming proposal in an elevator to a woman alone at 4 am, because there is a risk of sexual assault and it is likely to make her feel reasonably uncomfortable and downright scared. You don’t need to even talk about sexualization to make that point, nor does that point rely at all on any notion that he objectified her or was sexist or misogynistic. Even those who aren’t any of those things can learn and accept that that time, at least, is a bad time to ask, and even a lot of those who opposed the strong misogyny/sexualization line accepted that.

      So, no, Watson did NOT get raked over the coals for saying “Guys, don’t do that”. If she had just done that, she would have gotten some complaints but the big rift would not happen. But by introducing the sexualization point and then railing against someone who opposed that in what was felt by many to be an inappropriate venue, it all blew up.

      1. —So, no, Watson did NOT get raked over the coals for saying “Guys, don’t do that”. If she had just done that, she would have gotten some complaints but the big rift would not happen—

        Bullshit.

        Fucking bullshit.

        Willfully ignorant fucking bullshit

        Downright dishonest willfully ignorant fucking bullshit.

  32. 39

    ‘Suppose though Scott Aaronson looked the same way and DIDN’T win the genetic lottery in intelligence, such that he ended up being a working class guy.’

    How does that even make sense? Even from my own personal experience, as both an academic and a construction manager, I can tell you there are plenty of idiots in top posts in academia and plenty of people who have certainly ‘won the genetic lottery in intelligence’ who are ‘working class’.

  33. 40

    I’m a bisexual cismale with an absolutely enormous (possibly ludicrous) sex drive; and a corresponding high sex-positivity. I dream of a day when casual sex is universally accepted as just another fun social activity done between friends. “What should we do this weekend? Play golf? Go on a day trip? Have sex with each other?” When asking a stranger you just met for sex is thought of as no more creepy than asking them for a dinner-and-a-movie date.

    But I also know I’m unlikely to see that in my lifetime.* So I don’t do those things, because I know most people wouldn’t take as well to them as I would, and I respect their boundaries, as far as they are from mine.**

    And I also know there’s a lot more pressing issues to deal with, both for people in general as well as women specifically. When I look at the difference between (and I’m generalizing here) “men’s issues” vs. “women’s issues” it’s like worrying about a few shards of glass on the floor while the entire kitchen’s on fire. When sexual assault and domestic violence have been greatly reduced and are roughly gender-equal; when the pay gap is gone; when a dozen other huge problems have been eliminated or sharply ameliorated; then is the time to speak about the currently comparatively minor issues men tend to bring up. They are important issues that need to be addressed at SOME point; but at the moment, I don’t care about the cuts on my feet when I’m scrambling for the extinguisher.*** (The problem of “toxic masculinity” is not what I’m talking about, as that’s arguably a feminist problem as well.)

    *(Which does bring up a question; if there is behavior thought of by society as creepy, and one wants to make it considered not creepy, is there a way to promote the behavior–not necessarily engage in it, mind you, just promote it–that does not make one come off as a creep?)

    **(I’m among that incredibly rare group that would ENJOY being groped in public by strangers. The traditional response to this is “You’d only want that from attractive strangers!” So I’ve seriously thought about it, tried to imagine the least sexually desirable person I can doing the groping, and no; even if the person was a turn-off, the behavior was a net turn-on. But I know that my kink is few other peoples’ kink, and I would never dream of groping anyone else without an unambiguous invitation, or being at a sex convention where it is explicitly allowed.)

    ***(My own personal issues detailed here, meanwhile, are the equivalent of a paper cut.)

  34. 41

    Just an addition about privilege. Miri wrote:

    Aaronson claims that he did not have “male privilege” because he did not feel that he had it.


    I think that his words in comment 171:

    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.


    can be indeed read in this way. However, I think also that it was more than that. My impression from the discussion is that he reacted to the “male privilege” talk as minimizing and negating the experiences like this one (see his comment 223 of the original thread):

    On a Saturday night, a shy male college student is sitting in his dorm room, trying to think of reasons not to hang himself. Meanwhile, three of his female dorm-mates out are out at a party, laughing, dancing, taking selfies, and doing jello shots. Still, the male has enormous structural privilege solely by virtue of being male, while his dormmates are structurally oppressed solely by virtue of being female.


    This impression of mine has been really reinforced after reading the following later addition made by Aaronson to comment 171:

    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.


    It’s always good to be clear about what it is exactly that we are discussing, don’t you think? So: it seems to me that he perceived (and – given the latter addition – that he still perceives) the concept of male privilege not merely as a part of sociological apparatus, not as a neutral, theoretical tool, but as a political weapon – as a method of shaming, as a way of telling the shy college student from the previous quote ‘no, your experience doesn’t count for us; what matters to us is only that you are male’. Here is Aaronson again:

    I shared my story for a few reasons: to remind people that “privilege” is not a one-way street; to point out that, if universities are going to make administrative decisions on the basis of not causing psychological trauma, then they ought to consider everyone’s trauma, not just certain kinds with activists and task forces calling attention to them


    That’s where he is coming from; that’s also one of the basic reasons why the discussion about privilege is so damned difficult! Just see for yourself what happens. One side explains at length the sociological meaning of the concept of privilege (intersectionality, various axes of privilege, etc.) The other side reacts with “yeah, yeah, you can have your sociological meaning alright, but it’s your practice that matters! And in practice you use the concept to shame and marginalize people – to disregard our traumas!” What follows next? Typically, the familiar story follows: “No, we don’t!”, “Yes, you do!”, “No, we don’t” … and so on, and so on.

    That’s why in such contexts theoretical elaborations on what ‘privilege’ means have very limited value. Close to fruitless, I would say. All of this is not about theory; it’s about the practice. And the best way out of this impasse is not ‘more theory’. Quite the opposite. The best way is (imo) indicated in the final words of Miri’s piece:

    women, naturally, will focus first on issues we primarily face, some of which are life-threatening. Men, please, don’t stand around and lament the fact that feminists are not addressing your problems. Familiarize yourself with feminist principles and join in.


    Instead of waiting for the feminist women to do the job, we should address our problems ourselves – that’s the moral. Indeed, the advice seems *really good* … even though the risks are considerable, with the whole area resembling a minefield.

  35. 42

    Well, it’s clear why Verbose Stoic prefers to avoid talking about Rebecca Watson and Elevatorgate. It’s hard to remain credible and have people listen to you and take you seriously while lying through your teeth.

  36. 44

    […] Feminist Bloggers Cannot Be Your Therapists | Brute Reason (January 11): “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?” […]

  37. 45

    There is a lot you say here that is good, and that I agree with. But I am not happy with either your headline or your closing punchline. The emotional world is not zero-sum. It can contain both your feelings and Scotts. Nor is it the case that he was asking any writer, feminist or no, to be his therapist.

    I have a very different understanding of why Scott made comment #171 than you seem to. I do not read it as a “you must help me”. I read it as a request for his commenters on the thread to drop their own stereotypes about nerd guys and see him as him.

    The context of the comment is a discussion of sexual harassment. Other commenters, particularly one with the handle “Kim” assert that perhaps the reason that the gender imbalance in CS is so bad is because of sexual harassment. Scott objects once with reason: Is there really so much more sexual harassment in CS than in medicine as to fully explain the disparity in representation between the two fields?

    His commenters have none of it, and pile on. “Gamergate has taught me that some of the most vile harassers in the world are the shy nerdy guys.”

    Scott faces a full stereotype threat at this point. He’s been called one of a group of the most vile harassers in the world. His attempts to distance himself are denied.

    I recognize this as a familiar debating style on the internet. One pours contempt and shame on one’s opponent in an attempt to silence them.

    To counter this stereotype threat – of a vile sexual harasser – Scott pours out his life story. He has a history of being terrified to even talk to women, or of admitting to any sexual drive at all.

    I read this as “see me”. Not as “heal me”. I think he is healed. I think his post says that he’s healed. Scott’s masculinity is non-traditional (and yes, “masculinity” does mean “male”, unless you explicitly say it doesn’t. At least for a common audience.).

    Those who seek a non-traditional masculinity should think hard about trashing those men who practice it and speak up about that practice, I think. This is not because he needs “praise”. But because it’s in your interest.

    But that’s not what happened. The stereotyping got worse when he said that, not better. That’s my read of the comment thread.

    Most importantly, the sexism of the culture is not just in the heads of men. It’s in the heads of women, too. There is no Man without Woman. They form a system. We all need to look at the stereotypes in our own heads.

  38. KP
    46

    Re: the problem of defining what *isn’t* sexual harassment –

    Firstly, lots of feminists have done this, and it’s a simple, positive statement: “Treat women like people.” Getting more detailed than that is often easier to illustrate in negatives (e.g. “Don’t randomly update us on what’s happening inside your pants,” or “Don’t shout at us across the street”, or “Don’t insist on having a conversation with us if we’re trying to disengage”). This is because, a) the list of acceptable behavior is a whole lot longer and more banal than the list of unacceptable behavior, and b) it’s difficult to describe normal social interaction in a way that is much clearer than “normal social interaction”.

    It’s like asking, “I live in Nashville, but I’m traveling to Chicago soon. How do I manage to not suffocate while I’m there?”

    “Um… keep breathing?”

    “But that’s so vague! Just tell me what to do so I don’t turn blue and pass out and maybe die! Chicago air is weird and totally different than Nashville air–I mean, that’s just common knowledge–and I’m scared!”

    “Er, well, the air is a little bit different, but mostly it’s like any other air you’ve breathed. Don’t spend a long time underwater? Don’t put your head inside a plastic bag? Don’t hold your breath until you black out? Don’t let anyone compress your windpipe?”

    “OMG so many ‘don’ts’. Can’t you just tell me what to do?”

    “I did. Keep breathing air and you’ll be fine.”

    “IT’S MORE COMPLICATED THAN THAT.” etc. etc. etc.

    Now, it’s entirely possible for a guy to have very little social skill of any sort, so talking to women is hard, because normal social interaction is hard. He may not have friends, or know how to make friends, or how to join a conversation, etc. I have a lot of compassion for this, because I really, truly have been there. I spent many teenaged hours crying into my pillow, having no idea how everyone but me seemed to magically have lots of friends who liked them. I felt like the weirdo outsider who everyone ignored. A handful of peers actively bullied me and made me feel all the more worthless. For a while, I didn’t have any meaningful human contact outside of my immediate family. I needed help.

    But that brings it right back to the point of this post: That’s not what feminism is there for. I got help for my social anxiety years before I ever heard a positive word about feminism, so I know that healing is possible without demanding that feminism change its focus to helping shy, socially awkward people find love.

    Secondly, it is very hard, if not impossible, to highlight clear, always-OK interactions to have with women. Is talking to a woman sexual harassment? Well, no, lots of random people have pleasant conversations all the time. But if you start saying things that focus on her body, on what you’d like to do to her, or on the fact she seems to be out here all alone so late, then yeah, talking to her is harassing her. Is touching a woman on the shoulder harassment (in the U.S.)? Well, no, the shoulder is considered a pretty neutral zone, and even strangers tap each other on the shoulder to get someone’s attention. But if you linger, tickle, or massage, then yes, touching a woman on the shoulder is harassment. Is looking at a woman harassment? Of course not; going in public means people will probably look at you. But staring, particularly at chest/legs/butt? Yeah, that can be harassing.

    So saying things like, “Just talking to a woman is OK”, “Touching a woman in a neutral place, like a shoulder or elbow, is OK”, or “Looking at a woman is OK” is really ineffective, because boorish jerks will intentionally find loopholes in that all day long, and sincerely misguided, awkward dudes can still cross a boundary in it. It is much more helpful to establish a reasonable “no-go” zone, with the rest left up to, “Proceed as normal, and back off if she begins sending back-off vibes.”

    1. 46.1

      what people are you talking to who do the things that count as harassing women? Where do you find them?

      I have done the thing where I ask people questions on the internet about how to behave, and I’m told to not do things that I would never consider doing, and to do things I would never consider not doing.

      Perhaps this should be freeing? Whoo! I’ve got this down already! But really, what it demonstrates is a complete inability on the part of the answerers to understand the question.

      I feel suddenly enlightened. I, so many other people, in comment threads all through the internet, have been asking women how we should be males, and of course they have no idea. There needs to be another movement, some social thing, that deals with this. Definitely should not be called masulinism though. I score as “feminine” on personality tests, and that seems common.

  39. 47

    I agree with some of this – certainly with the point that feminist writings should never be used in place of therapy – but I do have some criticisms too.
    First, as a woman, I had a similar experience to Scott, only from the female perspective. That is to say, my adolescence was full of messages that whenever something a boy did bothered me, that was because it was wrong and he was bad, and he should be punished. I was supremely confident with boys as a result of this, to the point of keeping a ‘virgin count’ of the guy’s I’d deflowered, and going ‘on the prowl’ for guys with my female friends. I fully expected to get my way with men, and I did (not just in terms of sex, but in terms of getting lifts and freebies and pushing ahead in queues), until I grew up enough to apply more general moral values to my interactions with the male sex.
    And frankly, I blame feminism for my entitled attitude. I didn’t need therapy, ’cause I felt great, but I must’ve made life hell for my shyer male friends.
    Second, and in conjunction with that, I found that men are almost always thinking of how their behaviour impacted women, which is directly contradictory to your statement that men rarely think of women. Men nearly always check that I’m okay with what they’ve said or done, they ask how to approach my mother and female friends, they ask for advice on every potentially romantic situation. And yes, I mostly hang around with nerds, so my experiences may not be the norm. But to stereotype men as thoughtless and brutish is to ignore the vast variety of character among men, to make a dehumanising cutout parody of their humanity, and to render the potential kindness in the rest of your article little more than a veneer of moderation over an ugly view of masculinity.

  40. 48

    Maybe feminists don’t realize how much they’ve won in some ways? Lots of dudes grow up assuming feminism is good with the same surety that they assume motherhood and candy is.

    Feminism is assumed to be an all encompassing, holistic system for dealing with the whole phenomenon of gender and sex. Then, when you’re getting older, and have some questions about that stuff, and aren’t sure what right behavior is, you go to the one group of people who have moral authority in these matters; feminist thinkers. Then you discover that feminism isn’t that sort of encompassing thing you assumed it was, dealing with everything to do with gender; it’s about advocating for “women’s issues,” those things that have to do particularly with women, and that’s fine. That should’ve been obvious from the name. The sooner a man realizes that feminism is not for men, the better off he’ll be.

    But it’s still very unclear where he should go for guidance. The answer seems to be nowhere. It doesn’t help that feminists writers often talk as if they were authorities on the whole big gender thing, till the moment men take her at her word.

    It has been hard for me to use the word “man” in the above. I think of myself as male. The author said that “man” and “masculine” are synonymous, and while this at first struck me as bizarre, thinking further, it seems insightful. Masculine is a stronger word, but both would make me wonder, in about the same way, whether I was being insulted or mocked.

    I’m very happy the author wrote this paragraph. This points to an important thing few people talk about. “Neurodiversity is an axis of privilege/oppression. People who suffer from mental illness or whose brains are set up differently from what is considered the “norm” (such as people with autism) lack privilege along this axis. They have difficulties because our society is not made to accommodate them. However, if these people are white, or male, or straight, or cisgender, or so on, they still benefit from the privileges afforded to people in those categories.”

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